As I sit here with my coffee at 7 AM on a Monday, after a long intense weekend, I really don’t know where to begin with any of it.  It was like a vivid dream, and I’m kind of unsure of whether or not any of it really happened…


I’ve been somewhat “stranded” in South Carolina for the last few months, since the Folk U bus decided to poop its pants and pout, refusing to take us any further until German rebuilds the engine.  And I say “stranded” only because, born and raised in the mid-west, being marooned in the sunny warm south for the winter isn’t exactly torture.  We’ve been in situations like this before, where we’ve had to come up with a big chunk of money before we can continue whatever journey we’re on.  Our solution for this particular challenge: German has been working with a day labor place (work that day, get paid that day), and I’ve been slingin’ tunes around the music scene.20190312_210710


I had discovered Awendaw Green while doing the usual research of the area, and was able to score a spot playing in the Barn Jams.  Awendaw Green is a beautiful and artistic community settled near the edge of Francis Marion National Forest – their “resident musician” is the incredible Danielle Howle.  When I confirmed the Barn Jams gig, Danielle had invited me to an “originals only” open mic she runs in Charleston on Tuesday nights called “Holy City Confessionals“.

The moment I met this woman I fell in Love.  Her warm welcome, the sheer energy of her, the way she seemed to have down-to-earth no-bullshit approach Love and kindness, her open-hearted invitation to share my songs, the feisty fierce creature she was, and the high level of awesome in her music…it’s easy to love that kind of an Individual.  As I learned a bit more about her music and history, I felt as though we must have similar Muses speaking to us – our musics have a common odor, a common stink of self-awareness, we both sing stories of the Journey, of self-evolution and finding that inner contentment.

I watched her on stage, noticing a similar fierceness in the delivery as my own, and felt as though I was looking at myself, 15 years from now.

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Danielle Howle

It was Danielle who had invited me to the Swamp Sessions.  It’s a 3-day songwriting retreat, at a solar-powered swamp house, who-the-hell-knows-where, deep in the Francis Marion National Forest.  Essentially the idea is to retreat to a natural setting and spend some time working on music, along with other songwriters and creative people.  After some contemplation on logistics and whether or not I should go, I decided to take advantage.

I hitched a ride there on Friday morning with a laid-back dude named Fleming Moore.  I met Fleming at the open mic, he had been hooking me up with some gig opportunities through his own awesome “Bummerville” musical endeavor.  A super-chill, Awakened individual in his mid-late 50s, Fleming’s music makes you feel like you’re chillin’ on a back porch, sippin’ tea and sharing stories, jamming out on old guitars with dirty strings.

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Me and Fleming ❤

We listened to good music and swapped life stories as we drove along in a caravan of creatives, Danielle leading the way deep into the forest.  The moment we were off the main roads I lost reception on my phone, a thing I had a feeling would happen.  After a few long and bumpy dirt roads, we came upon the solar-powered swamp house that was to be our home for the next 3 days.  I was told we were alone for at least a hundred acres in any direction.

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The Swamp House

I was in a foreign place in the middle of nowhere with people I barely knew.  Thankfully the people around were good, kind people, whose welcome felt like a warm invitation for me to let go and let life happen.  I won’t lie though: it took me damn-near 24 hours to adjust to not having phone service.

Friday was about getting settled into the new environment.  The house was beautifully eclectic, filled with instruments and trinkets and so many remnants of those who had come and gone over the years.  I was given a bed in a cozy wooden room, and there was a homemade meal being prepared as people arrived and settled in.  Before dinner, we gathered as a group for a short welcome and introductions, along with discussion about how the weekend would go.

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Swamp House main room
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A gift from Danielle: my Swamp Sessions notebook and a nighttime navigational tool.

