Category Archives: family

ACLU Update

Art Roche, Mary Denmead, William Dutcher, Zach Twardowski and Atticus Dutcher in Richard III. Photo by Andrea Wilson.

I am not the only American to have spent the past week alternately devastated and enraged but I am so grateful to have also experienced flashes of true hope and deep love for how my community has responded.

Between our event on Friday which raised $833.25, Writers Resist! last Sunday, and The Last Night in America organized by Megan Gogerty on Thursday, eastern Iowa artists have raised upwards of $3700 for the Iowa ACLU this week. Many people do not realize that the ACLU is a non-partisan organization that prides itself in upholding everyone’s civil liberties, no matter who they are or what they believe.

We are going to take care of each other. We are going to resist injustice. We are going to pay attention and participate in the democratic process. We are going to use our art to magnify what is going on around us because, as my friend and mentor Ron Clark said recently in a Press-Citizen interview: “It’s our artistic community that most effectively holds out a mirror and says, ‘Look at what we have become.'”

There are many petitions circling. I’d like to direct your attention to this one in particular asking that we preserve the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. When I signed it, it still needed almost 100,000 more signatures to get a response from the White House. This is quite literally the least you can do but is still so important.

Together we rise.


RIII gratitude

We had our final rehearsal last night for our pop-up activist abridged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III coming up on Friday and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

For Ron Clark, for bringing his lifetime of experience and leading us with his characteristic vision and deep compassion, all the while giving us hours upon hours of his time.

For Jody Hovland, who joined us in our final rehearsal to share her amazing talent and mentorship.

For Keith Reins, who will be with us on Friday, guitar in hand, for our musical partnership and for always having my back.

For Nick Westergaard and Meghann Foster who are not only incredibly gifted actors but also run Brand Driven Digital and are sharing their marketing expertise with us.

For Bethany Horning, costumer extraordinaire, and her support team of Jeremy and Chase, for her creativity, cheerful encouragement, and texts that make me snort coffee out of my nose.

For Chris Okiishi, easily one of the most generous and supportive people any of us will ever know, for lending his time to get the script in our actors’ hands.

For my beloved family Carmel and Rayburn Vrabel and Jon and Susie Dutcher who have spread their pride in this project far and wide which included, in some cases, defending us against the criticism of political disagreement among their own Facebook community.

For my friends who have pressed money into my hands earmarked for the ACLU.

Finally, for these beautiful actors who are sharing their time and talent with all of us: including Ron, Meghann, and Nick mentioned above and also Larry Baker, John Clarence Cameron, Aprille Clarke, Mary Denmead, Carrie Houchins-Witt, Art Roche, Katie Roche, Zach Twardowski and my very patient and wonderful men Joe, Liam and Atticus Dutcher.

You all give me hope and that is the most beautiful gift we can share with one another.

Congratulations to Waylon!

Introducing Waylon, my featured musician for January and February!

Waylon and I had several fun and productive years working at the piano and when he recently he discovered the joy of the mandolin, he clicked with it immediately.

From his picture, you might guess that Waylon is a delight and you’d be correct. I especially love listening to Waylon and his mother Carrie make music (and treasured memories) together with Waylon on mandolin and Carrie on guitar.


The Beggarmen (2001-2016)

I’m very sad to say that The Beggarmen has come to an end.

An epic project such as this can hardly go unacknowledged and yet my emotions are so tangled that writing a post about it seems almost impossible.

I am very lucky to have been able to make music with these fine men and superb musicians for so many years.

I will always be grateful to those of you who have attended our performances and made it so much fun for us to play for you.


A day to celebrate!

This beautiful Irish landscape was created by my father-in-law Jon Dutcher as a gift for my parents.


Regardless of how you feel about green beer or the question of the snake metaphor, today is a day to celebrate the depth of beauty and humanity in Irish culture now and for centuries past.

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate without leaving home, did you know that Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea as well as The Secret of Kells (same creator and production team) are both available to stream on Amazon? Free if you have Prime!

If you still need more selkie in your life, I refer you to our version of “Song of the Seal” from our 2005 album I Shall.

