Spent yesterday at the Tucson Folk Festival, which defines folk music loosely and so is really an eclectic mix of interesting local and not-so-local music.

Particularly fabulous this time around were:
Courtney Robbins (energetic singing and amazing guitar playing; first discovered her music a couple folk festivals ago)
Desert Sons (a new discovery; relaxed old time country and western, sung with the sort of perfect harmony and relaxed playing of guys who’ve been together for ages; not normally my sort of music, but they were good)
Roth d’Lux (another folk festival favorite; I have no idea how to describe their music, but I love it; at once polished and unconventional)
Greg Morton and the String Figures (amazing string playing; incredible energy)
The Last Call Girls (not sure how to describe them either; sort of country, but with a ballady edge that surprised me as it crept in later in their show)
John Coinman (just a man and his guitar, yet he held the stage; in the finest tradition of folk song story telling)

The folk festival also added a New Artist’s Stage this year, focused on teen singers, which was pretty cool.

The New Artist’s Stage was also fascinating, from the perspective of seeing how we learn our craft, whatever that craft may be. We listened to two singers on that stage, and what I noticed was this: one singer was singing about issues close to home and her teen world; the other was singing songs like Folsom Prison Blues, songs of the sort that require a bit of time and hard living before you can sing them with the authority they need. Neither singer was quite there yet, but both showed huge amounts of promise–the sort of promise that makes me want to keep an eye on their careers over the next few years.

Of the two, the singer who was singing within her realm of experience was the better singer now. But I had the feeling that in 15 years, with some of that living behind him, the singer who was reaching beyond his realm of experience would become the stronger singer of the two.

Which got me (because I’m an obssessed writer type) to thinking about the sorts of stories we choose to tell as writers. Well, often we don’t choose, I think; we’re just drawn to this or that sort of story. Some of us get drawn to stories that are close to being something we already have the skill and life experience to tell from the start; others get drawn to stories that take a decade or two to learn how to tell right; perhaps most of us get drawn to a mix of the two (I know this has been true for me).

Only you don’t know what it is you don’t know until you finally know it. Which means that from within, it can be hard to tell that one story is a story you’re ready to tell, while another isn’t.

If you don’t reach for those stories you’re not yet ready to tell, and risk failing a little in the process, you’ll never be up for telling them–you’ll never know when you finally have the skill and life experience to do them justice. But that only works if those are stories you want to tell in the first place. There’s nothing wrong if they aren’t; that’s just how it is. Who knows what draws us to the stories we want to tell?

I’m not sure it makes much difference from the reader or listener’s point of view; I mean, the types of music those two new singers were learning to sing, I like them both. I probably like them about equally, even though I can see how one takes a whole lot more work than the other. They’re both singers are singers whose music I’m interested in hearing in a few years.

As a listener, I just want to hear good music.

If there can be a range of types of good music for me to hear–because I don’t want to just listen to the same thing over and over–that’s all the better.

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