Monday, October 5, 2015

If it doesn't work for the family, it doesn't work.

Five years ago, Seth was suddenly ejected (read: fired) from his dream job.  It was a shocking and violent end to a short-lived but long-sought-after career.  Since the tender age of 14, he had dreamed of being a guitar tech for a major-label band (probably U2 at the time because, well, U2 in the 90’s), and the previous summer, he had gotten his big break as a touring guitar tech on a stadium tour with a major American band.  We had hit the big time.  Or so we thought.

It’s funny how things like “dreams” and “career paths” can be so damn blinding.  It’s funny how we can be willing to sacrifice so much for these things, especially when fame and reputation, or, in a different context, “God’s will” and “destiny” come into play.  The waters get very muddy and it can be difficult to actually discern the right path.  As Dante Alighieri so eloquently wrote nearly 800 years ago in his Inferno, “In the middle of the road of our lives, I re-found myself in a dark wood, for the right way was lost”. 

The day Seth left for this summer tour, our daughter, Harper, was 11 days old.  Fender was 2.5.  I was 100% on board with this family decision.  I totally expected this to pay off in the long run, and being a single mom for a summer seemed like a small price to pay for a chance of a lifetime.

About 3 weeks into this ordeal, I was cooking dinner.  The babies were downstairs watching Dinosaur Train.  I finally felt like I had a handle on my life as the shock of single motherhood had dulled to a silent throbbing pain, as opposed to the sharp, breath-sucking tear-jerker that it had been.  I was learning to cope. At some point I thought it best to check on the newborn who was (sort of) being watched by her slightly-older brother while I cooked, so I traipsed down the stairs absentmindedly.

And that’s how I broke my foot. 

Tumbling forward and down the basement stairs in a flurry of surprise and horror, I heard the bone snap, loudly, over the inane chatter of the TV and my own yelps if dismay.

Looking back, I wonder what idiot would willingly allow her partner to leave her for six weeks with a newborn and a 2-year-old.  I had no family in town and I was the only one of my friends at the time with babies.  Everyone else was kidless.  Gloriously kidless.  But I was so attached to the idea of my husband’s success in the music biz, so committed to our idea of success and “livin’ the dream” that I completely ignored common sense.  I just thought it would all work out eventually.  That our sacrifices would be well-rewarded down the line.

Nothing could have been further from reality.  A year later, after Seth missed most of Harper’s first year, the band fired him and all that sacrifice went up in smoke.  We were back at ground zero, our family and our marriage worse for the wear.  It was then that we began to learn the most important lesson of our lives:  If it doesn’t work for our family, then it doesn’t work. 

The months that followed that momentous firing are forever sealed in my memory as some of the best days of my life.  We borrowed a vintage trailer from a friend and hauled it across the country with our aptly named Honda Odyssey for 10 weeks.  It took that long to rebuild and re-connect.  It took that long to remember how to be together. 

In the years between that fateful summer and now, we have settled on this: no destiny, no career, no success is worth sacrificing our greatest treasure: each other.

It is, therefore, with great trepidation that we enter the music industry again.  I feel eternally grateful for that terrible and beautiful experience 5 years ago because it set us up to do our music the only way we can, the only way I want: in the context of family. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

We Did It! Alright Alright Returns Part 1

Well, wow.

We did it.

We hauled ourselves, our children, Katelin, our gear, and our vintage 1959 trailer across the country and back.  5700 miles, nine house shows, twenty-one nights, countless truck stops, a few state parks, a national monument, one national park, several national forests, and one Crazy Horse later, we have returned to our Colorado crash pad across from the train tracks.

It was epic, this tour we dubbed the “Tin Cup Nights Tour”.  Not because of the raging after-parties or screaming fans busting their way to the front of the stage, and not because we made out like bandits financially. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I‘ll take all of those things AND an invitation to open for Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats.  But this tour was successful because it proved something epic to us: that this weird musical lifestyle can actually work for us, for our family.

For so so long, I was convinced that I had to either be a mom or a performer.  The traditional avenues to success in the music industry are woefully un-family-friendly.  Believe me, I’ve experienced it, and I’ve watched other families go through it.  I’ve played shows that started at midnight, gotten home at three am and then woken up with the kids at six am.  I’ve watched wives become single parents for whole swaths of time while their husbands toured.  Heck, I’ve been one of those wives.  Ugh.  I still shudder when I think of those days.

How in the world could we possibly make touring work for our family?  I mean, there was no way we were going to let our kids sit in a nasty greenroom for and hour and a half while we played to half-listening, half-drunk people at 11pm.  And we aren’t quite at the stage where we can hire a full-time nanny to tag along with us, whisking the kids away at bedtime while mommy and daddy sing pretty songs.  Nope.  It had to be a whole-family affair.  A road-trip with some singing involved, and a few strategically placed destinations to buoy our cute little charges along the way.  It had to be musical, professional and family-centric. Somehow, almost accidentally, we struck that balance.