Danielle had lovingly set up a nature walk for us to go on, in our own time.  It was around a half mile long, and had 8 stations – each of which had spot to sit and reflect and do a bit of writing.  After the gathering and while the meal was being cooked, I decided the nature trail would be a good way to start.  The love and care she brought to setting up the walk for us was done with great Intention, and it was breath-making to see the swamp through her eyes.  We had been given a small packet of guidance to inspire us along the way:

Excerpt from station 3, “The Realm of Trees”

“Enter the circle of trees and have a seat.  You are now going into the forest without a road, but a path.  You may still hear people in the distance playing music, laughing, and being happy.  You are not alone, and yet you are!!  Let the circle of trees become your home for the next 5-10 minutes.  Write now what trees and this forest mean to you.  Do not edit yourself or try to form rhymes or anything like that!  Let it flow kinda how trees do in the wind, with no self-judgement.  Just enjoy the moment and fact that you are a viable, creative force and that there is no right or wrong way to go about the writing process.  It’s all about your willingness to be present in the moment and enjoy your surroundings.  If there is anything you would like to say regarding trees or forests, now is the time to write that down.”

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Danielle had a small crew with her, to assist in the workshops and in overall hospitality and comfort of the Artists: a few folks to assist with recording, someone to stay on top of meals and home up-keep, someone to guide us in yoga, a kayaking/land guide…I felt well taken care of.  After a kick-ass spaghetti dinner and a few lengthy jams around the fire, I poured myself into bed and drifted off to the sounds of people laughing and making music.

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my lil nook in the swamp house

As with much in the Universe, I too go through forms of evolution.  I use my songwriting as tool for that self-evolutionary process.  The thing is though: as I evolve, so does my songwriting.  As it turns out, I happen to be at one of those evolutionary points in my life, and I can feel that shift in my songwriting happening – I no longer have the previous outlook, yet I’m unsure of what the new outlook is.

The retreat provides the freedom to focus on what you feel you want to focus on; whether you’ve got something you’ve been working on and want some input, or a song you’ve finished and just want to polish up, or perhaps write something from scratch, or maybe even just be around creative people in a creative environment for the weekend.

I had a mellow finger-picky song that was at “almost done” status.  It’s a song meant to help me stop and be still, and to wish for an overall peaceful Journey – the goal being to keep it mellow and let the vocals and guitar flow gently, like the voice of a meditation guide.  I had been having trouble fleshing out a structure for it though, didn’t know if maybe another verse was needed, wondering if I’m overthinking it.  Aside from that song, I have this other song that I feel has the potential to be quite powerful.  In my own personal life Story at the moment, an absurd fear of my own power and beauty seems to be plaguing me; this song marvels at that absurdity, and questions why.  I happened to have these “works in progress”, and thought that perhaps my presence at the retreat during a time of change in my songwriting was meant to be.

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A fine hammock indeed

Because I’ve been struggling with this weird scared-of-my-own-prowess thing, I felt like I really needed that second song to come out pronto.  Early on Saturday, after a lengthy cup of coffee and morning ritual with a very cool dude called Z, I grabbed my guitar and sat by the water with the intention of working on it and getting most of it done, so it would just need some polishing on Sunday and could potentially get recorded.  I jammed on it a bit, I did get a few more lines down, but stopped when it started to feel forced.  I tinkered on other things for a while, then stepped away from it.

There wasn’t exactly what you would call a “schedule” for this retreat, or any meticulously structured “workshops”.  It was more like stations and resources were set up to be ready and available to us, and we were free to utilize them throughout the weekend as we saw fit.  At any given time, I could choose between:

  • songwriting nature walk workshop
  • beat-making
  • recording
  • jamming around the fire
  • assisting other songwriters with their tunes
  • helping out with food or clean-up
  • or simply being alone with my thoughts and my music

Amidst the shuffling about of all the stuff and things, Danielle made it a point to make herself available to anyone who desired her assistance or input throughout the weekend.  She took great care in making herself available to each of the dozen-or-so songwriters as individuals, giving one-on-one time, sometimes even at the expense of her own sleep and self-care.

