There are many people who have walked in and out of my life and had a formative affect on the person I am today, how I engage with the world around me, and the values I try to embrace and infuse into the work I do, particularly with regard to sustainability and songwriting.
I wonder how many of these people I have personally thanked for their role in my life? I imagine there are some I will never have an opportunity to thank. Pete Seeger is one such individual. His music and way of being has had an enormous impact on me. About a year ago, I began composing a letter to him and putting songs in a playlist with the intention of sending him an album of songs I had written from people’s stories. Sending the letter was my way of saying thank you from a distance. I never envisioned that I would meet him in person. I was thankful that I had the opportunity just to see him perform with Arlo Guthrie and members of their families at Carnegie Hall a number of years ago.
Pete Seeger has now passed away, and part of me is sad that I will never have the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him thank you.
At last Thursday’s Sandbox session in Lowell, startup company owner and former Sandboxer Brenna of 99DegreesCustom told us to, “Talk to as many people as you can because you just never know what connection you might make.”
I listened to her stories of talking to people and making connections. She was a wonderful storyteller, dynamic and engaging, but I could not imagine taking her advice so literally or quite so soon. I tend to be a bit shy about going up to people and introducing myself, making calls to strangers, and am generally wary social interactions that put me out of my comfort zone.
This afternoon, however, I walked up to a stranger and introduced myself.
This person was no stranger to me. She has been a musical hero for over a decade and her songs and presence have inspired my songwriting style and intention since I became a songwriter only a few years ago.
It is not everyday that one has the opportunity to say thank you to their creative hero.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon at my day job in Lowell. I was staffing the front desk of a visitor information center when a visitor walked in.
Nothing unusual, except that I knew who she was from the moment she walked through the door.
At least, I knew who I thought she was.
She came to the front desk to ask if a local art gallery was open. I told her their hours and that I thought they were open today. She thanked me and walked over to peruse the items in the bookstore.
A coworker came in and then my parents (Sundays are often family lunch at Brew’d Awakening Coffeehaus day). Another ranger came in.
I looked over and saw our mystery visitor looking at some books. And then she left.
I asked my parents to give me a minute to bring my stuff upstairs before we headed to lunch.
I ran up the stairs, dropped my bags, and went straight for google.
Oh wise and powerful Google, tell me where Dar Williams lives and where she is on tour right now.
And Google responded,
Dar Williams lives in Cold Spring, NY and is going on tour in Ireland very soon.
The blue circle swirled not entirely unlike the shaking of a magic 8 ball.
Disappointment. There was no way Dar Williams was in Lowell. And why would she be?
Magic 8 ball: Outcome not so good.
I grabbed my coat, hat, and scarf and left my cube. Then, I ran back and grabbed a business card, just in case we ran into her downtown. Hey, you never know.
I headed down the stairs, walked outside with my parents, and turned left to head to lunch. And then I stopped.
“I think the woman who was just in here might have been Dar Williams. I mean, it probably wasn’t but I kind of want to go to the gallery just to see if she is there.”
At this point, my parents are used to my whims. They also drove me to many a Dar William concert in my youth.
We walked into the gallery, and I looked to my right. She was looking at a painting.
I should mention here again that I really do not like walking up to strangers and introducing myself. However, I also have dressed up as a converse all-star in a play about spreading invasive plant seeds to an audience of seventh graders. So, I figured the worst that could happen was that my hunch would be incorrect, I would apologize, and I would be only slightly embarrassed.
I walked up to her.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask you a strange question. She did not make a face or coil from me in horror, so I continued.”
“Do you know someone named Dar Williams?” I said tentatively.
“I do, she responded. I am Dar Williams.”
Were I cartoon character, my jaw would have dropped to the floor at this point, and my eyes would have literally popped out of my head in some accordion-like fashion with little puffs of clouds following their trajectory.
Instead, my face likely illustrated a more human version of this image, and I said something to the effect of,
“Oh my goodness. You are my hero!”
I think she smiled and maybe even said, “Really.” Much is a blur.
I am certain that I told her that Iowa was the first song I learned to play on the guitar and that I write songs from stories and she has been the inspiration for much of the music I have written.
I quickly reached into my pocket and offered a disclaimer that began “you might not want this, but” while handing her my business card.
And then we spoke about songwriting. She told me was offering a class about songwriting in Lawrence and then playing a concert. She mentioned that she was visiting Lowell because she was working on a book about communities that have recreated themselves in ways that celebrate art, history, and culture.
She was kind and easy to talk to and incredibly humble.
And then I remembered that my parents were standing quietly to the side.
“These are my mom and dad, I said. And then continued with something typically marieke, like “There names are actually mom and dad.”
My mom invited Dar to lunch, and I responded that she did not actually have to come with us.
I think my parents shook her hand.
I am certain I apologize about a thousand times for stalking her and promised to leave her alone.
I know that I shook her hand.
We turned to leave and were about to head to the door when I discovered that I the only thing second to meeting Dar Williams at that moment in time was to have a picture taken with her.
One of my inner voices said something like, “Marieke, leave the poor woman alone.”
The headlines for our encounter might have read, “Wild maned park ranger descends upone unsuspecting songwriter.
But I thought, what the hell?
So I turned around and found her…again.
I apologize…again…and asked if it might be possible to take a photo with her.
I believe she apologized the state of her hair (she has beautiful, long, wavy blonde hair), so I offered to take my hat off to even the score.
And my dad took a photograph. I thanked her again. And then we were off to lunch, my parents walking and I floating just above the earth beside them.
All the way to Brew’d, I periodically made a muppet like sound of joy and disbelief and exclaimed, “I just made Dar Williams. Oh my god!”
And then we walked into brew’d, where I saw a few women friends and instantly shrieked, “I just saw Dar Williams!”
And there was much rejoicing.
Still hovering above my chair, I sat down and tried to contain myself.
I mean, really, I am not one to get very excited about famous people. I was not the kind of child to have crushes on famous actors (except for Keanu Reeves, and no I can’t explain it).
For me, Dar Williams is more than a famous person. She is a woman whose art has spoken to me at many different, formative times in my life. Her music has inspired my own. I have sang her songs with all of my heart in moments of sadness and joy, with friends and family. I perform her songs regularly. And most importantly, I believe that her music makes the world a better place.
She came into Brew’d and walked up to us and smiled and said hello.
Maybe, I hadn’t completely horrified her with my energetic enthusiasm and admiration for her. My women friends were thrilled and came up to shake her hand and say hello. We chatted for a few minutes about Lowell and old factory towns. I told her why I loved Lowell for its realness and rough around the edges character. I, too, am rough around the edges and far from perfect. I don’t think that I put on airs; at least I try not to. The more aware of my self I become, the less I want to waste my energy on trying to be someone or something else.
I told her that I would love to play her my City to Remember song from the story of my friend of mine who was hesitant to work in Lowell and then fell in love with the city. But I knew she had a life and schedule and might also think I was nuts. She was kind and said that she would email me and hoped I could send an mp3 recording to her.
She ordered her coffee, waved goodbye, and was off.
I sat back down, though I continued to float for hours.
Thank you, oh strange and mysterious universe.
Thank you, Dar Williams, for bringing your music and voice into the world and for helping me feel valued by listening to me today.
And thank you to each and every person who has listened to me and encouraged me on my own path.
I am grateful to each and every one of you.
Also, I MET DAR WILLIAMS!!!!