We’re making a quick transformation at the house this week. The spare room has been cleared for action, and even the hidden room above the garage has been swept out and the futon reset. The empty nest stands poised for a flock of guests including our daughter, Riley, who recently graduated from Bennington College in Vermont.
Riley is doing what every other self-respecting music major should do after graduation: assembling a cross-country tour with three other women musicians playing original folk. They started in Vermont and have worked their way West playing engagements where they “have a place to stay and a place to play.” The group, “Fragile Lung,” features three voices, one ukulele and one drummer.
The girls, Riley Skinner, Leah Dagen, Katie Rudman and Colleen Burns are on a mission to share their unique talents with anyone who will listen. People will get their chance as the women play four live engagements in the valley between Wednesday and Saturday.
When I graduated college my mission was to continue social traditions begun at California State University, Chico and to ski as many steep runs as possible while avoiding “the real world.” I found myself in Aspen and all I can say is “mission accomplished.”
Things are different today. Overqualified graduates now often take fast food jobs to stay independent or take part-time demeaning work or go to graduate school or move back in with the parents, or all four. Things are more intense now and I have empathy for today’s college grad, burdened by the weight of student loans and weightless degrees.
Touring is real work, especially in this do-it-yourself age. It wasn’t that long ago when people with enormous talent would get signed by labels, which would then do a lot of the artist’s development and business work leaving the artist to do their art. Of course that didn’t always work out and the country is riddled with embittered millionaires who feel ripped off or were ripped off by unscrupulous handlers. These days all but the biggest stars are handling themselves.
Most artists are not business people and few business people are artists. I have enormous respect for musicians who do it all. Writing, recording, performing, booking, promoting, designing, transporting, amplifying and practicing are all part of this fluid motion picture. What you see on stage with a touring act is the culmination of all these efforts, along with the unpredictable dynamics that come working with strong personalities. All the sacrifice is laid on the mantle of the stage with the music left to stand for itself. I suppose that the greatest skill of all is the writing because without it there will be no music, no tour and no harmony.
I am a big fan of Fragile Lung. The music is original, feminine, ethereal, powerful, delicate, rich. When you put three voices together in a tight harmonic package, sparks can fly. Any novelty from an all-female young group evaporates as the first notes reach your astonished ears. They MAKE you listen and you are rewarded for the effort with wise words, clever arrangements and crystal-clear singing.
I’m glad they are doing this. Most parents would probably not be thrilled that their graduate is out wandering the country with the thin protection of a trio of friends, a ukulele and a bag of songs, but we are excited.
Today the house fills up with young ladies and my wife Skye and I will be ready to back them up in whatever way they need. I’ll be baking pizzas, checking the oil and setting up sound systems while Skye feeds, nurtures and promotes like a mama bear.
Catch Fragile Lung on Wednesday at noon at the Carbondale Culture Club meeting in the Calaway Room in the Third Street Center; Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Woody Creek Community Center and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Calaway Room at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.
Reach Steve Skinner at email@example.com.