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Chapter 1: Karli

Ollie plugs the final cable into the PA and turns to one of two microphones on the stage.  
“Test. Test. Testing.“ He steps back and adjusts the dials.
“Test. Test. This is only a test. If it were a REAL performance, I’d sound much better.”
He steps over to the second microphone and repeats the testing procedure, including the joke, which gets a laugh from Sarah, the bartender across the room.  She pours a tall Hefeweizen, drops in an orange slice and walks it over to him.

“I had a few calls this week,” she says, “so people definitely saw the Craigslist ad. Of course, I’m guessing that songwriters are probably not big tippers.”
“You know I’ll do what I can for you. Is this on the house?”
Sarah smiles, nods, and heads back across the room.
“I’m Ollie, I’ll be your host tonight – and hopefully EVERY second Wednesday of the month -- as long as Sarah can put up with us.”
He pauses for polite laughter from the crowd. 
“This is our first songwriter Open Mic here at Tied 2 the Tracks. I want to thank them for providing a space for original music – and, for the record – because we are spitting distance from the railroad tracks – if the train goes by during your performance, you get a do-over. Promise.
And because we are all songwriters here, I’d like to run this a little differently than your standard open mic. Let’s talk about songwriting – tell us about your process, how this song came to be.
I’ve been a songwriter all my life – I'm a recovering folk singer, a former touring musician and now I teach songwriting, but I believe we can ALL learn from each other.  I think it really helps to hear how others approach the craft. So give us a little background before you start your song. 
We’ve got a lot of sign-ups, so we’re going to get started with Karli, because she made me promise she could go first. She's one of my students at Reach High. Are you a senior, now? Right – watch out, world. Here comes Karli Campbell."

KARLI:  “Thanks, Mr. Oliver.  Or do we call you Ollie, here?   Anyway....  Hi. I’ve been writing songs for two years – since I started at Reach. I know lot of people call it “Loser High” but for me, it saved my life.  I know I would be dead or in juvie, if it weren’t for the teachers at Reach – and the music.

"Okay – so this song I’m going to sing – well, I have to kind of go back -- to my first foster family? Anyway, the mom used to let us listen to stories on CD before bed. One of the stories that I listened to over and over was about a woman who could hear “The Crack of Dawn.” I just loved that idea, you know? In songwriting class, Mr. Oliver said I could use that line because you can’t copyright a title – so I did.
Anyway, the whole rest of the song came from a trip to Mount Shasta with my friends. They were snowboarding and I was down in the lodge, writing in my notebook and it started to snow, so I went outside. Have you ever walked through a forest when snow was falling? It was quiet. SO quiet.  And I got to thinking about songwriting – and how sometimes it’s kind of hard to hear so much in my head - kind of the opposite of quiet. And that’s where this song came from. It’s called "The Sound of the Snow."



I’ll set you up with the keyboard, Karli,” Ollie says as he slides the keyboard in front of the microphone. “You’re gonna do ‘Mustangs’ right?”
“Apparently, I am," Karli says, as she smiles playfully at Ollie. She pulls the bench over, sits down and adjusts the microphone.
“I’m not sure how much to say about this one.” She gives Ollie a questioning look.
“Just give a little background – you don’t need to tell the whole story.” Ollie flips the switch on the keyboard and gives Karli two gentle taps on the shoulder. “You got it.”
KARLI: “Okay. A few years ago my life was….well…. pretty much a mess.” Karli hesitates and takes a deep breath.

“So, during an especially messy part,  I was in the waiting room at emergency in Sacramento, passing time till I could be seen. I flipped through a magazine and I got to this picture of a sculpture of horses – nine of them, all life-size. It was a sculpture AND a fountain – so there was water coming up at the horses’s feet and it really looked like they were prancing through a river. I thought it was amazing, beautiful and really…I don’t know?… powerful, I guess. 



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “Anyway – I’ve never done this before, but I tore the page out, folded it up and put it in my backpack. I kept it. I STILL have it.

A few months ago I was having these nightmares: I was trapped back in that awful time of my life. My counselor thought writing about it might help, and Mr. Oliver tells us in songwriting class that we have 'the chance to change history' when we write – because we can tell the truth the way it should be. So I wrote “The Mustangs of Las Colinas.”

She strikes a chord and then pauses and gives the audience an apologetic smile. 

“Oh – and I haven’t had a bad dream since.”


Chapter 2: Angela

Ollie approaches the microphone as Karli makes a quick nod at the audience and then steps off stage.
“Thank you, Karli. Let’s hear it for Karli Campbell – you’re going to hear her on the radio someday.
Next on our sign-up sheet is Angela – Angela Michaelson – come on up.”
Angela steps on stage with her guitar and Ollie helps her plug into the PA and adjusts her microphone.
ANGELA:  “Well, hi. I’m Angela and my sister is MAKING me do this.” Angela makes a face at her sister in the audience and takes a deep breath.
“My husband, Jeff, is a Marine – serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.”

