I was sitting cross-legged on the couch in my basement -- guitar in hand, computer in front of me. I was looking at my name on the screen, the two words 'Rich Soni' where on a list of about one hundred names, but they screamed right out to me. You always see your name right away when its written somewhere. Its like seeing your friend walking on the other side of a busy street.
I was looking at the lineup for the 2016 Jersey Shore Music Festival. It was the first time I saw my name listed there, but I had it in my mind that I would play there for a few weeks -- since the day I applied. That image moved out of my imagination into the physical world, and I had room for a new one. I visualized myself playing in the various places listed with me name: The boardwalk, The Aztec club, Riggers. These where all places which where familiar to me, places I had been to before.
Admission to the festival is free in every sense of the word. The whole town opens itself up, and performers are dropped into all the nooks and crannies. Guests bop down the boardwalk into a bar for a beer, then go to the pizza joint for a slice, sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Every step of the way, they are met with a performer. It could be a heavy metal band, a barber shop quartet, or me and my guitar.
The town that put up this circus is called Seaside Heights, and its on the south end of a place called the Barrier Island. I know every town on this island like the back of my hand. As a kid, my parents had a place just a few miles off the island. We would pile into the car and drive down there for a few days a week every single summer.
There are about a dozen towns lined up in a row on the island. I don't think any of them are bigger than a square mile, yet each has its own distinct personality. Nestled at near the tail end of the island is Seaside Heights, the islands capital of trouble and fun.
The residents of Seaside are tough and resilient. One of the first songs I ever wrote, "Little Seaside Home" was about these people. Set to the tune of the traditional song "Oklahoma Home", it tells the story of a guy standing strong after loosing everything to a hurricane. With that tough skin comes a strong dissuasion toward outsiders. This makes for an interesting vibe, given the towns main income is tourists.
Its the kind of town where tourists go to let loose and get wild. At the same time its the kind of town where you have to watch where you step. The kind of town where average person hopes to see a cop patrolling, but the cops don't need you in Seaside.
I have spent enough time there to appreciate the place. If you go looking for trouble you will find it, but if you respect the place you will see none. On an off weekend, like the one the festival was planned for, the streets gleam with a mellow easiness that is unmatched.
As I sat on my couch envisioning myself playing amongst the bustle of the boardwalk, I started to piece together a rough list of songs that would be great to play. I expected the crowd would be a lot of locals, and I wanted to cater to them regardless. I had songs in my repertoire fit the bill like: "The Black Velvet Band", "Sweet Grass Memory", and of course "Little Seaside Home". But, there was still a void in the list. Something that did not yet exist, but had to be played.
I wanted to play a song about Seaside that told a story somewhere between Bruce Springsteens "Seaside Bar Song", and "Atlantic City". Something akin to "El Paso" by Marty Robbins, the blues standard "Deep Elem Blues", or Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues".
It was with this feeling that I began composing "Fly Away".
Musically and lyrically, Fly Away is two songs I put together. The first part, the "Fly away into the sea breeze" was something already had. The whole "Footsteps in the sand wont be here tomorrow" bit stuck in my head. It seemed like something Jerry Garcia would sing well.
Around this time, I was playing an arrangement of Townes Van Zandt's "For The Sake Of The Song". I was experimenting with some interesting open chords in that arrangement, and I ported them over into this song.
I start it in straight 4/4, but switch to a 12/8 shuffle for the verse. Lyrically, the story of the verses is more straight forward than the abstract chorus. Its a love murder ballad sort of like "Frankie & Johnny", or "Delia".
I remember this song was difficult to perform at first. This was because of the time signature changes. It felt awkward to switch back from 12/8 to a 4/4 for the chorus. After a while, I gave up on the switch and left it as 12/8 after the first chorus.
I performed the song when I played at the festival, and was surprised at how well it sounded in the recordings. Because of this it earned a regular spot in my setlist.