By Suzanne BuzekSometimes, James Buchanan needs a little time away from himself. At those moments, he turns to journaling. But Buchanan’s journaling often goes beyond pen and paper: It includes a guitar and an endless sense of wandering. On these interior journeys, he often meets songs.
“I don’t know at what point or why, but at an early age, I began to write music,” says Buchanan, director of the Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue. “I grew up with music all around, and having come up in the late 1960s and the 1970s, music was such an important part of who we all became.”
Buchanan became a man who wears many hats, one of them being a songwriter. While he does journals with pen and paper, he finds musical journaling a more passive route to self-reflection and expression.
“Songs sort of come to you as opposed to you coming to them. They just happen,” he says. “They are expressions of what you’re going through at that moment, what you’re thinking and feeling, and they tend to be distillations of what is very intense about your life at that point.”
Buchanan approaches every song as if it’s the last time the creative muse will strike him. Nonetheless, his songwriting collection has mounted to several hundreds of songs, most of which are published through his own publishing company, Dragon’s Tail Music, through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
One of his tunes that’s drawn some attention is “Packing for Telluride: Ode to Town Park Camp,” saluting and commemorating those he becomes dear friends with through music at the Telluride Music Festival held each June at the Summer Equinox. Buchanan recorded the 10-verse song in his home studio in 2006, and shortly thereafter, it appeared on festival organizer Planet Bluegrass’ web site. It’s now archived on the site, ready for listening each year. The recording has also made appearances at the festival, being played through the public address system between acts.
“One year, while I was supposed to be packing for Telluride, I ended up writing a song called ‘Packing for Telluride.’ That song had caught on among the community up there, because it’s about where we all camp.
“It’s interesting because it’s a song about a need of momentary salvation. One of the things I love about going to Telluride is that I don’t have to be James Buchanan, sometimes I need a little time away from me, so Telluride is that little time away from me.”
That said, Telluride is also something of an endurance test. The days and nights are filled with high-quality music amplified through a loud, state-of-the-art sound system. Then, as soon as the shows finish for the night, campers at the festival head back to their makeshift communities to talk music and play music until dawn. Then there are the four days before the festival. Those, too, are filled with music.
“What is special about Telluride is the community of people, and what’s special about the community of people is the music,” says Buchanan. “Just getting to Telluride is challenging enough. There are extreme temperatures, but it’s an amazing scene. You play yourself to death, your fingers and your voice. You’re playing outside in 30-degree weather. There’s heaters and stuff, but you don’t care. The truth is, if I had to choose between going for the four days before the music festival starts or the four days of the festival, I would go with before the festival began.”
Erratic weather is a common feature of Telluride, Colo., making the "vacation" there all the more fragile for Buchanan. This past summer’s festival was his eighth, and “Packing for Telluride” has become something of a staple.
“People make a lot of jokes about how long ‘Packing for Telluride’ is,” he says. “Some people say they put on ‘Packing for Telluride’ when they enter the town of Telluride, and it plays right until they get into camp. I get a lot of e-mails in the spring from people telling me that they’re listening to ‘Packing for Telluride’ because it takes them back to that place and spirit. It has become the anthem of that place.”