Sunday, November 27, 2016

December Performances

Looking forward to a busy December! Highlights include opening for our friends, South to Cedars on Dec. 2 at High Hops Brewing in Windsor. When I ran the Music Showcase at High Hops a couple of years ago, South to Cedars played one of their first gigs for us. Taggart & Silas will play at 6, South to Cedars at 7. 6461 CO-392, Windsor, CO 80550

Dec. 3 I'm playing for the Bread & Boards fundraiser for the Food Bank of Larimer County at Sears Trostel Lumber in Fort Collins. I love this event. For the past several years, Sears Trostel has enlisted the talents of woodworkers all over the area to make bread boards to sell and auction as special holiday gifts. All proceeds from the sale and auction benefit the Food Bank. 1 in 10 families in Larimer County receive services from the Food Bank, and Sears Trostel in the past has raised as much as one month's food budget for the entire Food Bank. Starts at 8AM. 1500 Riverside Ave. Fort Collins, CO 80524

Dec. 4 I'll be playing an afternoon solo set at Pateros Creek Brewing in Old Town Fort Collins. Take a break from your holiday shopping and enjoy a wonderful craft beer and some heart warming songs. I play from 4-6. 242 N College Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80524

Dec. 15th I'll be joining my friend, poet Lynn Kincannon at the Loveland Museum for their quarterly poetry gathering at 5PM. This is a showcase of some fantastic poets, and the museum always has wonderful shows. 503 N Lincoln Ave, Loveland, CO 80537

I've got a couple of fun holiday shows coming up as a part of the Vi Wickam Band. Vi released a Christmas album last year, and we're still spreading the holiday cheer from that one. Special guests include Amy Madden-Copp, Paul Chet, Jephta Bernstein and her daughter Naomi, along with several Whiskey Chickens and more. The dates for these shows are Dec. 10 at Avogadro's Number in Fort Collins, and Dec. 18 at Unity of Fort Collins. Tickets for either show are $15. Avo's 605 S Mason St, Fort Collins, CO 80524. Unity 1401 W. Vine Dr. Fort Collins.

Finally, Taggart & Silas will be playing our last show of 2016 on Dec. 22 at City Star Brewing in Berthoud. We'd love to sing you into Christmas with some heart and soul. We'll be playing from 7-9:30. Award winning craft beer and Taggart & Silas. Let's get together and feel alright! 321 Mountain Ave. Berthoud.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


I'm feeling some changes coming, and the website and blog will soon reflect those changes. My Facebook page is also under construction. If you don't already know how to reach me, fill out a contact request below and we can connect. The calendars below tell you where I'll be speaking, teaching, and performing.

In the meantime, please bring as much light into the world as you can. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Grieving Lost Possibilities, Finding My Feet, and Moving On

This is a long one. Interrupt your attention deficit and read the whole thing. Thanks.

In December 2003, my wife, Monica and I welcomed a baby girl, Sarah Grace. The months leading up to her birth were filled with excitement and anticipation. Both Monica and I were at an age where we thought we’d never be parents, so we were both surprised by the possibility, and we couldn’t wait for our baby to arrive.

The day she was born we were greeted with a reality we weren’t prepared for. Sarah was born with a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18, an extra chromosome on the 18th strand of DNA in every cell of her body that would make it more likely than not that she would die. Despite the challenges, she fought for every moment of life that she had.

The days in the hospital are kind of a distant blur now, but there were hours in the NICU spent with my hand through a hole in the incubator giving her as much human contact as the machine would allow. Signing a Do Not Resuscitate order so that the hospital could remove her tubes and wires to let her be held by those of us who loved her. And ultimately being allowed to take her home, albeit under the supervision and care of a hospice nurse. Given the worst possible outcome, this was the best we could hope for.

On the eighth day of her life I was carrying her in a sling over my shoulder, and I looked down to notice that her face was blue. She’d stopped breathing. We’d been told that apnea was a common malady that babies with Trisomy 18 face, so it wasn’t a surprise, but it didn’t diminish my terror. I was able to get her to breathe by massaging her chest, which was only a temporary relief because the apnea episodes kept happening, progressively with more severity and frequency.

