Tag Archives: COCA

Nashville, y’all!

I have not blogged yet about Nashville. It’s getting to the point that it’s uncomfortable to even go out into public because I’m asked about it so frequently… at the grocery store, at a block party last night, at church, getting coffee, the public library, when I got my car serviced yesterday…. That does two things: wash me anew with awe and wonder that we had so many people who knew about the contest to send a local Tallahassee band to the Americana Music Festival and Conference and even more so that we had so many people who were so invested and voted for us every day, and then embarrass me that I have yet to report back to everyone who is penning all of their hopes on us to make our city proud.

Here are the reasons that I have been so hesitant to write about our trip to Nashville.

I’m still sort of reeling from it and I have yet to wrap my head around everything. Even this afternoon, I spent a good forty five minutes going through all of the notes that I took in conference sessions, the reminders that I jotted down for later, “Check this person out online and see what their story is,” and the notes that I wrote to help process through what I was experiencing, and I still don’t quite have a grasp on my head and my heart in regards to it all.

The conference was above all, a juggernaut of information.  I felt almost assaulted by what I suddenly became aware of NOT knowing. However, I’m an eager learner, so I put on my Sarah Palin (not a political endorsement, but rather a visual frame of reference) glasses, pulled out my fancy purple pens with flowy ink (that’s the key for me… I’m really particular about my pens… not so much the color, but the degree to which the ink flows and Claire was so sweet to indulge my peculiarity and buy special pens specifically for me to use at this conference) and took forty pages of notes.

I enjoyed college… well, not so much the first time that I went because I was depressed and in a really bad place. But when I went back for graduate school, I loved it. The process of learning, synthesizing and then producing is my area of expertise. I thrive there. I excel far above all of the others in that arena. Because this conference was a bit overwhelming, I had to attack it the only way that I thought I might a chance—academically.

Maybe it was a good awakening for me.  I’m so far removed from the business of music. In spite of my ability to think things through logically, breaking them down into manageable pieces that will ultimately bring me one step closer to accomplishing the objective, I’m much more comfortable in the touchy-feely side of things. I like to hang out with people and hear their stories. I like to shake their hands and look them in the eyes. I like to write songs that hit people in the heart. I leave all of the hard stuff Charlie and Claire. Perhaps, it order for us to all be more equally yoked, it was necessary to introduce me to the burden of the business, too.

So, I came away from our Nashville trip humbled, with the beginnings of a new strategic plan that can only be expressed in the language of spreadsheets and analyses. I’ll spare you that stuff, since it’s boring and hard, and believe me, you only want to deal with it if you are contractually obliged or pinky sworn to do so. Instead, I’ll give you the parts that are less “Hermoine,” the overachieving graduate student in the Sarah Palin glasses with a purple, flowy ink pen and more Sarah Mac the free-spirited, living grateful, introspective writer who consistently laughs at herself and finds joy in the small things.


Charlie incessantly quotes Seinfeld in the car. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of annoying. But then he’s from the generation that actually considered Seinfeld funny, so we just know that it goes with the territory. And for every three crappy Seinfeld play-by-plays that we have to endure, we get a really funny story, like maybe a high school or college escapade, or a Richard Prior joke that he tries to pass off as his own…

Like a good conference attendee, Charlie brought a bag to carry all of his materials…. iPad, packed lunch, Moleskin notebook, pen with flowy ink, etc. As he tossed it over his shoulder in the parking lot, Claire said, “Hey dude, why you taking a purse with you?”

Of course, in typical Charlie fashion, he had to say, “It’s not a purse, it’s a carryall. It’s European.”

At the end of that episode though, Jerry has to admit that it is most definitely a purse…

 (A pickpocket runs by, taking Jerry’s carryall, while everyone yells in surprise)

Jerry: Hey! Officer! Someone took my European carryall!

Cop: Your what?

Jerry: The…black, leather…thing with a strap.

Cop: You mean a purse?

Jerry: Yes, a purse. I carry a purse!

From the Seinfeld episode, “The Reverse Peephole,” originally aired 01/15/98


As evidenced by the fact that she’s hanging tight with Sara Watkins… or at least got to take a photo with her after her set.


