This is a post I've had every intention to write for the past month plus. Sometimes I hesitate because I want to list products to share in the post, sometimes I hesitate because I cannot find exactly the right words to express the sentiment I want to share. Sometimes I'm just too busy in my own head to put "pen to paper" (sounds better than "fingers to keyboard" doesn't it?). This time it was all of the above.
Now that I'm done procrastinating I want to share a story with you, so here goes.[can't find the words, must click facebook, oh look! nothing interesting... keep clicking.... OK I am back.]
I applied to be a vendor this year at Bumbershoot. It's Seattle's local music festival, and I haven't been since REM played (my 16-year-old nephew called me old with just one look when I said this to him). I was working for the Washington Wilderness Coalition as a telephone canvass manager at the time, and we were there collecting signatures from young liberals to save forest land in Washington State. The irony is that I felt so old at the time. I think I was 18.
So while applying to shows this summer I thought: music lovers + awesome instrument straps = a good show for Moxie & Oliver! But their booth fee was $1,000, and at the second highest booth fee I'd paid that summer, I couldn't justify it. I asked if I could gift guitar straps to the musicians in exchange for a lower fee. With a lot of negotiation they finally agreed to $750 but it was still to high for me to take the risk - I could come out of it in the hole. It's really hard for people to justify spending $100+ on a guitar strap when they've already dropped that much on their festival ticket.
What I had managed to somehow negotiate in the meantime, was a full booth backstage in one of the VIP areas that I would use to display and gift guitar straps to musicians. Couches, a coffee table, and racks for the guitar straps. Plus a truly professional tent that kept me dry in the pouring rain.
I never know what to expect at an event. The truth is that even a show that is good one year can be horrible the next. So I do my level best to go with an open mind, which how I showed up to Bumbershoot.
About midway through my day on Saturday the ruggedly handsome Nick Bearden from Jamestown Revival came into my booth. I told him I was gifting straps to artists, and we talked a bit about the straps, and my business, and then he asked, "So how does this work?" and I said words that I never thought would come out of my mouth.
"You pick the strap that you like, and you get to keep it. If you don't find exactly what you want, I can make you a custom piece. The only thing I ask is that you sign this blank strap in return."
He lit up. Honestly every musician that I said this to over the course of the weekend went through this process of surprise, unedited joy and gratitude. You could see it all over their faces. Many people came back later with bandmates. In fact, everyone from The Moth & The Flame, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Mikal Cronin, and The White Buffalo now has a Moxie & Oliver strap. So does Seattle local Kris Orlowski (also adorable, with a beautiful girlfriend).
I didn't get to see much music, nor did I meet any super-duper famous people, but in my heart this is the way it should have been. I went there to promote my artwork, but what I got out of it was a sense of fulfillment that I haven't had in a while. These musicians - the local bands, the ones not headlining the mainstage at night, the ones traveling from all corners of the world (seriously, Nahko's group is from everywhere) to play a show - they are trying to make a living as artists just as I am. And it's HARD. And most artists, music or visual, don't get rich. But we keep at it not only because the world needs art, but also because there's a fire burning deep in our souls and that fire goes out if we stop creating.
When I came back to work Tuesday after a long weekend at the show, I came back with a renewed passion for my work and for supporting other artists. I can go on a longer rant about this later but the short version is that we spend so much time competing for position that we forget to nurture the beauty of our own creative spirit, and that of fellow artists. This is why the next post you will see from me is about another gift that I am giving to an artist I love and admire, but have never met in person. As a working artist I need to make a living from my craft, but as I get older I realize more and more that my net worth is not defined by what I can purchase, but rather it is defined by the difference I can make in the world. And isn't that how it should be?