To live is to be heartbroken.
Not everyone feels the joy of true love before they die. That is life. Every one does experience the disappointment of heartache. Everyone has loss to deal with in their own way. Some of those people do not address their issues for fear of unending pain. They develop the ability to move on seemingly unscathed. Others have found a way to approach their pain head on, and come out with a better understanding. I am the latter, and music is often the support I need to push through.
When they came to Columbus to support their new release, The World We Built, I had the good fortune of being able to follow up on last year’s Nelsonville Music Festival interview with the Wild Reeds.
“Oh it’s our Nelsonville friend”, Kinsey Lee announces while she, Mackenzie Howe, Sharon Silva, Nick Phapiseth, and Nick “Jonie” Jones tear down the stage so their tour mates, the 7-piece Holy Ghost Tent Revival can have a go at the sound on stage.
The Wild Reeds and I, along with their tour manager Ashley Hogrebe, and photographer Wrenne Evans take a trip to the Exotic Latino Grill food truck, perpetually parked around the corner of the venue. On the way there, Mackenzie gets an alert stating that more people in Ohio have travelled into space than any other state. A zealous fan sends them a fact for each of their stops on their tour.
The Line for food is long, so we wait. I strike up a conversation with Mackenzie about how much I enjoy the video for the song she wrote, Only Songs. “Yeah that was so funny”, she replied. And it is, but I find it to be much more.
Only Songs (impossible to queue up verbally on Amazon Echo) Opens with Mackenzie realizing her guitar has been stolen from her car.
Coincidentally, Mack’s car had been burglarized. Her guitar did not get stolen, but they were able to make the best of the situation and use the crime scene for the video they were already planning to shoot.
The video and lyrics clearly denote that it wasn’t the material possession, but her instrument to make music that she needed back. That is what gives her strength, inspiration, and life. Delving further, it shows a woman making the best of a bad situation. She finds the guitar at a yard sale, but they refuse to give it back. She’s ready to sell everything she can for it. After hosting their own yard sale, working a newspaper route, and running a lemonade stand, Kinsey, Sharon, and Mack make enough money to get the guitar back and rejoice with some music making.
Everything here illustrates what I find most compelling about the Wild Reeds music. They have no qualms with using their music to express how they feel about life or the pain they’ve experienced. I’m not trying to say their music is somber or morose. Many artists sing about the feels brought on by their struggles, disappointment, or loss. The big difference is the Wild Reeds either bring their music to a place where they have a greater understanding, or have overcome the issue—sometimes simply by changing their mindset or being patient.
Relating to lyrics of love gone wrong is not terribly noteworthy, but finding inspiration to conquer your feelings and approach the issue with music creates a kindred bond for the listener. The kind that makes them want to update the band on trivial facts for each city they perform, or follow them around the country with a camera.
After everyone receives their food, we’re offered a bench on the patio back at the venue. Everyone enjoys a brief meal when Sharon shares with me how often you have to shamelessly fend for yourself on tour and make your own opportunities.
Her song Capable is about just that—being fearless when when you find you’re on your own, staying the course when others rely on you, and calling upon your strengths (even those you’re not proud of) when you need them.
Fortunately for the band, they have a little extra support in Columbus tonight—Jonie’s girlfriend’s parents are Columbus natives. To show their support, they were among the first to arrive for the show and they brought thoughtful gifts for everyone in the band—most celebrated were the sliced cucumbers from their garden. We took advantage of the cucumbers for a photograph before their set and not one slice was wasted.
The Wild Reeds On Stage
By the time the five-piece took the stage, the venue was packed. I asked a few people how they were familiar with the band. Most said online, and a few, like Nora & Mike Berardi, were compelled to relive the performance they saw at Nelsonville last year. Only they didn’t get that performance this time.
This was a smaller, dark venue with just enough room for the five of them if you’re creative. All this had absolutely no impact on the performance. The emotion was there like before, but this was a more confident and uninhibited performance, just like their sophomore album. Their vocals ranged from beautiful and melodic to intense and energizing. The lyrics were sometimes poignant while proclaiming those triumphs over whatever had been wrong in their world.
You know that part of a studio album that is your favorite part of the song? You know, the unintelligible verse or impromptu yelp that somehow made it onto the recording, and throws you for a loop when it doesn’t makes it to the live performance? Yeah, they bring that to the show too.
On a few occasions they dueled with their guitars. Kinsey and Mack took turns on the harmonium (Who the heck has a harmonium?). Sharon played her guitar on Kinsey’s back. Even Jonie got a, “We love you, Jonie” from the audience. They were grateful and humble for the reception they received that escalated after every song.
Going to Church
It was clear to me that this show, and assumedly all those I have not attended, were essential for The Wild Reeds to grow. Kinsey makes everything seem beautiful, even the uncertainty. Mack quashes the hard times by focusing on the fun we should be having. Sharon … the ostensibly quiet one, puts her foot down and dares life to step to her on that stage. Maybe there was a little extra kick from the Exotic Latino Grill, but I could hardly understand that these were the same people that listen to podcasts while embroidering on the drive from town to town. (To be fair, Nick spends his time catching up on Game of Thrones, not surface slip stitching.)
It’s Just Music
I don’t believe any of us walk away from our pains unscathed. We either deal with it, or push it out to a later time, like paying a credit card. The Wild Reeds have found a way to exorcise their demons, and share their victories by performing live the music closest to them. This makes being on the road, loss of leg room to the merch, sleepless nights in a cramped hotel, and being away from loved ones worth it. There are people in this world who would say, it’s only songs. These are the same people who only use music for background noise to keep their thoughts away. But the Wild Reeds and I know better. Music, it is life.
The Wild Reeds are touring the US through November. You can see my accompanying interview with them here.