After that short songwriting session with myself, I spent the rest of Saturday immersing myself in all the goodies the retreat had to offer.  Throughout each endeavor – whether I was jamming with someone by the fire, hanging out in the kitchen, recording some guitar on someone’s song, helping someone out with song structure, or teaming up with Danielle to help a friend find the music for her words – I came to know some truly wonderful individuals, and by the end of the night I was a part of this small little family community in the middle of the woods. 20190323_182921


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Saturday night I was plagued with nightmares, which made for a restless sleep.  I awoke at sunrise and felt like I needed to have my coffee alone that morning.  I took my notebook, coffee, and other morning essentials to a spot over by the edge of the creek to be Alone.  It was the spot where we had done yoga the day before, and it also served as “station 1” on Danielle’s nature walk.  An old wooden chair was settled under a berry tree that she called “the year-round Christmas tree”, and I sat there and gradually shook off the nightmare’s effects on me.

About halfway through my coffee, I went and grabbed my guitar, deciding to try and work on that song.  This was it, it was Sunday, and I’d be going home before the day’s end.  Now was the time to finish that song.

I jammed on it a little bit, but not much.  As I listened to the early morning songs of dozens of invisible birds, I took my time communing with the trees and the swampy waters.  Something told me that song wasn’t right for the moment, and I began tinkering on the finger-picky one.  The one that requires open stillness, and a meditative voice.


As I sat with no expectations, crying every so often over the struggle to accept that which is already perfect, I listened to the bird songs.  I listened to the whispy whispers of the trees in the breeze.  I listened to the humming of the Earth, felt Her endless movement beneath my toes.  The word “Universe” literally means “one song” – and I Listened, to the sound of the One Song.  My song revealed itself within, as a part of the One Song, as with all songs.  All of a sudden I no longer struggled with the structure, because it had revealed itself to me in full.  A 3rd verse even revealed itself to me, and the song as whole came together beautifully.  As I finished the song, the swamp told me “Yes!  That’s it!  Well done!” and I cried tears of joy and gratitude.

There I was, thinking I’d be working on a certain song that’s gonna teach me it’s ok to be beautiful…and it turns out the swamp wanted me to be still, to finish another song about being Here and Now in stillness.  It was in that Here-and-Now, listening to my *new song within the One Song, that I felt safe to be beautiful.  The swamp told me “The other song will come in its own time, but for this moment Now…be Here, and Now, and let yourself be a beautiful part of the One Song.20190324_121548.jpg


Although I don’t typically record songs without fully nurturing them first, I went ahead and had it recorded.  It was a little rough – shaky fingertips, somewhat hesitant vocals that sound as though they may cry at any moment – but I got it down and I’m glad.  I moved on from there to continue with the usual goings on of swamp sessions; playing around on songs of others, picking things up or putting them away, laying in the hammock and daydreaming.

I had found a guest book on the kitchen table, containing entries from those who have come and gone since around 2011.  It was easily the most beautiful tome I had ever held in my hands, containing such beautiful stories of those who have been effected by the magic of the place.  Of course, I left my ink of Love and gratitude as well.

As I readied myself for departure, I passed the hugs around to my new friends.  I got to spend a few moments with Danielle to thank her, and told her how incredibly full my heart was.  We chatted for a little while, swapped a few stories, made a little video testimonial of my time at the swamp, then hugged each other and cried over the magnificent beauty of things…and of ourselves.

Fleming and I drove the journey back to Summerville.  As we pulled into the driveway and I saw the Folk U bus, I couldn’t help but feel like it was all a dream somehow.


It seems that’s part of the power of the retreat, and the magic of the swamp house.  It’s there to be what you need it to be.  No more, no less.  It’s a hotbed of energetic activity, there’s something real there, something measureable in the ground, embedded in the trees, transmitting through the waters like sonar.  It’s a sanctuary for reflection, for nourishment of the soul and senses, a place to disconnect in order to promote Connection.  The sheer gratitude I have in my heart is uncomfortable, there is simply no room in my chest cavity to manage it.  I’m grateful to Danielle, and to all of my new friends who were there on their own Journeys alongside my own.  And I am grateful to the swamp ❤ 20190324_113608


*Click here for a free download of the song I finished writing in the swamp, and click here to watch the video I made.


