What’s Scarier Than Hillbillies On Ice?

American troubadour, truth-telling singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier and me. February 2015. Hillbilly Hip. Topanga, CA

American troubadour, truth-telling singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier and me. February 2015. Hillbillyhip. Topanga, CA

“What’s scarier than hillbillies on ice?”

Mary Gauthier pauses between songs. Hand resting lightly on the frets of her beloved 1952 Gibson guitar. Harmonica strapped to her neck. She beams from the stool where she sits amidst vintage dresses, rows of boots — and buckets of fresh flowers gathered in her honor.

“There they go, big rigs sliding sideways, cows spilling into the icy road. Nashville doesn’t know what to do with snow!”

Mary’s a long way from home. She extended the tour for her new album Trouble & Love by one night to play at our local vintage store, Hillbillyhip, for an intimate audience of 30.


Not so long ago, Mary was on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, bringing a crowd of thousands to their feet in a standing ovation.

Now she’s here, in our canyon. Playing for us.

I am in the front row soaking up every heart-wrenching, soul-stirring, truth-telling song.

There’s a reason Mary’s got fans like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

It’s Oscar night.

When Abigail Zapata — otherwise known as “Gidget” — invited me to the show she’d pulled off out of sheer fan ferocity and entrepreneurial will power, I knew I had to go. Even though most of this one-horse City of Lost Angels is glued to the TV. Or at the event itself.

Why did I have to go?

Because Mary’s message aligns with mine. She does in music what I aim to do with my work. By going deep, and singing songs with emotional honesty — she creates connection. What we crave most of all.

“Either we tell our stories, or our stories tell us.”

Either we tell our stories, or our stories tell us.

Mary’s words sear. It’s why I’m so committed to helping entrepreneurs, coaches, authors and speakers suss out their stories and how to tell them.

Thing is, you have to know who you are to tell stories. You have to show them who’s boss.

But that’s not enough.

If you’re not clear on your message — those stories will float away. Like so many untethered balloons. Forgotten.

And that’s scarier than hillbillies on ice.

Because we are all marketers. We’re all in business. Without connecting to our clients — we don’t make the income and impact we dream of.

There is no more effective and rapid way to connect with people than stories.

Stories connected to your message.

Your core message provides the spine for all the stories. Your core message gives meaning to every scene you paint. Every anecdote you share. And brings it all back to your business. Clear and compellingly simple as the notes Mary sings in this funky canyon shop.

After Mary performed, I had the pleasure and honor of meeting her and enjoying a conversation. We talked about the songwriting process. Where do songs come from?

“It’s mystical,” she said. “Sometimes I go out walking, looking for them. Sometimes they come to me. Sometimes I miss them. Maybe I’m not ready or I don’t understand. Then they’re gone.”

I asked her about Flannery O’Connor, the Southern writer she loves, and who’s one of my literary idols.

“She nailed those voices. Every time. When I look for songs, sometimes I’m looking for the voice that wants to tell them.” She paused.

“I’m looking for a way in.”

I thought of Mary’s stunning stripped-down songs. Full of lyrical economy. A cinematographer’s eye for detail. Pure-fire heart.

Some are autobiographical. Others seem to channel different characters.

Like “Christmas in Paradise,” “Last of the Hobo Kings,” and the raw songs she forged with vets at the Songwriting With Soldiers retreats. As if she was those characters.


This reminded me of a powerful exercise we received at the recent Hell Raiser mastermind I attended. So often we hear about defining your customer avatar. What If we climbed inside those avatars? What If we explored their lives — then wrote a story from their point of view? With their voice?

If you’ve never done this, try it.

Think of a client who stirs you. Whose background you know so well — down to the car they drive, the home they live in, where they eat, where they shop, what brings them to tears, what makes them laugh, how they imagine themselves, their dreams — then add in a strange habit they have, or perhaps a secret.

Jot down the defining characteristics list (where most cookie cutter marketing exercises end!) — then write up a paragraph in second person — “You…” — as if you are channeling that avatar’s voice.

Feel free to post below! We’d love to see.

Once again, it all comes back to intimacy. To connection. And to authentic caring.

If you’re looking for a way in, nothing less will do these days.

Yrs in truth,

Share with Your Friends!
Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply