For the holiday season enjoy the music video "In the Bleak Midwinter" with winter photos that my Dad and I took. Or join me live next week when I'll be singing Christmas music and original songs with Lucinda Lucas on December 16th at Eaglespeak coffee house in Charlotte (details here) AND Looking forward to reprising the Tony Abbot's "Angel Dialogues" (poetry and music) in Lexington with Staley Jordan as the angel on December 13. See below and prior post (Poetry Performance with Tony Abbott) about the event:
I had the great privilege of getting to hear this beautiful song, "Dear Sister" by Claire Lynch and Louisa Branscomb performed live at the International Bluegrass Music Association's conference in 2014 where it won song of the year. The song is a letter from a soldier to his sister that uses the image of home--a longing we all share--to call for peace for all humankind.
The song "Love at the 5 and Dime" describes the complicated "dance" of a couple's journey: from young love, marriage, infidelity, forgiveness through old age--describing the whole arc with brief but poignant details ("showing not telling"): "Rita...made the Woolworth counter shine; Eddie was...a darn good dancer". "...married up in Abilene, lost a child in Tennessee".
One of my favorite lines encapsulates the jealousy, insecurity, the "what if" of a midlife crisis in two lines: "One of the boys in Eddie's band took a shine to Ms Rita's hand; so Eddie ran off with the bass man's wife." And then regret and forgiveness; "Oh, but he was back by June; singin' a different tune. And sporting' Ms Rita by his side."
The whole song (and the couple's love) is held together by music--by dancing. And the poignancy of the dance grows deeper and takes on a slightly different meaning with every verse: "Dance a little closer to me.... 'Cause it's closing time and love's on sale tonight at this 5 and Dime". The first verse repeats as the last verse in a lovely return to the beginning.
Beautiful writing and imagery, lovely melody. Nancy has a wonderful intro talking about the harmonic being evocative of the Woolworth store's elevators. (She ends the live recording of this song "...going up.") When I was writing my song "When Dragons Were Real" for my children I wanted to use a harmonic chord to evoke magic, so I used tuning and a couple of chords from this song (knowing, too, I could pair the songs in a set!). Thank you, Nanci Griffith.
I've been rehearsing with a new band (Mark Larson, Duane Centola, Tom Hanchett, Paul Walker). We're calling ourselves "Latta Jazz." Old school jazz standards but some new stuff, too. Here's a peek at rehearsal--a "video selfie". I'm singing the end of "My Funny Valentine."
Sally Barris rocked the house last Saturday and then on Sunday led the best songwriting workshop I have ever attended. She returns to Charlotte in November with her new cd "The Road in Me" in hand (hosted by Charlotte songwriters Tim and Sarah Geis Williams who co-wrote songs on her upcoming release). Sign up for my newsletter to get invitations to house concerts like this, find out about projects I am working on, hear videos and more.
It's not often new songwriters get to record their songs along with famous artists, but that's exactly what happened for me. Thanks to Si Kahn's invitation, I have a new song premiering at a cd release party on August 22. I will be taking the stage with David Childers and DeWitt Crosby--performing my song "Dark Clouds" AND premiering Si's new song, "Here in Gastonia" (Si had previous engagements he could not change) at Zoe's Coffee House in Gastonia. I will post links to buy tickets for the event on my Facebook music page and in my newsletter (sign up using the contact form on this page if you haven't already!). For more about Ella May and the event, see my post "Songs for Ella May Wiggins and the Loray Mill strike". To read about the song I wrote, see "Dark Clouds": my song for Ella May". Here's a link to listen to the song. Contact me to purchase the cd; all proceeds from cd sales and the event will benefit the Ella May Wiggins Memorial Committee.
Sally Barris returns to the porch for a house concert on August 29th and a songwriting workshop on August 30th. She will be singing songs from her new cd "The Road in Me" (which she is currently recording); see her pledge music campaign to learn more about the project and support it. Sally is not only a wonderful singer and writer, but a great teacher, mentor, and collaborator as well. Local Charlotte songwriters Timothy Scott and Sarah Geis Williams, who co-wrote the title track with Sally, will attend. Tim will join Sally in performing "The Road in Me," and I will contribute some harmony on a couple of my Sally favorites ("Wilder Girl" and maybe a new one!) Contact me for details! Listen to her song about her boyfriend (whom I've gotten to meet...the story ends well...) below.
I hosted Craig Carrothers and performed in 2 house concerts in June (thank you to Sarah and Geoffrey Curme and to Katya Lezin and David Lieberman for hosting me). Link to article in Charlotte Observer here.
As I researched Ella May Wiggins in order to write a song for a cd commemorating her life and work (see posts: about the project, the cd release party, and the Gaston Gazette article), I was fascinated by the fact that Ella May Wiggins (a white woman) chose to live in Stumptown (a majority black neighborhood) during the segregated south. Her advocacy was not only for poor whites but poor blacks as well, so I wrote a song with a gospel, call and response feel. I used a simple structure with the repeated response "dark clouds are lookin' like rain" and a methodical, driving rhythm so that the song sounds as if it could be used on a picket line or in a field picking cotton. I recorded the demo using only finger snaps and mostly sing it a cappella. It’s meant to be sung by a group in a loose, improvisational style with people making up vocal riffs or even verses on the spot.
The verses I wrote do not directly refer to Ella May or the Loray Mill strike. I used general descriptions of injustice to refer to historical (as well as current day) problems such as the increasing disparity between rich and poor and the violence visited upon those without power ("shoot you down" referring to Ella May and numerous other historical activists as well as unarmed black men that have been killed by police). The oft quoted "Nothin’ to lose but chains...” is a direct reference to the Marxist roots of the strike. The song is unapologetically dark and defiant to pay homage to those who have lost their lives fighting for justice. But the last verse contains an edge of hopefulness that if we can all pull together we could perhaps avoid the coming storm.
For more about the song and why I wrote it, see my blog post: New single: “Saving the Whales” (Saving the Humans!). The song can be purchased at cdbaby and on iTunes or streamed on numerous sites. Pictures by Jack Oates used with permission. All other pictures (except mine) are published under the creative commons license on flickr. Attribution and links (in order of appearance in video):
- My children taking pictures of the Seattle skyline, Katie Oates, 2014 (For my family to get together at Thanksgiving 3 of us flew across the country, 2 of us drove 8 hours, and 1 took a bus for 8 hours: high use of gas and oil...).
- My computer and plasma tv, Katie Oates, 2015 Computers and tvs use lots of energy. In NC, unless you are "off-grid," energy can only be bought through one regulated utility [Duke Energy in my case], so I have an agreement with Arcadia Power to buy the equivalent of my home energy usage in renewable wind energy.
- My website entry of "Saving the Whales", Katie Oates, 2015. My website server host (1and1) uses green energy and employs energy efficient practices, but much of the energy I and others use is not renewable.
- "King of the Trash Hill" Buckhorn Mesa Landfill, 2013, by Alan Levine, 2013
- “Polluted Earth” Hudson Park, New York, 2007, by Vincent
- "Friends of Coal", 2006, by Noricum
- "Mountaintop Removal Mine above Homes in Eastern Kentucky", Pike County Kentucky 2010, by Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices
- "Runoff From ‘Reclaimed’ Mountaintop Removal Mine in Kentucky" Magoffin County Kentrucky 2010, by Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices
- “Coal Mining in Brazil” Criseluna, Santa Catarina 2011 by United Nations photographer Sebastiao Barbosa
- "Coal Fired Power Plant" Pacific Corp/Rocky Mountain Power near Price, Utah burning coal mined nearby in Eccles Canyon, 2009, by ArbyReed
- "Gathering" (birds at shopping center), 2011, by Nicholas A Tonelli
- “A creek runs under it. Somewhere.” 2012, by Washington State Dept of Transportation Scatter Creek Bridge near Enumclaw, WA, In 2014 as part of a seismic retrofit to a bridge, the concrete and rebar from the prior bridge that had collapsed in 1965 was finally removed from the stream.
