A cool Fall evening. We traipsed to the Lewis Theatre to support Judith Avers in the release of her latest CD, “God Bless the Brooders”. I looked at the diverse group of fans, friends, and collaborators, there in the theatre where she had married her true love Frances, not so long ago, and was reminded again of how much she had touched the lives of so many in our area. I thought back of how I came to know her. She was new to town, and I watched her, gently and fearlessly, playing at Taste of Our Town in 2006 or so, and recalled how I was struck by the lyrical loveliness of her voice. We did not speak then, but weeks later I was working in a flower shop and was asked to do something “wild and beautiful” for her birthday bouquet. So hydrangeas and Bells of Ireland it was, wild as the mountains, and green and lush and perfect…We met when I delivered them to the Stardust.
Born in Kansas, nourished with country classics from granny’s 8-track player, she somehow found her voice in various little towns out there in Kansas and Colorado, where she began to write her own original songs. Eventually, demos were made, gigs were gotten, cross-country moves were made, and here she is in our beautiful homeland, our own wildness and beauty, West Virginia. She has a way of finding her inspiration in wherever the wind blows her and through the people she meets. She finds a way of connecting with other creative souls, and cultivates the seeds of imagination and ingenuity within herself and those she meets.
Here, she was inspired and the songs flowed from her like clear water, rivulets, rills and rocks aplenty.
She has since worked extensively with High Rocks, a year-round award-winning leadership program for young women ages 13-25. (see www.highrocks.org/) The group is all about educating, empowering, and inspiring, qualities and goals to which Judith has given deeply of herself. She conducts amazing songwriting workshops, aka Song School 101, for area youth, and these often culminate in the performance, however shaky at first, of these songs. It’s not easy to get up there and show the world what you are capable of, and Judith is teacher, mentor, inspiration, and their guide to microphones and stages and confidence. She is like mama hen with her chicks when gently guides them to their performing roosts. Comfort. Bravery. Emotion.
Judith’s evening began with her ever-gracious introductions and tales of those joining her. The first to take the stage was Summer Rae Propps, one of Judith’s local songwriting girls. With supportive family in tow, she sang three original songs, including one about courage, and one about the first heartbreak. Poignant, sweet, young…
Then came a cohort from the Pittsburgh area, where Judith now resides, the delightful songsmith Ben Shannon. (http://benshannonmusic.com/) Having recently released a great CD called “Move On”, the first track is a gem of a song. Called “Break on Through”, it’s a little masterpiece with these rhythmic lyrics, “When you get inside, you’ll be sitting ringside, watching the roller coaster ride of your crazy life.. stuck in the sand. its about to be full tide, and you’ll be wishing you had left her all alone… She hits you on your blind side, gets you so you’re tongue tied, Makes you watch her while she serves your heart to you, deep fried.” Put clever clever chords behind it, and an easy delivery reminiscent of Lyle Lovett (without the growl) or Amos Lee or Jack Johnson. He played a great set, and Judith joined him in perfect harmony for a song called “Wanted”. We loved Ben Shannon.
Then on to Judith’s set, we watch her go deep within herself, all the while giving of herself to her audience. She apologized for her weak voice, which was as lovely as it always is, and talked about the songs she had chosen and how they came to be. I knew of her losses in the past few months. Her father passed away as the album began. Then she lost her sister, a grief I can only imagine. Then as the project was nearing completion, Judith lost her mother. And yet she persevered and gave herself as she always does. The songs were dark, and lovely, and sparse.
I felt that the mood of the CD was more evident of a certain Appalachian influence, with clear pure melodies and a sweet almost absence of accompaniment.
On came The Early Mays, trio of lovely voices that make up Judith’s latest band. With Ellen Gozion and Emily Pinkerton from Pittsburgh , one playing banjo, on playing fiddle with Judith’s guitar playing as lyrical backbone, they sang harmonies that made my own heart sing. Close, perfect, high and sweet, intricate parts worked out that seemed as natural as breathing, we were swept away. They will be making a Christmas CD and doing Christmas gigs, and it will be exquisite. The other two soothed the tears that had been brought forth by Judith’s musings about all she had gone through, when her tears had finally broken through, and we were all on her side, loving her that much more for the very REAL-NESS of the moment. So present, she is, no matter what. She chose to sing the title track of the new album, “God Bless the Brooders”, a nice tune about blessing us all, every one. The Mays had set to music the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. Perfect. Then a beautiful song called “Doves”. And then more…. All perfect harmony, like a waterfall, like a crisp autumn day, gentle spirits, fiercely gentle, bringing us loveliness in a place of loss and sadness.
Then Judith, now empowered though exhausted, sent out thanks and shout-outs to all who had been part of the evening and all those evenings leading up to it. Gracious to her cohorts, she wrapped up the evening and began to pack up her guitar.
I watched her, a performer beloved by her audience, and wondered about her loss and sense of self at this point in her life. I know that kind of loss. I’ve lost many and grieve for them still. I wondered, where do you go when there’s no one left to call? When nobody is there to answer the phone and it rings in an empty room? You reach deep into your soul with rusty talons swathed in a velvet glove, and you pull songs from the deepest part of you. And you carry on. “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep…”
– Susanna Robinson Kenga, LBSPY #17
– Photo by Mark Trent