Yesterday I wound up in the small town of Vimmerby, Sweden, which claims Astrid Lindgren as its most famous native. Lindgren created Pippi Longstocking, and they are very, extremely, mega proud of that. Her home is now a museum, and there's an Astrid Lindgren World amusement park. They even go so far to refer to the town as "Astrid Lindgren's Vimmerby" in all their promo materials. Can you imagine writing a story your town was so proud of that they renamed the place for you? Anyway, the show last night was something pretty unusual for me. I got asked by someone who saw me perform over here on the last tour if I would come play at the facility they help run for folks with mental disabilities, many of whom are struggling to overcome drug addictions. The typical patient is someone who's gone undiagnosed for most of their life and has been self-medicating in a dangerous way. At the facility, they're able to get clean and see professionals who can help them get properly diagnosed and start actual prescriptions. Some may have committed crimes but weren't deemed competent enough to be found guilty, but most are folks who have simply been dealt a difficult hand by life and need support to get by. I've never performed in a setting like that, and I honestly wasn't quite sure what to expect. When I got there, they'd set up the cafeteria for "America Night," which meant they'd decorated it with flags and were serving chicken wings. Everyone I met there couldn't have been nicer, and they were so appreciative that someone had come to perform for them, which never happens. I suppose I take for granted that I see live music most nights of the week, and that even when I'm home from tour, I can go see 20 different bands any given evening in NYC. A performance was such a rarity for the residents that it had been talked about for weeks, and some of them had taken the time to learn the words to my songs in English ahead of time. Afterwards a woman asked the manager how she could get my music since she doesn't have any money, so I left a CD for her as a surprise. Today I heard that she didn't get up on time, so they checked in on her and found out she overslept because she'd stayed up late listening it over and over. It's easy to get bogged down in this business and develop tunnel vision about "success," but sometimes it's nice to be reminded why you started doing it in the first place: to connect with other humans. Brightening up even one person's day while they go through a difficult time is a thing I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to do.
This morning, I got up and headed to the Norra Kvills National Park. It's an ancient forest that's been preserved and protected for centuries. Everything was so lush and green. There were massive boulders covered in moss, steep hills, swampy bogs, and picturesque clearings and lakes. I hiked a few miles around and got pretty freaked out by the utter isolation. In some places, the trail would split in two without any explanation of which was the human path and which had been trampled into the greenery by animals. There were massive felled trees everywhere, some which supposedly show the scars of fires from hundreds of years ago. At one point I heard a whooshing sound and frantically looked around to find the source. Eventually I realized it was above me. The forest was so still and silent that I could hear the flaps of birds' wings as they passed way overhead. I can see why there's so much mythology about trolls up here, too. All throughout the woods are these holes and crevices that disappear into blackness. They could be 2 feet deep or 2,000 for all you can tell. It's easy to imagine trolls all over that ancient forest causing all sorts of mayhem for travelers.
A few miles down the road I stopped by the Rumskulla oak. This tree is the oldest oak in Sweden, and the thickest in all of Europe. It's roughly 1,000 years old, which is just plain nuts. They've got some chains holding parts of it together, but who am I to judge? I'm only 29 and I'm already falling apart. It was nice to spend the afternoon in nature before tonight's show in Eksjö, which was my last with Otis. I've really enjoyed getting to know him. He's an amazing storyteller and big hearted guy with great songs to boot.
The venue tonight was one I'd played at back in January with The Mastersons. It's a cozy barn heated by wood burning stoves deep in the woods. They call it Emma's Lada, and Emma was the one who took me to the moose preserve way back in the winter. She also helped inspire this summer's charity EP by telling me about all her volunteer work with refugees. You meet a lot of people on the road, but Emma and Edvin (who helps run the care facility in Vimmerby) are the kind of special folks who remind you why you do it all.