Upon hearing that Kimya Dawson would not be able to make the show she was booked for, the Minnehaha Free Space decided to hold an open mic as a substitute. Lyd sat with ukulele in hand, eagerly waiting for Kimya Dawson’s original opening acts to perform. A pink haired woman sat on a rug before the stage, and invited the audience to join her. As the audience stepped down from their couches and closed in on the new performer, she introduced herself as Sama. She took out a tattered notebook from her bag, tuned her guitar, looking up from her notes, and started to sing about her involvement with the Occupy Wall Street protests. The audience dropped their shoulders, and leaned in to listen as this new face sincerely shared her inspiring encounters. Lyd joined the crowd.
“[There were] no bright lights in this venue, no microphones. There was no hierarchy there. Usually at open mics, I like, freeze up, [but] I saw someone else do a similar thing that I was doing and they were succeeding with it. She put such a positive energy into the room, I felt like I could follow that,” Lyd said in retrospect.
Lyd came up to the front and began playing their (Lyd is genderqueer, so their preferred pronouns are they/them) set, touching on many moods and subjects throughout. Finishing their set to a wave of applause, Lyd returned to their seat feeling content and watched the rest of the performers. Once the show was over, Lyd said their goodbyes and began heading out of the door. In a rush, Sama followed them out into the night.
“[What I thought was] ‘this girl with pink hair [is] running after me. Oh my god what did I do?’.” To Lyd’s disbelief Sama started telling them how much she loved their set. After much talk and musical banter, Sama asked Lyd if they wanted to go on tour with her. “I was thinking in my head ‘you are absolutely nuts’, but what I said to her was, ‘oh my god that would be so awesome! Here’s my number, here’s my facebook information, let’s talk’.” Soon enough, another musician, Noll Griffin, was added to the group, venues across the Midwest were booked, and the tour was set.
On August 5th, Lyd, Griffin and Sama embarked on their tour. With Minneapolis being their point of departure, they inaugurated their tour at the Minnehaha Free Space, the place where Lyd and Sama first met . They then headed to Some Sum Studios in Winona, and were soon recording a live album at Sama’s house in Eau Claire. The album produced a great variety of sounds, from unforgiving anti-folk lyrics, to witty humor and luscious guitar progressions. “Noll’s music is haunting and beautiful. It’s the type of music you hear in your nightmares, [but] in a good way.”
After recording their live album, they were soon on the way to Appleton, Wisconsin. There they played another live show at city council member Gypsy Meltzer’s house, the first openly transgender elected public official in Wisconsin.
“We’re walking around wondering where are we [supposed] to play when this small man just like walks out of his house and he’s wearing this rainbow tie-dye t shirt. He has long dreads, and he has a scarf with skulls on it. And he’s like ‘Are you guys the touring musicians?’, we’re like ‘Yes!’, and he’s like ‘Come on in! We’re petting cats upstairs. We follow him into his house and it’s so beautiful, the stairs are painted as a rainbow and there are books lining the wall. There’s this little living room upstairs and all the audience members are there.”
The shows often went over their original end times, with the musicians continuing to play outside in the streets. “By the time the show was over nobody [in the audience] wanted to leave because we had all become friends,” said Lyd.
The tour continued back into Minnesota, through Iowa, and ending in Nebraska with the performers selling CDs at most shows.
There was an important message central to the tour. After every show, the performers engaged the audience members in discussions regarding queer and trans issues.
“When I first came up with the idea of this tour over a year ago, I really wanted to make it about more than music. I wanted to create something where we created a dialogue with people, not just us telling them information but sharing information and having a conversation with people,” said Sama.
The performers encouraged the audience to take part in a discussion where they talked about the subject, with aims of spreading awareness regarding queer and trans issues. They wanted to create a familial and safe environment for these discussion discussions to take place.
“We first discussed definitions of words, what is transgender, what is genderqueer, what is cisgender so that everybody is on the same page. And then we talked about some of the struggles that transgender people face like issues with health care and issues with discrimination,” said Sama.
The tour ended on August 15th with Noll flying back to San Francisco, and Sama and Lyd arriving back in Minneapolis.They are now in the process of planning a month long tour on the east coast for next summer.
If you’d like to check out music from the tour, it is available online for steaming and downloading at http://lydiaunderwater.bandcamp.com/