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This must be the place: Can I sing for my supper and play for my rent?

Onstage at SweetWater 420 in downtown Atlanta. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Onstage at SweetWater 420 in downtown Atlanta. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Standing on the massive main stage at the SweetWater 420 music festival in downtown Atlanta last Saturday afternoon, I hoisted the cold pale ale tallboy high into the air and saluted the moment at hand.

Being stage left, I was just a few feet away from rock juggernaut act Umphrey’s McGee, who purposely stopped mid-set to allow the SweetWater Brewing founders to come onstage and take the microphone, to cheers in unison at exactly 4:20 p.m. with the crowd (hovering over 23,000 strong). 

And it was shortly thereafter when “Blondie,” the iconic longtime stripper at the Clermont Lounge, grabbed the mic and an empty tallboy, and proceeded to crush the can between her breasts to, well, also salute the moment. The raucous audience roared in solidarity of any and all within reach, each of us together once again in the name of all that is irresponsible enlightenment.

Lots of thoughts swirling this past weekend while standing within the whirlwind that is the SweetWater 420. Aside from the sheer gratitude to be part of this incredible event and so on, I find myself wandering around in deep, meditative thought. 

It’s funny, you know? Where as you move along the journey of life how these new doors open and you have to decide whether to walk in or keep walking by. I’ve been a professional journalist for almost 16 years. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life, and remains so. 

I’ve never once questioned this path, and I consider myself extremely lucky to know very early on what I wanted to do with my time on this planet. And I think back on those early years as a journalist, knocking on every single door to let me into their festival. Tracking down any lead to get an interview with a musician. 

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There was a lot of rejection and a lot responses that began with the word “no” or “thank you for reaching out, but...” And yet, I was too damn stubborn and determined to ever give up. Screw it, if I can’t get in the front door, I’ll see if there’s an open side window or back door, maybe an unlocked door of the basement of my intent. 

To that, my 22-year-old journalist self would be blown away by where I stand today, being asked by festivals to come and see what they’re all about, and having my pick of the litter of what musicians I’d like to interview — no name too big to not sit down and chat.

And I’ve never taken any of that previous sentence for granted, not once. I take this job very seriously and I’m very humbled by the hospitality of these fine organizations and production companies. With that, I’ve sacrificed most other things in my existence in pursuit of the written word — relationships, lovers, missed birthdays and weddings, camping trips, dinner engagements, and sometimes even my own sanity in the process. 

Though I keep saying I need to slow down, not overcommit myself, and actually find some semblance of balance, it’s tough to do so when the weather is nice, the sun is shining, and there’s some live music just over the horizon — “You’re on the guest list” is my weakness, as a journalist and a lifelong music freak.

That, and the music industry can be an unforgiving son-of-a-bitch at times, where artists, promoters, managers, publicists and journalists always feel this fear of being left behind if they don’t remain strapped in to the rollercoaster — “you’re either on the bus or off the bus,” as they say. 

But, I tell myself to not forget the lessons learned during the early months of the shutdown — to pump the brakes, to seek that balance with clarity, and to make time for other important things that bring you happiness. This is exactly why I’ve been mining the depths of my thoughts lately for an answer, perhaps a solution, to the melodic madness that always seems to seduce me down that lost highway to destinations unknown.

Where I stand today is a long, long way from scrapping by and writing articles for peanuts (or for free, just out of desperation to get my work published), from sleeping in the back of my truck at rest areas and gas stations, from eating cold Spaghetti-Os out of the can and drinking lukewarm Milwaukee’s Best (both out a lack of funds for better, adequate food and drink). 

To that, throughout these (almost) 16 years, I’ve been able to pretty much interview any and all musicians on my “wish list” and write for publications that I highly respect and admire, with the biggest being Rolling Stone (which has been my dream to write for them since I was in middle school). 

So, yes, the work continues and the journey moves forward. To that point, again I find myself lost in thought this weekend with the question “Where to from here?” echoing throughout my head. I feel that the real work is only beginning, and there’s so much more to see, experience, interview and write about. 

Things are shifting in my life, personally and professionally, and I’m trying to hold steady amid the ever-changing landscape. I feel some big changes are just around the corner, and I welcome those changes — whatever they may be and whoever they may involve.

I find this sincere urge to start to let go of the “What if?” and the worrying and insecurities of things that — in essence — are out of my control. Remember, the only thing you can control is how you react to a situation. Thus, I remain filled with gratitude, and also with a childlike wonder of curiosity and discovery still intact for whatever lies ahead. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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