Success: Some of us get a big fat slice, others an empty plate. And right now, Christine Kane’s fork is full.
“It’s not like the Fairy Godmother came down and tapped me with a wand,” the Asheville-based singer/songwriter countered by phone recently, during a tour stop in Madison, Wis.
“People [keep] coming up to me and saying, ‘My God, so much has happened for you!'” Kane adds with a chuckle. “I kinda look at them and go: ‘Yeah, it has. But there’s been a lot of work involved.'”
Looks like she made it
The D.C.-area native, who moved to Asheville from Boston in 1993 to jump-start a music career during her downtime from waiting tables, has since evolved into the most prominent female singer/songwriter in a region rich in acoustic-guitar crooners. Kane’s rainy-day-in-autumn voice is a shifting mix of girlish vulnerability and womanly brass, her writing a weathered cardboard box of treasured mementos — little victories, heartaches and handshakes, tears, giggles, private prayers.
Success: Kane’s fourth and latest album, Rain and Mud and Wild and Green (Big Fat Music, 2002), was helmed by folk heavyweight Ben Wisch (Richard Shindell, Cheryl Wheeler, Patty Larkin) and boasts guest appearances by Shindell and studio vets Larry Campbell, John Conte and Marc Shulman.
Success: Kane now headlines listening rooms and festivals nationwide (she’s showcased at Philly’s prestigious folk event).
In singer/songwriter circles, however, “making it” — i.e., having that proverbial “John Gorka career” — also means that how you get to most shows hasn’t changed that much from when you pulled into your very first out-of-town gig with a bellyful of butterflies.
You still log long hours behind the wheel, scouting out exits and street signs. You lug your equipment out of the back of your car; you lug it back in.
“The staff is back in the yacht right now,” quips Kane.
Her first-ever paid performance, filling in for a no-show musician buddy at the Bill Harkness-era Town Pump in Black Mountain, came only a year after Kane’s move to WNC. Her first-ever “tour,” memorialized in an online journal entry (www.christinekane.com), was launched in ’94. She and a friend drove to Boone (Kane made about $24 in tips at the Beanpole Coffeehouse) and then on to a similar gig in Blowing Rock (the previous night’s motel, Kane writes, smelled like “some combination of cigarette butts, mildew, and bad dreams”).
Current touring keeps Kane — who shares a recently bought home in east Asheville with a pair of cats (Atticus and Billie) and one dog (Ima) — on the road about half the year. She heads out West next.
From the Cosmic Coffee House in Blowing Rock in February 1994 to an upcoming gig at the Freight & Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley, Calif., a starry dream has given way to the nuts and bolts of getting out there and just doing it.
Kane, claiming little faith in fate, charts a four-pronged path to the busy road she’s now traveling.
Oy, does my shoulder hurt
To begin with, there’s the schlepping. “It’s still a large part of what I do,” notes Kane with a sigh.
She recently made an airport phone call to a musician buddy in Nashville to discuss the simple joys of lugging equipment around:
“I said, ‘OK, I’ve got one giant suitcase, my guitar case, another small suitcase and my laptop, and I am tumbling across the airport trying to get in.’ Things were falling off me!”
What a girl wants
Secondly, there’s being honest with yourself about what you’re really after.
“Saying, ‘I might want to be on MTV,’ or whatever,” Kane elaborates.
In case you’re wondering: No, she doesn’t. (An interesting aside: Rain and Mud’s middle song, the riotous “(No Such Thing As) Girls Like That,” skewers the MTV legacy of the leggy, gyrating bombshell shaking her corralled cleavage in some guitar stud’s face.)
“I think where a lot of artists, folk musicians and songwriters get real tangled up is being afraid to say, ‘This is the direction I would like to go in,'” Kane observes. “A lot of people are really frightened to say, ‘Hey, I want to make a living at this; I don’t want to stay in a hostel, or in a Motel 6, for the rest of my life. I want to be on the road and I also want to be doing it well.'”
Being open to it
Thirdly, if the door you want to open won’t budge and you find another one unlocked, take the unexpected chance, Kane suggests. A musician should follow that Big Dream (of MTV, or whatever), just not with blinders on.
A line in “Overjoyed,” one of her unrecorded new songs, goes: “In spite of daytime planners, higher standards, dreams defended/ There’s not a single thing that’s turned out quite like I intended.”
And finally, the baby steps
Suppose your dream is to write a novel, offers Kane, who now frequently leads songwriting workshops. Instead of telling yourself you need to take several years off from your life to work on that manuscript, do a little time in the trenches each day.
“Most people who make records and write books, it’s [done] in little tiny steps,” she adds.
Her hooking up with Wisch came about in the same way, Kane reveals — tiny-cat-feet forays.
Initially, she had a whole wish list of producers for Rain and Mud; several declined right out of the gate, including Greg Brown sideman and Lucinda Williams cohort Boford “Bo” Ramsey.
Kane recognized after the fact that she and those other producers weren’t meant to work together: