A Western Odyssey
I am in a pretty little attic room at the Prairie Creek Inn, with Victorian furnishings and wallpaper, and a window that overlooks a green Nebraska field glimmering with dew.
I roll out of bed and walk out into the hallway, where the smell of breakfast wafts up the glossy wooden stairs. Gretchen is in Annie’s room, getting beautified for her moment in Where You’ve Always Been, the first music video shoot of the day for our new album American Rhapsody. Outside Paul, Tim, David, and Graham, our incredible, can-do camera team, are consulting with Alex and Mama about scenes.
Being an avid believer in the happiness induced by a solitary country walk, I set out on my own to peruse the grounds. There are rustling green soybean fields and a hobbit door sprouting out of a hill.
The prairie grasses growing taller than my head; a gravel path running through a small grove; the Lake of Shining Waters spreading before me.
Wildflowers growing by the side of Prairie Creek, and a butterfly resting on one of the pink blossoms. I hear the voices of the children, David, Audrey, Vincenza, and Evangeline, coming from the farm where Benjamin and Berklee are letting them pet the horses.
Back at the house, I rush through hair and makeup in preparation for a piano shot on Where You’ve Always Been. Through the window, I hear the song coming through the monitor and riding on the wind up to me, and see Gretchen, pristine and slender in her white dress, her hair blowing in the wind, as she sings the song she wrote about Grandma and Grandpa in our old countryside refuge, Zafra, Oklahoma.
And then it’s my turn, playing a grand piano in a bay window overlooking the beautiful Nebraska farmland. The house is over 150 years old and was moved to this location and restored by the innkeeper and his wife.
I love old houses. You can feel the age in them, like good wine: the memories in the walls, the whispers of a forgotten time that was just as real as ours today.
When the afternoon sun is streaming down the Western side of the sky, Where You’ve Always Been is finished, and we journey into Lincoln, Nebraska. Our very dear friends welcome us into their home, where they have cooked a feast of farm-fresh food for us. It is a much-needed respite from the work of the day, to talk and laugh and enjoy friendship.
A bit of a shut-eye, a refreshing of makeup and hair (my poor hair…curled two to three times a day for two weeks only to be ravaged by the wind! alas…), and we were off to the uncut Nebraska Grasslands for shot two of the day, The Grass on the Prairie.
The chug-a-lug up the road––which is merely mown grass in a great expanse of virgin grasses––is a bumpy ride, but we do get up there, thanks to our good ole pickup trucks. Once there, the vista is breathtaking.
We are on a race with the sunset. The shimmering silver from the cloud overlay envelopes the green grass, sloping for miles in every direction. The grass is as tall as we are. Annie hurries into her silver evening gown, with a windswept chiffon bustle, and begins to shoot the beginning of the music video in the grass. It is surreal, a picture that one ought to only see in fairy tales, right there before your eyes.
I change into my pearl-white gown, which was also my wedding dress, and will be immortalized in a prairie sweep with a grand piano from the 1800s (which also weighs 800 pounds and comes with a hydraulic lift…whew!).
I wrap a lace shawl with shimmering pink and blue flowers around me. I feel enchanted, standing in these clothes underneath the sun, playing an ancient piano in the grasslands.
And then crickets start to jump into my skirt.
And then I realize I really need to relieve myself.
The only thing to do is to embrace my pioneer heritage and to drift off into the grass, away from the cameras and the drone overhead, as far as I can possibly go and still be able to breathe through my fear of rattlesnakes. I once heard of a woman who always wore dresses and never underwear so she could go whenever she wanted to.
Ahem. After that I go join our friends, who have been a Godsend, helping us set up the scene and cart all of our things to and fro, bug-spray at hand. We watch Annie’s glorious moment, see the power of her performance, and talk about how incredible this whole experience is.
Then they tell me that there are mountain lions in Nebraska.
Planet Earth clips of golden lions crouching down in golden grass flit across my mind. I look around quickly. The dusk is obscuring any definition. I wish I had David Valentine’s childlike peace…when Audrey Jane got scared of mountain lions, David Valentine said, “Don’t worry, Audrey, this is nature! There aren't any lions in nature!”
And then it’s time for the full group shot. We coalesce in the scene, the wind frolicking in our hair and our skirts, as Paul works the glide camera and the others work the drone. There is only an hour of sun left, but they work fast and creatively.
The sun is gone. We are in rivers of headlights in the grand darkness. We women change out of our evening gowns behind held-up sheets, as the the men tear down the set and get the piano back in the truck bed. We rumble down the road and make friends with the crickets hopping around the car.
Back at the Prairie Creek Inn, I talk with James in my comfortable little room, and am so tired that I black out three times in the midst of our conversation. The weariness finally gets the better of me, and I fall asleep, makeup and all.
I hear that everyone else had a party in the barn, filming the third music video of the day, Choctaw Cowboy - the acoustic bluegrass piece from American Rhapsody that my sister Gretchen composed - until 2am, regaled by locally grown watermelon and our friends’ homemade chocolate chip cookies. Berklee at the BirchTreeMeadow.com captured this picture in the fun.
As all the Nebraska natives told me, Nebraska is the best-kept secret ever.