Every Thursday night, a coffeehouse near me hosts an open mic session. Musicians gather to play tunes, practice new material, or just spend time with friends. If my Thursday goes well, once I’m finished with the evening milking I head there to sit for a few hours and listen. I joke that it’s the one night the girls let me out. Most of the musicians are local folks, a few “from away” floating in from time to time. You truly never know who will show up or what you will hear. I like that—a little surprise for your ears.
The place has now become where I meet musicians I’ve recruited to play at our local farmers market. It seems musicians love to play music anywhere, and when the paycheck is a basket full of farm-fresh goodies, it’s a win-win for all of us. I post entries on the farmers market Facebook page about the radishes dancing in the aisles or the lettuce perking up when the music starts. I even find myself dancing around a bit in my stall as I sell cheese, the girls’ fresh milk, yogurt, and sometimes handmade goat-milk caramels.
There’s something about shopping at a farmers market and listening to live music. People meet up with friends while they select their week’s supply of locally grown products directly from the person or people who have harvested or grown or batched or produced them. Wheeling a steely cold shopping cart down a supermarket aisle somehow isn’t quite as appealing as spending part of a morning or afternoon connecting with your food and the people who bring it to your table. Bushel baskets of farm-fresh corn, coolers full of chicken or beef or pork or water buffalo, creamy milk, silky cheese—all with the face of the person who sweated over, fed, milked, nursed, corralled, and sometimes processed it standing behind.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to make the effort to go to the coffee house or not. After a day of mucking and milking, tending and batching, packaging and marketing, often the will is there but the body just won’t follow. Usually it’s the nights I’m too dog-tired to drag myself the 12 miles up the road that I miss the best sessions. All nights are good but some stand out as better than others—richer, maybe. Sometimes it the music, sometimes it’s the people, sometimes both.
On one recent night in particular, someone new came: a tall, white-haired gentleman. He sat off to the side, watching folks listen to the musicians as they were called up, one by one. Some attendees were talking over the music, some enjoying cups of iced or hot coffee, a glass of wine, a cold beer, an espresso chocolate chip cookie. This gentleman had signed his name on the play list, since that’s how it goes, and after the applause for the previous performer died down, he picked up his guitar and walked onstage. He was introduced as Thom. He began playing a song, and I noticed he really seemed to enjoy what he was doing. When the first song was finished, he asked for a chair to sat down, made a couple of adjustments to his instrument, and announced that he would play a song called “Ridgeline,” inspired by a visit to Nova Scotia and the scenery he had enjoyed there.
The first notes set the tone for the song. It started slowly, with crisp, clear tones ringing out from the instrument, before it glided into a warm melody. About 30 seconds into the song, I looked around. The entire room had gone quiet. The melody had carried us all to the scene he had described, and no one wanted to break the magic of it. The playing was intricate and delicate, exact and complicated all at the same time. There were pauses, timed phrases. Notes gracefully chosen, sometimes hanging, blended with a background rhythm that simply transported you. No one escaped the haunting beauty of it.
“Ridgeline” is now my milking song. As it turns out, the gentleman is half of a duo, Bennett and Perkins, who have recorded tunes both together and separately. I downloaded the song from the Internet, and it lives in my back pocket on my iPhone. Every day, twice a day, WBACH gets turned down—sorry, girls—and the barn is transformed into a Nova Scotia scene.
When Dollie saunters out of her stall, I hit the play button, and as she steps up onto the milking stand, the first notes emerge. By the time I’m full into milking her, we’re running across that meadow in Nova Scotia, heading for the pass that stretches out before us, wildflowers waving in the wind, butterflies floating around us. Once the milk slows down, so does the melody, and as the last of the pure white stuff is safely expressed into the bucket, the song ends on a tiny high note, the period on the end of another fine time with my girl. As each lady takes her turn, I’m transported to those hills again and again. Maybe the girls dream of the Saanen valley in Switzerland, where they originated from. I’m not sure they know about Nova Scotia. They seem to enjoy it, at any rate.
To me, farming and music just seem to go together. I hear music all over the farm every day, if I listen: the “hey, sweetie sweetie sweetie” of a chickadee, a pond symphony in the spring when the peepers emerge, cries from an osprey sailing overhead, my own animals calling out their needs or just saying hello as I move from place to place, going about my chores.
I’ll continue to go to the open mic night as often as I can. I’ve met some amazing folks there doing amazing things, writing great tunes and connecting through music. Thank you, Thom Perkins, for writing a beautiful song, one that takes me to another place every day. The place I’m in is not so bad, but it’s pretty amazing to be able to walk to my barn and end up in Nova Scotia.
Maybe I’ll come across a new tune some week, one I can use while I’m trimming hooves or mucking stalls. Or maybe the music that comes to me from my own flock calling, chickens gurgling to one another, turkeys gobbling to their mates, and my gentle girls nickering is enough to take me through those tasks. Some folks hear what they want to hear; some folks hear nothing at all. I hear the voice of reason and the sound of serenity in the music that comes to me, whether from my animals or from a song inspired by the hills of Nova Scotia, played out on my seaside farm in Maine.
Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ﬂock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.
ALL PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK