When a Song is Your Life

The first time I saw Jamestown Revival was at the High Dive in Seattle. I was living in the city then, but not happily. I was desperately missing my past life of hills and woods and bonfires and stars, necessities of life, I’d later call them. I went to the show alone on a weekday night and was one of maybe a dozen people there. It was 2014 and no one fought or even nudged me for my front and center spot.  

I had come down with an awful cold and started work at 6:30 the next morning, but that’s not what I remember. What I remember was how their voices fit together and when they sang the whole world fell together again. They sang about being broke, nature as medicine, the wild west and a sense of home. I wasn’t alone in going after what I wanted, unlike the city had me believing.

Jamestown sounded like where I wanted to be. They had lines like:

See I’ve been told this kind of living ain’t right, but it becomes hard to fight, when it fits like a glove

I want to get down, feel the dirt in my hands
Bone handle being worn down from working the land
I hear the crack from the fire and I know I’m alive
Flat on my back, looking up at a pinhole sky

Feeling the weight of a wild land / I’m a wild man / In my head
Oh, this mess I’m in / I need my medicine / To keep me alive

They had songs about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The words they sang articulated my inner turmoil I hadn’t yet recognized. At the end of the show, they played two songs they had just written, ones that would later appear on their next album. The line that stuck with me the most was:

Well I don’t think I like the city

The words boomed in my chest. They filled the hole the city formed. Me too, I thought. Me too me too me too. I waited two years to hear those lines again. By then, I was so far away from the city and hearing those words again made me smile because I felt like a small part of me had made it, geographically at least. And nope, I still didn’t like the city, and I had gotten myself to a point where no city ever had to cross my mind.  

After that first show, I landed a job in the opposite of a city, Wyoming’s least populated county, outside a town named after the Sundance Kid. The drive to the nearest grocery store was exactly the length of their album, which was the only one I brought with me. I listened to it on the way there and listened to it on the way back again. I lived there four months and never once wished I had another album.

I liked that Jamestown named their songs after places and that they seemed as torn as I was about where to be. They didn’t know where their next rent payment would come from, but they knew if they had their feet in some wide, open country that counted as enough. Their words summarized my entire life.

I saw Jamestown again the next spring. I told them about the drives to and from the grocery store in Wyoming and they nodded with big smiles and told me, “That’s so great to hear. We made it to listen to in the woods.”

I moved to a handful of other places that could have been mentioned in their songs after that show, but eventually life brought me back to Seattle. I felt the same about the city five years later, arguably more strongly the second time around. I was back for the same reason as before – stability. But what I got was a lack of stillness and the awe I liked so much in the remote stretches of the world that I had been chasing the years in between my first and second round of Seattle. Though an outward image of stability existed in the city, it didn’t exist on the inside. The city’s pace of life still did not agree with me and I certainly did not agree with it.

Life went on in this unimpressionable manner in the city and then I saw Jamestown again. Their voices were flawless. I wanted the sounds of that night to wrap around me and get me through all my city days to come. I was so happy right there, like I was somewhere else entirely. I didn’t have the urge to flee with all their mentions of Colorado and prairie roads this time though. It occurred to me that I was okay with where I was, working on my next album, waiting for the songs to make sense.

Their voices echoed harmonized ooohhhs and ahhhhs. It was a beautiful thing to put your whole soul out there. I wanted to be that brave. The city had suffocated my dreams and my voice and I wanted them back. Jamestown’s words gave me the courage to keep going.

These wheels have been rolling a little too long / I forgot where I’m going, forgotten my song

Listening to them, I realized I wasn’t after a place anymore. Where I wanted to be was less a geographical location and more a state of being. I wanted to make my dreams happen. I want to stand there and look at what I’d created, enjoying it with others. This time, it was less about leaving the city and more about persisting, sticking with what I truly, truly dream of. Jamestown’s lyrics were a measure, a constant that otherwise didn’t exist, of where I was in life.

After seeing them again, instead of moving, I thought I’d make a few moves towards my own dreams. I applied to freelance writing jobs and got a few of them. I started putting my writing out into the world. I started an editorial calendar and tracking daily words written. I started this blog.

The last song on their newest album starts with “Let’s get out of the city / And find some place to go.” And somehow, I keep finding my life aligning with their words. Somehow, throughout all these years, Jamestown both guides and inspires me to not give up on what I’m after.

In their song Operator, a B slide from their latest album, they sing I could use a revelation…I’m waiting…I’m waiting…And here I am. Waiting for a revelation. Getting out of the city and finding some place to go.

Zack took a moment during the last show, after telling a group of disruptive girls in the audience to kindly quiet down and that they were ruining the show (I believe his exact words were “Some people came here to hear some music so please, shut the fuck up.”) Roaring cheers followed. Zack and Jonathan sang into the audience, pushing their mics aside “while they still could,” they said. And then they thanked us, over and over and over again. It was a sold out show and they said the first time they played in Seattle was “at the High Dive and there were like nine people there.” They’ve grown so much since then and the band beamed like lights throughout the entire show (after the drunk girls shut the fuck up). Jamestown belonged up there. They struggled for so many years to make ends meet in the sight of truly believing in themselves. But seeing them this time, it was so clear that they’ve made it. They are living their wildest dreams. But if you ask me, they made it long ago.

I love you Jamestown. I hope you make it beyond your wildest dreams. I hope you play more shows in venues larger than you can envision – though you do small venues so well. I hope you reach more people than you wish for, and I hope you inspire them to live their best lives. Lord knows how much you’ve influenced just this one. See you next time. I can’t wait for the next album, and the next. 

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