I went to Tennessee because that is where my book is. The nice people at Zone 3 Press at Austin Peay State University worked hard to get the book out and they sweetly invited me to read. Since neither Erik nor I had been to Nashville, we decided to fly in, drive to Clarksville and then spend the weekend in town. We flew into a tornado with winds that could not compete with Flagstaff winds, but were apparently more spirally. And wind with rain is more intense than wind without. It rained like a downpour in Portland and a monsoon in Flagstaff and a cloudburst in Boston all put together. Double-speed windshield wipers as we drove through the limestone hills of Tennessee. Water poured off the rocks into tiny waterfalls and it has been a dry spring in Arizona so the water seemed like a gift but also a curse because no one goes to readings on tornado days with rain.
We met Barry Kitterman, the fiction prof, and Amy Wright, the nonfiction prof, along with two students for dinner before the reading. Erik and I arrived late and wet but we left dry and happy for the reading. The reading was not entirely without an audience. The audience who was there were attentive and kind and even one person said the reading was brilliant so I really required no other audience. I signed some books and then Erik and I hung out in downtown Clarksville. Downtown Clarksville isn't quite full of nightlife. It's bigger than Flagstaff but, Barry explained, because it's so close the Nashville, everyone goes into the city for dinner and music, draining the town of it's would-be nightlife. The downtown was cute but Barry was right. The bartender was windexing the table next to us at 9:45. She turned the TV off. We left before anyone flickered the lights at us.
So we too, after I went to Amy Wright's poetry class where the students were fun and lovely and smart and I remember that teaching/interacting with humans is better than reading from a book, drained the town of Clarksville of our presence and headed to Nashville. Our hotel (Wyndam resorts. Sales pitch in the morning at 10:30!! We wisely avoided) was by Opryland which is NOT close to downtown but we found our way there and began a three-day tour of tiny bars with lots of music. Some bars were big. Three floors. Three bands. Most of the bars were tiny--split-level galleys that still managed to host two bands between the set of 7 stairs. We stayed at the tiny bars and drank Bud Light since it's hard to drink anything else when you have to drink most of the night and day.
The bands are good. No one was bad. But they all played cover songs almost entirely. They played them well and I get it. The audience wants to sing along. At one bar, a group of women in their seventies who reminded me of my grandma's sisters, sang along to country songs. The covers were not bad. Sunvolt. Old Crow Medicine Show. Garth Brooks. A Carrie Underwood song that made me think I should listen to more Carrie Underwood (I had, before this, listened to zero Carrie Underwood). They played that "Don't call me darlin' darlin'" song a bit much. I heard some song I'd never heard but was obviously a cover about a heartbroken mama which I liked a lot. They covered Jane Says--possibly with a little too much first-had knowledge and Purple Rain--with perhaps a too little purple. Hank Williams. Merle Haggard. Songs we listen to on Outlaw Country on Sirius. But I was surprised how few original songs anyone sang. But band wants the audience to be happy and knowing the words makes an audience happy and a happy audience tips the best. But no wonder no one can break out of there. They move from bar to bar, singing the same covers but who is going to sign someone who sings someone else's songs?
I think about this and the reading I gave. It takes a lot to get the energy up to go to a reading by someone you've never heard of to hear her read an essay that she promises has porn in it but the porn within is probably too uncomfortable to enjoy as porn. No one would fly me out to cover someone else's work--to read Barbara Kingsolver or Jim Harrison, for instance. I probably wouldn't have made much on tips either (book buyers are giving tips, in a way, so I guess I did all right). But even if my book doesn't break out and get many readers or many reviews, it feels a little more promising than what I imagine it feels like playing bar after bar, so well, so beautifully, with such stage presence, and just hoping that one day you'll play your own songs. Still, they had an audience. A loud, singing audience. That would be nice too.
On the one hand, there's something to be said for going home to my regular work and my students and my not stage life. On the other hand, I have another reading on Monday in Tucson and I will be wearing my cowboy boots and maybe do one cover song.