- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009

Ah, spring …

Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the hints of a new season are everywhere.

The dull brown fields of winter are beginning to turn green, and the daffodils have been blooming for nearly two weeks. In the morning, we wake up and hear the birds making a beautiful racket, and, of course, the sun is more reluctant by the day to take its leave.

These signs of spring get me in the mood to deep clean our house, among other things. While New Year’s is the traditional holiday associated with turning over a new leaf, I think that the approach of spring is a more powerful reminder to renew oneself with resolutions and goals while cleaning, sweeping, sorting and folding for good measure. So I am on it, making lists, taking bags to Goodwill, making demos and charting my course for the next few months.

For so many years, spring has been the time of year when the plans of summer tours are wrapped up and confirmed; this year, I won’t be climbing onto a tour bus as in previous years, but I will be working just the same. I have a new album to finish writing and recording, and I am looking forward to every part of the process.

Tours take place throughout the year, of course, but summer tours have always been something I particularly look forward to because we get the chance to play outside in some wonderful places.

A verse in James Taylor’s song “That’s Why I’m Here” sums it up perfectly: “Some are like summer coming back every year/Got your baby got your blanket got your bucket of beer/I break into a grin from ear to ear/And suddenly it’s perfectly clear/That’s why I’m here … ”

The first time I heard that song, I thought of summer nights at Wolf Trap.

Long before I ever played there, I loved to attend with a picnic basket and a blanket and enjoy concerts on the lawn. One of the most memorable evenings I spent there was listening to a concert by the National Symphony with Aaron Copland as the guest conductor. Of course, “Appalachian Spring” was on the program, and to lie on my back, gazing at the azure blue sky and the hint of stars above while listening to this gorgeous and moving music was like something out of a movie.

Wolf Trap is truly in a class by itself. It is a treasure amid the urban sprawl, and it brings to mind other places around the country that are gems for both performers and audiences. Through the years, we have loved going to Chastain Park in Atlanta, the Gorge Amphitheatre above the Columbia River in George, Wash., the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, among so many others.

Each of these places is unique; everyone feeds off the gorgeous surroundings. Whether it’s hot or cold, sunny or raining, being outside on a summer’s evening, even in inclement weather, brings out the best in folks — I know this to be true because I am a veteran of some real washout nights, and the resilience of an audience that stays put despite the downpours is remarkable and gratifying for any performer.

Note to my readers: I have enjoyed writing this column for the last several months; now it’s time that I return to my “other” life as a singer-songwriter. Since last fall, I have enjoyed musing here on subjects from the band Hem to Elvis Costello, from car company bailouts to arts funding, from autumn in the Blue Ridge to the promise of a new season that we now have before us. Thanks for reading everyone, and happy spring to all.

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