Friday, October 07, 2016



a) Art is a life mission, not a vocation b) Music must be a major part of your life before it can become your livelihood c) if the audience doesn't show, take a hint and do something different d) doing something different does not mean you are giving up on a dream; it means you are stepping out of the way of an oncoming train e) be original; if you are copying something already successful you are being annoying f) if you are original you are probably being annoying. g) love is the greatest transaction of the arts; don't focus on money. h) the audience is the greatest benefactor of the arts; show them love and they will show you the money. i) be at peace with failure; it is a stepping stone to success. j) success is an illusion and has nothing to do with real life. k) being popular is a drug; it often means you have simply achieved the lowest common denominator and isn't necessarily something you should be proud of. Justin Bieber is "popular." l) your instrument is an extension of your heart, not your hands. m) Critics are incapable of achieving what they are judging. Ignore them. n) being in tune is more important than playing perfectly. o) never edit in the sound of an audience that didn't show up. It's called "lying." p) own your dream; others will support anything they are not liable for. q) be honest; be fair; be motivated; be patient. Each is a building block to house your dream. r) your dream is a carpet of stars floating in the universe before you; keep your carpet clean. s) forgiving someone's mistake will make them more loyal to you. t) the audience is the greatest benefactor of the arts; view them as hearts, not wallets. u) invest in yourself; if you don't no one else will, either. v) accept the true size of your audience; sometimes they are simply on your front porch or living room couch. Don't be ashamed of their location. w) Be humble and truthful with yourself; accept the true reach of your influence; being effective in your home town is better than being a non-existant ghost in the national consciousness; x) your CD is your business card; give it freely. y) you get paid if you have an audience; if you don't have a audience, don't complain if you aren't getting paid. z) "free" works. Use it wisely. mj, October 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The DREAM album art

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him… We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The DREAM is my latest album.

It is one of the hardest artistic projects I've ever pulled off. In my heart it was almost like giving birth ... painful, fearful, agonizing followed by shear exhilaration and pride when it was over.

It many ways. it was like giving birth to a rhino with the horn still attached.

The title song is about our earth at peace. It has four children's choirs singing in English, French, Spanish and Russian. The center piece of the song is when they all sing in their native languages but in unison. It is followed by the musical explosion of a 61-piece symphony orchestra. I wanted the song to be as majestic, powerful and universal as the concept of peace itself is.

Which brings me to the COVER ART on the album, but before I explain that you should really listen to the song first, click the link below:

It is not my intention here to be political, but to speak as an artist. To me, the world is saturated with beige-minded, vanilla-thinking, boring, common, unadventurous "stay-
between-the-lines" art. As the marketplace of the music world shrinks and even disappears, songwriters and artists shrink back with it, careful not to take too much of a stand, careful not to rattle too many cages, careful not to alienate what is left of their little marketplace.

I mean, think about it: where are the songs against war? Where are the songs against terror? Where is the anthem that proclaims black lives do indeed matter? Where are the songs that decry violence against our police? Gone are the days of We Shall Oversome, Masters of War and Where Have All the Flowers Gone.

If they are out there, you don't hear them because even radio is hesitant to speak in that voice. Remember what happened to the Dixie Chicks? Silence condones the actions of the fearful.

Oh, I don't blame them, after all we have families to feed, rent to pay and as society restricts freedoms and rewards those who stand down instead, art will often "stand down" with it. But art shouldn't be that timid. Or shy.

"Art is a revolt against Fate." ~ Andre Mairaux, France

When the collection of the songs for The DREAM album were sequenced and I sat in the studio alone in the dark and listened for the first time to all the compositions in order, I began to envision the jacket art. It kept me up at night for days as it consumed the theatre in my mind.

The title song was about the earth at peace ... but the TRUTH is the earth is NOT at peace. Years ago, album art was a powerful part of music. I remember as a kid being consumed with Steppenwolf's cover of an army of mice, the smudged makeup on Don McLean's thumb on American Pie, all the faces on Sgt. Pepper. The cover sucked me deep into the music.

