Life has a way of waiting to give you what you want until you’re ready for it.
2020 was supposed to be the year I took my touring to a new level.
With a second Homeric piece to offer in The Blues of Achilles and a lot of due diligence in researching Odyssey performance contacts, I assembled spring of 2020 with several week-long driving tours of both shows. Fall of 2020 was to be full with a monthlong Odyssey tour of Europe and more domestic work.
None of which happened when Covid hit.
It was incredibly disappointing watching a *lot* of planning and excitement go down the tubes in the blink of an eye, a disappointment mitigated somewhat as interest in my online performances took off and I was able to keep working steadily in a new medium even as many of musician friends weren’t.
Here the thing though: in retrospect, I’m not sure I was ready for what I had booked in 2020. I think it might have been too ambitious and on balance I benefited from the work I did on The Blues of Achilles in the virtual realm and having to reassemble smaller versions of my 2020 plans in 2021 and 2022 as the world opened up to touring again.
After my fall 2021 European tour of three shows in three countries in ten days, I can confidently say the idea of doing eleven shows in seven countries in four weeks was insane and I’m not sure I would have survived let alone enjoyed it.
And as I started to perform The Blues of Achilles in person in the fall of 2021, it was obvious how hard it would have been to start touring it in the spring of 2020. The thirty or so virtual shows gave me invaluable reps in a safer more protected environment to figure out how to perform the material. There was still a learning curve in those 2021 shows, but I started much farther ahead by virtue of my virtual experience.
So as I worked on my fall 2022 bookings, I felt comfortable trying to reassemble some of the intensity and density of my 2020 schedule and this took the shape of some one offs (Kansas, Houston, Austin, Washington, Ohio, UIC, Arkansas) in September and October and then ten shows in ten days in six states in early November. The first six shows were in a four day mostly-Midwest driving tour through Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, and the last four shows were a flying itinerary that went from Austin, Texas, up to Connecticut over the course of three days.
Eight Odyssey shows and two Blues of Achilles shows.
So on a Monday morning I drove 2 plus hours from Chicago to Holland, Michigan, for two Odyssey performances in conjunction with a NEA Big Read program of Madeline Miller’s wonderful Odyssey-connected book Circe. I was to perform at Big River Public School in the morning for middle and high schoolers and then do an evening public performance at Hope College.
As I set up in the Big River Public School gym, I felt nostalgia for my early Odyssey performances: almost all were in high schools and I now slant almost entirely to colleges. This show was raw and real: 120 eighth and twelfth graders all packed onto bleachers. No microphone, just me projecting into the big light-filled space. I was on the back end of a (non-Covid) cold and my voice showed up in ways I wasn’t sure it would. The kids asked excellent questions. It was a great show. A talented student came up afterwards and showed me a sweet caricature of me that she'd drawn.
After spending the afternoon meeting with students and professors on Hope’s beautiful campus, I was set up in a gorgeous chapel-like space for the evening performance. My voice was worn but holding up. The first shows of a tour are almost always the hardest for me under any circumstances because it takes me a bit to re-find the connection to the story and material: getting these first two done was a big relief.
I settled into my hotel for the night, thinking about the next day and the 5 hour drive south and east to Richmond, Indiana, and Earlham College for a Blues of Achilles show on Tuesday night.
In thinking about how I wasn't ready for what I wanted and planned in 2020, I wondered if maybe Odysseus wasn’t actually ready to be home right after the war ended… maybe he got home at the appropriate time for him, as painful as that was.
Life often knows us better than we know ourselves.