“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

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FROM THE BLOG

Never Worked and Never Will

As a small child, I loved a library book called Storytime Tales – A Treasury of Favorite Stories. The one I liked best was called, “Never Worked and Never Will,” by Margaret Wise Brown.   In my mind’s eye, I can still see the illustration: a group of children gathered in front of a shop counter festooned with various hand-carved and realistically painted water-fowl decoys. The kids are all looking up at a grandfatherly, white-haired gentleman happily working behind the counter. Each day, he sits in his shop with a knife in one hand and a block of wood in the other, carving wild birds. But there’s one thing the children don’t understand. Over the woodcarver’s door hangs a large sign that says: “Never Worked and Never Will.” The sign puzzles some of the children. The old man explains, “It means that I never worked a day in my life and I never will. And you wouldn’t have to work either, if you knew my secret.” Unable to guess his secret, they walk away shaking their heads, “The old man’s crazy: all he does is work!” But a few of the children watch in fascination as he carves the wild geese out of wood. It makes them feel happy to see him working and sometimes he even lets them help him paint the birds. It never occurs to them to ask what the sign means because they’re so engaged with what he’s doing, they never think of it as work. And that’s how they learned the old man’s secret. I am fortunate to have one of those “Never Worked and Never Will” kind of jobs. It’s such a privilege traveling around the country, making one’s living as a 21st-century troubadour, I rarely think of it as work. Now you know my secret.

In a Better Place

My 44-concert, 15,000-mile, eight-week tour of the eastern United States ended on June 1. As one who ostensibly drives for a living, I have come to appreciate the sheer size of this country. It’s huge. Really. And it’s difficult to grasp the scale from the window of an airplane. One cannot fully comprehend the enormity of North America until one drives across the vast expanse of the continent. On a typical day on the road, after six or seven hours barreling 70 miles per hour down the turnpike, I arrive in the town where I’m performing that night. After a long day immobilized behind the wheel of a rental car, I am stupefied. I struggle to transition out of my interstate-induced trance into the countenance of one who is fully prepared to entertain an auditorium full of appreciative strangers. So, in the hour or so before I load into the venue to do my sound check, unwilling and unable to endure yet another greasy offering from the proverbial roadside diner, I use the GPS device to locate the local cemetery. There, under shade of a stately tree I find a memorial bench where I can park my carcass and chill. Conjuring my supper out of a brown paper grocery bag, I attempt to shake off the road-buzz, and savor the sanctuary that is the graveyard. I wave to the occasional passing groundskeeper. But no one ever approaches me or asks me what I am doing there. The city of the dead has its own unwritten code: visitors shall not experience unwanted intrusions. Apparently, I am not the only traveller who has sought respite in the serenity of the graveyard. In 1867, the 29-year old naturalist John Muir walked from Indiana to Florida, through an American South ruined by four years of Civil War. He recounted his journey in, A 1,000 Mile Walk to the Gulf, published in 1916, explaining how he learned “to sleep in cemeteries to avoid unwanted intrusions while camping alone.” The marine biologist Edward Ricketts made a similar sojourn through the South in the 1920s. He published his recollections of the trip noting, “I came across John Muir’s thousand mile walk and was very interested in his half century old description of the country I just traveled. Muir’s advice regarding cemeteries proved particularly useful.”

The Turning of the Tides

  Great stories share in common a surprising but nevertheless inevitable conclusion. Long before its shores were lined with minarets and mansions, the Bosporus Strait in present-day Istanbul, Turkey, was little more than a narrow spillway through which fresh water from the ancient inland Black Sea flowed south into the Aegean Sea and on to the Mediterranean. Then, about 7,600 years ago, rising sea levels worldwide brought about a cataclysmic reversal – a natural disaster of biblical proportions. Suddenly, seawater cascaded in the opposite direction, north through the Bosporus Strait and into the Black Sea, with a force two hundred times stronger than that of Niagara Falls. The thunderous roar could be heard for sixty miles away. The waters rose rapidly, as fast as six inches per day, flooding shorelines for thousands of miles. The flood forced farmers to relocate, spreading advanced agricultural techniques westward into what is now central Europe. The rising waters created a nautical corridor stretching from Asia to the Atlantic Ocean, which is today, one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. The story of this great flood is preserved in the mythology of almost every culture, including the Book of Genesis.  I am reminded of the words of Sir Charles Leonard Wooley: “We need not try to make history out of legend, but we ought to assume that beneath much that is artificial or incredible there lurks something of fact.”  

Running Away From Home

Running Away From Home is a concept that never goes out of style. Our folksongs and literature are full of stories about children (and adults) running away from home. It seems to be one of the kernels of American identity. Perhaps this is because so many of our ancestors really were running away from home when they first came to North America. As a child, I harbored dreams of escaping the expectations, anxieties, and responsibilities of life at home and, like Huck Finn, leaving it all behind. I think it’s perfectly natural to fantasize about running away from home. Some folks actually try it. Some folks pull it off. And some of us turn it into a profession. In so many traditional folksongs, the protagonist is either at home (and wishing they were away from home) or away from home (and wishing they were home, again). As an itinerant entertainer, I have spent most of my adult life running away from home. Every morning, I awaken at sunrise in an unfamiliar motel room, get in my rental car and flee to the next location. Every day spent at my Oregon homestead is a countdown until the departure for the next tour. And every day on-the-road is spent anxiously counting the nights until I return home. I think that’s probably true for a lot of folks in the travelling life. It’s one way to constructively channel all that running-away-from-home energy into an intentional (and sometimes even profitable) Great Escape. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”