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Margo Price is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. The text below appears in the “Uppers, Downers & Out-of-Towners” chapter of Price’s forthcoming book, Maybe we’ll get there: a memoir, published in October 2022 by Texas University Press. In it, we join Price and her new family in 2012, as she and her partner, Jeremy Ivey, continue to build lives and careers around music.
Jeremy and I got into the bad habit of staying out long after last call, swapping so one of us could stay home to care for our young son while the other raged. It was no way for new parents to act and it was a complete miracle that we made it out of that time alive. We were high level at that time. I became more and more adept at managing and hiding my drinking from the world. I was also protected by many of those around me, as they were all heavy drinkers as well.
We sometimes partied with the bartenders until five or six in the morning. Being constantly out on opposite nights was hell for our marriage and our livers. Our bank statement was a sad sight. We were spending a small fortune on drinks that we really couldn’t afford. But we always found a way.
We went through our days with a vicious hangover like nothing had happened. But we always made sure that Judah was taken care of. We kept him well fed, clean, safe and deeply loved, but we weren’t taking good care of ourselves.
From 2010 to 2015, a steady stream of people crashed into the guest bedroom in the basement of our house. We had a revolving door open to passers-by and travellers, and our home in Fernwood felt like a hostel for wandering musicians and wanderers, with our spare bed and couches open to almost anyone who needed a place to stay. . We believed in giving back and providing shelter for those with little money who came to town to play a show or pursue a dream. It always came back to us when we found ourselves playing a gig in a strange new town, unable to afford a hotel.
Some of the bands and solo artists we hosted included Brittany Howard and Alabama Shakes, Clear Plastic Masks, Promised Land Sound, Benjamin Booker, Willy McGee, Sam Doores and the Tumbleweeds (later known as Deslondes), and Hurray for the Riff Raff, who came with an entire entourage of bohemians, dropouts, alley punks and strays.
One hot summer night, there must have been 25 or more people in our house. The lot of us went on to two or three, singing songs, smoking rollies and taking turns pulling a bottle of George Dickel. As the night progressed, people started looking for places to sleep all around the house. We ended up running out of beds and sofas, so we made pallets all over the floor as makeshift mattresses. When we ran out of space inside, the rest of the crew crashed outside in the tall backyard grass. I felt bad that they didn’t have beds, but it was summer and they seemed to be enjoying it. There were random hippies and profiteers passed out all over our property.
The next morning Judah awoke around seven o’clock. I took him from his crib and carried him into the kitchen. My job was to make coffee, give Jude some cereal, and clean up the dastardly mess of beer cans and wine bottles strewn about the kitchen and back porch. While I was boiling the water, Judah crawled into the living room, where Riley Downing, one of the Tumbleweeds, was sleeping on the couch. Jude took his toy train and started running it along Riley’s arm and head, waking him up with a “Choo choo”. Even at the age of two, he was quite used to there always being strangers around and was shy around almost no one. Riley opened his eyes and laughed at the sight.
“Judah, darling, let him sleep! I said noticing the comedic interaction.
“Oh that’s good !” laughed Riley. “I love little kids.” He sat down and grabbed a small car on the ground next to him and started making an engine noise: “Vrooooooom, vroom!”
Judah jogged back and began to play with him. He was so adorable at that age, with a cherubic face; blond and curly hair; and long eyelashes that framed her big blue eyes.
“I can play with him while you take a shower or do whatever you need to do,” Riley offered.
“You are an angel,” I said. “I’m just going to finish making some coffee. That’s really all I need now.”
While Riley was playing with Judah, I made a strong brew in the percolator. Then I brought Judah some cereal and sat on the ground next to them.
“Are you hungry?” Riley asked. “I can cook breakfast for everyone.”
“Starving. Lots of people here though. I don’t think I have enough eggs and bacon to feed everyone.”
“I’ll run to the store. I know exactly what I can make cheap and tasty,” he said with a smile.
Riley was quite the character; he hailed from Missouri to Louisiana and had real hometown charm. He lived an unattached life and had hopped trains with Alynda Lee before joining the Tumbleweeds. He spoke slowly and low but had a great sense of humor, and his wit and songs were sharp as a knife.
Twenty minutes later, Riley came back from the Piggly Wiggly down the street.
“I’m going to cook pork brains!” he announced, brandishing several tin cans.
“Yum,” I said, not sure if he was serious or not – but he most certainly was. He cooked eggs and pig brains that morning, and almost everyone ate it, because they were hungry and it was free – and because they didn’t know what it was. was.
It was like that back then: a joint effort to inspire and care for each other. We were all losing poets struggling to keep our heads above water and booze. Looking back, there was a romanticism to knowing that we may have been failures, but we were talented failures in a company that championed mediocrity. Even in the lonely shadow of the burning spotlight, beyond the endless roads to sprawling cities and trash towns, between the empty gas tank and the underbusy gigs, we were spreading the true gospel of meaningful music and the lost art of poetry and song. We would not sell.