Photo credit: Credit: Erika Goldring
Before I went all-in on coworking, content and community, I worked in record stores for 20 years, including 16 years at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz, California.
I saw some crazy things, learned a lot and heard a ton of amazing albums. And l spent years writing about music for publications including the Santa Cruz Weekly, Metro and No Depression.
A big perk of record store life and music writing is comp tickets to concerts. So, over the years, I’ve been to more shows than I can count. And the number of artists I’ve interviewed for articles is probably in the hundreds. For real.
I’ve been to so many shows that, to be honest, I burned out on them. I’ve seen everyone I’ve ever wanted to see, I’ve interviewed my favorite artists, I’ve been to tiny shows that set my soul on fire—Regina Carter shredding her jazz violin at the Kuumbwa comes to mind—I’ve gotten the VIP treatment at arena shows, been to massive festivals and everything in-between.
I thought I had seen it all.
But I was wrong.
I recently experienced a space and time where music, community and humanness merged in a way I have never before been a part of.
Imagine being a mouse in the corner of a very small room while Jason Isbell, Warren Haynes, Margo Price and Jay Sweet who runs Newport Folk and Newport Jazz, swapped stories about the late John Prine. No instruments, no ego, no bullshit, just pure appreciation for their friend, who happened to be a songwriting giant of our time.
It was magic, compliments of the Park City Song Summit. On a mission to redefine the live music experience, the Song Summit “creates an environment for musicians to share, learn, and recharge their passion for music through community and the power of song while giving fans direct access to artists.”
The Summit is “committed to bringing awareness to the struggles people in our communities, and in particular the music and creative arts community, face,” including mental health, addiction recovery and suicide prevention.
Conceived by Ben Anderson and pulled off by a stellar team, the Summit has had a series of false starts, pivots and Covid-forced cancellations over the last two years. But it finally happened.
It was amazing to be back at a music event—and one with real depth and intention behind it. One of the Song Summit signs read, “Be present. Be mindful. Be quiet.”
I felt like I could breathe again, and I wasn’t alone.
The first person we met at the Summit, a greeter who chatted with us while we waited to pick up press passes, said, “I’m saying yes to life because I’ve had a crappy few years.”
I felt that.
The Song Summit kicked off with the Isbell and company event as part of the Lab series—a collection of talks, interviews, podcast recordings and story swapping sessions designed to let the artists discuss their craft, their life, themselves and, for some, their recovery.
Nestled in the Park City mountains between Main Street and Deer Valley, the Lab tents held maybe 100 people and were a music lover’s dream. My first thought when the artists sat down and started talking was, “Holy shit, that’s Jason Isbell sitting 15 feet away from me, just sharing stories like we’re in his living room.”
I’ve seen Isbell rocking the roof off of massive venues, and here he is close enough that I can see the veins on his hands, the details of his Martin & Co. t-shirt and his red shoelaces.
During the conversation, Isbell, Haynes, Price and Sweet all shared an emotional openness. At times they were visibly moved by the impact of John, his music, his friendship and his life. A throughline of the conversation was that John Prine wrote songs for himself—the fact that other people liked them was nice, but fame or critical success didn’t drive him. As Margo Price said, “John was not worried about fitting in.”
Here are some takeaways from their conversation:
Jay Sweet on Prine’s song “Sam Stone”:
“To get people to commune around a sad thing is magic.”
Jason Isbell on Prine’s ability to connect on the deepest levels:
“Usually when you’re sad, you’re alone. John could take the loneliness out of the sadness.”
Jason Isbell on hearing Prine casually mention that he thought “Angel from Montgomery” might be about his mother:
“What the fuck, I feel like I just saw the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”
Jason Isbell on the art of capturing small moments and pointing out what’s already moving about this world in a song:
“Look at that. Look at that. No really, look at that.”
And a solid writing (and content) tip from Warren Haynes:
“If you don’t write it down, it’s gone.”
What a joy to be part of the first Park City Song Summit, and an honor to hold space for artists to be who they are and celebrate each other.
Stay tuned for another Song Summit post about one of my heroes, Mavis Staples, and how music saved her during Covid.