Jimmy Buffett, Livingston Taylor, and “the ability to observe”

By Leslie Budewitz

As Christine Schimpff-Carbo mentioned earlier this week, our community recently hosted the 4th Annual Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop. “The Crown” features all styles of guitar—acoustic fingerstyle, classical, jazz, rock, and blues, with classes for beginners and singer-songwriters. Instructors are themselves working musicians. A guest artist in each category provides additional instruction, and performs a public concert. Students also give two concerts. In seven days, we attended nine concerts—and loved every one.

Mr. Right studied with Bret Boyer, a singer-songwriter from Austin who is a talented—and demanding—teacher. Students—12 in this year’s class—worked with Boyer for three hours every morning. After lunch, they could choose to attend a Master Class taught by one of the guest artists—Lee Ritenour, Pat Metheny, Robben Ford, Livingston Taylor, Mac McInally, or Scott Tennant and the LA Guitar Quartet. Guest artists and other visitors, like luthiers Aaron Greene and Linda Manzur, gave late afternoon presentations.

mac-mcanallyI snuck into the Master Class held by singer-songwriters Livingston (he calls himself Liv) Taylor and Mac McInally. McInally is a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefers Band, and he, Taylor, and Buffett know each other well. Both classes were informal—and completely wonderful. The musicians took questions, talked about their art, and played a bit.

And taught and inspired.   liv-taylor

Liv Taylor told us this story. As a professor at Berklee School of Music in Boston, he was on the bill for the Boston Strong concert, a fundraiser for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. His brother James was on the ticket, too, as was Jimmy Buffett. Before going on, Liv was backstage, along with dozens of other musicians, crew, sponsors, organizers, and other folks. He spotted Buffett arrive, and watched him disappear. Oh, Buffett was still there, physically. But he “cloaked himself in anonymity,” dropping all aura of celebrity, not ignoring anyone who spoke to him, but not seeking out conversation. He was, as Liv said, simply a shortish, plumpish, baldish, older guy standing in the middle of the crowd, invisible.

And that, Liv said, allowed Buffett to observe and absorb the emotions of the people, who moved around him as if he wasn’t there. He was not backstage talking about himself; he was watching and listening to other folks.  And as a result, Liv thought—and McInally agreed—Buffett was able to be fully present when he performed in a way that others, including James Taylor, were not. (Liv says James can do that very well, but was not fully on it that day. Have I mentioned that Liv is highly opinionated?) Buffett was able to communicate with the audience because he had come to understand what they were feeling.

And the lesson, says Professor Taylor, is this: “You must protect your ability to observe.”

The next day, I read a newspaper story about the Pattee Canyon Ladies Salon, a group of 9 Missoula artists who meet twice a month to draw the nude figure, and once a year, exhibit together. Drawing the nude, sculptor Beth Lo said, creates empathy with the subject, for both artist and viewer. The figure is a good subject, painter and fabric artist Nancy Erickson said, because “You can make it new each time you draw the figure. So it’s a good subject for all of us to look at. You learn to draw that way.”

In other words, the practice teaches an artist how to observe.

What Liv Taylor, Beth Lo, and Nancy Erickson are saying is that observation is the key, for artists in every medium. The work—the novel, the painting, the pot, the song—tells the truth only when it is built on our observations of human nature. Only in that way can it truly connect.

“Listen to what the man says.” to quote another great songwriter. If you want to create, “protect your ability to observe.”


Inspire, Transition…. Transpire – Christine Schimpff-Carbo

My son was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to a week-long guitar workshop (the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival) that takes place at the end of August every year on Flathead Lake in quaint Bigfork, Montana. This year the artists in residents were from various genres (jazz, blues, rock, classical, folk, country) and included Pat Matheny, Robin Ford, Lee Ritenour, Daryl Stuermer, Scott Tennant, Livingston Taylor and Mac McAnally. Because my son was there every evening, I went to several of the concerts, each one taking place with late summer not-too-warm, not-too-cold western Montana weather. Each one entirely inspiring. 

I have written before on the type of things that help lure my muse: reading other authors, exercising, looking at artwork, visiting with other writers and so on, but I left out watching musicians perform. I definitely need to add them to the list. As I sat under the white tent under the Big Sky and watched the talented musicians get completely lost in their guitars, basses, keyboards and drums, it made me want to get lost in my computer keyboard, drumming out words instead of notes to tell a tale, to weave a plot, to use my imagination.

But as Kathy Dunnehoff mentioned in her last blog, the transition to that creative spot can be tough. Putting aside the daily work, chores and other habits to sit down and practice the craft is challenging, inspiration present or not. Even though my son was having the time of his life in Bigfork at the festival, he was also very stressed because he was missing the first week of his freshman year of high school and the first week of soccer practice. He had many transitions to make.


I was thinking the word transition had the same prefix as the word transpire, which has the same root as inspire – to breath into. Transpire means to happen, to take place, to materialize and come about. Trans means across or movement, a crossing or conveyance from place to place. Ultimately, we all need to feel inspired from time to time if we are going to make the transition to writing where we have made writing transpire and put words on paper. When that crossing takes place, it’s a very stress-relieving place to be, because ultimately, once that creative work has transpired, we truly feel as if we’ve had life “breathed” into us.

My son is in his third week of school now. His stress has melted away as he has crossed over from inspiration to the daily routine of making his schoolwork, guitar playing and soccer playing transpire. I am also slowly, but surely, making my next mystery happen as well. As we do this, often from pure willpower, we feel better. We feel inspired and the cycle continues until we break it with a bunch of laziness or unforeseen circumstances. When that happens, it’s back to all the old tricks to get inspired in the first place.

And if you can’t get inspired, then you simply have to sit down and do it anyway. As Tchaikovsky declared, “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”  I promise: the very act of doing your creative work will breathe life into you.