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Jessie Veeder, Published December 01 2012

Coming Home: Comfortable singing to the heart of America

When I was touring, some of my favorite spots weren’t necessarily my destination, but the Main Streets I passed through on my way to the next stop.

I liked the small towns the best. I liked the way the storefronts lined up. I liked the old diners, flower shops and the drive-throughs with the world’s best burgers. I liked the quiet little rivers that might run through them and the old men who met for coffee at the Cenex station.

I passed through many small towns on my drives down the middle of the Midwest. If I had time to kill I would slow down to find a restaurant or a park where I could walk around. Or I might just drive through the residential streets, admiring the freshly cut lawns and imagining what my life would be like if I lived in this community along a lake in Minnesota, in the middle of a field in Nebraska or in the heat at the edge of Texas.

America by car is a slow-paced adventure. I have traveled through some major cities, but none have made such impressions as those with two gas stations, five churches and six bars.

A few weeks ago the release of my new album found me putting on a concert in New Rockford, one my favorite small communities in North Dakota. But this time I didn’t arrive by Chevy. No. My carpool request was declined by my bass player, Adam, who offered to fly.

Yup, my bass player flies airplanes.

So Adam loaded up three guitars, three suitcases, his brother and me in his small airplane and we took off from the runway in our quickly sprawling small town to get to the next one in time.

I had never left this way or witnessed my world from this elevation with its frosted buttes, ribbon-like streams, and miles of trucks and pickups making their way to and from and in and out of town.

Normally I would have been between those trucks and cars, pushing on to the next gas station to grab a cup of coffee and fuel up before I hit the road.

Instead, Adam flew us across our home state, and one hour and 20 minutes later we touched down on a snow-patched runway, unloaded the plane and made our way to the Opera House on Main Street where we stood under the lights and behind our guitars.

As I swayed and tapped my foot next to my friends playing bass licks and singing along to my songs about home, hope, dusty roads and cowboys who have lost themselves, I could feel the people of New Rockford nodding their heads.

And I felt like they’ve been on that road, knew the same kind of hurt, and have been as unbelievably grateful and equally torn.

I felt like they might have loved something the same way I love.

I’m a songwriter in a small town.

All my life people have been telling me to move away from the comforts of the towns and open roads that made me. They tell me to leave while they wonder out loud why I’m not chasing the dream they’ve invented for me, one that that leads to Nashville or New York – someplace bigger and full of more promise for someone like me.

But Adam showed me my small world from the clouds, landed me among the people in my songs, and I fell in love with music again, just as I do each night I sing in the smoke of the Legion Club, above the noise of Main Street or into the night outside the window of this house.

And I imagine Adam could fly us all over this country and we could knock on the doors of big houses in bigger cities and ask them to listen.

But I’ve never been as comfortable up there as I have been tucked behind my cracked windshield and singing to the heart of America.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D.