"In a small Virginia town cradled in a thick forest and framed on two sides by a blue-black river, Harriet Weaver and her husband Edward built their home. Their modest house was just close enough to the mossy river that they could hear its gentle rush if they listened closely, and just far enough away from the lumber mill that they were sheltered from its storm of sawdust. They lived a quiet life and they asked for little."
Through stories and music, Ballad of the Weavers tells the tale of the Weaver Family spanning nearly a century from the days of the Great Depression to modern times. The production hinges on the stories of three generations of Weavers and the effects their choices have on their own lives and the lives of others. Each character is introduced through a song and a story that paint a portrait of fates unfolding, unraveling, and weaving together again. The family’s journey exemplifies the laughter and fears, joy and desolation, and sorrow and redemption of being alive.
Throughout the ballad we learn the stories of Harriet Weaver, her daughter Elizabeth, and her granddaughter Catherine. In this excerpt set in 1936, Catherine, at the age of 16, decides to leave home after her mother's death.
As I make my way toward the water it is so dark that I don’t see the branches and leaves that slow me down until I’m nearly upon them. My balance is off. One shot of my father’s Holy Ghost and my stomach is boiling. As I struggle to stay upright without spilling the bottle I know I’m almost there. I can smell it. I haven’t been to the river in nearly a year and the mere smell of it—metallic, musty, earthy—only worsens my nausea. What did she see and smell when she made this journey a year ago? The wind shifts suddenly and I catch a whiff of the whisky at the same time. As the two scents mingle in my nose I scream straight from the gut. I’ve made it to the water’s edge so the rushing of the newly melted river drowns out my raw wailing. Later, after I have cried myself out of consciousness I awake suddenly at the edge of the water as a chill brushes my thigh. I look down to see that the hem of my dress has become soaked, and the wetness is moving slowly up the length of my skirt. The dress has become heavy and it seems to pull me further and further toward the cold water. It’s strangely comforting. I look to my right and see the overturned whisky bottle, the sticky sweet liquid spilled and flowing into the water. When I pick it up I see that it’s still half full and I take a long draw, wincing as I swallow. What did they think would become of me? The orphan girl with a dead mother and a drunk father. I feel the molten wave of nausea and terror rise up once again. I hear myself scream but I know I haven’t made a sound. I promised I would stay, and Daddy says it’s a sin to break a promise. He says it’s a lie. I’m not so sure. In a moment I’ve made my decision and I feel warmth for the first time since I lost my mother. I breathe deeply and smooth my skirt with trembling hands. I leave the whiskey bottle on the bank and I begin to forget. The scent of the river has changed and I begin to follow it to who knows where. I don’t look back.
The song My Sin accompanies Catherine's story
Rain on Me, the first song written for the show, is from the perspective of Catherine's father Jonathan as he grapples with his inability to provide for his family after losing his job.
See and Hear the Show
Ballad of the Weavers debuted at the 2015 Chicago Fringe Festival. I was joined by an amazing cast of actors and musicians for three nights of the production (see their BIOS HERE). The show will be staged for a single performance in the winter of 2015.
An album containing the songs and the stories is currently in production.
My Journey to the Weavers
This show started with a song. I usually write about my own life experiences, but as this song unfolded I realized I was writing from the male perspective. The song expressed the anguish of a man who could no longer provide for his family. Other songs started flowing from this one. At the same time, I received a letter from my grandmother describing her experiences during the Great Depression. I decided that these songs would fit nicely against the backdrop of Depression-era Appalachia. I started writing stories told from the perspectives of the characters and the story became a show. As the piece took shape, I came to understand that the struggles and triumphs of each of these characters told the story of my own journey to healing. My greatest hope is that Ballad of the Weavers will provide comfort and healing to those who experience it.
The creation, recording, and staging of this show has been one of the greatest joys of my life. It helped me find my voice as an artist and it proved to me that true beauty emerges from deep truth. Thank you to everyone for sharing this journey with me. Special thanks to Tim Hazen and Kat Barker. Without their support, encouragement, and careful notes, the project wouldn't have been born.
Photos courtesy of www.iworryalot.net