Braver Angels Podcast

Braver Angels Podcast

I recently became “Director of Cultural Engagement” for Braver Angels (formerly “Better Angels”)–a political non-profit fighting to depolarize America. In my new role, my biggest initiative has been launching a national songwriting contest, which you can read about or even enter here. Together with legendary songwriters Peter Yarrow, Steve Seskin, and Aaron Barker, as well as a committee of musically inclined Braver Angels, we’re trying to create more ways for artists to get involved and support our work. You can read about my past work for Braver Angels in my “It’s About U.S.” project. 

Today, Braver Angels Media released a podcast interview about about how the arts can help bridge the political divide. The interview featured the incredible Philippa Hughes–the leader of Looking for America–and me! You can watch below or listen here

Week #1: The Dream Begins

Week #1: The Dream Begins

After years of practicing songs, 10 months of writing, and 7 months of tour planning, my first Better Angels Benefit Show opens tomorrow! Opening night is nearly sold out and filled with old friends from my hometown. Plus, in a last minute surprise, the president of Better Angels–David Blankenhorn–will introduce the show!

In celebration of this long imagined tour becoming a reality, I’m sharing the song that planted the seeds for this project. 2 years ago–just after the 2016 election–my lungs started filling with nodules. After hearing my diagnosis, I didn’t think singing and dancing were things I’d be able to do much longer. I wrote this song to help myself come to terms with new limitations on my future.

But through a series of positive turnarounds, I recovered my health and discovered Better Angels. And because I am healthy again, so many of my dreams from that time have come true. I can travel, I can be a storyteller, I can finish books… Best of all, I can be part of the change I then asked of others. My show is giving me a way to help my country through my music and words.

During a time of utter despair, my music kept my dreams of my own and my country’s future alive. Now, I hope my show can persuade others to keep their dreams for our country alive too. We can still work together to make our country stronger. We can still recover. We can still take control of our country’s fate.

Thank you to everyone who helped me realize this idea. As in my song, I couldn’t have done it alone. I hope to thank you in person along the way.

Special thanks to JB Nuttle for filming and audio editing.

Week #3: Why a Music Tour?

Week #3: Why a Music Tour?

In just 2 weeks, I’ll be uprooting my life to perform 9 shows across the East Coast about why I’m committed to Better Angels and how others can support their work. The closer it gets, the more I keep asking myself why I’m doing this.

After I graduated from college in 2012, I ran a program on Civil War music at the Smithsonian of American History. I performed songs that showed how 150 years before, Americans had become so divided that they killed each other. I used my fiddle to tell stories of soldiers, generals, slaves, and musicians in a way contemporary Americans would want to hear.

6 years later, I still love learning old songs and the stories that go with them. But I’m no longer satisfied just playing songs from my country’s past. I’m too worried about my country’s future to only study history and not take action myself. So, I’ve also started sharing my own songs in the hopes I can thereby support things I care about.

One of the issues I care most about is polarization. I recognize that music might not be the best solution to that problem. In fact, during the Civil War, music was often used to exacerbate social divisions. As in the Confederate anthem Maryland My Maryland—set to the Christmas classic “Oh Tannenbaum”–even beautiful music can be used to demonize opponents. To call for violence. To gloss over the injustices of our own side.

But back then, music could be used to unite divided citizens. Soldiers on both sides liked drinking and dancing to fiddle tunes (e.g., “Soldier’s Joy”). Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln both loved the same melodies (e.g., “Dixie”). And citizens on both sides shared a longing for “Home Sweet Home.”

Likewise, even today, I believe music can be a tool for unity. It can help us listen without judgement, share personal experiences, and reflect on relationships. Music can offer healing and hope. And in these divided times, “the mystic chords of memory” can also remind us of our shared history.

So why a music tour? To bring out the “Better Angels” of my music; to use it as a tool of unity rather than division. I’m hoping that through music and organizations like Better Angels, we can find better ways to deal with our differences than through Civil War.

I’ve put years of work into making this show happen, and I’d love to share the results with you. Click here to reserve a ticket. We’ll be in Severna Park, MD; Philadelphia, PA; Harrisburg, PA; Summit, NJ; New York, NY; Bethany, CT; Providence, RI; Wellesley, MA; and Winooski, VT.