We found a wonderful place to eat in Nashville. Of course, we expected that because it’s a big city and most big cities have at least one vegan restaurant. If you’re an avid reader of our Band Goes Green blog, you know though that we often have problems finding places to eat, even in big cities.

On a recommendation from a vegan friend, we went to the Wild Cow… twice. We have magnificent food, good fellowship, and I as I was contemplating breaking vegan fast and having some really fancy black cherry and goat cheese ice cream, Vegan Jesus reminded me of my solemn vows and delivered me from temptation by having me puked on (not kidding). You can read about it here


Part of our conference fee went towards a ticket to attend the Americana Music Association’s Americana Music Awards show. It’s not as big time as the Grammy’s, but it’s way more big time than the Chaires Elementary School Fall Festival. We were excited, because:

1)      It took place in the Ryman Auditorium

2)      They had like twelve bars in the place and let you drink inside the auditorium

3)      We saw lots of our musical heroes all in one place

There were performances by the Punch Brothers, the Alabama Shakes, Sara Jarosz, Bonnie Raitt, Booker T. Jones, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller (I love him like I love Ed Harris) and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Then at the end of the night, there was an all-star jam, where one of my all-time favorites that ever walked the face of the earth (and also Claire’s, as she named one of her cats after her), Emmylou Harris walked out, resplendent in a purple poncho, to sing a tribute to Levon Helm.

The show was televised, so Mama Bear and Mister Elwood watched it on television, in hopes of seeing our faces in crowd shots. Now that Mama Bear is an avid text messager, we compared notes via cellular telephone. She was giving me the play by play from the television as I gave her the real time play by play from Nashville. This was our conversation following the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ performance of their twangy single “Country Girl” from the new album, Leaving Eden.

Funny… autocorrect doesn’t like the word, “pone.”




noun plural \ə-ˌmer-ə-ˈkä-nə, -ˌmər-, -ˌme-rə-, -ˈka-nə\

1 : materials concerning or characteristic of America, its civilization, or its culture; broadly : things typical of America

2 : American culture

3 : a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music

From the Merriam-Webster Free Online Dictionary

What counts as Americana? I think that you could probably make a case for everything. I learned in academia that anything is possible. If you spin it right in your proposal, you can get a grant from the Underwater Basket Weaving Society of Greater Tuscaloosa for research into the body painting practices of indigenous Australasia and Oceana inhabitants. I kind of feel like the same is true for Americana. Jazz, Blues, old Country, new Country, Bluegrass, Corn Porn, and until I saw Wanda Jackson live in person, I forgot about Rockabilly.

Even at 74, the Queen of Rockabilly can still melt your face off.


Excerpt from my journal, Thursday, September 13, 2012:

It’s funny how people tend to glamorize working in music. Even Baby Bear said before I left the other night, “Come home famous!!” Although it’s glamorous in some sense, for example, getting to go to the Americana Music Awards, to which I was miserably underdressed and embarrassed about (think, jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops—Thank God M & D were watching the telecast to report that the shabby looking Sarah Mac Band did not make any type of televised crowd shots!!), it’s more work than not. Of course, it we were Lady Gaga or Beyonce, we might have a more glamorous experience doing this. That would, however, require that I get my eyebrows done more often and get a little better at walking in heels.

So far from this conference, I’ve been much more inundated with the less glamorous, “hard work” part of trying to make it as an independent artist. More of the hustle like M.I.A, get very little sleep, make a lot happen on a small budget, learn to ask for help, keep good records, gamble on spending money that you don’t have in hopes of making money, drive a lot, camp a lot, smell bad a lot, appreciate the kindness of strangers part… Work, work, work.

I keep thinking about the tortoise and the hare. Since we’ve been doing this now for ten years almost, we’re obviously not the hare. At least, not in the temporal view. I guess if you measure in the grand macrocosmic scheme, since the beginning of time, we could be the hare. Perspective, perspective, perspective.

