It was April in Ohio. Winter was still close enough to make the walls shiver at night. Chloe and Chris lit a fire in the woodstove in their bedroom and moved themselves into a little trailer outside, at the edge of the woods. Their bedroom had shelves of fine books, a big wooden table, and light-filled glass doors that slid open to the patient countryside. In the solitude of this abandoned bedroom, by the warmth of the last fire of the season, Oliver, Charlie, and I arranged and rehearsed some of the songs that eventually found a home on our new album Best Medicine.
“It must be hard,” people say, “doing all that traveling.”
And sometimes, it is. But it must also be hard to draw a solid line to define the edge of community, to lose touch with the kindness of strangers, to confuse comfort with familiarity.
Some people have given up their beds for us. Others have given up their entire homes for us. People have defied their circadian rhythms to share late-night meals with us. They have shared their porches and churches, their whiskies and wisdoms. The bears spared us in the Colorado canyon and the tarantulas spared us in the Oklahoma campground.
This way of life is not an exchange of harmonies for cash. It is the sharing of songs, recipes, and hot water. It is the constancy of black coffee against uncommon conversation. It is the questioning of progress that speaks to anything other than the deepening of community and the enrichment of culture.
Before I called myself a touring musician, I was a traveler. Across the continent with friends in a green Saturn, playing Johnny Cash and fiddle tunes at farmers’ markets, I fell in love with chasing the sun westward. Across Europe by bike and bus and train, singing “Oh Susanna” on a cliff in Spain, I fell in love with chasing the warmth southward. One day I woke up in a sleeping bag on the parking lot of the Grand Canyon. Another day I woke up in a medieval French mansion in the shadow of the Palace of the Popes. Most days I woke up in a tent — sometimes in forests, sometimes in fields, sometimes in golf courses, sometimes on a beach.
Before I called myself a touring musician, I learned to treasure the intersections of lives. I learned to give and receive generosity. I learned to tell stories, and to listen with intent. I learned that solitude is a state of mind.
It is October in North Carolina. I am sitting on my porch. The first autumn leaves have surrendered to the season. I watch them leap into a frantic mid-air spin, and I listen as they skid against the pavement with the smooth hiss of back-to-school chalk on a blackboard. Sam Cooke is on the record player inside, and I can hear him singing through the open windows.
It is a sweet, sweet stillness in the midst of this motion I have chosen. But I am a touring musician. Soon, I will take my end of the thread and climb into a van with two of my best friends. We will weave our voices up and down the coasts, in and out of time zones, in between blizzards. Soon, it will be time to return to the road — the ribbon of generosities that I call home.
Maya de Vitry is the lead singer of NC-by-way-of-PA-based trio the Stray Birds. Their debut album was named by NPR as one of the finest folk/roots albums of 2012, and the band played in some of the best venues and festivals around the world, from Nashville’s Station Inn to the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, to the Celtic Connections Festival in Scotland. Their new album Best Medicine, Drops Oct. 21 on Yep Roc Records. Photo by Doug Seymour.