In the following days and weeks, I will tease this out, devoting a blog post to each of the intentional or completely accidental tenants of our success.  We are home now, and honestly, I just want to get back on the road.  It’s easier there.  Life on the road is definitely difficult physically, but oh! The freedom from the trappings of houses, pets, lawns to be watered, pianos to dust!

The duality of this life we have chosen, the necessary stasis of home and family and school and soccer and music lessons juxtaposes, sometimes jarringly, with the equally necessary gypsy-like life of a troubadour.  It is not for the faint of heart. This re-entry into the Typical American Life has been like shifting from fifth to first gear.  Clearly, there are lessons to be learned on this side of the adventure, but thank God we had the adventure in the first place.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Upon Announcing our DIY House-Concert Tour, I Got Hit By A Giant Ball of Fear

As you may well know, we are planning a tour of house concerts for the middle of August.  That idea has been in my mind since at least January, but I lacked the confidence and vision to start planning it then.  So it’s July and I am nailing it down. Which is fine, really, except that I need to keep a rigid schedule to make sure that I am actually doing everything that I need to be doing (and honestly, I feel like I am inventing a wheel here and I sort of don’t know all that I should be doing).  Oh yeah, also, the kids are home for the summer, and my sister is getting married in 2 weeks. So, you know, real life is all around me every day in the midst of planning this trek across the country.  Everyone keeps saying, “I am so excited for you to go on tour! “ or “Wow! Fun! Tour!” And, honestly, I don’t know what they are talking about, because, and I just realized this a minute ago, it's as if an entire family of critics, nay-sayers, fear-mongers, and work-a-holics moved into my mind and set up shop as soon as I wrote that last blog and announced our tour to the world.

Yeah, you know who I'm talking about.

Finally, yesterday, I paused long enough to realize that this is absolutely not the way I want to approach our maiden voyage.  I want to approach my life, my art, my endeavors from a position of JOY, not FEAR, and I have been holding a fear-ball in the pit of my stomach since I wrote an email asking people if they wanted to host house concerts.  And this fear-ball sucks all the life and all the excitement and all the joy out of this whole process for me.  And I really want to figure out how to start bouncing it and playing with it and getting it out of my stomach.

So, I figured it would be a good idea to catalog all of my deep-seated terrors about tour, and see if any of them hold water.  so here they are:

That I am not good enough.
That I am going to be a disappointment.
That this is going to feel like so much work and no fun.
That I will feel awkward about money with my hosts and their friends.
That I will somehow damage friendships in the process of playing at friend’s houses.
That I will irreparably damage my children and they will grow up to hate me/us and blame all of their social anxiety on their parents who took them along on tour.
That we won’t eat well and all get heartburn or food poisoning or giardia
That the whole endeavor will be a bust and a huge waste of money and time.

So there you go.  There is my full-blown tour anxiety in black and white.

Now that I have written that I am like, “What the hell am I doing?”

And then I think, “Why do I even want to do this? Any of it? Why do I even want to continue playing music and trying to share it with others?”

Then I remember yesterday in church.  I remember singing the hymns with my whole body, because, honestly, if you are going to go to a church that still sings hymns from a hymnal, why not just go all out and sing the alto part at full volume?  And when they choose one of your favorite hymns that you knew all the verses to back in your evangelical days, you just belt it out, not worrying what the lawyer in front of you is thinking.  Because that’s what you were made to do.  Literally.

My body was made to sing loud.  I guess I was made with a volume level that (sorry, guys) "goes to eleven."  So when I actually stop feeling embarrassed about this fun little fact about myself and I actually start playing with it, something wonderful inside me starts to happen.  I get really really happy.  I guess that’s what joy feels like.  It feels like a lump in my throat that automatically travels up my face and into my cheeks.  It makes me feel full, like post-brunch full, except I won’t have heartburn.  It makes me feel soft and a little sappy, and I know it makes me feel a whole-hearted satisfaction that, for some reason, only happens when I do music.  The piano kind or the singing kind. 

So how can I figure out how to apply that kind of joy to this scary and arduous tour-planning process?

I think I start with playing.  There must be a reason we call it “playing the piano”.  We don’t say, “working the piano”.  Somehow, in all that music training and in the process of figuring out how to make money doing music, I forgot how to play. 

A quick etymological search tells me that the word “play” finds its roots in the West Germanic word “plegen” which means “to occupy oneself about” and can also be traced to another word, “pflegen” that means “to take care of, cultivate”.


Cultivate.  Play is cultivation.  Playing music, for me, cultivates joy. 

So I am going to head to my piano now.  I am going to see if I can play my way out of my tour anxiety.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Hopefully, after some time at the piano I will start feeling more like this:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Unexpected Return, or, Hello Again After These Many Years, or, A Christmas Newsletter Goes Rogue

Hi.  It’s us, Seth and China. 