The tortoise seems exhausting. He never really got to stop and take a breath. He just had to plug on, plug, plug on. Kind of like when I ran my first 5K and although I wanted to die, Heidi would not let me stop, “Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’re allowed to walk, but don’t stop. Keep moving. If you stop moving, I’ll punch you.” More scared of punching than puking and looking ugly to all of the attractive runner men flying by me at the hare’s pace, I didn’t stop…

Heidi’s too busy at home with two babies to punch me. So, I’m just hustling through all of these sessions trying to meet as many people and I can and learn everything that I can and make the most out of this opportunity– intrensic motivation, because I want this so much that sometimes it hurts me.With all of these informational sessions, we’ve had to stop to get food to refuel though… partially because I’m a bit hypoglycemic and I pass out when I’ve been fasting. And part, I think because our brains got scrambled. We walked around a few blocks from our hotel and saw the honkey tonks and Gruen Guitars, even though Daddy is going to be irritated that I went to Nashville for a second time in six months and didn’t go inside his special shop again

Hello, Nashville. There is a huge guitar pick on the side of a building somewhere near Broadway. A kitschy, Grandma’s on a Grand Ole Opry old people’s bus tour, photo op for the tourists before they put their shell back on and returned to the rat race… or fabled T & H race, as it were.


I can’t thank you guys enough for giving us the opportunity to take this trip. COCAMusic Lessons Express, Grant Peeples, the AMA, Extended Stay Hotels, Tallahassee, and all of our fans, you guys did a really spectacular thing and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Although I still haven’t wrapped my head around it and won’t have anything to tell you other thank “thank you so much” when you stop me at the coffee shop to congratulate me, I thought that this might give you a little bit of an idea of what came out of your consistent, steady support. Thank you so much for voting for us and spreading the word.

We met a ton of wonderful people, we found a ton of resources created specifically to help independent artists make a career out of music. Heck, one of those resources got us on radio stations all over the world– Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Australasia and Oceana (see how I tied all of that back together, there? I learned how to do that in grad school… Oh, I did it again!!).

But even if none of this pans out. Even if the world ends tomorrow, we had fun and we laughed and we dreamed big dreams, and we proudly waved the Tallahassee banner everywhere we went (Charlie had it pinned to his European carry-all).


Thoughts on the COCA contest…

At 18, I made a list of 25 goals that I had for my life before I turned 25. One of those goals was to visit Africa.

At 25, I was a regular little world traveler, but I had yet to visit Africa. But I was on my way. I started in a graduate program that had a 6 month long practicum in Durban, South Africa. I was set. Although technically, I would not make the 25 years old deadline, I felt pretty proud of myself that I was heading toward one of those major life goals at a pretty impressive clip.

Suddenly, I hit a snag. As I got more and more immersed in my graduate program (read: past the point of backing out), the Sarah Mac Band began work on our first full-length studio album, Awakening. The deeper we got into the creation process, the more it looked like the timing would completely coincide with my planned study abroad. The more I pushed on the subject, the quieter Charlie and Claire got until finally, the moment came: “Sarah, we need to talk. We’re really sorry, but you can’t go to Africa. In fact, you can’t go anywhere. We’re about to release this album and we need you here. We can’t work to promote this album if you’re on another continent.”

I recognized the wisdom in that. Nonetheless, I was devastated and watched all of my carefully laid plans fall apart. Goodbye life goal of visiting Africa. Goodbye all the time I spent in grad school so that I could go to Africa. Even more so, goodbye to the joy of another life goal of finally making our first full-length studio album because it was eclipsed by the wrenching sadness of not getting to go to Africa which in my head condemned me to a drab life of terrible ordinariness.

That was almost the end of the Sarah Mac Band, friends. My feelings were hurt that my closest friends would so quickly dismiss my dream, and I was deeply grieving the loss of what I perceived to be the one thing that would make my life absolutely perfect (even at 25, I still had a healthy dose of teenage angst). But I still knew that before Africa came around, I had committed to do this Sarah Mac Band thing with Charlie and Claire. They had put in the time and energy and effort and sleep loss and money behind it just like I had. So, thumbing my nose at them and heading off to Africa would be disrespectful and poor form on my part. As much as it was the last thing I wanted to do, I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and made myself smile and I signed the papers to do a bland, less than adventurous practicum that I didn’t want to do for people who told me (to my face—not kidding, the words really came out of the lady’s mouth) that they didn’t want me.

