In the cities of the Middle West.
I’ve learned that folks in the Middle West drink cases of beer in living rooms with friends. From Chicago and Effingham to Lexington, Kentucky, and Fargo, North Dakota. It’s a beautiful thing and often times a few chords are strummed. My friend Garrett and his crew laid out a beautiful rendition of Atlantic City. We share our songs of loss, glory, love, and turmoil, the same ones we sing at the top of our lungs on long drives. They’re the anthems we hold close when we’re lonely and driving through blizzards.
I’ve learned that if you ask a few questions doors begin to open. In South Dakota I asked a music storeowner about their ‘going out of business’ sale. He graciously told me about him and his brother purchasing the store sixty years past, expanded and thrived. I told him of my love for history, and he opened a large bound book of a century’s worth of small town newspaper. I scoured the pages, reading about Jack Dempsey, Charles Lindbergh, and the rise and fall of the Third Reich. He told me how the town had grown and their struggles, and in 15 minutes I had a better understanding of the town I was playing in.
I’ve learned that there are good folks everywhere. I sat back in my seat on the CTA bus in Chicago, ready for the ride through the city. A man who appeared down on his luck frantically searched his pockets for his change. The driver and most the passengers were annoyed at the delay. From somewhere behind me a gentleman walked up and paid the man’s fare and patted him on the back. Growing up in the rural Middle West, I was always told big cities were scary and vicious places. I’m grateful that myth was debunked.
I’ve learned that all folks are looking for a bit a dignity. I get to experience a lot of different American cultures. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m in Lincoln, Tulsa, or Grand Forks. That’s part of the beauty, the continuity among Middle Westerners. It also lies in the stark differences. Each state and city has a unique way of being themselves. Conversations always start with a handshake, but then each one is filled with unique experiences and influences. I try to learn something from each. We all make mistakes, fall short, or simply fuck it up.
I’ve learned that my way isn’t the only way. I have friends that also play music for a living. We do it different, and that’s fine. I’ve grown in my understanding of humans. At the end of the day we are all trying to interpret the world in which we live. There’s a bond like no other between music families. Perhaps we only cross paths a few times a year, but Lord knows it’s a family reunion. There are some beautiful souls wandering around out there.
I’ve learned a lot the last two years, not sure that I’ve figured anything out, but I’m learning.
- Mississippi Jake