Behind every great project, there’s a personal story

The Farmer

Okay, I was never a real farmer. I grow peppers in my flower bed in Northern Virginia. For the last 15 years or so, songwriting has been a growing passion. For the last seven years, most of my musical energy has been channeled through the Harley String Band.

Why the passion for Rain Follows the Plow?

I grew up in Oklahoma and can remember dust storms when I was a child in the 1960s. While they were tame compared to the black blizzards of the 30s, they aroused a nervousness among the older folks greater even than that caused by the tornadoes. And yet no one talked about the Dust Bowl. It was one of those things that people would prefer were not associated with Oklahoma—kind of like Woody Guthrie, whose music I never heard until I was in college.

My interest in the Dust Bowl was rekindled by the Ken Burns documentary, where I first heard the phrase “dust pneumonia.” My father’s mother died of pneumonia when he was six years old, in 1935. I have always been haunted by this missing grandparent, and now I’ll always wonder if she was one of the many casualties of this needless disaster.

In 2012, my mother gave me a copy of Timothy Egan’s terrific book, The Worst Hard Time. During the months of her demise, I read this book and conceptualized this project. Other books that have been very helpful include Donald Worster's Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, Caroline Henderson's Letters from the Dust Bowl, and Sonora Babb's Whose Names Are Unknown. Musically, I have been greatly inspired by Anais Mitchell’s wonderful folk opera, Hadestown.

I don't know if Rain Follows the Plow will ever be "important." The concept seems to resonate, and the plan seems like something that could work. Meanwhile, I am finding it intrinsically gratifying to write and sing in my native vernacular. And I am immensely gratified by the contributions of my collaborators and supporters--which include my family!.

--Steve Coffee

The first public performance of songs from Rain Follows the Plow took place February 15, 2015, at the Iota Club in Arlington, Virginia, and included several contributing artists. The video above is the title song, as performed by the Harley String Band, at that show. To see the entire show, see the YouTube playlist.