“Call CJ,” Brian said. “See if she and Charlie can come out.”
Any Switchback fan from the northeast corner of Iowa knows Charlie and CJ. They are great dancers. Charlie is a farmer and his wife CJ is an insurance agent. We have played for them and others for the past 20 years, starting at little bars in Winneshiek County and moving on up to theaters and festivals. Seeing Charlie and CJ at your event means two things: first that the event will be a success, and second that you will be in for some great dancing, because Charlie and CJ take to the floor and immediately other couples follow suit. Charlie has a grin on his face throughout the song as he and CJ glide across the floor. There’s always something magical to me about their ability to get others to dance. I guess it’s the realization of two people deeply in love and enjoying life, and they are not afraid to get out on the dance floor and just be themselves. Certainly it’s a way of life in northeast Iowa, people kicking off their shoes and dancing in their bare feet. The wonderful circle is created between the band and the fans, pumping a lot of energy. I definitely wanted that vibe for our release party.
I dialed CJ and told her the purpose of my call. “Oh no, we won’t be able to make it into Chicago,” CJ said apologetically. “Charlie is planting and there is no way he will be able to get away.”
After a couple minutes of pleading and wondering what the forecast will be two weeks into the future, I knew it was no use. A farmer has to plant his fields when they are ready and so no Charlie and CJ at the release party. I finished the call and had that feeling of disappointment at the image of the evening with them there dancing slowly fading away.
Charlie and CJ weren’t the only ones. Other fans called in with their regrets. Even my Mother called in with her and Dad’s regrets:
“Mom, whaddya mean you can’t come to the release party?”
“Sorry, Martin, but your sister Celia has to be in Atlanta and Dad and I are taking care of the kids.”
“But I mentioned it to the family back in January! How could this happen?”
“You know, things get busy, your sister is busy, people are busy. It happens!”
When your own mother can’t make your release party, it’s time to evaluate things.
Don’t get me wrong, the release party was a great success! We had the whole house filled to capacity. Kaija, Nick’s girlfriend from Decorah, Iowa, led the charge on the dance floor with bare feet and all. Katrina, who flew in from Washington D.C. for the release, joined her and soon the room was full of people dancing and having a great time. Beatrice and Mel from Oak Park were out there exhorting other couples to take to the floor. The Arnolds, Wilsons, and Wisniewskis had the Hoosier contingent occupying the back wall and I could see them swaying to the music. And even some new fans from Newark, Ohio, drove in for the show and marveled at the diversity of music and the enthusiasm of the audience.
Through the whole process of getting people to come to the event and afterwards, I kept hearing this old saying in my mind: “If the mountain won’t come to Mahomet, Mahomet will come to the mountain.” And I realized that in essence, was an unwritten rule for any independent musician. Curious about the origin of the saying, I looked it up online and sure enough Wiktionary had the answer. It seems that Sir Francis Bacon had either created or collected the saying and published it in 1625.
Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers, for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed, but said, If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.
Wiktionary went on to say that there is no link to the prophet Mohammed or Islam either written or oral. It’s just one of those sayings that came into being. I am sure Francis Bacon must have heard it from someone as it is such an odd saying.
More interesting is the meaning of the phrase, especially to an indie musician: If your fans can’t come to you, you must go to where the fans are. Thus the need for touring. So throughout this summer, we will have celebrations of the Kanoka album starting with the Mayfly Dance Dance on Friday, June 21 in McGregor, Iowa. There will be a Canadian release party on Sunday, June 30 on St. Joseph Island. And others are in the works for Texas, Kansas, and Ohio. The website will have them listed and we would be very grateful if you come out.
Touring is part of the life of a musician. It is for the very reason that all of our fans lead busy lives themselves that touring becomes an essential way of communicating and re-establishing the bond between fan and musician. There is nothing that can replace the energy of community. Fans who were in attendance at the Oak Center in Minnesota or the Midland Theater in Ohio or the Prairie Window Concert Series in Kansas or any number of other places understand that feeling of electricity that occurs when everything falls into sync. It’s also why we so value our dedicated volunteer group, STeam, that help us make sure that fans get connected with the venues in their areas and make it possible for us to be there to play.
There is an acknowledged, shared sacrifice: we all give up some of our precious time on earth to come together because we believe in the beauty of music and we also believe in the sharing of the moment. You have to be there to share, plain and simple.
The next morning Brian and I along with Keith Riker performed at the Hope Institute. The kids were all seated for the show. Cliff, the director of the center, and I talked. “Let’s just make it a dance party,” I suggested. He agreed and soon we were tearing into the Kanoka album. Immediately a young man got up from his seat and bolted toward the speaker. He started dancing in front of it, allowing the vibrations to wash over his body. His smile was ecstatic and soon he was joined by two other dancers. Kids stood up from their chairs and screamed with delight. Some teacher aides had a tough time keeping kids from dancing out of their areas and I would watch an occasional kid bopping down the aisles, a teacher in hot pursuit. Other kids were quietly sitting, taking in the show. The entire energy was magical and joyful. We ended the concert as exhausted and happy as the kids were. That one young man danced for every song in front of the speaker. He left still moving and smiling.
As we rolled up the cables, Brian remarked, “Now that was a release party!” and I agreed. It was truly the debut of Kanoka for a very appreciative audience, who didn’t really know who we are, would never buy an album, but just lived in the moment for the music.
And here again, that saying came through. It’s the other side of our music, which is to bring music to those who would seldom if ever get a chance to hear it live. If the hill won’t come to Mahomet, Mahomet will come to the hill. And if these kids can’t come to see Switchback play, Switchback will come and play for them.