Connecting through song

Folk musicians add to local fire's legacy

 

Mike and Carleen McCornack

"Chimneys were all that was left of our Blue River home

Sounding the sirens and calling out names

Leave everything that you own and your Blue River home..."

Those words can stand alone - but put to music in a new recording - they can convey much more to listeners. Singers and songwriters Mike and Carleen McCornack are Oregon/Willamette Valley natives with a 50-plus-year history as folk musicians.

As the couple recalls some shared experiences over the past few years, their thoughts have often meshed.

"It started off as just another new recording project, with only the usual expectations, back in early 2020," they recall. "We had our list of possible tunes on our whiteboard, our notebooks out, and music stands set up in the dining room for rehearsal and in the music room for recording. We had four tunes well underway when we went on a lovely trip to Mexico with a couple of dear friends, counting on the little vacation to give us some more momentum when we returned. The Mexico trip was everything we had hoped for and more."

That time period marked the end of February 2020 - but it was also the start of a world going upside down.

"By the time we arrived at SeaTac, there were reports of deaths in the Seattle area. We learned the name of the virus: COVID-19. By the time we got home in Oregon, all thoughts of working on the album went on the back burner."

Like many others, that spring and summer were a blur for the McCornacks, and then on Labor Day, 2020, the Holiday Farm fire hit.

"That was unbelievably powerful," Carleen remembers. She admits she doesn't always com-pose in reaction to people's personal stories but when she sat down with her guitar she had a first verse that came directly from the stories people had been telling. "Some of our closest friends were evacuated, not knowing if they would have a home to return to if things ever came under control."

By late 2022 things had settled out to a point where they felt there was room in their lives to begin doing some constructive work on the album because it felt good to get back to their music.

Occasionally they've written songs together, but not often. This time around they were surprised to find they'd each been working on the same topic for a new song that internalized reactions to the Holiday Farm Fire.

In a way, they say, their "Days Like Today" album became a way to move on and begin living and making music again. "For us, it was a catharsis. We hope that it might be that for you, too," they explain.

Carleen says they're sensitive to audience reactions to the two songs they wrote about the fire. "We hesitate to perform them in concert and have been very purposeful in when we do them and when we don't," she says. "People will come up afterward and talk about their own experiences and losing homes. It's pretty powerful."

The River, they say, "is a jewel that has always been such an ever-changing inspirational element for us to be around." They'd also like to perform songs from their new album for the McKenzie community and have offered them as part of any upcoming fundraisers or commemorations.

More background on the McCornacks and their music is available at gardenvarietymusic.com.

For links to the two fire songs go to: Blue River Home (https://youtu.be/aoGTixoPmOg) and If I Had to Leave Today (https://youtu.be/c6BNN4Yjxic)

 

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