I am in Virgina, in a sleepy town of well-spaced farmhouses, stone walls, hand-lain, in a craggy-hilled hollow of a town, filled with artists who have made fortunes big and small. It is not a place for the struggling. It is a place where composers and sculptures and Philharmonic conductors live amongst a Ye Olde Inn that has Michelin stars and She-Crab soup, where songwriters meet patrons and wine flows well. I love my friends who live here and I love to gather here yearly to play someone else's music, to joyfully sing amongst the linen clad, well heeled, who need music and rhythm as much as those of us struggling to keep our lights lit. We all need art. Even those wearing pearls suffer. A few years ago a mentor of mine passed and I hear from her in the wind. I have a hard time with the concept of God or Goddess, Higher Power or even the idea of anything outside of what I can physically lay my hands upon. But when I need something beyond, this image of my friend, this impish 60 something woman who seemed to have a grasp on what is Important and could Bestow Truth upon those of us younger, still seeking, this blue ribbon curls in the wind woman comes to my beckoning and I hear her voice, or if not her voice, I can see that glint in her eye that says "you have ALL that you need in your heart; just trust" as if Yoda himself had come out of the ether and danced into my hallucination.
Julie Portman. You are missed. You are still here amidst.
And so, here, in her house, sitting outside on the weather-worn bench in the late winter sun, trying to glean some Truth from the wind in the pines, I find out about another passing.
Can I even call him a friend? I decide I can. I remember the moment it changed. He winked. I was sitting next to him at a circle at Camp Coho at Kerrville and I sang a song. I think Jack Williams was there. And Jack Hardy snapped after I finished. And sank his head back and said, "bellisima!" Now, I'm not so foolhardy to disregard the whiskey or my own youth and Jack's impish delight at young women, but I also know full well that no matter the carve of the leg, Jack suffered no songwriting fools, no matter how much Jamison's had gone down the gullet. And the moment Jack nodded at me, I knew something had changed for me. I felt invited. Not arrived. That's a whole different thing. But at least I knew from that moment on, the chair was open and I could come in. Jack was the gatekeeper and yet he was kindly. He was a critic, but never critical. He told you when you did right and kept it to himself when you didn't move him. It made my day when I got a nod from Jack Hardy, because Jack Hardy was a Great Songwriter. There aren't that many of those amongst us. Jack LOVED great songs. His heart great big and bursting with pain and love and joy and sorrow in front of all of us. Jack had a voice of the boy who sat outside your window to sing you down the oak tree to dance with you in the yard in the rain. Jack the romantic. Jack the crank. Jack the hipster. Jack the drinker. Jack the tribal leader. Jack the cowboy poet. Jack the cook. Jack who poured. Jack who watched the hummingbirds.
I am gushing. I never gushed to Jack. I wanted to. I wanted so much to thank him for welcoming me. Jack Hardy had a Monday night hang at his West Village apartment. He'd make a pot of pasta. We'd bring wine and a new song we'd not debuted in front of an audience. It was a tiny apartment that reminded me of the biographies of Dave Van Ronk and Dylan. The shared bathroom in the hall. The kitchen barely separate from the living room. Not enough room for more than one or two guitars. I was there a few times, with Abbie Gardner. Jack made Pasta Puttanesca. We brought wine. I'd been told about this hang for years and was too intimidated to go. It took knowing Jack a few festivals to get there. When I did I brought a song, "The Fortunate Ones". I remember I sang it, scared that Jack wouldn't dig it. He did. He said "that's a good song" and the next time I saw him, at Falcon Ridge, he sang it with me. Every time I saw him, at Falcon Ridge, sharing a round at Folk Alliance, at Camp Coho, Jack nodded at the empty chair near him, inviting me in. The thing is, Jack was more about that gesture -- the invitation -- than touting his own horn. I never heard Jack say anything self-promoting. He'd mention other songwriters to me. Not himself. He'd tell me Irish songs I should learn so we could play them together. Not his own songs.
The news of his death was a complete shock and I'm a bit numb by it. I keep looking on Facebook to see what others are saying because I want to hold someone's hand in this and just figure out what's going on. I wouldn't think Jack would consider me a 'friend', enough to think I'd want to say goodbye. But friendship in this community of folk singers is this odd thing and Jack's passing makes me want to make sure that the people I consider friends, integral people in my life, regardless of how many times a year I see them, that those people know how important they are to me. We see each other in passing on the road or under tents and we think "oh, I'll see them next year".... but those of you I pass in the hallways in Memphis, and I see and hear briefly at the crossroads in front of the octojohn or in the mud in Hillsdale, or on status updates on Facebook... I hope you know how much you all mean to me...
I won't see Jack Hardy next year. I was at Kerrville last year for about 48 hours and I spent the one night I decided to run around the camps, not running around, but sitting next to Jack Hardy at Camp Coho listening. I didn't want to play. I wanted to hear music and sit by Jack. I regretted then that I couldn't stay for longer, but I was running to another festival. I thought, oh, next year, I'll be back. I'll stay for a week. I'll camp at Coho and learn more Irish or Scottish ballads and harmonize with Jack and bring some new songs to play.
I thought when I played Falcon Ridge this past summer I'd have enough energy to trudge to the top of the hill to visit Jack's camp. But I didn't. I was tired. It was raining. I thought, oh, I'll see Jack again.
The thing is, I hope Jack, who died a few days ago, knew how well he was loved. I haven't cried yet. I still believe he'll be there when I get to Coho this year. Or walk up the hill at Falcon Ridge. I think of the people I associate with Jack, Gary, Jack Williams, Byrd, Karen Mal, Lisa and Bruce, Woody and Michael, the hummingbirds, the bottle of Jamisons, Frank, people I don't even know in the legend of Fast Folk, the famous, and even Felix McTeigue who first invited me to Jack's hang years back....
My friend Julie is in the rocks in the St. Vrain river. And in the wind in the pines in Little Washington, Virginia. And in the blue of the scarf I bought when she was still fighting cancer and we all decided to imagine her in Persian Blue in 2022. And in the song I wrote for her. And I talk to her when I need guidance and so far, I haven't heard back but maybe someday. And Jack, I think I'll bring new songs to him for a while too. Just to see....