This past summer, my wife and I attended the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, CO. The Friday lineup caught my eye (ears) so we got there around noon and enjoyed the full afternoon and evening lineup.
Los Lobos and Jeff Tweedy were the artists I was most familiar with, having seen them both multiple times, and most excited to see (again). And certainly the Wolves from East L.A. and the mastermind behind Wilco delivered awesome sets late in the evening. But the artist that captured me most that day was Mary Gauthier (pronounced Go-shay).
I’ve heard Mary on KPIG often, with “Mercy Now” – the title song off her acclaimed 2005 album – getting frequent airplay there. But beyond the KPIG exposure, I wasn’t all that familiar with Mary herself. When we were planning our RMFF trip, I re-familiarized myself with her. In that process I learned of her most recent efforts with Dardin Smith and the Songwriting With Soldiers organization that resulted in Mary recording “Rifles & Rosary Beads,” an album of songs written with and inspired by veterans and their families. As Mary describes the songwriting process, “…it gets the stories from people who served, and puts them in a way that everyone can understand and then serves them back. So that we can see what these men and women have sacrificed and what their service means.”
The stories…the songs…are not easy. They – and the art behind them – “tell truths that are hard to tell,” says Mary. As one of her veteran co-writers said, he was able to tell Mary “things no one on this planet knows” but at the same time said those sharing moments offered “flickers of hope” toward emotional and psychological healing. “The War After The War,” as one of the songs on the album describes.
Mary sang several songs off the “Rifles & Rosary Beads” album during her set at the RMFF and told about the people and the stories behind the songs. The album is raw and emotional. Delivered live, to 4,000 of your best friends, outdoors, in the beautiful sandstone canyons at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the songs became even more compelling and real. Mary calls the Songwriting With Soldiers organization and her resulting “Rifles & Rosary Beads” album “spiritual patriotism” and that certainly summed up the feeling I had that afternoon. But not just me – it was evident with the rapt attention of the crowd as well. And, when Mary closed her set with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” the ensuing sing-along – echoing off the canyon walls – well, that was a magical moment, indeed. I hope the words, pictures and videos I’m sharing here give you some sense of that special afternoon.
Mary was kind enough to do a meet-and-greet after her set. I had the privilege of meeting her, talking to her about KPIG and Guy Clark (she referenced him during her set) and thanking her in person for her performance there and her efforts with Songwriting With Soldiers and “Rifles & Rosary Beads.” She was as inspiring in person as she was on stage.
I’ve purposely waited until Veterans Day to share this across my various personal and business social media platforms. Certainly, I want to thank all veterans for their sacrifices for our country and us. Thank you! But, as Songwriting With Soldiers and Mary Gauthier and many others associated with that fine organization point out, today’s “thank you-s” are not the only thing…and aren’t enough of a thing…to support our veterans, day in and day out. That’s particularly true for the days out…the days beyond active service…the days they begin fighting the “War After The War.” Families bear the brunt of this – they deserve our “thank you-s” as well. Thank you!
But, “truths that are hard to tell,” none of this is enough. Our VA system is overloaded. Too many of our mental health systems are failing our veterans…and even everyday citizens. Too many “thank you-s” ring hollow after Veterans Day. And yet, we keep asking more from our veterans and their families…another tour of duty, another deployment, more risk, more “things no one on this planet knows.” One has to ask: where does it end and how does it end?
I don’t claim to have the answers and I don’t t claim to be an expert on veteran affairs. And in fact, I am not a veteran myself. But I do know – because I felt it that afternoon in Lyons, CO, and every time I listen to “Rifles and Rosary Beads” – that efforts like those of Songwriting With Soldiers are part of the answer. So we should also support them and thank them for their efforts with veterans. As private citizens, the least we can do is have awareness, offer support and thanks and…vote accordingly (since Election Day is still fresh on our minds at this Veterans Day).
If this interests you or has been compelling enough, I would highly encourage you to listen to and then purchase Mary Gauthier’s “Rifles and Rosary Beads.” A portion of every sale goes to Songwriting With Soldiers. Or, you can donate directly at their web site (if you decide to just stream). Or, at least thank them for their efforts. Veterans appreciate that, too.
Team Archadeck…Go Outside and Play…Loud!