A Walkabout, the Night after Paris

parisDriving home from work on Friday night, I had yet to hear the news from Paris. I instead had new music from the Chapin Sisters filling the space in my car, and I was looking forward to seeing them play the following evening. My fingers were tapping the wheel as I glided through light traffic toward home. Their songs drained the workday tension from my body and lightened my soul. It was a good, crisp autumn night.

After saying hello to the cat and hanging up my jacket, I pulled one of the guitars off the wall for a few minutes of pickin’ before putting together a quick dinner. I took my plate and a glass of sparkling water, sat down on the couch, and turned on CNN. The world turned black. Again.

I was glued to the tube until one in the morning, zipping and zapping the remote to catch the latest sick detail and twisted image. Any time one of the newscasters hauled out a politician or expert on terrorism to explain to us the meaning of what happened and share their opinion, I’d change the channel. It was too early for such an intrusion. Sometimes you need to just sit alone with your own thoughts and neither deny nor define the pain.

Le Bataclan. That hall reminds me of every single show that I’ve ever been to — small club or large venue, inside or out. They were just people coming together for a few hours of a shared musical experience. Suddenly all I could think about were the words “soft targets” and “new normal.”

The Walkabout Clearwater Chorus was founded by Pete Seeger back in 1984 and is made up of people who simply love to sing together. Their mission is to promote environmental awareness and social action through song, education, and other activities. They meet and practice at a Methodist church about 15 minutes from my apartment, and they perform at festivals and events throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond. They also run a coffee house once a month, from October to May, where you can show up and sing with them before the show starts. On Saturday after the attack, they presented the Chapin Sistersand Kristen Graves.

I came in late, missing the sing-along. There were a couple hundred people in the auditorium, and as the lights went down I took my seat and felt my body get tense. I was in the last row, sitting alone, my back to the door. I recalled the shootings at the Unitarian congregation in Kentucky, and the church in South Carolina. Soft targets. New normal.

Lily and Abigail Chapin took the stage and were both radiant and glowing — flashing guitar, banjo, and smiles. They grew up here, and have been back for awhile. They left Los Angeles after eight years of making music, and now they are making babies. Each is pregnant.

There is a certain indescribable joy I feel when hearing close sibling harmony. From their opening notes, these sisters took the audience through a repertoire of songs for duos from the Louvins and Everlys, as well as original music from their past albums and the new Today’s Not Yesterday. And one from Uncle Harry.

Graves joined them for the closing song and there was a short intermission, complete with herbal teas and homemade cakes and cookies. My son called me from his place in Brooklyn to say hi, and we chatted for a few minutes. I told him I needed to be with people and listening to music, and I wondered if he also planned to go out. He wasn’t. I was relieved, but didn’t tell him.

For those who ask where have all the folksingers gone, long time passing, I recommend they seek out Kristen Graves. She walks it and talks it and sings it and lives it. In addition to performing and recording, each year she spends months working to build homes in Mexico, and she brings music to the people on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota during the summer. Her voice is an amazing instrument. She closed her set by bringing back the Chapin Sisters and the entire Walkabout Clearwater Chorus. We all sang together.

In the spirit of Seeger, in the Valley of Pete, while the night could have been one of mourning and anger, it was not. There was music, there was laughter. There was talk about activism and the environment. There were songs of healing, and a few songs of sorrow. And there was light in the darkness. It’s what I came for, and what I left with.

This was originally published at No Depression dot com, as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column.

Illustration by Jean Jullien on the night of the attacks, which he posted to his Twitter and Instagram accounts.