No celebration is complete without live music though so we look forward seeing you tonight at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts! All ages are welcome. The show begins at 7:30 pm.

Please share the love!


My cousin Linda posted this article on Facebook this week and I can’t get it out of my mind. It was published sometime in 1983.

This is a profile of my paternal great-grandfather, Homer Rayburn. He grew up in Tennessee and raised his family in Niles, Michigan. I didn’t know him well because he died when I was seven years old but the memories I do have of him and my great-grandmother Myrtle are fond. I didn’t know it at the time or for many,  many years but he was one of my earliest musical influences.


Niles musician aiming at the Grand Ole Opry

Still fiddlin’- Homer Rayburn of Niles strikes up a tune on his 50-year-old fiddle, an instrument he taught himself to play at age 10. Rayburn, 87, still dreams of playing his fiddle at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

At 87, he keeps fiddlin’– by Lyle Sumerix, Tribune News Bureau
NILES- At 87, Homer Rayburn of Niles has a dream- to play his fiddle at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

While most men his age would have retired 20 or 25 years ago, Homer is still fiddlin’ around. And, like the popular song “Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Homer still likes to take down his fiddle and rosin up his bow. Homer can no longer be considered a boy, but there is still a lot of country in him.

Homer’s favorite pastime is to get out his fiddle and strike up a tune, and it doesn’t take much coaxing to get him started. But once he does, a visitor is in for a treat.

Homer has been fiddling since about age 10, when he bought his first violin and taught himself to play while down on the farm near Manchester, Tenn. Although the fiddle is still his favorite, he also taught himself to play the banjo, piano, and guitar.

Homer and his fiddle moved to Niles in 1919 and he soon was playing for square dances almost anywhere within 40 miles. He teamed up with Frank Leonard, who played the mandolin, and George Fletcher on the banjo.

His favorite backup instruments in those days were the banjo and the piano. “When I hear the piano, I can really get to fiddlin'”, he explained.

Homer and his band held center stage for about 40 years, keeping feet stomping at Barron Lake and other hot spots. Even during the Depression, the band was on the road. “In those days, we told the caller to just pass the hat, since nobody was working. Sometimes we didn’t get more than $3 or $4 apiece.

In the late 1940s, Homer also played on a weekly radio show in Benton Harbor.

But, as the popularity of square dancing faded, it became harder and harder to find dances to play, and Homer had to hang up his fiddle commercially in the early 1960s.

Although time would have passed by many a man, Homer got a second chance in 1976. He heard and announcement on the radio about a Michigan Fiddlers’ Association Jamboree to be held at Berrien Springs. He called his sons, John of Mishawaka and Jack of Niles, and off they went. John backs up his father on lead guitar and Jack plays the steel.

The trio got together again the next year for the jamboree held at Walker Tavern Historical Complex in Lenawee County, Mich., and played last summer at Paw Paw.

But, it did not end there. Homer has played off and on with his sons, and still does today. John has his own family music group, The Singing Rayburn Family, specializing in religious music. Jack plays with the Whisky River Band and on occasion joins his father and brother. The family also teamed up in 1981 for two one-hour variety shows on Channel 46.

Although Homer boasts a repertoire of some 75 tunes, his warm-up tunes include such old standards as “Turkey in the Straw”, “The Mockingbird”, and “Red River Valley”.

Homer worked at National Standard about 45 years before retiring and moving to a small farm in Howard Township.

He was the only one of nine children to have a musical calling, but he and his wife, Myrtle, who also played the fiddle as a young girl, passed it on to most of their children and grandchildren. Mrs. Rayburn died last December 3 after 66 years of marriage to the man she wed at 17.

Notes Fly

I’m very proud to present our 8 year old son Atticus performing his original song “Flying Notes”:

The lyrics are:

“Notes fly, notes fly, notes fly, notes fly;
flying notes, flying notes;
sink down low, sink down low;
back again, back again;
here’s the ending of the song!”

Beautiful and factual!

You can see the whole concert by visiting Amazing Atticus over on his personal website.