By Kevin Alan Lamb
Those with fire burning in their heart have a certain duty to honor the timber that fuels its flame, leading to a place Where Dreamers Only Go. Whether it is a voice inside your head, a whisper into your ear, or an ineffable certainty within your pulsating, heavy heart, there exists a place that each of us is called to where and when we’re willing to sacrifice basic needs, and surrender to our higher purpose.
While pursuing passion is often mislabeled, or condemned as foolish, each of us are given life with the potential to realize the longings in our heart; made possible through commitment to something greater than ourselves, and cooperation with the very souls we’re fortunate enough to share a heat signature with. Our flame burns to warm a world intent on forecasting fear and selling scarcity. Meanwhile the greatest trick the devil ever played was disguising abundance with lack, breeding confusion in the allusion that we are not meant to live in a place of joy.
But with each action comes a reaction, and man’s greatest response to the might of machine is music, and the medicine within in its inspiration for those who choose to use it. A universal language founded upon mathematics, aesthetically tuned to the rhythm of a beating heart. It seems absurd for this to be a fleeting quality, but it is manmade, manifest from a place Where Dreamers Only Go.
Language is confusing, but rarely music. We’re programmed to believe that to surrender is to give up our power, when in reality, once we surrender to our passion, we connect to the source that drives life and become abundantly – empowered.
Musicians and artists set voyage upon The Hero’s Journey without knowing it exists. Their cellular biology communicates a question they don’t know the answer to, but have the benefit (sometimes perceived as a burden) of a special gift that can be utilized to navigate them towards a physical response or reveal. It isn’t really a choice for most musicians the way it is for many others who choose to be this or that. Rather, it is an unwavering duty that they need to fulfill, or bleed in its denial.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t an easy one, and it is important to consider those who make music as a limited oasis of inspiration, who we must aspire to preserve. For nearly a decade, the Artist Advocacy Foundation has made it their mission to “Aspire to Inspire” by creating environments and opportunities for artists and audiences to connect in ways that are rewarding, and that enhance a mutual appreciation of each other.
For 11 years, 300 days a year, Ron Colone (Executive Director of Artist Advocacy Foundation) toured the country with his brother, Michael On Fire, through 45 states, traversing every nook and cranny of this country, as only a troubadour knows. Four grown men, in a van, interacting with every kind of person, in every kind of situation, following their hearts to a place Where Dreamers Only Go.
“What happened is, we saw all the things on the road that empowered musicians, and we saw what didn’t empower the musicians like ‘you’re not selling enough beer, or people aren’t getting up and boogying.’ That wasn’t even our job, or our intention in going out and trying to extend our spirits and express ourselves, and connect with people, and just make great music. So what we did, we took all of these things and put them on a board and said ‘these are the things that make the musicians feel shitty, and these are the ones that make them feel great,’ and let’s just systematically eliminate all those ones and turn this into the best gig for troubadours, for authentic lifers who have made their way and made their living on the road. We experienced those wonderful warm tingles in the magic that sometimes happens in live performance and live connection. So we said ‘Let’s create an opportunity for that in this new community where we now live on the central coast of California,’” Colone says.
Magic isn’t made easily: It is a concoction that requires specific ingredients, of unspecified amounts, at unpredictable times, but when it appears – nobody questions it, nor can they assure its Prestige. Malcolm Gladwell contends that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become world-class in any field; by my calculations Ron and Michael emerged from a decade plus touring with 79,000 hours, and the proper recipe for every musican’s dream gig, Tales From the Tavern.
Tales from the Tavern is an extraordinary concert series and community cultural program that brings together singer-songwriter-storytellers / authentic troubadours and an exceptional listening audience, in the intimate setting of an old roadhouse, to share in a journey of discovery through song and story.
“So we did that and put up the first season, and it sold out in one hour. Six concerts, and nobody knew any of the names. Nobody knew, and the venue didn’t really have any idea what we were talking about. We’ve got a lot of very big time, celebrity, lifelong, great, great musicians around here such as David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Loggins and Messina, these different people and this guy met with me and asked how we get these guys to come in and do this, and play locally. I said “I’m not even interested in that. I love those people, and they all touch me so deeply, but what we want to do is bring in people who touch us just as fondly but are not household names.’”
Started in 2003, Tales From the Tavern has hosted more than 150 concerts, involving more than 275 acclaimed artists, including Hall of Famers, National Medal of Arts recipients, cultural icons and underground heroes. Each concert is filmed and recorded, forming an extensive archive of performances and interviews.
“This whole thing is based on trust: The venue trusted us that we were going to bring in something cool, and I gotta just mention one more thing. I was at a memorial service for someone who is very influential on our community, about two weeks before he passed, it was at a beautiful, private school and the headmaster was walking me around the grounds and said, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great place for a concert?’”