For two days Monica and I and a couple of close friends took turns holding her and making her as comfortable as possible, massaging her chest as often as she would stop breathing. The hospice nurse administered morphine for her pain while she struggled to be with us. At about nine o’clock PM on her tenth day she passed away in Monica’s arms to the sound of soft chants that Monica and a couple of our yoga community members were singing.

We were devastated and exhausted. Buoyed for the next several months by the support of our families, friends and community, we grieved. And I remember that the majority of grief wasn’t over the loss of our daughter. The relationship had been shorter than most teenage romances. The deepest grief for me was over the loss of the future we’d hoped for. Hearing about the friends we’d made in our birthing class, and seeing pictures of their thriving children had the same effect as a drill boring a hole into my chest. Even now, almost 13 years later I still have a twinge when I see their children as living, growing human beings. The biggest loss was the possibility we’d hoped for and briefly tasted, which was quickly taken away.

That is how I’ve been feeling since yesterday morning upon hearing the election results. The future that I hoped for has been replaced by a promised future that I wouldn’t wish upon the vilest of enemies, and I am grieving. I recognize this feeling immediately. The numbness and shock giving way to fear and rage giving way to hoping for the inevitable to be erased, reversed, or at least interrupted.

As a parent of a preteen, I had hoped that affordable college options were going to become a reality. I was also hoping that more progress would be made on improving healthcare. I’d hoped that our reputation in other countries would have continued to improve with a commitment to real diplomacy and authentic leadership. And I’d hoped that our system of checks and balances would move back toward the center instead of teetering toward fascism. This appears to me, at least temporarily not to be.

The anticipated impact of this national decision on my life is that I will once again live without healthcare coverage. As a late middle aged man with an immune disease I will not be insurable. While not perfect, the Affordable Care Act did make me eligible for insurance despite my ongoing pre-existing condition. I suspect that if my health fails again that my only option will be to seek care and file bankruptcy yet again, further devastating my family’s financial future, and burdening the industry and taxpayers with my debt. The war machine will continue to proliferate which causes me concern for the future of my son, who I would prefer to see in a self directed creative life rather than being drafted to fight someone else's war.This is only a small aspect of what I believe will be lost. Many friends stand to lose much more.

I’m surrounded by a beloved, diverse circle of friends who have benefited from progressive policies that we have now been assured will soon be reversed. My gay friends who so recently celebrated a legal right to be married may have their marriages annulled against their will by those hell bent on tyranny. Their right to serve the country in the military may again revert to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or worse. My mother, wife and women friends whose right to make decisions for their own bodies, which in a free society should have never even been an issue, may have to reignite their fight for ground that they’ve already repeatedly fought for. My friends of color again face deeper discrimination supported by a government that is supposed to protect and insure their freedoms. My friends who have come from other nations and religions face surveillance and discrimination and threatened deportation, even though they are here legally. And the implicit license for my fellow citizens to unleash and justify their own bigotry and misogyny that has already reared its ugliness during the campaign is horrifying. This is not the future or reality that I ever wanted, for anyone.

So I grieve. I’ve grieved enough in my life to know that grief itself is the transition from life left behind to new life.  Beyond the promised regressive steps that we’ll face in the next few years what will we see? More of the same? That is up to us. There is a tendency toward resistance, but I wonder if resistance only energizes that which is resisted. Could that be how we arrived at the outcome we now face? What I really hope for now are a couple of things. We need to individually and together transcend our base of shame, fear, hatred and scarcity, and we need visionary leadership grounded in integrity, compassion, abundance, and goodwill.

