Michael Hurley was cutting back blackberry bushes in his front yard when inspiration struck. It’s hard, back-breaking work even for a young man, but even more taxing for an 80-year-old. Still, it’s absolutely necessary when you live deep in the Oregon wilderness. “It’s not something you can do quickly because they’re very prickly and incredibly aggressive,” he explains.
“Their defences are good. They can loop a vine over the top of a tree, come down the other side and replant another bunch of bushes. If you let them, they’ll take over your house. It’s like an alien invasion.” A tasty alien invasion? “If I find a really good bunch that are really ripe, I’ll get distracted and just eat them on the spot. Sometimes you can find hundreds of them that are pretty delicious.”
There’s very little that will take him away from this ongoing battle with the wild flora constantly threatening his domicile, but he’ll drop everything for a song. “One day a little something just floated into my head, a little music phrase connected to a few words. ‘Did you ever leave Nelsonville with a broken heart?’ I thought, ‘Well, if I don’t record it right now, I’ll forget it in an hour.’ I’ve got a little music room in my house, right off the kitchen. It’s got some microphones and a TEAC recorder from 1978. I use quarter-inch tape. It’ll take a 15-inch reel or a 7-inch reel. It’s got two speeds. I find it very satisfactory to my needs.”
So Hurley dropped his tools and ran into the house, where he spent the next few hours writing “Are You Here For The Festival?” which has become the opening track of his new album, The Time Of The Foxgloves. It’s an affectionate ode to the fun of live performances and all the shenanigans you can get up to when you put a lot of musicians together in the same place. Nelsonville, he explains, is not just a small town in eastern Ohio, but also one of his favourite music festivals. “
I played there just about every year they had it. I was good friends with the promoter – I was the first person he ever arranged a gig for, back in ’98 or ’99 when I was living in Portsmouth. He’s very good at getting people to show up at things. He kept asking if I wanted to play the festival again and I always did. I don’t know if they’re going to have another one, but I’ll be there if they do, although I won’t be flying. I don’t fly on airplanes after the pandemonic. So I’ll have to drive that route, maybe set up some other shows around it so it’s not just 10 days on the road. I wrote the line about Woodstock so that people will get the idea, even if they don’t know anything about Nelsonville. Of course, I’ve never been to Woodstock. I wasn’t there for that particular festival…”