In 1988, Ken Stringfellow and his childhood friend Jon Auer started a band, the Posies, in Bellingham, Washington. Thirty-one years later, the two continue to create music in a Seattle studio. But over the years, they've also worked on separate projects. For his part, Stringfellow spent ten years touring and recording with R.E.M. and playing with stars such as Neil Young, Patti Smith, Ringo Starr, and Thom Yorke.
In 2001, Stringfellow was set to drop his first solo endeavor, Touched, on the ill-fated release date of September 11. Instead of mourning the tragic events of that day, he expected to celebrate the beginning of his solo career. “Of course, life had other plans," he says. As it turns out, "the story of this album is very intertwined with those horrible events of 9/11."
The songs on Touched were meditations on grief, loss, and fighting one's way out of dark places. One song in particular, "Sparrow," struck a chord with audiences. It's a tune about Stringfellow's belief that religious differences shouldn't interfere with spiritual commonality. "We should think about the things that connect us and not the things that divide us," he says.
Stringfellow had a tour booked to promote the album, including a set September 20, 2001, at New York City's popular Mercury Lounge, located near the site of the World Trade Center disaster. The venue and its surrounding neighborhood had just been reopened to the public that day.
It ended up being a memorable show for his fans and the venue. “I suddenly realized, in a way, that perhaps I had another mission and that music had its own special mission as if by design, as if this record was a response to those events,” he reflects despite having crafted the album in the days of innocence before 9/11.
Eighteen years and one day later, Stringfellow played the anniversary show of his Mercury Lounge set last week. In the planning stages, a tour organically formed around it after fans expressed interest. “My fans are not numerous, but the music means a lot to a specific set of people," he explains. Stringfellow wanted to honor their relationship to the album with a special tour — one that didn't take place in bars with competing sounds, but rather in intimate venues, like homes, churches, and recording studios.
But Stringfellow lives in Tours, France, which he says is "a little different from where I grew up.” The area is known for its rich history and castles, though his family doesn't live in one. When he and his wife were debating where to live, Seattle or France, the Posies were very popular in Seattle. “Life was looking a little bit unrealistic. It was too easy," he says. “I think I was just up for the challenge.” So when the musician heads out on the road, he books his time solid to make it count. This time, it’s a long tour with 50 dates. Between gigs, he flies to his recording studio in Seattle to work on the new Posies album, set for release in fall 2020.
The intimate venues of this tour were booked by his friend Tina Dunn, who works with big acts such as the Jonas Brothers. In her spare time, she uses her gift of finding smaller performance spaces for artists with more of an underground or alternative bent. She helped Lou Barlow of Sebadoh, the famed indie-rock act that came up at the same time as the Posies, play off-the-beaten-path spots a few years ago, which is how she met Miami's Sean Edelson. Barlow played and Stringfellow will play as part of the live music series Edelson hosts in his home.
This is Stringfellow's first show in Miami — “unless you call playing an Adam Sandler song at my half-brother’s destination wedding,” he chuckles. Expect anecdotes between songs about his adventures playing in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. The ambiance will be not unlike his recent performance in a Columbus, Ohio home, where he played an unplugged set for about 35 people on a back patio. Stringfellow knows how intensely fans can bond with albums, and he wants to respect that feeling. “Like any good relationship, I think it deserves intimacy,” he says.
He's dedicated his career not to becoming a commercial musician, but to “connecting with the most people possible in the most sincere way possible,” he says. With his second Touched tour, Stringfellow continues to realize the higher purpose of his first solo album. Despite a less-than-ideal release date, it continues to bring people together purposefully, in body and spirit.
Ken Stringfellow. 7 p.m. Thursday, October 3, at a location in Miami to be announced. Tickets cost $25 to $75 via eventbrite.com.