Rae Davis' cousin came to see her play tonight.
"All this time, I didn't even know we were living in the same city," she says afterward, still in disbelief. "Then I look up from the stage, and there she is."
The Davis clan is not the only one represented in the Des Moines Social Club's Basement Bar tonight, either. For both Davis and Sara Routh, the venue is full of parents and relatives and friends and loved ones. It's full of family.
For nearly 500 years of our human history, it was customary for people at home to come to the shore and watch ships leaving the harbor. It was a chance to say a final farewell to loved ones standing on deck, and a way of wishing the vessel good luck as it pushed forth into the great unknown or, at very least, the great known but still really dangerous and unpredictable.
It can be impossible to know how luck will fare on a given voyage. Ferdinand Magellan left Seville with five ships and nearly 300 men, and returned three years later with one ship and 18 men, but those 18 men had gone all the way around the world by the time they were done, so everyone called it a net win.
But in those first moments, as people get ready to push off into the realm of adventure, possibilities are endless and hope is in easy abundance. Such was the feeling in the Des Moines Social Club's Basement Bar, as Davis and Routh kicked off the final leg of Routh's "Black Sheep" tour, in support of her album by that name.
The road is nothing new to Routh; she's traveled the world, lived just about everywhere, and hitting the road on Friday towards Omaha marks her third trip in support of this album alone. But no matter how many times you hit the road, having the camaraderie of family on that first stop is something that can not be overstated, nor replaced by some weaker substitute.
Every crowd means something. Just the fact that people have taken their time to come out and see what you do--especially in a new town, where they are often out on little more than a friend's recommendation or an interesting poster--means everything to a musician; the acts of performing and viewing a live show are mutual leaps of faith. So while an artist is grateful and appreciative of every single person who pays a cover or picks up a CD, a crowd of familial faces is uniquely loved.
We have things like GPS in our lives now. We have smart phones and wireless networks and cars that can run for 100,000 miles without a hiccup. When we look out over the distant horizon, we no longer gaze into the night and think "there be dragons." We know what lies out in the Great Beyond. So when family sees you off on an adventure, it is no longer a way of seeing your face for potentially the last time. Instead, any thoughts or fears for the future are replaced by a feelings of love and support. "Go be bold," they are saying. "Be brave, be amazing. Be great."
There will be other crowds on this voyage across the western United States. There will even, heavens willing, be bigger crowds, packed with friends both old and new. But for the first night, for the beginning of a trip months in the planning, there couldn't have been a more perfect one.
Davis' uncle passed away last year. She marks it as a turning point in the relationships among the various extended family members. Everyone came together to celebrate a great man's life, and in that time, they might have rediscovered something great about one another, and it's possible that each person, in some small way, inwardly promised themselves to do more.
Not that an explanation is needed, but when asked, it's the only explanation that Davis can come up with for her cousin's surprise inclusion with all the other parents and children and closest friends down at The Basement.