I’ve experienced my own shadow of shame, fear, rage and hatred at different times, and I know that their primary feast was my own soul, and sense of well being and worth. I know that the only relief from my shadow has been the infilling of light from the love of friends, family and spiritual sources. If we fight this battle from the same energetic place from which it arises, it doesn’t matter who wins. We have to intentionally and continually choose to let more light into our being. We have to know that our circumstances don’t generate our feelings, but our mindset about our circumstances does. We have to know that there are infinite heights available for our individual and collective consciousness to attain, and we must commit to letting our own minds flood with images and words of kindness, gentleness, compassion, and peace that lift us up to these heights. And we cannot allow ourselves the slightest desire to go back down into the mired depths from which we’ve come. Freedom doesn’t come from governments, it comes from within.

The transcendence we need requires a new Enlightenment. The Enlightenment of the 18th Century was also called the age of reason. The fruits of that Enlightenment we’ve enjoyed and benefited from are a commitment to thoughtful discourse, vigorous intellectual development, and a focus on the scientific understanding of our world. With those as a foundation I imagine that the new Enlightenment could expand beyond reason to explore the invisible realms that influence the visible. Recent discoveries and theories in quantum physics, microbiology, and astronomy all point to the metaphysical reality that we, and the universe we inhabit are one interconnected, interdependent being, and that separation is at best a mentally constructed illusion. Whatever happens to a single cell impacts the whole being.  This exploration is the key to our transcending the lower levels of consciousness that drive shame, fear and hatred in order to move toward higher levels of courage, integrity and peace. I’m not proposing woo woo spiritual experience as the answer, though it may be a step in the right direction. We are ready for an understanding that integrates the material and spiritual in ways that put our past understandings and differences to rest for good.

We are also ready for authentic, visionary leadership that isn’t driven by ideology, but by possibility. What is our greatest possibility? Is it for hatred to dominate? That’s not the bus ride I was looking for. Could our greatest possibility be that everyone who shares this Earth be able to know the peace and well being at their own core, and have the freedom to express that well being and peace to the whole? Is our greatest possibility the recognition that we live in an abundant universe where resources don’t have to be hoarded and fought for? Is our greatest possibility the recognition that our differences are at best superficial, yet worth celebrating? Imagination is our most powerful tool. Imagination drives will. Do we want to continue to imagine a world in which we destroy each other? If so, we deserve our own extinction.

To my creative friends and clients I emphasize that our challenge and opportunity remains what it always has been. We have work to do. We can invite and hasten the arrival of new thought and expanded consciousness, and all that results from it. Our work is transformative. We can inform, we can inspire, we can influence, we can motivate. Instead of resisting regressive tendencies, we can use our work as a mirror, to dissolve those tendencies and move together toward a higher good. Since yesterday I’ve been given the inspiration and the fire to move away songs of introspection and self expression toward new songs of healing, encouragement and inspiration for whoever listens. Please align your work with a higher purpose. Let’s get about the business of changing hearts and minds. Let’s move as we can from mourning to dancing.

After the numbness and exhaustion and deep disappointment of yesterday morning and afternoon I had an engagement to speak on community building to a group of artists who live at Artspace Loveland. In the talk I shared one of my favorite definitions of community that comes in the form of a question. Who are we together? I’ll leave you with that. I love you all recklessly and relentlessly.

Who are we together, Humanity?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Gift of Connection

Yesterday I drove up to Laramie for a music party honoring the life of Mark Booth. I only met Mark a few times, all memorable, but this story is more about his son, Michael. I can't easily forget the day I met Michael Booth; mostly because it's a fairly typical experience for people who grew up in Wyoming.

Wyoming is more like a huge small town than it is a state. Sports teams travel as much as four or five hours to play rival teams. With a population of around 500,000, depending on the boom/bust cycles of the oil and mineral industries, there aren't many people per square foot, so everyone knows everyone, or at least they know the name.

When I lived in the DC area I worked at the world famous House of Musical Traditions. They were kind enough to give me a job to get started with my life in a new area having just arrived from Nashville. One fall day I happened to randomly choose to wear my University of Wyoming sweatshirt to work. That same day happened to be the day that Michael Booth visited the store, saw my shirt, and with a fine level of enthusiasm asked me if I'd been a student there. I hadn't been, but everyone from Wyoming sports the Brown and Gold just because it's the only University in the whole place and most everyone has at least one family member who attended.

