The Night I Opened for Eugene Snowden

Most importantly I have learned that the voices, both internal and external, telling you your art is silly or unimportant are wrong.
Photo by Philly Kennedy

Photo by Philly Kennedy

by Jason Earle

J.J. Grey and Mofro is one of my all-time favorite live bands. The first time I saw them, circa 2004, they played with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, back when the band was just known as Mofro. The symphony players donned camouflage hats to mirror their “conductor” that night, J.J. Grey and his band’s southern swampy sound.

Thus began over a decade long love affair with Jacksonville’s Mofro. A couple shows, a few dozen beers, and a year or two later, I saw Mofro at what used to be called Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL. Bands like Avail and Against Me! used to pack the place in the 1990s when it was in some other incarnation. It’s a big room that feels like a mini high school cafetorium. The opener that night was a band called the Legendary JC’s.

My practice is to watch the opener whenever possible. That’s how I learned about Joe Pug, Matthew Fowler, and countless other musicians I love. The Legendary JC’s were unfamiliar to me but anyone hitched to J.J. Grey and Mofro was worth a listen. The JC’s is a band fronted by Central Florida musical legend Eugene Snowden.

Eugene Snowden is a force of fucking nature, now, fifteen years later. A decade and a half ago he was a sexual dynamo who wailed on the microphone, made love to it, then abandoned its embrace to leap off the stage into a split on the dance floor. That’s not a hyperbolic metaphor. He literally did all of the above as an opening act. Never before or since have I seen someone upstage J.J. Grey. Eugene did it that night.

Opening the Portal

The Marinade has opened a lot of creative doors for me. For my partner in life. For my friends. My family. The Marinade is a portal. A way that things I never thought possible could come true. I’ve interviewed and become buddies with creative heroes. I’ve seen my favorite bands from just feet away.

Most importantly I have learned that the voices, both internal and external, telling you your art is silly or unimportant are wrong.

If ten people listen to the show and think it matters, or they learn something, then damnit it matters. But, if no one listens, it still matters. It matters for all the cliche reasons but also because we are nothing without art.

The show J.J. and his band played with the symphony might as well have been tomorrow it’s so fresh. Eugene’s split does not happen anymore but that does not matter. It resides in my memory and every time he does some bat shit wild thing on stage now, I am transported to that moment when I was creatively stifled but there were people like Eugene Snowden and J.J. Grey who let me escape to a place where I could not otherwise travel. I could not do what they were doing but no matters of the ego would survive that moment.

Uncovering the Well

The song you hear playing in the background of The Marinade intro is by Explosions in the Sky. It’s called “First Breath After Coma.” You may not have noticed it the first twenty-plus times you heard the intro, but now it’ll be dialed in. The song is an ear worm of the best sort.

That intro was recorded on a whim. My partner Kris had just gifted me mic stands, a present that ranks among my favorite to this day. She put a ton of thought into what I might need while recording intros and outros, or while having people over for interviews.

We were hanging out late one night and I enthusiastically asked her to play around with our new recording setup. On her worst day, Kris is my favorite singer. Her singing blends pain with hope and ties the two in a bow of universal class. That’s how I fell in love with her. All of that.

She has always supported my creative endeavors, but those mic stands sent a message that she was all in on my creative pursuits. And, her subsequent renderings of my logo concepts proved to me that I was on to something with The Marinade. If Kris likes it, or at least supports it, then I have a chance.

Years of writing, interviewing, and recording later, The Marinade reached a place where we not only had our feature episodes, but a few tendrils to manicure as well. One of those vines is our website exclusive episodes. Episode 4 of that series is with the incredible songwriter Amy McCarley.

A Push From New Friends

Interviews are almost never bad. I’m okay at this by now. But, some are amazing. Sometimes you hit a flow of sorts. My website exclusive episode with Amy McCarley was one of those moments. During our conversation, I mentioned that I had some songs written but they had not been consumed by anyone other than me and a few select girlfriends over the years. To which she basically replied, tighten up and put yourself out there.