 

Folk U Productions is a DIY mobile recording studio that seeks to travel the country to help emerging Artists create their first demo and break into their local music scene. In addition to the creation of their first demo, we also provide guidance on: setting up social media presence, local/regional booking, putting together a press kit, creating your own merch table, how to start networking, how to travel/tour on a tight budget, how to start a simple DIY studio, and much much more.

Folk U Productions operates under the strong belief that music and art is essential to our very health and well-being; physically, mentally, spiritually. We also believe that humanity is in a constant state of Evolution, ever waking up, and music strongly assists us in that necessary evolutionary process.  Every Artist has the potential to affect the world with their art, in powerful ways. We need more music, more passionate Artists to get their music out there. Humanity needs musicians to say the things we don’t have words for, we need to give our original Artists the space to be heard and encouragement to share – it is because of these beliefs we hold so dear that we strive for everything this studio provides to Artists to be FREE OF CHARGE.


How can we do this? First of all, we are a 2-person operation – 2 people that have lived very comfortably as wanderers. Our lifestyle is simple: thrift store clothes on our backs, simple foods in our bellies, a super cheap phone bill…our “personal” expenses are very low because of that simple lifestyle. Between the two of us, we’re a musician and a skilled jack-of-all-trades – so we are able to make money on the road that covers our simple lifestyle, without charging for our studio. We also take in donations from folks who believe in what we’re doing and want to contribute to the needs of the studio itself (bus repair, maintenance, studio gear, merch materials, etc).  If we find ourselves in a dire situation and we need to take money in exchange for recording, we use the pay-what-you-want approach; and we would still want to offer all of our other support tools for free.


For someone who is just starting out, those “firsts” are so vital. That first cd, that is so incredibly important…that first merch table…that first round of web presence…that first time on video…that first time in print…that first time an original song was played on the radio…so many firsts that are so magical, and so often essential to light that fire. For someone who is just starting out, acquiring these things can feel very intimidating, especially when money is involved. More often than not, lack of money will stop (or heavily delay) an Artist from recording. When we work with musicians, we want to help alleviate as many roadblocks as we can, and show them there’s nothing in their way if they embrace their Creativity and the DIY spirit.


Simply put: if we’re at an open mic and we see a musician that moves us, someone passionate, someone whose music needs to be heard, someone who gets inside and makes us feel things…and they don’t have a recording?! Nonsense, we gotta fix that! We don’t care if they can’t pay us, we need to make sure that music is getting heard, for the good of all humanity! They gotta have something to at least get the ball rolling! The world needs this music. WE need this music; and if we have the means to help light a fire under an Artist and encourage them to share their art, then it’s our responsibility to do so.

That’s what Folk U Productions does. And I believe in it. Even if it takes another year to get the bus the rest of what it needs – in my eyes it’s so completely worth it.

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This was a song I had written about my experiences with Girls/Ladies Rock Camp… or so I thought…

It’s rare when I write about something other than my own self-evolution. Funny thing tho: even when you think you’re talking to someone else, you’re truthfully just talking to yourself. Everyone and everything in your “reality” is a fucking carnival fun-house mirror.

Fast-forward to a few years after this song was written. I was alone in a room I had rented just a couple of blocks from the capitol building, in the busyness of Madison. I had my laptop open, playing my entire stash of music at random, blankly staring at a dirty window.

To spare the epic novel of hows and whys, I’ll simply say: it was a rough time for me mentally/emotionally. This particular day was extra symptomatic – a heavy weighted sadness in my chest, anxiety that nothing really matters, tears and clenching anger, suicidal daydreams, mourning of my losses, a dark infinite dank empty hole where my stomach usually is, the feeling that I am utterly alone in the world and we’re all gonna die anyway so what does it matter and everything is fake and it’s all just a fucking tv show…I had an extra hard time accepting my reality that day. What am I supposed to be doing here?! Why am I Here at all? Why does everything hurt so goddamned much and why do I have to sit here and just take it? If I’m totally alone and everyone dies and nothing matters, what is the fucking point of all of this suffering?! The desire for my non-existence was strong that day…