The good thing is that it wasn’t all for naught.

The Sarah Mac Band kept kicking and took advantage of Awakening’s momentum to get to the point that ultimately led us to now. Through that practicum that I didn’t want and wasn’t my dream, we met and worked with Dave, who then produced our next album, A Single Revolution. Through the process of Awakening, we met and made friends with the founders of Unseen Stories, a NGO that uses documentary film to bring about awareness and change for global justice issues. Then, in a strange twist of fate, because of my type of degree and experience in the practicum that I didn’t want, the Executive Director invited me to accompany her to Africa to work for Unseen Stories for a month as they toured facilities and worked on a strategic plan to partner with other NGOs to expand their fight against child trafficking.

It’s funny how things work out like that. I made the unglamorous choice to do the right thing and honor the commitment that I’d made to Charlie and Claire, which resulted in me not getting one of my heart’s desires. And then four years later, I got a chance at redemption which yielded new lifelong relationships (some even with  Benin’s hottest pop stars), affected change in very real ways in people’s lives, and because Unseen Stories was in need of someone with my specific skill set, was completely free of charge for me (whereas the study abroad cost more than a year’s worth of graduate tuition).

Left behind, something died, washed to Asia by the pull of the Pacific that night. But it made room for something new and it brought me to you.—“Crossroads,” Sarah Mac Band

We’re now almost through the first week of voting for a contest hosted by the Tallahassee Council on Culture and Arts, for which the prize is an all expenses paid trip to the Americana Music Conference in Nashville this Fall. A ton of Tallahassee bands are in the running for the prize, for which fans can vote online once a day between now and August 17th at midnight when the votes will be tallied and the winner will be announced.

Timing wise, this contest could be a great opportunity for the Sarah Mac Band. This conference, which happens in September, will coincide nicely with the release of our upcoming new album, which we can confidently say is the best work that we’ve ever done. We’ll have the opportunity to rub elbows with industry people and tout our work in an arena with a higher concentration of people of musical influence than anywhere we’ve ever been. We’re the Little Engine That Could, huffing and puffing along without a rest since well before I had to forego Africa to tour in support of Awakening. What a wonderful, encouraging break from the years of hustling this would be!

Prior to this COCA contest, we had sworn off contests that are determined by online voting. We used to participate in such contests with regularity. They really are a great way to gain exposure on a national level. In the last contest that we participated in, we were in a pack of five frontrunners. Suddenly, the other four bands began to take off, gaining thousands of votes per day. It became a fight to the death as our numbers continued to increase at a steady pace consistent with what it had previously been while the other bands spiraled upwards, with the winner having forty thousand votes at the end of the contest. We were a little bit discouraged, but then the contest organizers released a statement saying that they had discovered that the top four bands had cheated, using some kind of fancy computer technology to boost their votes. Because it was implied, but not explicitly outlawed in the original rules, the contest organizers strongly publically reprimanded the band that won, but still gave them the prize.

More than disappointing us that we didn’t win the prize (which was a showcase at some conference, but I don’t even remember now which one), we were frustrated that the impressive efforts of our fans were totally dwarfed by some goofballs who both lacked integrity and had hacker buddies.

Over the years of touring and meeting folks, we’ve grown a pretty impressive email list of supporters. Our last two albums have been completely funded by fan donations, so we’re already pretty secure, fully understanding the loyalty, enthusiasm and fervency of our fan-base. So it wasn’t surprising to us when we quickly pulled ahead of all of the other bands in the contest with a huge margin.  It also wasn’t surprising to us that when other people started to pull ahead that our fans cried, “foul!”