Then music shrunk down from an LP to a CD, print became so small you can't read it and artists began to lose their imagination. Now, everybody downloads and there is no more cover art at all. Most covers gives you the standard artist posing in front of a woodshed. Or posing in a field. Or posing wherever. Boring. Here's a news flash: I have never released an album with my picture on the cover.*

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” ~ Pablo Picasso

So I wanted this cover to be special, powerful, a statement. I created it to be an anti-statement to the song, so the song would have power. I wanted the jacket art to show visually what the song was hoping for musically. When I first showed the album jacket to Melissa, her reaction was to love it first followed by concern ... she didn't want to twins to ever see it.

That was good, actually. The DREAM is not for kids because they are the peacemakers. It is for grownups, the ones actually causing all the violence.

The OUTSIDE cover reflects the gentle hope of the song. The earth, majestic and beautiful, distant and close, incredible and mysterious. (click to enlarge)

But the INSIDE ... the inside is about the truth. It deploys the explosive anger that we destroy ourselves, our culture, yes, even our children with. It is graphic, brutal and, sadly, accurate. (click to enlarge)

Above is a response card we got from a radio DJ. This person saw the cover and made a judgement about the album and about me without even listening to the song. I love our community of radio friends but please notice this coward didn't even sign their name. MY name is on my album. It is MY statement, I am proud of it and I stand by it openly. This wanker is hiding behind anonymity like a fearful hatemonger.

Yes, the cover art has terrible things children are doing to each other, as taught by violent, horrible adults. The song has four children's choirs asking, pleading for this to stop. This DJ didn't get it. I bet they have no problem watching this kind of horror in their living room over cornflakes as they watch CNN in the morning. I bet they watched planes crash into buildings, burning thousands of people alive as the building fell. I bet they watched it over and over on their TV set. I bet they watched a woman get crushed to death followed by others dancing around her body as their children sat with them on the couch watching the Wizard of Oz.

I bet they have a golden murder weapon hanging around their neck and kiss it whenever they pray, too.

Some people think The Dream is a musical prayer for peace. It is not. It is actually a song about God asking US to stop it. It's God's prayer to mankind, not the other way around. It not a religious song, it is a song, a request, about protecting this wonderous creation by the one who created it to the ones he created.

"It takes an artist with heart to make beauty out of things that makes us weep.”~ Clive Barker

So ... the album has been released to almost 2000 DJs and radio stations. I wonder if they will play it, or will they reject this child I gave birth to. We shall see.

But to all my fellow artists, I implore you: start thinking like an artist. Don't think outside the box ... destroy the box. Don't write a few songs and slap them on a boring CD and expect people to be moved. The world is saturated with the mundane. We are drowning in an ocean of beige. Be brave instead. Shake and rattle and crush. Make people react, feel, object, laugh, weep and cry. Be bold and fearless. Take risks and jump into the deep end of your soul to see what lies at the bottom.

”Creativity takes courage.”~ Henri Matisse

Invest in yourself, take chances with yourself ... because if you won't no one else will, either. And if you ever get a burr up your britches and you send hate mail to someone, at least put your name and address on the ding-dang thing.

Folk on,

For a copy of the album visit:

* Postscript ... I remembered an out-of -print LP has my picture on it. Actually it's a picture of a photograph of me. Go figure ...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

FEEDING THE PIG: an overview of the main problem with Careers, Bands, Music and Arts organizations.


Once upon a time there was a farmer ...

  ... and he had a wonderful, vibrant garden. His garden fed his family, his livestock, even his neighbors. It was so healthy and food so plentiful he had enough produce for his local market and so his garden even provided him with an income.

  The farmer loved his garden and he tended it, took care of it, cultivated it, watered it and gave it all of his attention. 

Then, one day, the farmer got himself a pig. 

  And oh my, how impressed he was with his pig, so new and different from the garden. The farmer became so enamoured with the pig that he began to give it more of his time. His pig grew and got fat and the farmer fed it more and more of the garden's produce.

  Soon, most of the harvest from his garden was gathered just to feed the pig. The pig demanded so much attention the farmer had less time to tend his garden ... and so the harvest began to whither and dry up. Weeds began to take over the garden but the farmer hardly noticed because his attention was so consumed by his pig.

  One day the farmer was so exhausted from caring for the pig that he asked himself, "How did this pig get so big, and what has happened to my beautiful garden?"

  But still the pig demanded more from the garden, more time and attention from the farmer. And the farmer couldn't escape the demands of the pig. He began to loose his joy - with the pig, with the garden and all the good things he once had as a loving farmer.