Barley and Vine Biergarten is my home base. A local bar where everyone knows all your shit - the good and the not-so-good - and they want you to succeed. A week after my conversation with Amy, I showed up to play some original songs only to find that open mic was cancelled. I told Amy what happened and she said not to give up, to give it another go in a week or so. The same thing happened to her the first time she tried to play an open mic.

Two weeks later, I was preparing to emcee the Rockin’ Robinson music festival, an easy excuse not to face my anxiety about playing. It’s not that I don’t think my songs are any good, or that I don’t like my voice. It’s that I feel like a poseur. I can’t help comparing myself to these brilliant musicians I work with, a standard of which I fall well short.

Meanwhile, my episode with Amy went live and I sent her the links. In her response to my note, she asked about whether I had gotten up to play! Persistently, lovingly, asking if I faced my anxieties and got up there.

It was good, tough medicine. I showed up again at the end of a really labor-intensive week, with all the excuse in the world to skip out again.

Photo by Philly Kennedy

Photo by Philly Kennedy

Showtime

The place is packed but the sandwich board out front says the bar is closed for a private party, and will reopen at 8:00. It is 7:51. I am hungry, haven’t eaten since noon. I need to go for a run. There is time for both. I could go for a quick run and grab a snack. No, if I leave now I will probably conveniently run out of time and not be able to play. I could just scrap the whole thing for now. The universe seems to be conspiring against me and this open mic will always be here. If not this one, another.

No, today has to be the day. I will email Amy and tell her I am thinking about backing down but am going to get up there and play this time. That will give me some accountability.

The room comes together quickly. There is still an hour till open mic is slated to begin. And, this being rock n’ roll, who knows what time it will actually start. Philly runs the open mic and knows I want to go up early so he puts me first on the list. I decide one beer would be good. No more than one.

Several friends are here. I guess they were watching some kind of documentary about the racial history of Orlando. That’s good. My first song is about racial injustice. I feel a little better about what is going to happen. It is comforting to see so many buddies in attendance. So is Eugene Snowden.

My name is called. I take the stage to some surprised looks on the faces of people who have known me for years and had no idea I played or sang. I fumble with my guitar. We finally get it figured out.

I’ve written a ton of tunes, played a few of them for people, and mostly filtered the ones that are universally appreciated by captive, sympathetic audiences. Again, I think art is mostly about the artist’s need to express something. How it is received should not be overly fretted. But, if you don’t like something then it probably should not go out in the world.

I’ve got one tune I know is good, one that is an acquired taste, and an a cappella cover I know I can crush. I am going to play them in that order - the powerful tune I love, the easier one I like, and then see whether the crowd is ready for the a cappella curveball.

The first song is called Brenton Butler. It’s a true story about a black teenage boy who was wrongly accused of murder in Jacksonville circa 2000. It’s a tough song to hear and sing but the crowd is ready for it and so am I. The whole place is cheering. I damn near get a standing ovation and Eugene Snowden of Legendary JCs fame, he who upstaged JJ Grey one night in Gainesville fifteen years ago is cheering as loud as anyone.

So fired up is he, as I stand here giddily grinning, that Eugene puts his name on the list to play next. I do my other two songs, finishing off with the Saul Williams cover as Eugene leads the room in a clap-along, and take my place among friends to watch Eugene Snowden follow me on stage.

That is the tale of how I opened for Eugene Snowden.

Album Review | Reed Foehl's Lucky Enough

“We’ve all got holes to fill/Them holes are all that’s real” -Townes Van Zandt

Reed Foehl’s excellent album “Lucky Enough” (available 2/1/19) takes the listener on an existential journey to fill life’s holes. Written at an impossibly difficult time in Foehl’s life, while he was caring for his mother who was battling cancer, Foehl would be understood for writing a melancholy record. Lucky Enough ducks expectation. It does not feel melancholy. It feels settled. Not resigned, but at peace with life’s challenges and tribulations.

The common current running through Lucky Enough is acceptance. Going out and searching for something to make us whole. The album is sequenced as the tale of a person navigating existence, learning lessons, failing and growing, and finally finding a place and a person who fills in the holes.