The audience applauds.
ANGELA:  “Thank you – thanks. And while he’s been gone – between taking care of the kids and everything else that needs doing -- I’ve been learning to play his guitar. It’s going to be a surprise for him when he gets back. And I’ve also been writing songs, which is why my wicked sister dragged me out here tonight. She saw the ad online – “it will be fun!” she says. Yeah, well, so far it’s..... scary as all hell.  But if you have a sister, you know they can make you do crazy things.
So here goes. This is the first song I ever wrote, called “Show Up in My Dreams.” I wrote it one night when I was missing Jeff and I couldn’t sleep. It’s my first time doing this open mic thing, so please be gentle with me.”

ANGELA:  “Thank you. Thanks – you guys are being really nice, I appreciate it.
I have one more song to sing. I wrote it for my nephew, Josh, who had a very tough start as a baby. Since then, he’s thrived and he’s now an awesome three year old, thanks, in no small part, to his mother, my sister, Emma.
So, Sis, since this Open Mic thing was YOUR great idea, you’re going to come up here and sing the harmony part.  C’mon. Don’t make me get Mom involved.”

Emma climbs up on stage and gives Angela a hug. 
“No crying allowed, ok?”

Emma nods.


Chapter 3: OLLIE

OLLIE: “Thank you, Angela – that was great. First time's the hardest - I hope you’ll come back next month.
It looks like I’m up next....What to say about this tune?  I wrote this a few years back, after a bad break-up – those seem to be my specialty...But I tell my songwriting students: “You’re only one heartache away from a hit song.” This one wasn’t exactly a hit – but it DID end up on a Leo MacIntyre CD a few years ago.”

Several audience members applaud. From the back of the room comes a “Woot!”
“I see we’ve got some Mac fans in the house. He’s a great guy. When he left Nashville to retire here, he set up a recording studio out by the lake and he's kept his hand in the music game. I played this tune for Leo and he liked it. Didn’t make me rich. Or famous. But it helped with the mortgage payments and got me this sweet Martin.
Sometimes the pay-off for a bad break-up is a good tune. Or a new guitar. So: Do NOT fear the broken heart, friends. Embrace it. Write.  
And THAT was the incredibly long intro for this tune, The Best Damn Man. 

OLLIE:  "Thank you. We’ve got a very polite crowd here tonight. We all appreciate it.
I mentioned earlier that I’m a teacher at Reach High. One of the books that gets a lot of use in my classroom is
Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. It’s a very accesible guide for living creatively. I tell my students that songwriting inspiration is everywhere, in everything – you just have to find it, recognize it and run with it.
I’m always on the lookout for song ideas, and this tune has its roots in a book I read called,
The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. You might know her as the author of Eat, Pray, Love, but before that, she wrote a terrific biography of Eustace Conway, a character who lived life on the wild side.

In the book, she relates a story about a hitchhiker who reveals what he writes on his sign to GUARANTEE that he gets a ride. I loved the idea and worked it into this song, The Cardboard Sign.”


Chapter 4: SARAH

OLLIE: Thank you – always a treat to have a listening audience.
Alrighty, then.
Next on the list we have a….Sarah….Sarah…no last name, just Sarah. Like Cher, I guess.

SARAH: (waves from behind the bar across the room): That’s me, Ollie. “CHER?”  CHER? Really, Ollie…you’re dating yourself.  How about “Adele?” How about “Beyonce?” 

OLLIE: What can I say? – I’m a child of the 60s. Since when are you a songwriter?
SARAH: Since I discovered busking as a way to supplement my income as a starving student at San Diego State, WAY too many years ago. I was toying with the idea of getting back to it, when you proposed the Songwriters Open Mic event. Why do you think I agreed to provide a venue after your first plea?
But first: I have an eight-minute set, so before I strap on my guitar, does anybody need a refill? Speak now or hold your peace for the next eight minutes.
Okay, then. Here goes.

Sarah takes her guitar from behind the bar and climbs up on the stage, Ollie gets her set up in front of the mic.
OLLIE: You shoulda told me - I had NO idea! This is great.
SARAH: You may want to withhold your review till I’m done singing. Like I said, it’s been awhile. 

(Addressing the audience) Well, hi, everybody….I’m Sarah, your friendly neighborhood bartender slash singer-songwriter. That means any secrets you spill at the bar may be turned into a sad country song….You’ve been warned.
This one is from a couple years ago, I started writing it in the check-out line at the market, where all the headlines for women’s magazines read like some kind of sadistic, never-ending, torturous to-do list: “Dye Your Hair!” “Hide Your Wrinkles” “Disguise That Cellulite!” I decided I’ll have no part of it – I’m Gonna Look Like Hell When I Get to Heaven.

SARAH: Thanks. Anyone who feels compelled to translate that applause into tips, feel free.  Once a busker, you know….
Just so Ollie doesn’t feel like he cornered the market on rough break ups, this next song is one I wrote last fall – after the end of MY marriage.  One of the reasons I left my last name off the sign up sheet is that I’m still getting used to using my maiden name…. After 15 years of using someone else’s name, it’s a little jarring.

But many of you remember my Dad, Johnny Forester, who opened this place back in 1979 when it was “Johnny’s by the Tracks.”

(Applause and “Hey, Johnny!” from the audience.)
So I am, once again, Sarah Forester, returned to my hometown of Redding and dispensing beer….and the occasional sad song.