  Until finally, one day, there was nothing left of the garden. It was gone ... and the pig couldn't survive and the farmer had nothing for market and couldn't feed his family.

Thus is the state of many arts and music organizations.

  Let's use music to explain, but this is true of all artists, bands, charities and non-profits. In my universe of folk and roots music, our "garden" is the world of songs, poetry, community, instruments, the audience and all that is part of being a musician and songwriter. It is a beautiful amazing colorful vibrant garden.

  And there are many loving, attentive "farmers" for this world: the IBMA takes care of the bluegrass garden, the Folk Alliance International cares for the folk garden, South by Southwest in Austin and more.

  The "pig" is the corporate structure any arts entity ... whether a national organization, a local community group or a garage band ... creates to oversee their operations. Mind you, the garden existed long before the corporate/business structures, but once they were created they tend to take over the garden.

Here's what happens:

  When the pig is first brought into the garden, the expenses are low and all the attention is on the artform, the artists and the garden itself. The good intention is to make the garden bigger and better while feeding the pig. As the pig grows the need for money takes over. Executive Director salaries, offices, managers, agent and staff, marketing. Vacations and benefits. Travel budgets. All of this money gets sucked out of the garden. The bigger the pig gets the more unyielding the budgets become and the more attention the farmer gives the pig instead of tending the garden.

  Before you know it the garden begins to whither and dry up. The cost of being members of the organization get way too high. The cost of attending the conferences get way too high. The pig overtakes the garden to such a degree that all the beauty that was the garden begins to dry up and leave. Feeding the pig makes the cost of being in the garden too expensive for the average artist.

  FACT: It costs the average musician upwards of $1000 to be a member of most music trade groups, pay for conference fees, travel and get hotel rooms and meals. That is more than most musicians make in a year. Heck, it costs $80 just to park your ding-dang car in Austin during SxSW now.

  If it costs more to be part of the garden than the garden can provide, the farmer needs to make a choice:

  abandon the garden or get rid of the pig. 

  My whole argument here is that the corporate structure of the arts world ... the pig ... has gotten so out of hand that it is ruining the very garden of arts we love. As the business models change and the ability of artists to make a living becomes more difficult, farmers need to reduce the size of their pigs. That doesn't mean the people running arts organizations are "pigs." Be careful how you interpret this. Most are sincere, passionate folks that truly love the art form they are helping. It's the size of the corporate structure that becomes the pig.

  Recently the project that Pete Seeger started ran into this problem. When the Clearwater organization began it was a community driven, music loving group that protected the Hudson River. As time went on, the pig got so big and fat that most of their attention was spent on raising money to feed the pig and NOT to protect the garden they were part of. Finally, this year they cancelled the famous Clearwater Folk Festival to conserve funds to keep the pig fed.

  By contrast, the WoodSongs broadcast has a live event with artists from around the world 44 weeks a year in front of 500 people on a Monday night with a 30+ member crew, syndicated to hundreds of radio stations plus American Forces Radio in 173 nations, a 5-camera TV broadcast edited, closed captioned, satellite fed and viewable in 96M USA TV homes on public television, live online feed plus over 800 shows archived for free on our website ... all on a weekly budget of $619. 

  How is this possible, you ask?

 Because ... drum roll, please ... we have a teenie weenie pig.

WoodSongs Front Porch Association ... a teenie weenie pig.

Our commitment of the WFPA is to keep the pig on a damn diet. It costs a lousy $25 a year to belong and that is not just you but includes your whole band or family up to five members. On top of that, all members get FREE tickets to the WoodSongs Gathering this September. FREE. The proceeds of your membership does not go to feed the pig, it goes to nourish the garden by provided roots music education programs FREE to teachers and home school families.

  Join the WFPA, a pig-less organization that loves the garden. That's why we call our members SongFarmers. Check us out at

  My point is simple:  

  If the pig makes more money than the artists in the garden ... the pig must die. 

  Or at least go on a diet. 

  All arts careers, bands and groups need to take a close look at the condition of the garden you are part of. An organization with a flourishing garden and a little pig is doing it right. If you see your garden withering, struggling ... if the artists are frustrated and the audiences dwindling ... take a good close look at the pig.

... it might be time to trim some bacon.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Anyone attempting to create outside of the box is a target for those incapable of the adventure.

