Kansas City has a monthly arts event called First Fridays. Streets get roped off, food trucks filter in, and artists and craftspeople set up tables from which to hawk apparel, accessories, art, albums, and more.
For over two decades, I’d been visiting Kansas City only to attend an annual retrocomputing convention, so I leapt at the opportunity to finally get to know the area and explore familiar streets on foot. Being a nomad means I can’t buy much, as I have nowhere to put it — but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the artistry on display at last August’s First Friday. I perused art galleries, admired henna, and bought some zines for a friend.
After a few hours, thinking I’d fully explored downtown Kansas City on this hot summer eve, I crossed the street to head back to my car. As I approached the street corner, someone else was just arriving there to cross perpendicularly to me. Even had we not been the intersection’s only pedestrians, she would’ve stood out, overwhelmed as she was with more backpacks and cases than one person can carry. Concerned, I offered, “Do you need a hand?”
She paused, considered her inventory, then smiled. “Actually, that would be great!” She passed into my hands a single music stand, which didn’t seem like much, but it apparently freed up just enough capacity for her to soldier on. As I followed the musician across the street, Danielle introduced herself and explained that all the equipment was for a free concert she was playing later that evening, and that I should come! Who am I to turn down such a lovely invitation?
The musical lineup included my new friend performing under the name Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Her routine was funny, and her warm, modest personality connected with the audience, especially when she taught us the chorus and invited us to participate in her songs. Even in the heat of a Missouri summer, numbers like “This Weather” evoked the cold New England winters I grew up in; and I found the longing of the nomadic lifestyle echoed in “Long Haul (True Love)“.
After the concert, I stopped by Danielle’s merch table to buy one of her albums so I could spend the drive home singing along to the songs I’d just learned. The next day, I visited her Etsy store to order a complete box set of her discography. Finally, I became a Patreon backer, donating a few dollars a month to encourage more tunes.
Little did I know I was getting in on the ground floor of a new video series in which Danielle interviews her supporters! “You Ate the Sandwich” debuted earlier this year, and my episode was recorded in March. Danielle’s interview technique was similar to the one I teach and practice: we negotiated beforehand to determine what topics we’d discuss, so we could both come to the call prepared. She edited the result to remove any extraneous bits and flubs, making both of us sound smart (which is always an extra effort where I’m involved!). The result aired just last week!
Danielle travels in similar circles to other musicians I enjoy, such as The Doubleclicks, so it’s no surprise that I cottoned to her energy. My time in Kansas City and my travels since then have been made by richer thanks to the serendipity of crossing the right street at the right time, bringing Danielle’s art into my life.
A dance in the Denver air
Two months after Danielle and I intersected in Kansas City, I was in Denver, Colorado, staying at an Airbnb that opened onto a park with a grassy gully spanned by a footbridge. As I crossed that bridge one sunny afternoon, I passed someone who was leaning over the railing, staring intently at the ground twenty feet below. She then reached into a bag at her feet and pulled out a length of silk, measuring it to match her visual estimate of the bridge’s height, before tying it to the railing.
Certain I was about to witness something either magical or tragical, I stopped. “Everything okay?” I nonchalantly asked. She grinned and replied “Yup!” with an effusive confidence that put me at ease. Once her fabric was secured to the bridge, she trotted down and around to the bottom of the crevasse, where she leapt, grabbed the silk, and pulled herself up. She then proceeded to unabashedly perform a variety of aerial acrobatics, twisting and turning to the surprise and delight of this passerby (and to the consternation of disc golfers who were trying to play through!).
While she waited for her photographer to show up, I chatted with this artist. Katy Paulson is an author, teacher, creator, and performer with a mission to “practice a sense of humor and cultivate an explorative spirit”. Her impromptu performances have been captured across the country’s landscapes, and her two-book series, Fairyal Aerial Hammock, was published just this spring.
As Katy was dancing, I pulled up her Instagram account that she’d pointed me to. A particular line in her bio was a pleasant surprise: voiceover artist! For eight years, I’d hosted the Polygamer podcast, interviewing such voice actors as Tristan D. Lalla (Assassin’s Creed), Sarah Elmaleh (Gone Home), and Bonnie Gordon (Star Trek: Prodigy). I was excited to discover Katy’s extensive skillset included one of my favorite art forms.
That enthusiasm was mutual, as the next day, I was delighted to discover an email from this roving aerialist in my inbox. Her voice-acting portfolio included narrating the book How to Play Dungeons & Dragons, and since I’m a gamer, would I like a free copy for review purposes? Of course I would! Not only am I fan of D&D, but my nomadic lifestyle’s long drives lends themselves to audiobooks and podcasts. It was a quick turnaround for me to accept Katy’s generous offer, indulge in hours of her voiceover, and submit my review to Audible.
There are musicians and artists whose work sweeps the globe, commanding audiences and ticket prices of thousands. Then there are people like Danielle and Katy, singing in Kansas City and dancing in Denver, entertaining and enchanting their neighbors and friends with a heartfelt song or exuberant exhibition. They’re just outside our doors, waiting for us to take that first step, look for these chance encounters, and broaden our worlds with their music and their art, supporting those who enrich our lives with their spirits.