My first encounter with the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming happened in 1973 while hitchhiking through the West. I recall getting a ride in the back of a pickup and watching the plains of eastern Wyoming stretch out before me as I gained altitude into the mountains. It didn’t take long before the Big Horn Mountains embraced me completely. At one point I imagined that I could see my home in Norfolk hundreds of miles away.
Last week I spoke with singer/songwriter Sarah Sample, who lives in Sheridan, Wyo. She talked about the influence of a sense of place on her music. Before the interview I watched one of her videos and listened to a beautiful song, “Redwing,” that carried me away to that hitchhiking trip decades ago. Although we spoke for fewer than 15 minutes, I found myself telling her stories about my life and what music means to me.
In other words, we “connected.”
I had to laugh when Sarah said that the folk singing marketplace offers rich rewards for the music. She said, “There are literally hundreds of dollars to be made in folk music.” Also in delivering pizza, I noted. But then she added something interesting. She said, “I think what is really powerful about music is not the currency of money but the currency of connection. We have the ability to be richly paid in connection.”
Sarah brings her music to central Nebraska for a 7:30 p.m. show Friday at The Balcony in Loomis as part of the Rehmsworld Concert Series. Sarah will perform with singer/songwriter Edie Carey. Tickets for the show are $20 in advance or $23 at the door.
My conversation with Sarah ranged from the specific — details of her life and her journey of faith — to broad topics about my connection to the West. I explained that I often travel through Sheridan on my way to Yellowstone — and that I would never drive through the town without thinking about her. She moved there five years ago after her husband interviewed for a job in the small town. After 15 minutes of conversation, Sarah invited me to stop next time for coffee and more conversation.
I talk with lots of artists about many different topics. My conversation with Sarah impressed me because she said that she meets lots of different people during her travels. These interactions help her better understand the viewpoints of others, something we could all benefit from in these fractured times.
She also talked about what makes a piece of music resonate with her.
“When you’re willing, as a writer, to be vulnerable and willing to really dig deep and share the scary, big truths that no one wants to talk about, if you’re willing to sing about those things, then those are the things that have the biggest impact to the listener,” she said. “As a songwriter, if you are willing to be vulnerable then it allows the audience to go there with you.”
Just as my ride in the back of a truck so many years ago opened my eyes to the high plains of eastern Wyoming, listening to Sarah talk opened my mind to what makes our lives so rich and rewarding. For any artist, that willingness to dig deep and that desire to connect defines success — and the gateway to hundreds of dollars in the folk industry.
Makes me want to trade my laptop for an acoustic guitar and hit the road.