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As I sat and looked around my room in a tear-filled, I-give-up kinda way, the things in the room started to look…different. As I let my “alone”ness sink in, every item and piece of furniture in the room seemed extra manufactured. The table, the chair, my mini fridge, the shelf, my clothes thrown about…everything looked fake and shiny and made of a rubbery foam and plastic, like they were all props for the set of a movie or tv show. As I looked around at the absurdity of it all, my own song came up in the shuffle. My own shit…really? Right now? The song playing was a weird soundtrack to this weird dimensional shift…I had a feeling of confusion, a weird feeling like I was being shown something, but I didn’t really understand exactly what I was supposed to see. I said to The Big Everything without words: ok…so let’s say it looks this way because yes, everything IS just a big tv show…that still makes me feel alone and anxious and like nothing matters and I’m unsure of what I supposed to be doing here!! It’s even creepier, and I’m kinda scared now…What do I DO with this, do I just give up?!

And then, the lyrics to the song came forward, like a rush of heavy thunder through my chest.

…show me how you rock and roll, just be a child, let yourself run wild…”

The song then consumed me, completely took over. As I looked around my room, and Listened (yes, with a capital L), and let my senses get involved and let go of everything, actually embrace that Nothing is actually Everywhere, and I’m just this mass of Awareness hurling through a vast ocean of space and Nothing…the voice I heard through the speakers was all of a sudden not my own anymore. It sounded foreign, the voice of an ancient thing, wise and motherly yet with a warrior essence…

The feeling that I was alone in a world that was nothing more than a movie set filled with people playing characters wasn’t so dark anymore. I mean, still absurd, but I was starting to think maybe it wasn’t such a “bad” thing. As these feelings started to wash over me, I was in complete disbelief that the voice I heard singing to me was not my own, I kept trying to shake it loose and couldn’t…and then I became aware of the fact that the song was for me, from The Big Everything. The voice I heard was this “unknown” presence, singing to me, using my song, using the recording. It sounded insane, but the more I questioned it, the more I felt her confirm to me that She had the answers; and that She was using my voice and my lyrics to convey them to me:

…it’s all you, you’re in control. And you know you got it, now let me hear you rock it. Let it all go, ’cause you’re beautiful. Just keep playing your song…”

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At this point I felt this incredible sense of ease come over me, like this warrior-woman was there with me, inside me, holding me, rocking me, telling me yes, it’s all just a great big Story – and you Dana are the Writer, the Pen, the Paper, the Reader, and you’re doing it all at the same time. Yes, that’s all it is, no more, no less – you’re here to tell Dana’s Story, all of it, to play her songs, and you’re doing it perfectly…

As the music and this presence consumed me, I shook and cried. I tried so hard to call bullshit on all of it, tried hard to recognize the voice coming out of my laptop as my own, tell myself it’s all in my head…then She came through even more persistent than before, wrapped her arms around me from within me, held onto me while She used my recording to talk to me:

…and then I met a woman, she’d been around the sun now 30 times or so, lifetimes more to go…”

Oh no…this can’t be happening…

…it was clear she was here to rediscover what she thought she misplaced somewhere in time and space…”

Is this fucking happening? It this for real?!

…and I wear a smile when I see her wear her worried look, ’cause her song has got a wicked hook…”

Feeling nauseous…

…she said ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to play’, and yet unconsciously she strums her story perfectly…”

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At this point I’ve collapsed into a pile of tears. Holy shit, has this song been about me this whole time?! Was it just sitting there in disguise, waiting for the right moment, waiting until the day comes when it’s needed as a tool for The Source to communicate with me during a shitty time? As the song came into another chorus and a bridge, I sat there collapsed in a pile of tears. The motherly warrior woman held me as I cried and listened, and continued to sing to me using my song, giving me the strength and fire I needed:

…I said show me how you rock-n-roll. Just be a child, let yourself run wild. It’s all you, you’re in control. And you know you got it. Now let me hear you rock it! Let it all go, ’cause you’re beautiful. Just keep playing your song…

…we are strong. And you know, we’ve had it all along. Play your song, and everyone will play along. Why not here? Why not now? Right Here…right Now…”

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this experience. It will forever stick out as one of the times the divinity of music truly revealed itself to me; and as one of the many times I felt my Journey and purpose as a musician was confirmed.