This blog post is kind of like a newsletter…one of those ones that should have gone out at Christmas (oh. so, you noticed we didn’t send out Christmas cards last Christmas??  yeah…we actually started them - made them ourselves…and then at the addressing stage I bailed.  Big time.  We sincerely hope you weren’t offended.  Maybe they will be resurrected as Thanksgiving Day cards this year?? Don’t judge…) Thing is, usually Christmas newsletters catalog the best sort of mundane American family life.  This post is actually about how our lives have been turned inside out (I know.  Again?!)  and how we decided to venture forth into the most un-mundane American-dream-family-life we could presently conjure, and still be considered decent parents.

Here goes.

Once upon a time there was a boy named Seth and a girl named China.  Through no fault of their own, their worlds collided (BANG!) and now they can’t remember what life was like before that big bang.  Naturally, they started working together making, playing, and generally music-ing.  Life was one joyous, albeit slightly untethered, occasion. 

Then there were the child bearing years for China and the “holy crap! I need to make money for this growing family!” years for Seth.  And the gypsy-creative-sing-song days seemed to wane.  Sure, China continued to teach music to children and Seth took many a guitar-tech/engineering job, (along with so many others, it’s hard to remember them all) but their own projects took a back burner, leaving room for the other beauty they were creating: family. 

Fast forward: November 2014:

The Kent family is in full swing.  Fender and Harper in full-time school, music lessons, baseball practice, dance classes, a full-bred Springer Spaniel romping around.  So all-American you would have swooned (or puked).  Life is good.  Life is normal.  Maybe too normal.

Seth finds a cigar box his parents gave him lying around the house.  It soon becomes a guitar under his luthier-skilled hands. That guitar becomes an obsession. Now he has a garage full of cigar boxes and builds strange guitars out of them. He begins to sell them, to donate them to silent auctions, and then he plays them at shows. Check them out here!

December 2014

China has a routine dental appointment (it’s always those routine ones, isn’t it?).  The pearly whites are fine, but there is a growth (a growth?) on her throat.  Appointments are made, biopsies are performed.  There really isn’t anything like a cancer scare to wake up the sleeping giants inside of us, giving us the strength to actually do the things we were meant to be doing all along. The biopsy come back clear, as does her vision, and she commits herself to recording an album and giving the one thing she has to the world: her music.

January: 2015

Seth’s “cushy 9-5” comes to an end, leaving his employment canvas blank… the possibilities are endless!  Should he purchase a mountain property and run back-country adventure trips? Should he buy an archery range/shop? Maybe pursue something completely new? After some research, soul searching and beer, he realizes that he still really loves music, especially music with China. He also remembers that he is good at a lot of things in and around music. He decides to dedicate 2015 to making music with China, to giving this Alright Alright thing another shot.

Spring: 2015

BIG CHANGES are afoot. We have been recording together since March to create a new and interesting album as Alright Alright. We are clearing schedules and booking rooms for choir recordings. We play a show to a room of 140 new sets of ears and we love it. We design and print t-shirts. The Safer EP (from 2007!) has been re-printed to sell. We are booking house shows and lining up gigs around town.

In the midst of all this creative movement, through a crazy set of circumstances, China hears about a house being remodeled just 13 blocks from our house. It is brand spankin’ new, in the quirky industrial part of our neighborhood. right across from the rail yard. Best of all, there is an 8’X40’ shipping container in the back that can become a recording/studio space. Before we realize what we are doing, we pack up our things and head east. 13 blocks east, turning our Zuni Street house into an Air BnB. Whew!

Check out this sweet logo! This has been waiting for 7 years!

Summer 2015

Now to what is next. More shows, more recording, more creative. We have a decent chunk of our recording done and will soon have space for all of the musical instruments, recording gear, and the old analog console Seth has had for years to all be in one place. The recording will be very Kentish.  You might just hear the trains passing in some of the songs.  The album will be out in September.  We will let you know when it is available (and we are stoked about it!!!)

mini-tour 2015

Yeah.  That’s what we said.  We are heading East in August, and on the way we are turning the trip into a mini house concert tour.  With 2 kids.  Maybe with our doggie.  Are we crazy?  Yup.  Quite.  Crazy enough to try to do this music thing in a way that works for us, in a way that is life-giving and relational and fun and, I don’t know, sort of the way we think music should be.  We have some experience with touring, and we want to try our hand at it with Alright Alright. 


Well, do you?  AWESOME! We are looking for places to play between Denver and North Carolina, mainly through Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina between August 8-12 or August 20-23.  Even if our route doesn’t hit your town this time, we will be back.  Please let us know if you are interested at!  We can’t wait to meet your friends and play some tunes for (and maybe even with) you! 


yes.  I knew that one would come up.  A house concert is a donation-based show that we play at or in your house.  You get to invite your friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, whomever you want to come share a night of music in your home (usually you have to invite twice as many people as you want to come in order to fill the room) and we pretty much provide the rest (everything but the booze!).  You get to introduce us, we get to play for you and your people, and at some time in the night, you pass a hat around the room (or yard!).  People can pay as much or as little as they want.  It’s great. It’s intimate.  It’s a musical experience like no other. Read more about it here on the Wikipedia page.