Beth Wood has been working as a poet and a singer-songwriter for more than two decades now, figuring out life on the road, releasing books of poetry and 11 solo albums. It's been working out well for the Texas native, now a resident of Portland.
So why choose this moment to launch a duo project, Stand and Sway, with singer and poet Ara Lee James?
Well, for starters, the time was right for collaboration: "We started writing and creating things together out of necessity," Wood said in a recent interview with The E. The two teamed up in the fall of 2017 to write and perform a song called "Nasty Woman." They made a video, and donated all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. The partnership took on its own life.
And there's something else, Wood said:
"I've never heard a voice like hers," she said. "It's an amazing thing to witness and to be able to sing with her."
Here's how Wood described James' voice: "It's as if Dolly Parton and Aretha Franklin had a love child."
"Our voices are so different and so are our personalities," Wood said. "But they work so well together."
Mid-valley audiences will get a chance this weekend to see the chemistry up close and personal: Stand and Sway are featured artists in the Harris Bridge Folk Festival. They'll perform at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16 at the Harris Bridge Vineyard, 22937 Harris Road in Philomath. (See the sidebar for more information about the concert.)
Wood said, for her, the poetry came first: "I always wrote poetry."
But growing up in a house in Lubbock, Texas, she couldn't help but absorb the music all around her: Her mother's classical music cassettes, the Willie Nelson albums in the living room, her brother's Heart and Foreigner eight-tracks blasting away in another room.
In her room, she was listening to female singers on the radio: Anne Murray singing "Songbird." Bette Midler and Karen Carpenter. Toni Tennille singing "Muskrat Love." (Wood can still launch a fierce defense of the merits of "Muskrat Love," arguably not among the best songs by the great Texas songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey.)
She started pursuing classical music but eventually realized that wasn't her path. She started playing the piano and found that some of her poetic ideas lent themselves well to songwriting.
For Wood, as you might expect, the words typically come first. But sometimes a snippet of a poem, two or three words, suggest a certain rhythm — and that can be the starting point for a song.
And creating songs with James, who typically tends to write more around rhythm, has been a revelation, she said: "All of a sudden, to collaborate was so energizing and so refreshing."
The two have been recording a debut CD, due for release on Oct. 25, but concertgoers will be able to pick up preview copies on Friday.
And Wood is spending a couple of additional days at the vineyard, helping to run a camp for songwriters. But, she said, her students aren't the only ones who will be learning: "That's one of the cool elements of these song camps," she said. "We learn literally from everybody else."
But, she said, she will emphasize a couple of points during the camp for her charges:
• Observe: "Being an observer is a really important part of being a writer."
• Creativity isn't so much an attribute as it is something that requires constant exercise. "The goal is not mastery," she said. "It's a practice."
And what advice does she have for the campers about surviving life on the road?
"It's important to bring your own food and your own coffee and your own pillow."