“Play Your Song” can be found at https://musicbydana.bandcamp.com/track/play-your-song

Since late August, I’ve been living in a bus.  It’s a 1993 Ford E350 passenger vehicle.  First it was used as a shuttle bus, then I believe it was used as a mobile party vehicle.

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Now in 2018, it’s in the final developmental stages of becoming a mobile home/studio.  The seats have been ripped out, and home comforts have been added.  After some more mechanics get done, it’ll be road worthy once again, and ready to travel the country.

It’s a work in progress of course.  At this point we have the necessary comforts – my comfy bed and chair, all of my music gear (and a padlocked storage unit to keep it in), a small DIY kitchen area complete with running water, a super cool futon that converts into 2 seeping cots, power converter, heat, food, etc.  Our recording gear is modest at this point, we hope to grow in that area as we go along.  Once we get it “officially” licensed as a motor home, it’ll be ready for the long Journey ahead.

Over the course of the next year or two, the Folk U Productions mobile studio will travel the country, providing DIY recordings for Artists that are just starting out.  Of course, I will be sprinkling my own tunes across the land as well.  My music has found a home in Madison; and while it does feel a little scary to leave the comforts of such a loving community, it’s that same Love from my community that makes me feel supported on this Journey.  This is my home now – even if I travel for months at a time, I will be coming home to Madison ❤


Like any grand DIY endeavor, the bus has had us on quite the adventure.  First and foremost, there is major lifestyle change.  Between my partner and I, our possessions are simplified, completely stripped down to just what we need to be comfortable and productive.  Many people don’t realize how little a person actually needs: food, water, bed, clothes, bathroom supplies, communication device…and…yeah, that’s pretty much it.  Everything else is a luxury – hell, even half that list is a luxury.  Beyond the basic necessities, everything else we have on the bus is for Folk U Productions play and creation: guitars, sound gear, laptop with recording software, interface and mics, a shitload of art supplies for merch making… I’d say over 2/3 of the shit on the bus is for Folk U endeavors.

We also make sure to try and take good care of ourselves in little ways; like getting good sleep, always having fresh coffee in the morning, remembering to stretch our bodies and breathe deeply, have Creative stimulus around, keep the space clean and free-flowing, etc.  There are other small lifestyle adjustments to get used to: keeping up maintenance on our water system, self-contained chem toilet, bus mechanics, making these things part of our regular routine.  Luckily we’ve lived this kind of lifestyle before, and are pretty well-suited for the adjustment.

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I’d say the most challenging part so far has been money, unfortunately.  To get a 25-year-old shuttle bus in good enough condition to travel across the country takes a fair amount of mechanical work, which is far more expensive than anything we’ve done to the inside.  The engine work, front/rear end stuff, tires, alternator, a handful of other stuff I don’t understand because I don’t speak mechanic…the cost for getting it road-ready is almost equal to the cost paid for the bus itself.  And ya know, shit happens along the way: ya thought it was gonna cost this much, turned out to be that much, thought it was gonna be ready this day, but it’s not ready til that day, thought you only needed this thing, but turns out you need that other thing first before you can get this thing…there are tests of one’s perseverance and conviction, for sure.

Thankfully, we’ve come too far to turn back now!   Even though our launch date has been pushed back a few times due to the financial snags, we’re pushing forward as hard as we can.  Today we pick up the bus from the latest run of repairs.  We still need 2 front tires and an alignment, and then if all looks good, it should be road-worthy.  The next goal after that is to get it licensed as a motor home and get it insured.  At that point, we’ll gather our gas money and off we go!


I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m looking forward to taking my music on this Adventure ❤ocean