Having been on the road with Michael on Fire, knowing the headmaster was a music lover who had heard his record, Colone said “Well you know I’m always looking for a place to do a Michael On Fire concert,” and at that exact moment someone walking perpendicular to them, heard that, stopped, and said “Well if you do that I will underwrite it to bring it in to this community.”
You know those moments when you are in the right place, in the right time, prompting deja vu and or the faith that there is a source of energy we are more equipped to tap into, than understand? When we live in line with our passion, called to a journey beyond the realization of material needs, independent of programmed ideologies, synchronicity becomes a phenomena experienced at undeniable frequency as we are lead to Where Dreamers Only Go.
“When there’s a burning in your heart, an impulse, a compulsion to hear and respond to that voice in that ear – when that exceeds the need for security then I think you get called to this adventure. Because the journey is obviously something that takes us out of what you would call ordinary life, and ordinary life could be classified as attending to our material needs, so to me, we say, like with this film, it’s people who follow their heart no matter what. And when that fire is burning in your heart, or whispering in your heart, or tingling in your soul, whatever it is, that’s the call and I just think most people, and I don’t mean to say us and them, or anything like that, but I think most people have been educated, trained, convinced, that’s a whim. That you have to take care of these other things, attend to these other things, and if you’re lucky enough to get some time to attend to those things, cool. But this other thing is just jumping off the Grand Canyon, it’s jumping off the cliff. ‘Okay, I’m alive today and this is my life, and I have a unique experience, and whoa! I didn’t fall yet, I’m still floating in the air!” [laughing]
Prior to its conception, the seed for the Artist Advocacy Foundation had been planted with Tales From the Tavern, a concert experience built to serve and protect the oasis of inspiration found within the beating heart of every musician on The Hero’s Journey, with the intention of healing, and destination set to Where Only Dreamers Go.
“That’s what inspired us to make this film. This supreme resolution, this unrelenting pursuit of what we call our higher selves, our higher aims, our higher work, and that’s not a part time endeavor. That right there, in the case of my experience with Michael, continually reconnects him with his joy. This relenteness, commitment, is almost too weak of a word.”
The first edition of this planned documentary film series and budding social community called Where Dreamers Only Go will debut Wednesday, April 3 at the historic Marquis Theater in downtown Northville. “The Artist, The Dreamer, The Lover, The Fool,” chronicles the life and work of critically acclaimed musical artist and Detroit-native Michael Colone, aka “Michael On Fire,” and is the first film in the series.
Center to this mission is the reality that the life of a touring musician is not for the weak or weary. The road is an often explosive science experiment, filled with independent variables that plague the heart with fear and doubt. However, a single, magical gig on even the shittiest tour serves as rocket fuel to replenish the hope of a heavy, hero’s heart.
In the last two years the Artist Advocacy Foundation has given 16 grants to artists all over the country and witnessed people who are friends become fans of Tales From the Tavern become Artists Advocates, and they become educators in their community who bring other people along also.
“The organization is now over 10 years old and we asked ‘What does this mean to be these artist advocates? And a very well known, Grammy Winning artists was coming in to play for us, and that morning we get a call from his tour manager and he says his teeth, literally frickin’ disintegrate, he can’t even hardly talk [imitating speaking without teeth] kind of thing like that, and they were like three-and-a-half hours away, we said ‘Get here right now, we’ll get you to the dentist.’”
They arrived, the dentist was familiar with the guy’s music, and was thrilled to help him. The Artist Advocacy Foundation covered the bill, charged at a discounted rate. It was the perfect example of cooperative advocacy.
“So suddenly medical and dental care became ‘Well that’s something we can do to advocate.’”
Life is filled with subtle miracles when we learn and look to recognize them.
“We’re not funded to a level where we can make huge differences in these people’s lives, but it’s these little victories. Just the fact of acknowledging that these people are inspiring to us, and we think that what they are doing is artistically and culturally significant – that in itself is as much as the money I tell you what.”
They sought to give the adults in their community a great live concert experience, while also creating the space for life-long artists to have really quality gigs.
“We sold it out. As it turns out, the third gig of the series, Davis Crosby did show up along with Chris Hillman, original member of The Birds, and they did a whole night of Birds classics. It was incredible.”
They film and record every single show, along with interviews with every artists. Today, they have filmed 385 concerts, and interviews with each of those artists.
“By the end of that first year, and moving into the second year, we started hearing comments from the audience such as: ‘I don’t know any of these people but it doesn’t matter, I always come and have an amazing time.’”
With proper intention, and attention to detail, a live music setting offers a transformative experience dependent on a reciprocal energy exchange. When attendees feel their ability to positively influence the outcome of a performance, their behavior is likely to reflect the emotional depth the music takes them to. When a performer can feel the attention of an entire audience on him or her, they vibrate on a frequency that resonates and moves all those open to its reception.