Lucky Enough kicks off with the infectious melody of lovers “Stealing Starlight,” lyrics about the simple pleasures of life. The “taste of Basil Hayden’s” on the tongue. Footprints washed away in the sand. Sleeping in together. Stealing starlight.

But, as restless spirits are wont to do, our narrator takes off cross country clicking through “American Miles.” It’s a cinematic tune a la Bon Iver. A restive tale that acknowledges all the narrator loves is all he knows.

Who knows what we are going to encounter on that road; that American road, the one serving as a metaphor for our life’s journey. The journey is long yet it feels at times like it is flying by too quickly to grasp. It “takes a long time to make old friends,” our narrator tells us. And, really, we are just “charting the courses of carousel horses,” lost in this day-to-day.

Sometimes we feel we should be “on an Island” like the protagonist in the opening track to Lucky Enough’s side B. He admonishes us to remember that “You don’t know me till you can walk in my shoes.” But an island is no place for a battle.

Our struggles can seem so enormous yet really we ultimately “running out of nothing left to do.” A regiment of blinding agents keeps us moored to our carousel. None of us on our own really knows what we are doing. We need each other to navigate this world.

Foehl employs an almost whimsical feel to help his narrator work through this existential angst on the heavy yet fun “I Wish I Knew.” Ultimately, the heady musings of Lucky Enough come to the realization that what we all need is someone or some group of souls to fill in our holes. We can only do so much on our own. Once we have rambled the miles, made and lost friends, endured the day-to-day, and run out of nothing left to do we are faced with ourselves. Our strengths, our insecurities, our charms, our anxieties- all of it needs the tempering influence of people we love.

Lucky Enough ends with the arresting “Color Me In.” “What will you do with me, my darlin’?” Foehl’s narrator asks, followed by an entreaty to come and lay with him, to relish the moment they have together. Together they can make it. No, together they will make it. What may not be possible alone is attainable with someone there to fill the holes.

-Jason Earle

Overdue Review | Elizabeth Cook's Exodus of Venus

Elizabeth Cook’s Exodus of Venus is a grilled pimento cheese sandwich dipped in a Sriracha bath- all the comfort of Southern delicacies served up by grandma but with enough fire and rebellion to be easily confused as something other than a country staple. Cook sticks to the truth part of country music’s three chords and the truth formula, but her impact on the consumer cannot be reduced to bromides.

Exodus of Venus is a brilliant record. A record about place- geographical, metaphysical, spiritual, monumentally multi-dimensional. Her descriptions of life’s travails carry that most-desirable musical quality- relatability.

Whether she is talking about breaking down in London or visiting houses of ill repute in Central Florida, Cook has the ability to make any situation feel applicable to the listener’s life. There is a nugget of wisdom in each tune. Some are hard-earned lessons, others the kind we all experience but struggle to express.

The first half of Exodus of Venus is about getting away- releasing, escaping. “Exodus of Venus',” “Dyin’,” “Evacuation,” “Dharma Gate,” “Slow Pain,” even the titles suggest a journey away from current circumstances, a getaway from perceived reality. My mother had a family friend once tell her that you spend the first half of your life trying to get away from home and the second doing whatever you can to return. I have learned not to take such advice literally. Home is more than the place we were raised.

Exodus of Venus takes us home to heal on side B. Much of the record describes places in and around where Cook was reared. “Methadone Blues” ostensibly describes trips to the methadone clinic in Jacksonville, FL, but its message of continually chasing elusive relief could refer to the struggles of folks imprisoned by myriad circumstances around the world. The fact that Cook writes what she knows gives us a foothold for our own spiritual climb wherever we may need it.

“Orange Blossom Trail” is a tune set just down the road from Cook’s native Wildwood. OBT as it is colloquially know, is a stretch notorious for its prostitutes and drugs. Cook’s “Orange Blossom Trail,” much like “Straightjacket Love” before it, juxtaposes that setting with comforting companionship- a sordid tale buoyed by a shoulder-shaking melody and infectious hook.

