Eau Claire is home. That may sound like an insignificant little statement. But, for me, it means much.
I grew up in a different place with different people. During my childhood years, my family moved about ten times. We were almost always in the same city (Chesapeake, Virginia), but it seemed as though we were always restless. In such an atmosphere, it was hard to ever feel truly at home. Along with the constant movement, I was an isolated kid, up to so many things my folks never knew of. I was very much alone and seldom, if ever, felt the warmth and connection that home is about. My sense of home was really, really broken.
When I moved to Eau Claire in 2005, it didn’t take long for me to hate it. I’m serious. I literally hated Eau Claire. My false sense of home rejected what I experienced here. And then, I slowly began seeing the good things here. I began connecting with some people, especially through Valleybrook Church, that loved me, spoke truth to me, and helped me to start discovering the warmth, security, and safety of home.
Local music has played a large role in this healing process. In 2012, I heard Kalispell, Shane Leonard’s project, play at the Volume One Sounds Like Summer concert series at Phoenix Park. Leonard’s music was so rich, so emotive, so warm. At the time, I did some freelance writing for the Visit Eau Claire blog and I knew I needed to write something about Leonard and Kalispell. I met with Shane at Racy D’lene’s Coffee Lounge on Water Street shortly after that concert to talk with him about his music and his story. It is not overstatement to say that the conversation we had that day altered my life’s course and was a deeper invitation to come “home.”
As I sat with Shane, I was overcome by his warmth and generous spirit. To be honest, I was a little star-struck at first. Yeah, maybe he wasn’t this nationally-recognized artist, but he was obviously immensely talented and he created art that deeply touched my soul. But, his unassuming way disarmed my sense of awe that day. In fact, he seemed far more interested in learning about me than talking about himself. As our time together at Racy’s went on, I felt more and more comfortable, more secure, more at home.
Around that same time, I bought his recently released “Westbound” album. It is a beautiful work of art. It is warm, honest, and inviting. Again, these are elements of a healthy sense of home. My wife also fell in love with the album, as did my then 3 year old son. We listened to it non-stop. It became the soundtrack of the Hudgins house in the second half of 2012. And, it was healing.
Sometime later, I drove to Mondovi from Eau Claire, passing through some serene and beautiful rural scenery. While I am not really a rural kind of guy, I so appreciate the beauty of the Chippewa Valley. It can be, if you let it, breathtaking. And, it is a central part of our community identity. So, I drove along, taking in the beauty of home, both visibly and audibly.
Kalispell’s “Westbound” became the background music for the restoration of home in my life. It spoke to me in its notes, melodies, instrumentation, movements, and lyrical content while I was growing deeper and deeper in relationships with people I could trust, and with the city in which I lived. I cannot separate Kalispell’s influence from the rest of this healing experience. It has been an integral part.
One of the major emphases of Tomme Suab is connecting the reader with the emotionality of music. To me, the reason this is so important is because I believe it can be healing. It can help you find the broken places in your heart, engage with deeply held feelings, express those feelings, and find healing and freedom you have never known. I say this as someone who has personally experienced this dynamic. Thanks in part to Shane Leonard and Kalispell, my heart has been healed and I now know what “home” feels like. And, I never want to leave it.
Kalispell’s “Westbound” is this week’s Gateway Record. Stream it in its entirety here.