Michael went on to tell me that he was from Laramie, and that his dad was a professor at UW. Unsurprisingly, we knew some people in common, and as I found was Michael's habit, he invited me to join he and some friends for a music party that night. For the uninitiated, a music party is a gathering of people who get together and sing songs and visit well into the wee hours. That night I was to meet several people who have become close friends; people who have added to my life's fabric of richness more than any other group. And it was all because I randomly wore my UW sweatshirt to work on the day that Michael came into the store.

Michael, me, and Birgit Burke having a small music party in Cheyenne
If you've heard of the six degrees of separation, I want you to know that if you know Michael the number of degrees is reduced to one. He's never met an enemy. His presence is inviting and open, and immediately disarming. He's genuinely interested in knowing everyone he meets, and he rejoices in bringing people together. I'm pretty sure that the largest number of people I met while I lived in DC were a direct result of meeting Michael. Not surprisingly I've met a few even since I moved back to Colorado. He is a gifted connector.

After meeting his dad those few times I suspect Michael comes by his connecting habit pretty honestly. Mark loved getting a group of people together to sing and visit, visit and sing. They both remind me a lot, in both spirit and stature, of Pete Seeger, who loved nothing more than connecting people through music. I'm lucky to have met all three, and especially lucky to count Michael among my friends.

A Michael inspired music party at our old house in Maryland.
Michael moved from DC a couple of years after we met, and I've only seen him a handful of times since, but like Johnny Appleseed, he's left an abundant source of spiritual nourishment in his wake through the communities that he helped to form. These circles have been the sources of support and encouragement to write and sing my own songs. They've been the people who drop me a line when I haven't been seen for awhile. They're the ones who showed up on the front porch with bags of groceries when death or illness crossed our path. And they're the ones who I mutually share with, celebrate with, laugh with and cry with; just because I met Michael. What a gift.

Me, Michael, and his son 2016
Community is the foundation and context for all human life. Creatives especially have a tendency to work in isolation. Part of this is necessary, but the necessity can be left behind for a pattern of avoidance that keeps people in severe isolation for long periods of time. This is ultimately detrimental in a number of ways. Our mental and physical health is negatively affected, making us prone to depression, anxiety, deprivation and illness. Community is also our primary resource for all that we need. It is the place where our contributions can make a necessary impact on people. It's the source of every opportunity we are looking for. We can create amazing things alone in isolation, but it's in community that we flourish.

My friend and former consulting partner, George Callendine picked up a wonderful definition of community somewhere in his travels that I particularly love. Community is knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated. Michael Booth is a spectacular embodiment of this ideal.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Making Your Own Way

Yesterday, My friend Jeff Finlin and I gave the pilot session of a new workshop called Making Your Own Way. In the last year my focus in coaching has largely become helping creative people to find direction, get things started and finished, and mostly to identify the real impact they are making with their work. Creative professionals frequently wonder to themselves and out loud just what the value of their work is. I know that's been a regular inner dialog for me. Some great discussions in yesterday's workshop helped to bring some clarity to the subject, and a comment in a message at church this morning also brought it home to me. Creative work matters for two huge reasons; it connects us on deeper levels and it feeds our soul.

A big part of the workshop is about the distinction that I see between a person's gift and their talents. We talk about that often we lump the two into the same definition. I don't think that quite captures the essence of your gift. I've written about gifts and talents before, so for some of you this may seem familiar. Your talents are the capabilities that you've practiced to the point of mastery. They've captured your time, energy and devotion for years of your life, and sometimes just the very practice is enough to satisfy your creative yearnings. But I'm now becoming more sure that they are about delivering something bigger into the world. That's where we need to make the distinction between talent and gift.

I define your gift as the qualitative difference that you make in the world. Your talents are the modalities through which this difference is made. Anyone who creates knows that when you get into an extended time of practice that you enter into a space within yourself that is vast; deeper and wider even than your imagination. This inner space  is where your gift emerges from and it wants to find it's way through you and into the world. In fact, on an unconscious level this is probably being invoked in you all the time.

