Like many of us in the music-making profession, it’s been about two years since my last big tour. Since the age of 10, I have performed for part if not all of my income. Before the pandemic, taking a break from this was just not on the table psychologically. I have toured through pregnancies, babies, single parenthood, marriage, loss, financial upheaval, addiction, and a myriad of other life occurrences. With the loss of CD sales and a functional gig economy over the years, touring and touring hard slowly became my personal definition of being a working musician. There are a lot of years of hard work and paying dues to even become a musician with a reasonable income. It was incomprehensible to walk away from all of those years of work and sacrifice.
The story of what we tell ourselves as artists is too often built around scarcity and comparative thinking. In the pandemic, I have been looking at a lot of artist misconceptions and trends in wellness. It ain’t pretty. My own framework has been fraught with errors in logic. The most successful artists travel the farthest, right? The most hard working artists are the busiest, right? And then there are the artists with families. Yikes. That’s a can of worms. Even though my family had always wanted me at home more, what would happen to their sacrifice of so many years if I just walked away? How would I ever explain it? Was I just being weak? What would become of me? Would I miss out on that big break? Over time, the addictive cycles worsened, the financial gain was never predictable enough, and the importance of my family’s happiness was all pervasive. And not to me the woman (as my skepticism centered around), but to me the human.
At the start of the pandemic, I think I panicked more about the music industry than any other area of life. Certainly more than my own health. Like a case of Stockholm Syndrome, I missed being on the road. I missed performing and connecting with other artists. I felt restless at home. I went on endless drives. A funny thing happened though. The audience went away. All of that external validation and stroking of the ego. Just gone.
Slowly, in the place of these highs and lows, there were early morning walks at dawn with my husband. There was financial stability. Peace of mind. The service to others from a genuine feeling of connection. The awareness of my own health and physical well-being and the toll that the years of touring-enhanced addictive behaviors had taken on it. And finally, the looming fear and unwillingness to lose these things all over again. Perhaps the most striking change to me was my own concern about being a healthy person. As a performer, my primary goal had been the acceptance of others. Affecting a result using my music as a catalyst. It had been many, many years since I asked myself what I needed. I was raised to perform and I got caught in the brambles of what other people thought of me, wanted from me, and what I needed to do to get them to do what I wanted. And at night, when there was no one to exact a response from, I was killing myself with all kinds of substances designed to shut down my brain and heart. Somehow, friends, I lost my way. It kills me to say this out loud but its true. And necessary.
I want you to know these things if you are a musician on the road. I want you to know that it is beyond difficult and that if you share these behaviors that you are not alone. I want you to know that you are not weak or ungrateful or incompetent if this has been your road as well. But we live with the consequences nonetheless. I once heard someone say that being on tour is the loneliest way of being in a huge crowd that you will ever experience. For those of you who have made this your life, you have my utmost respect. It has proven to be beyond my capability.
I want you to know these things if you are an events producer or a fan or involved in the music industry on any level. My job does not depend on you seeing me as anything other than what I am anymore. I will move, like a frigging toddler, towards the things that create health and wellness in my life. I will be with my family. I won’t do this because the patriarchy demands it of me as I exclaimed incredulously for so many years. I choose it freely as a human. I know who I am and I know what I need. I need God, gratitude, my own pillow, and my small band of family and friends.
I choose the teaching of music as the other side of performing. Sharing what has been shared with me is my great joy. Thank you if you have ever been a student. You kept me sane when my own mind led me astray. I have never regretted a single moment of sharing music with you. It is the sharing of music with others that has kept me in this industry for 35 years. As a respected colleague of mine once coined, those who can, teach. I can and I will continue to. With sincerity.
For now, friends, you won’t see me out on the road for a while. I have work to do at home and in my local community. For now, I will process these things in the light of dawn, coffee and dog leash in hand. Devotions and a list of quiet priorities on the table. Breakfast on the stove. The house a glorious mess. The dissertation not as far along as I wish it was. I have learned through all of this that the opposite of addiction and fear is connection and love. I will now move towards connection in all of its transcendent and imperfect forms. And perhaps with time, I will write it all down in a song. And maybe, just maybe, this is what I was meant to do all along.
Looking in rather than out.
The Savage Fiddler