- "Whales!" Orcas in Victoria, British Columbia, 2011, by BohemianDolls
- "Mountaintop Removal, Wise County, Virginia", 2011, by Universal Pops
- Centennial Mountains, Idaho-Montana border 2010 by Jack Oates
- Family on boardwalk at Pacific Beach, California by Jack Oates 2015
- “Paved Paradise”, 2009, California by fishfoot
- "The San Ardo Oil Field From the Coast Starlight", 2009, California by Loco Steve
- "Why East Kentucky Kids Use Orange Crayons to Draw Streams" Magoffin County Kentucky, 2010 by Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices
- "Water pollution in China" 2009, Inner Mongolia by Bert van Dijk
- Pelican on Madison River near Ennis, Montana, 2014, by Jack Oates
- Pelicans taking flight at Pacific Beach, California by Jack Oates 2015
- Fish at Birch Aquarium, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California by Jack Oates 2015
- Gull on sand at Pacific Beach by Jack Oates 2015
- Cedar waxwing, Missoula, Montana by Jack Oates, 2009
- Sunset at Pacific Beach by Jack Oates, 2015
- Sunset at Pacific Beach by Jack Oates, 2015
- Mountain Range in St George, Utah by Jack Oates, 2015
- "Hump Back Whale, South Island, New Zealand" 2007 by Gemma Louise Lowe
- My children, 2000, at Pawleys Island, SC by Katie Oates
In the early to mid-20th century, textile jobs were about the only large source of jobs in small Southern towns; the demand for textiles in WWI drew many people from rural areas with the prospect of better wages and lives for their families. But, as demand for textiles lessened after the war, those jobs demanded longer hours (with danger to health and welfare) for less and less pay. Unions in the North often brought better pay and labor conditions, but unions were fiercely resisted in the South. Few people know that one of the deadliest battles over unionizing took place in Gastonia, NC at the Loray Mill in 1929. Two people died: a sheriff (Chief Aderholdt), who was shot during a raid on the striker's headquarters, and textile worker, mother, activist, and songwriter Ella May Wiggins, who was helping union organizers. Over 30 people were jailed for the sheriff's murder, but no one was ever charged for Ella May's murder. The union efforts failed, but because the strike was so controversial (union organizers included some communists and union leaders from the North), it wasn't until April 2013 that the state finally erected a historical marker commemorating the Loray Mill Strike. A few years ago descendants of Ella May Wiggins and other citizens and supporters of Gastonia formed the Ella May Wiggins Memorial Committee to "establish a significant and proper physical memorial honoring her life, labor, sacrifices, and unifying ideals for Gaston County's textile workers and community on which she had a profound and lasting impact." The committee has organized annual textile art exhibits, an indiegogo campaign with donations of songs and writings from artists to raise money for the memorial. (See the website and their Facebook page for more details.)
In spring 2015, Gastonia resident David Childers, whom Bob Crawford of The Avett Brothers calls "the most prolific NC songwriter alive," organized various local musicians to record a cd of Ella May's songs used in the strike (see lyrics to some of her songs here). The cd will also contain songs by Si Kahn, who has spent many years advocating for civil rights--including rights of textile workers. Si's 1970 song "Aragon Mill" (already in history books about folk songs) will be on the cd (sung by David) as well as several other of Si's songs including his new song commemorating the Loray Mill Strike ("Here in Gastonia"). Si, generous mentor that he is to me, recruited my friend DeWitt Crosby and me to write songs which are also included on the cd. For more information about my song "Dark Clouds," see this post.
The CD release party will be held on August 22 at Zoe's Coffee Shop in Gastonia at 7:00pm. All proceeds from the cd will go to the Memorial Committee.
Last summer I attended a songwriting workshop led by John McCutcheon at The Highlander Center in the foothills of Tennessee. Kim Buchanan and I were randomly paired up and told to write a song honoring the kitchen staff. Unfortunately, the handful of songs I have written took me months to write. Kim and I had 40 minutes.
For most of my music career I have been a singer and performer but not a songwriter. I never imagined I could write a song that I would be interested in singing--much less a song someone else would want to listen to or sing. But at midlife I had finally realized that the only thing worse than trying something new and failing was not to try at all. So here I was at a songwriting workshop struggling to come up with ideas with Kim…and doing a good job of failing. John came by to listen to our progress about 30 minutes in to the exercise and delicately suggested that we scrap our song and start over. Time was up, and we were the only pair of songwriters who didn’t have a song to share. It was pretty much the worst possible outcome. Kim and I were both embarrassed and discouraged. We resolved to meet during our down time and come up with something we could share with the group the next day.
Looking back it’s hard to know what clicked for us on our second effort. It helped that we had heard everyone else’s songs and heard John McCutcheon sing a few of his songs. By this time I had also learned that Kim was a pastor on a sabbatical focused in part on songwriting. She was not going to give up—which is what I would have done if it had been a solo exercise. It was one thing to let myself down, but I was letting Kim (and by proxy) an entire congregation down by fixating on my own insecurities. Feeling slightly panicked by Kim’s determination, I started to act like I knew what I was doing and work harder. I would believe in myself—and us—for Kim’s sake if not for my own. Egos aside, we began putting ideas out there, dividing up tasks and going with our gut. We didn’t even have time to second-guess ourselves. I kept changing the melody on every pass until Kim finally said (just before we stood up to present it to the group), “I’ll play; you sing”—both of us knowing we had no idea what would come out. We took a leap of faith and not only did John and the other workshop participants like the song, the kitchen staff loved it. The video in this post was taken by Lou Dominguez of Kim and me singing the song for the kitchen staff (with tears and hugs at the end). You can hear John McCutcheon laughing and singing along!