The record ends with the heartbreaking yet hopeful “Tabitha Tuder’s Mama,” a song about missing children, a story all-too-often repeated in headlines today. While the story of Tabitha, who went missing in 2003 at the age of thirteen is a painful one, the message of the chorus is to pray, “even if you don’t pray at all.” We can blow up our own world. So long as we survive we have a chance to get back.

Maybe we need to return to the physical place we were raised, to a spiritual understanding of ourselves, or to awareness that bad things happen but we must keep fighting for answers. Exodus of Venus is the soundtrack to that fight.

-Jason Earle

2018 in Review | The Books

In 2018, I finally sought therapy for the anxiety that has plagued most of my life. 
Doing so was one of the best decisions I have made and I am grateful to have access to a really good therapist, as well as the support of my inner circle.

Getting mental health help can be daunting. Looking back, I felt like if I was committed to getting help then I would no longer have anxiety as an excuse or explanation for some of my more anti-social and self-destructive tendencies. 
I was wrong, of course. Well, I was right about not having an excuse or explanation, but that was true before I sought help.

I was wrong about therapy being daunting. It is a lot of work, which is good. BJ Barham and I talked on Episode 1 of The Marinade about the value of hard work. The phrase 'hard work' evokes images of the grindstone and a swinging hammer. 
The work I have done on myself this year has been equally exhausting but also liberating.

I am far from done. This work is a never ending cycle of discovery, struggle, and revelation. 
One such revelation has been that I know I am at my best when I write, read, and exercise regularly. That's it. If I do those things, the other stuff takes care of itself.

So, I set out to read more. I have always devoured books but my heroes are voracious consumers of words and ideas. I knew I could do more.

I did not keep count of the books I read. I am too prone to competition to do something like that. It would interfere with my enjoyment. 
Safe to say, I read as much as needed. This list reflects the books that really stuck with me.

Cheers and love in 2019, y'all.

-Jason Earle

Album Review | Hawks and Doves "From a White Hotel"

Kasey Anderson sets the tone for his record From a White Hotel within the first minute. Just over forty seconds in he sings, “They gonna stack up the dead till they black out the sun/These white boys with money make the whole world run”

The establishment is clearly in Anderson’s cross hairs on From a White Hotel, the first release from his band Hawks and Doves. Not strictly a protest record, but one that will not overlook the current administration’s bigotry and absence of empathy. From a White Hotel’s agenda feels rooted in hope and opportunity, a commitment to examining the ugly bits along with the good, in finding humanity from characters who American society puts in boxes convenient for cognitive dissonance - freak, degenerate, lazy - and throws into a forgotten pile with others deemed unfavorable.

This is a record that lays the characters, the listener, and the album’s narrator bare. It is a record of unification- bringing together what it means to be “American,” to be human. From a White Hotel is a white-hot rock n’ roll record. It is a return to form for Anderson, the writer and performer who just embarked on his first tour in several years. From a White Hotel is also the best thing Anderson has done in his critically acclaimed career.

The album has no holes. Its sequence takes the listener on a hopeful journey through heartache, confusion, loss, lust, love, and resilient fight. Anderson’s tunes are tough for this author to leave as background music. Every stanza is dripping with imagery to which those of us who write regularly aspire.

We could pluck examples from nearly any spot on the record to illustrate this point. The title track provides one such example. The song begins with spare percussion and the strum of a guitar chord. The arrangement of the tune lays Anderson’s gravelly voice and powerful imagery bare. He paints a scene of national disaster in the first verse. The second brings us closer to home, letting us into the narrator’s intimate fantasies.

“Way back in my travelin’ days I kissed a girl in San Antone/She was every faded fantasy I called upon when I was alone/But I’ll leave that here in this old house with everything I own and set it on fire”

Moving on, not just away from the past but toward something better, more meaningful. “From a White Hotel” is perhaps the most personal song on the album and one to which there is so much for the listener to attach. This album is not only our favorite Kasey Anderson effort, it is one of our favorite albums of the year thus far. If enough great records come along to knock it from its perch in the next six months, well that will be a very nice problem to have.

-Jason Earle