My first live experience with folk music was in a dark warehouse-style venue in downtown Santa Ana on a Thursday night. I remember the electricity in the air and the glass of whiskey in my hand and the way the banjo made me want to dance.
There was a depth to the chords and a roughness to the voices - and yet, this deep sense of joy when the rhythms of the cords quickened and the people in the audience began to move with it.
More so than any other form of music, I connect with folk. There is something about the sound of the cords that represent longing and the quickness of the musical riffs that seem to declare the pure unadulterated joy of life hidden in the in-between places.
The lyrics are deep and detailed. I think that’s the key to any great storytelling – the details.
The way the wind felt against your skin and the roughness of his hand around yours when you knew he was the one. The color of the sky on that hot summer day when the waves of the pool lapped around you and you first started talking about “I do.”
Folk music has a way of sharing and organizing thoughts into lyrical paintings that bring out new feelings every time we listen.
On my third date with James he brought out his guitar and sang to me. I had to pinch myself… is this happening?! Am I being serenaded by this handsome man right now? If there is any way straight to my heart, it’s music.
He sang a few different songs – my favorite was “Wagon Wheel.”
James’ guitar still sits in the corner of our bedroom, and my favorite songs aren’t the covers that he does anymore. It’s the songs he makes up when he is playing with the cords between his fingers and music seems to pour from his heart.
I’ll never hear most of those songs again. He doesn’t write them down. I just close my eyes and listen on the edge of the bed while he sings his heart out loud.
The Avett Brothers, one of my favorite folk bands, say that playing their music is like reading their diary on stage. In a recent documentary about their journey called May it Last, the brothers, Scott and Seth, shared they had a hard time being congratulated for one of their songs because it was so personal to them.
The song was called “No Hard Feelings.” After recording it, they were both visibly moved and upset in the midst of being complimented for what a beautiful piece it was by their bandmates and producer.
Scott Avett observes: “It’s weird to be congratulated on the mining of the soul.”
And yet, that’s what makes their music and that song so powerful and so potent. It’s honest. It’s a true reflection of the soul. And, it’s uncomfortable.
It’s the very act of translating our souls into art or thought that can make us feel like a piece of us is now living on the outside of the flesh and bones that bore the searing pain of our story.
I think that one could argue a life absent of hard feelings and pain is a life that was not truly lived.
Hard feelings are the currency of the soul, a badge of honor of the living and a heart that dares to love in the midst of massive uncertainty and guaranteed heartbreak when death do us part.
One of the scariest aspects of loving someone with your whole heart is to know that your heart is now living and breathing outside of you. There is no controlling what happen next.
It seems to me that to be human is to have hard feelings.
Some of us bury them, others run from them, some let those feelings own them and some learn to carry them as a friend – a necessary part of the journey.
And some of us translate those hard feelings into words and songs – a diary read out loud. For the world to peer into and somehow see their reflection within them.
We recognize our pain in the breaking of someone’s voice and the twang in their guitar.
And, somehow, we feel set free.
Watch the Avett Brothers record "No Hard Feelings" below.