I do agree with our fans that some of the trends in numbers and their rate of accumulation have a familiar ring to them. But, I’m much more hesitant to cry “foul.” Part of that is because I tend to believe in the good in other people. Part of that is that I know the numbers that we have and the tremendous voting capacity of our fans, especially since our fans crisscross the country and the contest is open to everyone, not just Tallahassee residents. Because of that, I’m not willing to automatically discount the voting capacity of someone else’s fan base.

That being said, I recognize that the prize is pretty awesome and without a doubt ignites temptation to play dirty.

Although my graduate school training would say that all signs point to Charlie suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, my every day life experience with him would lead me to say that he doesn’t fall into full blown disorder category, but just demonstrates strong tendencies. Since this contest began, he has been tracking everyone’s votes and the time that it takes for them to gain those votes (to the point that it is very annoying to everyone around him). Right now we’re on the road, and can’t so readily check the votes. But last night before we all went to bed, Charlie checked the numbers from our hotel in Atlanta. This morning, I woke up to an alert on my phone of the shooting in Colorado. Charlie woke up to see that between 1AM last night and 7AM this morning, we had gained 600 votes. This is not in any way impossible given the breadth of our fan base, but it is inconsistent with our prior growth rate.

If this was legitimate voting by our fans, we thank you and really appreciate it. If this was someone who is convinced that we’re playing with people who are fighting dirty and decided to fight fire with fire to get us ahead, please stop. As much as we appreciate the sentiment behind what you’re doing and ultimately trust that your motives are altruistic, we don’t want to win that way.

 If I live into all the things that I have said then I won’t be just another one of those. –“Just Another” Sarah Mac Band

Claire, Charlie, and I have been talking about it extensively this morning and quite a bit last night on the drive up to Atlanta to conclude that this is a place where we have the opportunity to live into everything that we vowed when we were just starting out. We want to be set apart and do all of our business with a high degree of personal and professional integrity (which often is not found in the entertainment industry). Sometimes that means taking a hit and not getting what we think we want. But as I told my mom yesterday, “a victory is invalidated and all of the benefits that it brings are tinged and dirty if I had to resort to sleaze in order to win it.”

In a move that feels eerily similar to choosing not to go to Africa for grad school, we’re willing to let go of the COCA contest if it means that we have to resort to unsavory methods to get there. In spite of what any other contestants may chose to do, we’re making our stand to do it completely on the up and up. If we lose, we lose fair and square and that’s a consequence that we’re willing to take. You can’t win them all.  But inversely, if we win, it’s based completely on the dense network of fans that we have joining together to fight for us to get there.

We are the people and we will stand together, we will voice the thunder of change.—“Dead Revolutionaries,” Sarah Mac Band

I won’t lose sight of the fact that our ultimate goal is to get this new album out there for people to hear. We want the Sarah Mac Band name out there, moving through parties, radio, blogs, email, Facebook, getting people excited and primed for this fall launch. If nothing else, your continued efforts are doing just that. Every day, I get more than one email from supportive fans who are emailing all of their friends, their groups, their families, sending them a link to this contest and recruiting them for the cause. Even if we don’t make it to Nashville in September, people are rising up and spreading the news, adding more and more to our numbers every day.

I’ve said this a million times from the stage and I’ll say it again here from the blog: We can’t be musicians and performers without an audience. You guys are making our dreams possible (bigger dreams than those of an 18 year old who wanted to go to Africa). You guys give us stories to laugh about as we spend what often seem like endless hours in a van on the road. You guys remind me that we have a thousand Proud Papas and Supportive Mamas who want to wipe our tears and loyal Baby Bears who will fight somebody if they disrespect us (well, I’m not sure that there could ever be another Baby Bear!!).

So I say this to you, Sarah Mac Band fans: Don’t be discouraged by the staggering difference between us and our most vicious competitors in the last few days, even as it continues to grow.  Continue to vote loyally and steadily. Continue to spread the word and enlist “newbies” to join our cause. We’ll hope for a favorable outcome on August 17th at midnight, but if we don’t make it to Nashville for this conference, there’s always a chance that all of the pieces will come together and another magical redemptive Africa trip will pop up on our horizon!

Thanks for reading. Thanks for holding us up!


Sarah Mac