Now, the funny thing about your gift is that it's probably so much a part of who you are so as not to be immediately obvious. When I finally landed on mine, which is emotional healing through creativity, it was not as much an aha moment as it was an "Oh yeah, that" moment. The amazing thing is that inherent gift of mine is something that I take for granted as being pretty uninteresting and normal, and yet that is the one thing in all of my work that seems to most frequently be looking for a way out. And it changes lives often with me not having any idea. Your gift is what makes your work inherently valuable.

Crippling self doubt seems to be a hallmark for many people who devote their lives to creative pursuits. Much of this self doubt is a mirror of the projections that we receive from the people around us. Here's the conversation:

What do you do?

I'm a professional musician.

Really? What's your day job?

I'm a professional musician.

But, how do you make money?

I'm a professional musician.

This kind of conversation happens with such frequency that ultimately some of the projected disbelief gets internalized into our own thinking and we ourselves begin to wonder "what the hell do I do?"

Understanding and naming your gift sounds like this:

What do you do?

I help people heal emotionally through music, coaching and deep listening.

Get the picture?

I want every artist, musician, author, dancer, actor, teacher, potter, sculptor, and anyone else who will hear me to know: Your talents are amazing and wonderful, but your gift is what you need to be telling people about. Some among them will have been waiting for you to show up.

Next insight. My friend Liz Barnez posted a link on Facebook recently to an article that put forth the idea that artists shouldn't even try to be entrepreneurs. I found some things to disagree with in that article, but one nugget started to take shape in my own thinking. There's been a good bit of thinking in recent years that artists should adopt entrepreneurial concepts and practices in order to be more successful in a business sense. I've bought into that line of thought quite a bit, until yesterday. I still think that creative people can be successful in a business sense, but it's not about entrepreneurship.

I realize that entrepreneurs base their business model primarily on solving problems, ultimately for profit. While we could look at art in that light, I now see that as misguided. Rather than solving a problem, art continues to be a way that we meet some important human needs. Needs that coincidentally have been thrown under the bus of life in recent years. Art has always and forever been a way for us to connect with each other on deeper emotional and spiritual levels. Art is soul food.

I believe that one of the primary reasons that we live in such polarized and fractious times is that we've been routinely disconnecting with each other rather than connecting. It's no coincidence that we are also seeing artistic creativity being pulled from school curricula, devalued in the marketplace, seen as worthy of only being a hobby instead of a profession, and the subject of derision in other professional circles. All this time we're not seeing the injury that this disconnection is bringing into our collective presence.

Our gifts don't solve problems. Our gifts heal and restore our relationships with each other, which ultimately prevents many problems from taking form. One of my favorite books of all time is The Space Between Us, by Ruthellen Josselson. This groundbreaking book deserves a lot more attention and praise than it ever received. Josselson developed a survey that asked people to identify the different kinds of connection that they found in their relationships and the qualities that they found in those connections. For the first time that I was ever aware of, the author gave us a language of relationship that helps us to see the multi-dimensionality of our human connections. It's a very powerful read.

Artistic creativity makes these connections between us and for us. These connections make up what we might call a collective soul. We can begin to see that humanity itself is an organism that lives and breathes as one thing. ARTISTRY OF EVERY KIND SERVES THAT! It is the stuff of community. That's all that real community is made of, connections.

This morning in her message at Unity of Fort Collins, my beloved friend and co worker Peggy Christiansen was speaking about flowers. In her talk she was telling the story of planting her flower garden and she made the comment that she felt some sense of guilt that she wasn't planting the more practical vegetable garden. Her statement sums up exactly what I think is going on. We don't see feeding the soul with the same level of importance as feeding the body. That needs to change, or we will all perish.

Creatives, you are here to make a difference in the world on the soul level. Never forget that.

Thanks to Jeff Finlin, the wonderful folks at Artspace who participated in the pilot, Peggy and my Unity community, and every one of you who has the courage to create.

If you'd like more information about Making Your Own Way, or if you'd like to host a workshop or invite me to speak for your organization, please get in touch.