"The music on WoodSongs is good, The host is an idiot ..."
Grey Brendle, Beaufort, SC

And so goes a recent public post on a Facebook page from someone I don't know, never met and who hasn't a clue about me at all. Every now and then, these little verbal spears appear amid the accolades, praises, applause, standing ovations, awards-with-my-name-completely-misspelled and other genuine kindnesses. And it makes you wonder:


Not "why am I an idiot." Heck, maybe I am and I just haven't realized it yet. But why would someone you don't know say something so public about someone they've never met?

Garrison Keillor is a fine man who has created an otherwise impossible broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion and, aside from all the praise he receives, he is constantly BLASTED by those who think he talks too much, can't sing, is a terrible writer, self inflated ego and on and on. All from folks who have never met the man.

Chris Thile is one of the finest musicians on earth. A sincere fellow of indescribable talent. He is stepping into the golden shoes of Garrison as the new host of A Prairie Home Companion and, amidst the great reviews of his effort, I have read some of the most scathing comments about his impending failure, his "Garrison Wanna-Be" status and bone-crippling negativity of his hosting skills.

Mainly, it seems, from the same people who hate Garrison.

Actually, they hate Garrison and hate Chris but evidently listen to the show every week for some reason in order to be qualified to make such horrid reviews regarding efforts they themselves are incapable of imagining no less accomplishing. Even on a small scale.

So, again I ask ... Why?

Garrison and Chris do great work. The difference between those two gentleman and myself, aside from the shear stature of their accomplishments, is they are paid, I am not. I created and work on WoodSongs for free. I get nothing. Not a cent, not a $ ever. The crew works for free and the artists who come on the show do so for free. The show goes free to public radio, free to public television and I was able to arrange hundreds of complete broadcasts to be archived online that anyone can watch ... for free.

Heck, my hometown newspaper, even after all these years, can't even spell my name right on those very rare occasions that I am included in a story about events that I create. Can't someone who volunteers to do something good catch a break?

Evidently not.

All artists, dreamers, risk takers, poets and performers have a deep love for their craft. And they have an even deeper love for their audience. But presenting their creations to the scathing opinions of others is like showing your nakedness to people you already know don't like you. "Michael is an idiot. He can't sing. He can't play. He's ... blah blah blah"  Especially considering the enormous amount of stress, responsibility and pressure a project like WoodSongs would place on someone. Can you imagine doing 44 of these productions a year ... with virtually no money to operate on? Harsh criticism, especially in public, is the most disheartening, demoralizing thing in life ... and it can wound deeply.

Until you realize a very simple, basic truth: haters are even more scared and more lonely than you are. They swim in a deep pool of insecurity and such low self esteem that their only salvation is the self elevating illusion that comes from looking down on those they perceive accomplish more than they can.

I think, in the end, the words of harshness become irrelevant to the work at hand. Like any worthy endeavor the artist, creator or dreamer only achieves their goal by keeping their head down, their spirits up ... and band aids handy for the wounds that come from those critical of what they themselves are incapable of doing. Sometimes a critic can make you better, they can sharpen you like a blade against a stone. They can also so rip into your spirit so deeply it makes you feel like quitting.

The point is nothing we do should be for any other reason than for the love of it. Love is the greatest transaction of the arts, and haters have no place in that world. They are, at best, jealous onlookers.

Recently a very good friend of mine, David McLean, came up with an idea of an award show that he himself couldn't be part of. I watched him get blasted from all onlookers ... at first. But he kept his chin up and didn't stop and now he is a hero. I'm proud of David. His heart proved more powerful than those who denied his efforts.

I'm sure Mr. Brendle is a fine fellow and I can sort of imagine him sitting in front of a TV watching WoodSongs muttering and throwing his popcorn at the TV set every time "that idiot" comes on the screen. And that's ok, because his harsh review means he is watching the show, the very thing we all work so hard ... and for free ... to accomplish.

It's just a shame the only thing I know of the gentleman is his public unkindness. Maybe, someday, Mr. Brendle will accomplish something so wonderful they will place a star along Main Street in his honor with both his names misspelled, too.

But in the meantime, back in 1937, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius said it best:

"Fear not the words of a critic, for no one ever erected a statue in honor of one."

Folksinger, TreeHugger, SongFarmer and Idiot