“We don’t know these people, but we love it,” attendees would say. “They also came to a realization, that how good it’s going to be on any given night depends in part, on me, playing my part, showing up, listening, responding, so all of a sudden there is a live connection. It became amazing, and the greatest concert experience, granted a very intimate, we hold about 200 people in an old roadhouse, and we’ve changed venues three times. But while the personality of the room changes, the essence of the program is really about that intense, intent listening and promoting this experience of connection.”
A few years into Tales From the Tavern, people were blown away by the energy of it, and curious of the ways they could be involved and possibly give resources to help support it.
“We began to wonder if there was the possibility of a non-profit organization, and what would be the mission of that organization?”
Over the next couple years they founded the Artist Advocacy Foundation.
“What this really is, this is almost like a seed that was planted and then it grows into a trunk, then it grows into these branches. There is all these different branches involved with what we are talking about right now, legal entity wise, from my end, but they all grow from that same seed and intention.”
Every artist who came through Tales From the Tavern said, “This is the best gig, period. We felt like we had a professional audience.”
The organization grew as proud of the audience they gave artists, as they were of the artist they gave the audience.
“It was so amazing! So we said, ‘You know what? We are advocating on behalf of the artist by providing this experience,’ and that was our first concept of advocacy. We want to be the best advocates in the world to make this healing vibration happen, so it started out like that, but there’s more.”
In another instance, a fella was about to set off on a two week tour where he would be introducing something to a new audience. It was a great opportunity for him, but his car died. He couldn’t afford a new car, or to have his fixed, so the foundation rented him a car for two-and-a-half-weeks.
“We were advocating on his behalf. There were other people who got equipment stolen, and we would replace it. We would find different ways over the years where we could advocate on behalf of artists who inspire us. Now that’s a very objective term, we all get inspired by very different things, but what we were trying to go for is what you were describing: This essential thread of aspiring to healing.”
If you know touring musicians you know someone who has had their tour vehicle broken into, and instruments stolen. Transportation has the potential to be a constant struggle, especially when faced with the reality of winter. You know the burden of going to work in the morning after a snow/ice storm? Imagine waking up and having to drive 500 miles across three states to get to work.
“Then, our own consciousness with it evolved, when you’re in that philanthropic world, say a kid needs a wheelchair, that is so obvious and visible people step up to the plate and they make sure that kid has a wheelchair. An Artist needs to pay rent so he/she can continue to be an artist, inspire us, change our consciousness, effect the conversation we go out and have later that day – that’s a little more vague.”
Are you moved by art and music? Could you imagine life without it? What value do you place on the deposits of inspiration it makes into your soul?
“Once we got to the point where we could justify the true, true value, to us, to humanity, of having a true-inspirational artist be an artist for another month, then Artist Advocacy really started taking off. Then, in the last couple years, some of our favorite artists and performers who have come from through Tales From the Tavern, we would see something like, for instance last fall, Peter Case, a great-great songwriter, musician, road warrior to the max, this guy plays more than everybody, or as much as anybody, put it that way. He said ‘I had to cancel my next two months of tour dates because of some medical complications,’ and he’s got this huge social media following and people were going ‘Ahh Peter, sending you love man, sending you healing, sending you energy, sending you prayers,’ and we were able to say ‘Peter, sending you bread.’”
“And he’s like ‘Oh my God,’ his wife contacted us just teary-eyed, ‘Thank you, we didn’t know how we were going to make ends meet.’
It truly takes a village and the Artist Advocacy Foundation pays the gratitude of being inspired forward with action where its impact is most visible and appreciated, aiding the journey that inspires hope in not few, but many. Where Dreamers Only Go is evidence of a major shift occurring in the world, while serving as a reminder to hold onto your faith in humanity.
“The Artist, The Dreamer, The Lover, The Fool,” is a 90-minute music documentary that shares the story of Michael On Fire, a lifelong musical artist who has steadfastly shunned conventionality and commercialism, in favor of true originality and self-expression. The film chronicles Michael’s journey from his roots as a songwriter and artist signed to Groovesville Music in Detroit, working out of the famous United Sound Studios with noted music producer Don Davis; to his earliest recordings with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (The Swampers) at Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama.
The Rock City News in Los Angeles called him, “One of our leading troubadours,” saying, “He has the elusive, inspirational quality of a cult hero.”
Emmy and Peabody Award winner Tom Cochrun described a Michael On Fire concert as “One of the most powerful and personal performances I’ve ever seen,” adding, “There’s something about Michael on Fire that connects like no other.”
The film premieres Wednesday, April 3, at 7:00 PM, at the Marquis Theatre, Northville. Michael On Fire will perform Saturday, April 6, 8:00 PM, at The Trinity House in Livonia.
Film premiere tickets on sale now at: http://realeyesproductions.com/where_dreamers_only_go/
Concert tickets available now at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4093624.
Are you inspired by music? Have you discovered people and places following the inspiration music has given you? Maybe you have resources you can share to advocate on artists behalf. Just in case you were listening for one, This Is A Good Sound.