The next artist was another John - Johnsmith. Again, I'm not sure I can say it better than his website: "Johnsmith is a Bard. The role of the Bard in every society is to hold up a mirror to that society, to convey and reveal - through the mysterious alchemy of music and words and performance - the secret inner language of the heart." I think that applies to all the artists at the festival, but especially to John. He sang a really lovely song at the campfire called "Safe Home," which he wrote while in Ireland and very much reminded me of my trip there.
Taking a break from the Johns, the next artist was Meg Hutchinson. Another lovely voice and beautiful, thoughtful songs. One I especially liked is called "The Gatekeeper" and is about someone who works at the Golden Gate Bridge and has the task of stopping suicide attempts, which he does by asking two questions: "How are you feeling?" and "What are your plans for tomorrow?" She joked that her job is to write cheerful songs about depressing topics. I'm not sure I'd say cheerful, but uplifting and inspiring, yes. Hers is one of the four CDs I bought at the festival. How can I describe Johnathan Byrd? He's a character, just look at his photo below! Not everyone can pull off orange pants, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat, but he can. His music veers a little bit more towards country, and his songs can either be funny or heart-breaking, or anywhere in between. The last song I heard from him was as he was leaving the campfire on the final night to drive to Chicago. I don't remember exactly what it was (I was up way past my bedtime so it's all a little foggy), something about a pony I think, but I do remember it was achingly lovely. And now we get to the main attraction and reason for the festival - Storyhill, aka Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson. They met as kids in Montana and have been making music together ever since (with a few interruptions). They went to college at St. Olaf and Johnny still lives here in Minnesota, so I think it's fair that we claim them as our own, or at least share ownership with Montana. ;) I first heard of Storyhill when their self-titled CD was released on Red House Records a few years ago. They played it frequently on the dear departed MPR Morning Show with Dale Connelly and Jim Ed Poole (aka A Prairie Home Companion sound man Tom Keith). It was the gorgeous harmonies on the song "Give Up the Ghost" that convinced me to buy their CD, and once I listened to that I was hooked. I've seen them a few times in concert since, and I knew if they were organizing this festival it was going to be great. I was not wrong! I don't know what else to say about these guys, very talented individually and together. And obviously with a great ear for talent, judging by the people they invited to their festival. Here's a video I recorded of one of my favorite songs, especially when performed live, "Steady On." I think they're contractually obligated to end every concert with this song. ;) Chris and Johnny on stage:
After the day's concerts were over, all of the musicians headed over to the campfire (which was conveniently located next to the lodge where I was staying). This was definitely the highlight of the weekend. It's one thing to listen to a CD, with everything cleaned up and auto-tuned (although there's less of that with folk music), another thing thing to hear someone sing live, but to hear the unamplified human voice is something really special. Whatever concert I go to, if the artist puts down their mic, it's always my favorite moment of the show. There's just something so raw and beautiful and primal about it, especially in the light of the campfire. I can imagine that hundreds of years ago, on that very spot, Native Americans were sharing songs and stories with each other in that same way. Maybe I'm still sleep deprived from two nights in a row of staying up past 1 am, but it was a truly magical experience. I think the artists did it as much for themselves as the attendees, and I felt like I was pressing my nose to the glass and watching these musicians in their element. The only thing close to it that I've experienced was when I was in Ireland, and you go to a pub in a small town and the entire town shows up, all taking turns sharing their music and a little part of their soul. That's what this was like.
I think what I love most about StoryhillFest is that it gave me a new source to find great new musicians that I love, something I've been missing since the Morning Show was cancelled. I have a great deal of admiration for and more than a little envy of people who make a living doing what they love, whose work is their life's passion. These people are modern-day troubadours, traveling the country and sharing songs and stories. I can't wait until next year to discover more new favorites!
A few more videos of Storyhill:
"Better Angels""If I Could"