Jason Walsmith: Just Say Yes

Stepping onto Meat Loaf’s 45-foot-long, rust brown 1980 Eagle XLT tour bus for a week-long sprint across the Midwest was the realization of my sixteen-year-old self’s wildest dreams.

Unfortunately, I’d arrived nearly 20 years too late. The songs were still coming, the performances snd recordings improving. But I was well past thirty, many albums into a career that never really took off.

And Meat Loaf had long since sold the bus.

Fortunately, I met a fellow singer/songwriter and Iowan, Jason Walsmith, at the Sundance Film Festival just a few months prior. He invited me to join his band, The Nadas, on tour, and I said … yes.

Which, as the meme goes, is how it started.

Ten-days-later, as Meat pulled out of Omaha, Nebraska, I snapped a photograph of my thoroughly overheated, fully-depleted, dangerously dehydrated and completely-nauseated reflection in the ceiling mirror — mmm hmm — of the rear lounge. The engine was roaring below my back, the highway rumbling through my spine. It was hot. My shirt smelled like fireworks and bar-b-que. My mouth tasted like the underside of a shoe. And I thought I was going die.

Which is where it ended. That photograph is the back of my 2005 LP, “Heartland,” which Jason and Mike, released on their Authentic Records label in 2005.

My adventures with Jason continue to this day, from tour busses to taco joints, kitchen tables and the aisles of the local Hy-Vee.

Friday, he’s piloting his Falkorvan from a socially-distanced gig in Chicago to our green little corner of Delaware. I offered to rent a huge pavilion, but Jason suggested something more different. “I’ve been playing some pretty magical, intimate shows,” he said.

Jason has accrued many miles on that sort of magic, saying yes to all sorts of adventure: living room tours, railroad tours and solo shows from state fair to state prison. He’s photographed everything from Hy-Vee beets to Havana beats.

The Nadas, too: Des Moines’ Official Theme Song; a song about Prohibition whiskey that launched a global brand; an opening slot for Bon Jovi, the Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Every year, they play the Iowa State Fair, host a summer camp, and anchor a rock ’n roll cruise.

I’ve watched Jason evolve and iterate from rock star to photographer to diplomat, DJ, entrepreneur, marketer and social media manager. He leads with authenticity, and an understated positivity. Always, with a yes — “As long as it’s not dumb or dangerous,” he says.

What get’s him through the inevitable flat tires, flat notes, and flat beers along the way?

It begins with “Yes.”

Yes is courageous. Yes opens the door to opportunity. Yes is permission to try and fail — with the knowledge that you’ll inevitably be transformed.

When I met Jason, I was still reconciling to my adolescent dream (rock ‘n roll fame and fortune) with an adult imperative (paying rent). I could only see it as binary: rock star or corporate shill.

Jason showed me — in deeds, not words — that I could say yes to all of it: husband, father, writer, runner, director, executive, shill, occasional rock star. Soon, I was none of the above — and all at the same time.

Years ago, as Jason and I were waiting on flight back to New York, he drove me to a secret spot at the edge of the Des Moines Airport runway.

“This is where we used to come to park,” he said, winking. “To watch the blue lights.” He popped in a demo, and played a new track.

For a singer/songwriter with a penchant for plane crash metaphors (see also: “Crash Site”), it was a revelation to hear Jason’s new song: there was no doom and gloom, no storm and drang. In “Blue Lights,” Jason had cast the airport in the soft hues of adolescent romance — paradise by the dashboard lights.

Jason, says yes. And that makes all the difference.