Island artist duo Danielle Mulcahy and Walker Roman hit the road at the beginning of last October, armed with a renovated fifth-wheel trailer, all of their possessions, and art-making materials. Their goal is to make art, sell art at different venues and pop-ups, educate about art making, and live more simply, responsibly, and in the present. See more at barnyardsaintsart.com.
Leaving the intense heat of the incoming desert summer was easy, as our site was now unbearably hot during the day. I looked up one last time at the canyon walls from our camp-hosting position in Moab, Utah. The petroglyphs caught the morning sun as the walls started to heat up. I thought about how those cliffs used to scare me when climbing around the steep trails and rocks, but after getting used to the sandstone’s stickiness, climbing became a breeze, and I found a wildness in me that I’d forgotten about. Driving through our canyon with our house in tow, we waved farewell to the red rock and followed the Colorado River. I looked once more at some passing petroglyphs pecked into the walls by some human hand perhaps a thousand years ago. What on earth did the paleo Indians do when the summer came, with temperatures in the 100s every day? As it turns out, they did exactly what we were doing. Migrated into the lush summer valleys and golden mountains of what is now colorful Colorado.
When we told other folks where we were going next, their faces would beam. Oh, Telluride, Colo.? You’ll never leave. Stepping out of the truck right before town, I leaned over the railing of the Uncompahgre National Forest overlook. I yelped at Walker to come see the view, a valley of spruces and wildflowers, grass, rushing rivers, all cradled by massive ancient mountains. Rather obnoxiously, I belted the theme song from “The Sound of Music,” with my hands up, enjoying things I hadn’t felt in awhile: the smell of vegetation and the cool perfect breeze riding off of the melting snow caps. But Walker didn’t seem amused when I turned to see if he was watching. He was nervous about bringing the rig into a reportedly tight, winding ski town. On top of that, in a couple of days the entire town would be closed to any traffic that didn’t have a special pass. We were heading into one of Telluride’s busiest weekends, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Thank heavens we had an Island connection who migrated there often. Meg Bodnar and her family have some powerful pull in Telluride, and we met up with her friend in town, also named Meg, who hooked us up with a pass to park the rig on a street nearby. Later that week, when I told some local about how we got hooked up because we know the Megs, they raised their eyebrows and said how those were some powerful ladies to know. After we parked the adventure wagon, we got ready to meet up with our best friends and the main reason we were there in the first place, Bianca Caruso and Lee Ferris; they’re the lead singers and songwriters behind the Americana soul duo, Freddy and Francine. This weekend they would play on the main stage of the festival with some of the biggest names in folk and bluegrass. It was a big deal, and we weren’t going to miss it.
Since the town rules said we couldn’t stay in the trailer while it was parked on the street, we stayed with B and Lee where the festival put them up, in Mountain Village, a ski town above Telluride you took the gondola to get to at over 10,000 feet of elevation. We were already buzzed by the scenery from Telluride’s main street. Old mining buildings, colorful storefronts, and people everywhere shopping, eating, and playing music on street corners. The scene was alive, with surrounding glowing mountains gazing down at us. The main stretch of road framed perfectly the end of the valley, with a massive waterfall shooting off of the cliffs in slow motion. I liked what a local told us: “You know those computer desktop pictures of the mountains and wildflowers that look both beautiful and unreal? That’s what my walk to work looks like every day.”
Armed with backstage passes, my camera gear, and F&F T shirts, I followed the talent around as their media person. I had never been to a music festival, and I was properly spoiled for the first one. The bluegrass festival was an efficient machine, organized, green, and clean. They were very accommodating when altitude sickness finally took ahold of me, as it did for Walker the first day we arrived. After I lost my dinner, they pumped oxygen into me and gave me some Gatorade. I was back up to watch the end of Brandi Carlile and then Chris Thile, and Béla Fleck jamming out with Sam Bush and his band.
Freddy and Francine sang their hearts out for their set, their voices filling the valley and the broadcasting live on the web. I crept onstage in front of thousands of people to snap a photo of them against what had to be the most epic view from any stage. A kind of view that opens you up, full of mountains and sunlight. The entire bluegrass festival was so unreal for us, so much talent and heart it was becoming hard to absorb. I loved watching B and Lee glide around among the other artists. Bianca has always been my role model, a woman of strength and confidence. She’s blunt, honest, and doesn’t miss a beat. She and Lee have a knack of gathering a crowd with their soaring harmonies and genuine lyrics. I recalled that one summer when they showed up at the Chilmark Flea and performed with no mic, and filled the entire field with music. Everyone stopped, astonished, to applaud. Watching them now in front of thousands from offstage, I was so proud of them. In fact, I was so moved by all of the musicians who poured their souls out over their instruments and sang with all of what they were made of. I observed such honesty in those performances that it took me off-guard. In those moments and throughout the next week we would spend wandering among that perfect wilderness, I felt suspended in newfound inspiration. An awakened confidence in myself and in us as artists, opening channels throughout ourselves to make art every day, while truly living every second we are given.