Live Like You Jam

By Craig Landes on January 23, 2020 in BLOG POSTS & ARTICLES, Storytelling

In one of the great lines from E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, the affable minister makes a comment about one of his young parishioners as she passionately plays a piece on the piano: “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” Spoiler alert: Miss Honeychurch does, in a buttoned-down, Victorian England sort of way, go on to live as she plays, making for a wonderful end of the story.

It doesn’t hurt my premise here that in the Merchant-Ivory film, Miss Honeychurch is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who has definitely gone on to live as she plays.

I love, love, love live music. Not arena concerts, but smaller venues. A few years back, I heard a song on the greatest radio station in all the land, The University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN. It was pretty cool. I looked up the musician, Tash Sultana, online. A Youtube video shows this kid, a young Australian woman in her living room or wherever, playing this elaborate, layered song all by herself. She records the various instruments, gets them going on her computer-machine contraption, and out comes [Welcome to the] Jungle. Freak me out, man!

So when Tash Sultana came to Philadelphia, I dragged my daughter to see her. Amazing, amazing show. A whole concert with those layers of sound and just one young hippie Australian on stage.

The other night, my wife and I enjoyed a concert with singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines. This time it was one guy and one guitar, but he brought it. Fantastic show. Gaines played at a local winery where they have a big-ish stage and cabaret seating. Perfect.

I am in awe and gratitude for musicians like Tash Sultana and Jeffrey Gaines who make their living this way as traveling troubadours. But also, even more so, you musicians who fill the weekend slots at the coffeehouses, pubs, and honkey tonks of the world. You get out there and you do your thing, not to make a living, but because it makes you alive.

Think about it: in every little town, there are people willing to do this, just get out there and show the world what they’ve got. I love walking into the local bar on a Friday night and hearing somebody playing their hearts out.

I am honored to know a few of these brave souls. Rob and Anna Lisa, I’m looking at you! And then there’s a guy named Chuck Hearne (he’s the guy in the photo above). Another vocation ago, I sold Chuck and his wife a house. I learned that he was a local musician, filling in on bass or whatever instrument needed to be played. He’s awesome. He was recently able to retire from his day job, and do this thing he loves as often as he likes, which from his Facebook feed, is pretty often. My wife and I saw him again last week, and it was spectacular. Chuck is living like he jams.

Are you? Up until recently, I was like Lucy Honeychurch in the beginning of the book. Unsure of my place in the world; Worried about what others would think if I didn’t follow a certain path; Worried about screwing up and looking stupid. I needed to get over that. Like most things in life, it is a work in progress. For instance, I dance like I just don’t care. My wife says the same thing about me that the parson said about Miss Honeychurch, “Live that dance-your-heiney-off truth, buddy!” (or words to that effect.)

My guess is that most musicians, from bazillionaire rock stars to the kids playing for the first time at the local coffee house, face some of those same fears. But you overcome them, get on stage, and do your thing. Do you throw up before or after the show? Maybe, but you get out there.

So whether you are a musician, a writer, an engineer, or whatever you do to make a living, live like you jam. Right now, I am able to make a living doing what I love, but even if your passion is something you do as a hobby or literal or figurative side-gig, live like you jam. If you have let that thing fall by the wayside because of fear or whatever, find your way back to that. Find a way to do that thing that makes you feel the most free.

Live like you jam. Let your freak flag fly. Believe me, when you are living that way, it’s exciting for you, and for the rest of us too!





Writing a New Story on Main Street

By Craig Landes on April 10, 2019 in Storytelling

There is no large commuter artery that runs near the corner of 7th and Arch Streets in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Forget the regional rail line; passenger trains haven’t run through town in decades. To get here takes intention and agency. Unless you live in the little town, you’re not likely to drive past the bright red exterior and windows full of local art at Chimayo Gallery.

Which should make the store, and the Perkasie town center itself, another case study in retail apocalypse. So why is there a thriving art gallery and gift shop in a thriving retail district in this little out-of-the-way town? That’s a great question!

The Main Street experience of shopping, dining, and strolling is so iconic that brands the likes of Disney literally recreate the experience from scratch. Smart growth and new urbanism practitioners develop infill or even whole towns, including a Main Street district. These new towns or neighborhoods rise from vacant land into existence. Walkability is becoming a bigger factor as people relocate and choose housing. 

And yet many downtown centers continue to struggle to find relevance in the internet age. Brands like American Express do some things to encourage us to Shop Small. But without a good business plan and without a broader vision in a community, Main Street is easy to ignore. A shop owner who relies on a transactional approach will not survive long in this environment. And towns that offer nothing to make it easier for Main Street stores to thrive will get what they pay for.

Which brings us back to Chimayo Gallery. Launched five years ago by Alix Stoll and her wife, Priscilla Gray-Stoll, the two were steeped in the New York arts scene before “retiring” to Perkasie where they are now busier than ever. Highlighting local artists was the game plan, but the owners of Chimayo quickly realized that the brand would not survive on simply being a purveyor of local art.

Today, displaying the work of local artists and artisans (plus locally owned, nationally-known adorable textile powerhouse Eric and Christopher) is just the tip of the iceberg. They have become a vital part of the fabric of the community. Chimayo Gallery now fills a role that online retail cannot compete with: community gathering place. 

On any given week, you might attend a writing workshop, rock painting, spend an evening enjoying the sounds of a local musician, or attend a fund-raiser for an organization that helps people escape human trafficking. All of this in the sleepy little out-of-the-way town of Perkasie.

To avoid the retail apocalypse, you have to do a lot more than sell stuff. Chimayo has managed to do so much more and make it look effortless. They have changed the story from retail apocalypse to becoming a community hub – providing everything an online retailer or big box store cannot: a sense of place. Where Main Street stores are thriving, there is this sense of place. 

As purposeful and well-executed as Chimayo’s business plan has been, it did not occur in a vacuum. The town has been even more purposeful about taking the long-view on economic development. In Perkasie, a multi-pronged approach was needed to address the long-term effects of a fire that destroyed a major section of the downtown area back in 1988. The fire, coupled with how weirdly off the main thoroughfares the town is situated, made revitalization a challenge. 

But with a perhaps presumptuous tagline of “Welcome to America’s Home Town,” along with anchor events like a car show and what the United States Congress has decreed the nation’s oldest holiday tree lighting celebration, Perkasie has developed a definite small-town vibe.

Perkasie has drawn unique stores and restaurants, bringing people in to experience a slice of Americana. There are annual events and a thriving Saturday farmer’s market. Beyond that, the town has looked to lure larger businesses, and increase the tax base and population with the judicious permitting of new construction.

Larisa Ortiz is a New York City Planning Commissioner who recently wrote about the kinds of support needed to help small businesses thrive on Main Street. These include lowering regulatory hurdles and barriers to entry for “mom and pop” stores and focus infrastructure on accessibility and walkability. Perkasie has worked at exactly these issues, and Chimayo Gallery has become a shining example of what can happen when a brand’s story and a region’s story intersect.

While the retail apocalypse is very real – with recent data pointing to online beating brick and mortar by a factor of 3:1, big thinkers like Larisa Ortiz and practitioners like Alix and Priscilla are finding a path forward by first providing access and then creating a clear sense of place that is indispensable.