Halloween Canvassing

Halloween Canvassing

I’m so lucky; this year, I got two Halloweens in a week! Last Wednesday, I took my violin student trick-or-treating (for his first Halloween). He got candy and I got to meet neighbors and enjoy decorations (OK, and get candy). Exploring my community in such a festive spirit reminded me why this is my favorite holiday.

And yesterday, I went canvassing for the first time. Again, I got to meet so many interesting people with different perspectives. But this time, while we still talked about landscaping, we also talked about why voting matters. We talked about how employers are required to give you up to three hours to vote. And we talked about why Phil Bredesen is a politician that will listen to both sides and put our country on a better track. In just four hours, I learned so much about where I live. Hopefully, I also persuaded some people to vote.

I should have done this before! I can’t believe I was so scared to go out and talk to my neighbors. For someone who’s always advocating conversations (and trick-or-treating), I didn’t realize knocking on doors with the explicit purpose of talking politics would be so fun and easy. Plus, this election is so important. The stakes are too high to stay home.

If you wanna join the fun, it’s not too late to canvas yourself. You can even do it on election day! At the very least, remind your friends and family to go vote this Tuesday. And remember, “polls are open 7am to 7pm. Find your local polling place beforehand. Bring the necessary ID. This election is too important to miss.”

Week #6: Courage to Be Kind

Week #6: Courage to Be Kind

I’ve spent much of the past week thinking about how to react to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. In terms of my upcoming tour, the fact that most of our Better Angels shows will be in synagogues, churches, and a mosque has been particularly worrying to me and my organizers.

But while we are constantly considering how to balance security with openness, we also recognize that there’s only so much we can do to protect ourselves without abandoning the spirit of this project. We want this show to expand the Better Angels movement. We want to introduce new voices into this conversation. We know opening our doors inevitably invites risk.

Therefore, this week I’m sharing a song from our show called “Courage to Be Kind,” written by the phenomenal songwriters Steve Seskin and Crystal Bowersox. Their lyrics were inspired by extraordinary examples of people making the hard choice to show kindness in the face of hatred. These true stories include a synagogue’s reaction to the burning of a mosque in Texas and those of victims’ families after the Charleston church shooting. In both cases, people chose compassion even at great personal cost. For me, this song is a reminder that while reacting to hatred with kindness is often the more difficult choice, it can also be a sign and source of strength.

And while it’s scary, my organizers and I are going to welcome anyone who’s interested to our shows. However, since we’re not going to blast ads from every newspaper and radio, we need your help spreading the word. Please tell your community organizations (e.g., your religious center, your book club, your political group) about this project and Better Angels. Reserve a ticket for yourself and a friend. Help us reach people who are open to listening.

For now, I hope you enjoy Steve’s performance and that you get yourself a FREE ticket to our live show. With the recent addition of our Providence, RI and NYC show, the schedule is finally complete. You can reserve your spot using this link.

Week #7: My Fairytale

Week #7: My Fairytale

While this is a love song, most of it is a list of my personal shortcomings. I don’t do laundry. I’m not a morning person. I’m a hoarder. I know that I’m not always the easiest person to get along with (let alone live with).

It feels like a miracle to have found someone who loves me despite my limitations. “My fairytale,” it turns out, is someone who loves cleaning, is ready to exercise at 6am, and aspires to be a non-attached transient (i.e., a rock-climbing “dirt-bag”).

I’m so grateful to have someone in my life who isn’t like me. I get to live with someone with different thoughts, aesthetics, values, and even flaws. Sure, sometimes our relationship is not a “fairytale.” But the fact that we’re so different means that we can accomplish so much more together than we can apart.

So why am I including this “love” song in my Better Angels show? Because relationships are political. The way we interact with others–particularly those different from us–forms the foundation of our democracy. We might just be two individuals who’ve learned to love each other despite our flaws, but individuals make up a country. And our country could use a little more love.

Huge thanks to producer Nathan Meckel for diving into the strange spirit of this song. Also thanks to Mark Niemiec (mixing/mastering) and Jimmy Sullivan (bass). Finally, thanks to Kevin Pereira, for acting as my muse.

Week #8: We Are Not Enemies

Week #8: We Are Not Enemies

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.        —Abraham  Lincoln, 1861. First Inaugural Address

I’ve tried to take Lincoln’s words to heart while putting together the “Better Angels Benefit Tour.” Admittedly, it’s not always easy. Passions are still pretty strained these days and still for good reasons. And I acknowledge that “talking” may not always help us find shared solutions to serious disagreements. Even shared music from our past and present—literal “mystic chords”—may not have the power to “swell the chorus of the Union.”

Nevertheless, I believe that Better Angels, both the organization and the metaphorical “Better Angels of our nature,” can bring out parts of us that can bring us together. If we really commit to changing the way we communicate with each other, we can learn to work with, live with, do politics with—and maybe even respect—those with whom we disagree.

Therefore, I have been working for nearly a year to make a show that supports Better Angels. If you also want to help spread their message, I’ll be selling these bumper stickers that I’ve made at all my shows. In the Better Angels spirit, you can show that you recognize the limitations of the labels we throw at each other and even put on ourselves. Instead, start a real conversation. Make a new friend.


Week #9: For My Teacher

Week #9: For My Teacher

Week #9: For My Teacher

My fiddle teacher, Stacy Phillips, passed away earlier this summer. Even though he can no longer give me musical advice, Stacy gave me one last inspiration. For the first time, I’m releasing an original single. I wrote this song for him.

Stacy was one of many teachers who changed my life (the picture for this post is of my grandfather and his teacher). Stacy’s influence was largely in converting me from a classically trained violinist to an aspiring fiddler. While I only paid him as my formal teacher for a short time, Stacy continued to advise me long past my time at Yale. He supported my move to Nashville—meeting with me just before I left—and consistently commiserated with me on the struggles I’ve had in my pursuit of music (while showing me how to move forward). I hope to maintain his hard-headed passion for this music and his realism about its endless disappointments and limitations.

Stacy was also going to attend a show on my Better Angels Benefit Tour: Bethany, CT​. Instead, I’m going to play this song throughout the tour as a tribute to him. As planned, I will also perform near his home in Bethany, CT. I hope some of Stacy’s friends and family will be able to attend.

And thank you to all the artists who helped bring this song to life: Nathan Meckel​, Mark Niemiec​, Tim Galloway​, and Jimmy Sullivan​.

Week #10: The Countdown Begins

Week #10: The Countdown Begins

Post #10: The Countdown Begins with @National Week of Conversation!

Every Friday through Dec 7th, I’ll be sharing news about my upcoming “Better Angels Benefit Tour.” Today, I’m releasing (almost) the entire tour schedule! If you live near any of these cities, RSVP using the links below. Andy Roth and I are so excited to share our music and support @Better Angels. We promise the show will be fun, honest, political, unique, and free!

Stay tuned on Fridays for more information, and click a link NOW to reserve your tickets.

Severna Park, MD on Dec. 8

Philadelphia, PA on Dec. 9

Harrisburg, PA on Dec. 10

Summit, NJ on Dec. 12

Bethany, CT on Dec. 14

Wellesley, MA on Dec. 16

Winooski, VT on Dec. 18

Hope to see you there!