Fiddle Guitar Vocal duo the Summer Januaries– Sean Michael Robinson and Rachel Erin Robinson

Seattle in the Summer

The Summer Januaries at Westlake

Throughout the past year, whether we were in Italy or France or Florida or even Montana, Seattle in the summer was on our minds. Neither of us grew up here, but both of us moved here because of it–clear skies and lovely breeze, the perfect temperature, surrounded by the lush greenery created by the other nine months of rainy misery. It’s the season where we both fell in love with the city, the season where we first started playing together–the season where we fell in love.

After an absence of nine months, we returned to Seattle in May, and it seemed as though we’d beaten the summer weather here. We didn’t have much time to lament the overcast cold days though. There wasn’t much time for anything but playing. But after few weeks of drizzly busking and rained-out events the summer finally arrived.

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Back in the Black in Bologna

The Summer Januaries leave Firenze Italy

Sean and I spent our last Sunday in Florence acting like actual tourists, eating gelato, strolling around admiring statues, and dining one last time with our friends Marya and Daryle. When Monday morning came, we were free at last. Free from our imprisonment at a hostel with such terrible conditions that the severity of the situation went from bad to hilarious to unbearable throughout the course of the week. Free to search for a city with a more accepting or at least tolerant policy for busking. We packed up our suitcases, eliminated enough of our excess clothing to make space for our camera bag and computers inside one of them, and headed out into the pouring rain, bound for the train station. Next stop, Bologna.

Our initial bag count when we arrived in Italy had been ten; we were now down to eight. While we still felt ridiculously encumbered, we hoped that this consolidation would make train travel a bit less stressful. It was not to be– after a failed attempt at fitting our luggage into the racks above our assigned seats, we retreated to the baggage car, where we spent the remainder of the train ride, standing, and reading Great Expectations out loud.

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A Trumpet, a Guitar, and Elvis, Kung Fu Maestro

Seattle to Leno.

Rachel and I have been playing together for about fourteen months now. Like many of the best things about our partnership, it started spontaneously—after our second “date”, i.e. all-day gab fest and bicycling extravaganza, we sat in the back yard of Rachel’s house and she taught me eight or nine fiddle tunes over the course of an hour. Two days later, duly educated and armed with another five or six tunes I learned from a recording, we made our debut at the Pike Place Market.

We’re a world away from all that now, a world away from Seattle, staying in the house of our friends Gwen and Giaccomo in Leno, a little town in Northern Italy that features one stop light, a thousand-year-old church, and happens to bear a striking resemblance to Iowa. “This region is the Iowa of Italy” Gwen assured me on our ride from the airport six days ago.

How did we end up here?

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Pike Place Market, fall of 2011

The past year has been a blur of activity—you wouldn’t believe it all if I told you– but the musical portion is a little easier to explain. Rachel and I learned dozens of fiddle tunes from various sources, began to sing together and refine our joint sensibilities and interests. In the winter we incorporated the singing into our sets, and segments of fiddle tunes into these songs, in a desperate attempt to make our sets have some kind of coherence, even if it was a coherence that only we were privy to. We learned more songs, and then more, always testing what was working, what wasn’t working, which songs or tunes were right for which kind of situations or crowds. Since we primarily played at Pike Place up until this summer, our sets were geared to that noisy, competitive environment. As we gradually began busking other venues a little less fast-paced, we added ballads and instrumental waltzes, learned to stretch out or shorten the tunes on the fly if need be. We recorded two albums. We wrote songs together for the first time, saw the first outlines of our collaboration. And, this summer, we played. We played and we played and we played, sometimes as much as four and a half hours in a single day.

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