I have always loved James Taylor's version of "In the Bleak Mid-Winter." The lyrics are from a poem by Christina Rossetti which she wrote while sick with Graves disease. She died before it was published. As my mother noted in an email to me reflecting on this advent song: "we are all waiting for better race relations, waiting for hurting people, waiting for children with cancer...waiting for 'Joy to the World.'" Receiving this beautiful reflection from my mother made me think of mothers and their love for their children. But, also, of the grief of mothers who are separated from their children or whose children are sick, have died, or were murdered. Oh if only we could all be healed by a mother's love. And so I recorded this song in my home on my own piano, and I dedicate it to my mother and my mother-in-law who have supported, encouraged, nurtured and loved me for so many years. Winter pictures for the video were taken by my Dad, Jack Oates (a talented photographer and painter) and by me. http://youtu.be/d7voq9P1vtQ
There are lots of issues I care about and support, and most (if not all of them) come down to this moral question: do my actions (or that of my community and nation and humankind) lead to abundance for myself and others or to destruction, fear and scarcity? Can we, as humans, learn to live more like trees (every part of a tree's life-span and even death creates more life) or will we commit the ultimate irreversible sin and destroy the very ecosystem that all life depends on? Five years ago on a Thanksgiving trip across the southeast, I spent hours looking at the changing leaves and the deep blue skies and thinking about how often we sacrifice the things we need for things we want. As I drove, this song, "Saving the Whales" began taking shape in my head. I tried to keep the song light and funny (with a peppy beat), but the message is serious (a poet friend of mine immediately dubbed it "Saving the Humans"). Can we save ourselves?
Si Kahn produced the recording. Si's current project is uniting musicians to sing out about protecting one of the world's last great wild spawning fisheries--the last best source of wild cockeyed salmon: Bristol Bay, Alaska. More info here.
I recently attended the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual conference: "World of Bluegrass" and picked up my camera more often than I did my guitar--a great week listening to many talented performers. Claire Lynch's performance pulled me off my feet to snap pictures of her enchanting interpretation of "Dear Sister" around midnight in the conference center (watch the youtube link of her performance--she gets a standing ovation in the middle of her set ):
The song (co-written with Louise Branscomb) went on to win "song of the year" at the Bluegrass awards ceremony later in the week.
Also wowed by Melody Walker of Front Country's singing and songwriting--lots of heart and soul along with interesting music, instrumentation and lyric writing.
Way to go ladies! I'm a fan!
I had the opportunity to sing this solo (Precious Blood Medley) in a shared Palm Sunday service between 1st Baptist Church West and Park Road Baptist Church in 2006 and 2007. It's a rough recording (you can hear the guy who recorded it singing along at times), and I am singing over a full choir (with no microphone). The acoustics in the church and the high notes at full volume helped. If you listen to the end you'll hear me sing a high C (the note at the very top of my range at the loudest volume I can muster--my entire body rocked back and forth with the effort).
Singing with an African American choir with a very palpable history of generations of blood spilled—murdered—during slavery and in the many years of injustice that followed, made me feel it in my bones. I am chilled by the thought of ancestors of mine who took part in oppression and murder (or stood silently by) and, perhaps, of my own ancestors who suffered and died in oppression. Who wouldn't want to be liberated from that evil?
And so when the elderly black gentleman approached me after the concert, I could see he had something weighty on his mind. He just stood there quietly looking me up and down; my heart sank a little. I thought maybe I had offended him. Why had they let a white woman sing that powerful solo? Finally he smiled and said "Young lady, I believe you've got some soul in you." He couldn't have summed up that moment more perfectly for me. I just beamed back at him and said, "Yes, sir. I believe I do."
I have had the good fortune to meet renowned folk-singer and activist Si Kahn who just so happens to live in my neighborhood. (Read more about Si here.) Si and I share a passion for social justice and music, and I am grateful for his help in recording my single "Saving the Whales."
Cheryl and I recently recorded the first song I ever wrote ("Saving the Whales") at Old House Studios with Chris Garges recording and Dan Hood playing every instrument you can imagine (guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, electric guitar). We're all very excited with the result and are looking forward to finishing the final mix and recording some more songs! Daniel Coston happened to drop by the studio and take these pictures. Thanks Daniel!