Where to begin, friends? If your experience in the last year has been anything like mine, you have felt flabbergasted, gob-smacked, exhausted, angry, sad, disgusted, disheartened, hungover, shocked, relieved, and cautiously hopeful, sometimes all in the same day. I’ve always had a pretty firm grip on my emotions and what I thought was a decent understanding of my own psyche. Stoicism is a good trait for a self-employed musician, after all. COVID-19 turned that fragile bullshit on its ear. I hunkered down. I didn’t leave the house. I bleached everything in sight and peered through the blinds, on the lookout for the invisible creeping death. Fear of the mailbox, fear of the grocery store, each interaction an interlude with one’s mortality. Am I uptight? Yes, I am.
And yet, in the midst of this morass of skyrocketing numbers, seemingly powered by an ever-revolving pedal tavern sprocket, connected to an endless wagon of gun-toting, stars and bars waving, woo-hooing, chin masking, deadly morons, the absolute disappearance of my work as a musician, and an attempted civil war, I managed to find something joyful and nurturing to devote my jangly energy to, namely the art and science of sourdough bread baking. What started as a hobby in 2016 (Hey, I’m no baker come lately, you know!) became a lifesaver and a mortgage payer during the pandemic.
Thanks to the Tennessee Cottage Kitchen laws and the addition of a home mill (a Christmas gift from Tania, my beautiful partner), and a lot of experimenting, I created a blend of fresh ground wheat and rye that goes into each loaf I bake. Folks got excited about it and they started showing up week after week. In short order, I went from 12 to 24 to 60 loaves per week and I had plenty of dough for the bills. … I’ve made the bleary-eyed journey from night owl to morning person.
After eight months of baking four loaves at a time in my home oven, a friend and customer, Chef John Stephenson of Hathorne (formerly of Fido and The Family Wash) offered his kitchen for me to work in. Now I can bake 20 or more loaves at once and the flour dust once covering my dining room table has been wiped clean. The ubiquitous pile of mail has been returned to its rightful spot.
I am truly fortunate and grateful. As far as ways to make a living during a pandemic go, having flour delivered to your door, and folks willing to pick up bread from your front stoop rank pretty high on the list.
Baking sourdough bread is quite similar to making music. It scratches the same itch. It takes dedication and repetition. It’s made by hand and takes hours of preparation to make something so seemingly simple. It makes people happy and gives them comfort in hard times. It makes people smile. Each loaf is like a gig. You put your heart into it and you make your money to get to the next gig.
My Wednesday and Saturday bake and sale days have become my social life. Friends old and new, neighbors, strangers (thank you, social media) all stopping by to pick up their weekly bread. Oftentimes, we have a safely distant conversation on the front lawn. Some conversations last for a few minutes, some for an hour or more.
Jack and Wendy Walker Silverman, Audley Freed, Jen Gunderman, Jabe Beyer, Tom, Alison, Lilah and Liam Petersson, The Hokes, Rolff Zwiep and CJ Hicks, Sadler and Candace Vaden, Steve Cropper, Phillip and Sam Creamer, John Brassil, Ron Eoff, Molly Secours, Joe and Marc Pisapia, Chris and Laura Donohue, Roy Agee, Brian Owings, Alan Messer, Chuck Allen, Robin Eaton, Hank and Ronda Helton, Michael Weintrob, Brad Jones, Allen and Christie Johnstone, Curt Perkins, Theresa Kereakes, Jamie and Michele Rubin, Adrian Bahan, Jillette Johnson, Whitaker Elledge, Sam Smith, Liz Hodder, Elaine Wood, Mike and Mindy Grimes, Jen Deaderick, Kai Welch, Jamie and Allie Dick, Eric Brace, Carter Little, Chark Kinsolving, Jim Herrington, William Tyler, Chuck Mead, Brenda Colladay, Judy Winters, Martin Lynds, Cowboy Keith Thompson, Peter Cooper, Pat Sansone.
This isn’t the guest list at The 5 Spot, or The Basement East, or the best party ever; it’s a partial list of the wonderful folks that have kept me sane with their conversation, fellowship, and their taste for naturally leavened baking. We couldn’t hang in our usual spots but I got to see and connect with my friends every week. I am blown away when I think of it.
I’m one week away from my second Pfizer shot. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I am hopeful for the future. I grieve for the many we’ve lost. I’m ready for the roaring ’20s. I hope to see you all healthy and soon!