For most casual fans of music, the forty-five minutes that a band spends on the stage is all they can see. However, when the guitar cases are closed and the venue’s floor is littered with empty beer cans and trash, most bands load their gear into the van and return back to their normal lives.
Mother Church Pew’s Off The Stage is a series that celebrates a band’s path to where they are and the things they do behind the scenes to stay there.
In 2019, East Nashville music scene pioneer Amelia White released her seventh album, Rhythm Of The Rain; written in the shocking wake of the 2016 election, the album is a prime example of how songwriters process their observations of society, holding up the reflective mirror of storytelling and perspective. At the beginning of quarantine, White endured a harrowing trip home from a canceled Australian tour; as she’s sheltered-in-place, she’s turned quarantine into a muse of sorts, hosting her own Facebook Live Stream Series called “Home On the Strange,” and rediscovered the joy in quiet moments and simple pleasures:
The panic rose like a slow tide in my tour mates and I around March 13th. The first gig of our Australia tour had cancelled, it was one of the anchor dates, a festival.
Meanwhile, back home, my wife was getting increasingly anxious for me to call the tour and make the long journey back. We feared getting stuck in Australia. Flight rebooking was hell, and those tense two days driving from Sidney to Melbourne sucked all the joy out of the first two weeks. After a blur of travel, I found myself standing in the airport with a tattered, dirty bandana over my nose and mouth. Will Kimbrough had returned home ten days earlier on a nearly empty flight – I was not so lucky. Cramped in the middle seat of the middle aisle on a packed plane, I pretty much resigned myself to catching Covid-19, which didn’t seem as scary as the thought of being stuck in a foreign land with the small sum in my bank account. I arrived in Nashville after a couple of eerie layovers in empty airports. I felt like a wastebasket.
I remember taking a long shower and crashing into bed numb. Home felt like heaven, even if my wife had a low-grade fever herself. She was my person, and I just didn’t care. We could be sick together. As my euphoria and relief at being home subsided, the unsettling reality set in, No gigs, no hopping down to the 5 Spot to kiss a ring, hear a chord, have Bob pour me a Diet Coke and ask, “how the hell was Australia.” Then came the call from my manager: “I don’t know when we’ll be able to release your new album.” The past summer, Kim Richey had produced an album for me and it seriously is the finest thing I’ve ever made. This was a bitter pill.
How have I managed? What has saved me? In a lot of ways, this jarring time has had the same unfamiliarity of my early sobriety a few years back. Everything felt foreign, I was crawling out of my skin, and at the same time just happy to be alive. Coming home from the tour had a “pink cloud” very similar to the first month without a drink. I thought my desire to write would dry up, but it became even more compelling. In the last few months, I’ve jumped headfirst into songs. I tinker away in that deadly quiet spot. My repetitive thinking slows until the outside world no longer exists. The “off-kilter vibe” of the pandemic works for my muse, who seems to love the dramatic. This sweet escape has been free of distractions and other obligations.
We’d taken in a roommate who had lost her home in the tornado. The plan had been she’d stay until I returned from Australia. By the time I got home and into my 14-day quarantine, it was clear she had to wait it out with us. We sheltered together, an unlikely family here on a stationary boat on a strange sea. I recovered from jet lag and woke up every day amazed I hadn’t contracted the virus flying across the world. Luckily our home had enough space for us all to exist. My wife burrowed in her office zooming into her grueling science job/grad program, and down the hall, I shut myself in with kitty’s litter box. Songs and poems were growing as was a garden I planted in the back yard. It only takes a tiny seed to grow food, faith, and acceptance. I watched the buds sprout and decided to believe we were gonna be alright.
I’ve always thought of making food as the earthy sister to writing songs. Cooking helped me with the discomfort of the situation and made our little family happy. The three of us fell into a routine of nightly meals and laughter. We dropped the needle on Townes, Otis Redding, and Linda Ronstadt and sang along. I cooked, they cleaned, and we relaxed into a slower, gentler way. On weekends, it was pancakes, bacon eggs, and gospel. Just like getting sober, it became necessary to live a day at a time, otherwise, I’d fall into anxiety and worry. Every night our three animals took to climbing into bed with my wife and me. Who knows if it was the lack of space or their instinctual need to comfort us? My big pal Kanga (a seventy-five pound Lab/ Australian Shepherd mix ) willingly joined me on long walks three and sometimes four times a day. She had not a worry about the pandemic. I found myself able to access her level and be fully present in nature. Her grass rolling and creek dipping brought me great joy.
As Nashville slowly re-opens I almost dread the old familiar pressures. This strange time has brought a fresh perspective. The meditation practice I’ve been talking about for years has finally become a daily thing. I’m finding I have more with less and have been able to buy groceries with tips thanks to fans joining my weekly live stream show. Not one of us knows what will happen next, and that’s an uneasy reality. Death and economic ruin have visited too many people, and I hate that we lost John Prine. Nashville’s grandpa mentor lived to create, and that brought so much happiness to all. In my brief encounter with him at a show years back, I sensed he truly understood how to lean into the moment. Today, I really resonate with the wacky message of “Spanish Pipedream.” Anything that brings me closer to a Prine song I count as a true blessing.
Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build yourself a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own. – John Prine