Gonna pack up my two-steppin’ shoes
And head for the Gulf Coast plain
Gonna walk the streets of my own hometown
Where everybody knows my name.
– Nanci Griffith, “I Wish it would Rain”
I typed the above lyric from memory. Admittedly, that recollection has been made sharper during the week since Nanci Griffith passed away. I’ve been listening to her music a lot, and I produced a radio remembrance about her. But I think my memory would’ve been just as accurate before I heard the sad news. The song meant so much to me when I was living in California in the 1990s that I made it a part of the farewell message I sent to coworkers when I returned to my native Texas after five years away.
Nanci Griffith was like that for me – a symbol of home, and a source of words and music that made time spent elsewhere much easier. It was like a secret I had – a secret about the world I was from, kept from the one I was living in. I shared the secret with a lot of smart music fans and creators, and with an online community of friends. Whether they came to Nanci as Texans like me, or in some other way, we flocked to that online place to celebrate her music.
The NanciNet was born around 1994. It was a mailing list run by a guy in New Hampshire – he eventually moved to Texas and married a fellow NanciNetter – and it consisted of more than 1,000 people from around the world. We’d pour over Nanci’s lyrics, review new albums as they came out, share pictures we liked – all the things fans do. I ran a very primitive Web site called The Blue Moon Page that celebrated Nanci’s work and collected links to other places. It was my very first Web project. Eventually, my site was home to the mailing list archives.
But the NanciNet became more than a text-based place. Many of us met up at concerts or festivals. We camped together, watched shows together, sang together, traded mix tapes together and even met a few people in Nanci’s orbit together. The breakfast at a Bastrop, Texas restaurant with Nanci’s mom was pretty memorable, as was getting to meet the leader of the Blue Moon Orchestra, James Hooker. Those NanciNetters, all of whom shared their kindness and humor, along with their love of the music, got me through an unsettled time in my life. And so did Nanci.
I first heard Nanci Griffith on KUT Radio in Austin. Coincidentally, it’s where I work today. The station played six hours of folk music each Saturday, and was very much a home for Texas artists like Nanci. I saw a few shows locally, and bought her albums as they came out. But that was true of lots of artists. I loved her songs, but I don’t know that I thought a lot about Nanci Griffith outside that folk/country scene in which she existed.
When I moved alone to California in 1992, I instantly felt isolated in a lot of ways. On my first trip home to the Austin house my husband was still working to sell, I grabbed all the Texas CDs I had and took them back to my little apartment across from the office tower where I worked. Nanci and Lyle and Kelly and Robert Earl kept me company on lonely weekends. And when the NanciNet came to life, its members kept me company too.
I made so many friends on the list: the Northern California couple who had named their motorcycle “The Flyer” and rode cross-country to meet up with us in Colorado, the librarian whose superpower was grabbing a good place in line, no matter what the venue or performer, the young girl whose dad had the means to take his family to shows around the world, and who got to know Nanci in the process, the illustrator from San Antonio who created a logo for us that ended up on t-shirts and buttons, the woman from a northern state I can’t remember who held an online trivia contest and gifted the winner – me – with a bottle of Irish whisky and a huge box of Nanci Griffith clippings, the three couples I know of who met and married via NanciNet. We were an extended family, diverse in age and experience, but maybe not so much in culture, by today’s standards.
Nanci Griffith’s music changed over time, as often happens with artists who seek new challenges. And in the late 90s, it was apparent that some list members had lost interest. List ownership changed hands, but the community did continue. People talked about not liking an album or a song, or being disappointed by a performance. But instead of being angry, they tended to just fade away from the group. I did that, certainly. And I had also discovered a lot of other musical interests through NanciNet. Eventually, I even came home to Texas, and the Nanci Griffith albums I played most often after that were from the first half of her career.
I have a strange memory of being just back home from California, sitting in a rented house in Austin as a storm darkened the sky and a tornado warning flashed on the news. I turned Nanci’s latest album way up, and found myself writing a parody version of an odd little song called “Maybe Tomorrow” to pass the time and keep calm as the thunder rattled my new old windows.
I’m very conscious as I write these words that I haven’t said much about the songs of Nanci’s that I love. It’s best, I think, that the artist speak for herself. Behold, a Spotify list of the songs I love most, including the ones whose lyrics I know by heart.