Recently, that road has taken Seth and May to The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, where in April they were on Garrison Keillor’s radio pre-eminent folk venue, The Ark; and dozens of music festivals statewide. To see Seth and May perform live is to understand why this duo is so busy. May is a songbird reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and Patsy Cline; Seth has a warm, genuine, soft-spoken delivery. They harmonize beautifully, believing music can bring people together and proving so at every performance by connecting with the audience through their sweet songs about love and the land.
Settling in from their road trip, Seth and May put down their instruments, sort through a week’s worth of mail and set to making dinner while reflecting on the powerful relationship between music and community.
"Music in my life has always been something that brings people together," May says, chopping carrots and shredding cabbage to make nori rolls. "It doesn’t matter if people have boundaries or different beliefs, they can all sit and enjoy the music and somehow, having this experience, they can understand each other in a different way."
Seth serves up raspberry-nettle iced tea, clearing space amid the music books and CDs on the round oak table. He hums and sings as he moves around the house, but becomes serious when he talks of his responsibility as a musician and his part in keeping folk music alive.
"Everybody has to do something with their life, their time and the gifts that are given them," Seth says. "May and I grew up with music around us, and we had teachers that took us by the hand and heroes that got inside of us. I have always felt drawn to people who were giving you music, melody, creativity and humor."
Seth and May’s musical roots were very much shaped by their upbringings. May’s father, Michael Erlewine, is a musician and co-creator of the extensive online music metadata database, All Music Guide. In the 60′s he hitchhiked with Bob Dylan and played in a band with Iggy Pop; he met his wife, Margaret, while singing and playing piano in Ann Arbor. He advertised his shows with a block-print poster featuring a white heart in a red circle – an image that May gave new life when, in 2003, she used the symbol as cover art for her album Heart Song.
A crucial moment came early for May, when, as a young girl in her hometown of Big Rapids, her parents let her choose to be home schooled. It was a decision that shaped her life, allowing her a freedom that helped her talents shine. When May was just 11 years old, she started writing songs. At 16, she picked up her guitar and began traveling with friends, learning how to hop trains on the West Coast. She eventually settled in Philadelphia for a few years, where she made a living playing and singing Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Indigo Girls songs in the subway every morning.
While May was riding rails and busking in subway stations, Seth was on his own musical path. Earthwork Farm, where he and May now live, was purchased by his parents in the late 70′s and provided a sprawling rural backdrop for Seth’s childhood. Seth attended Lake City public schools and spent a post-graduate year at Interlochen Center for the Arts where he took classes in art and acting, formed a couple of bands and staged variety shows. Traverse City filmmaker Rich Brauer saw Seth in a production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and hired him to act in his film The Lost Treasure of Sawtooth Island, starring Ernest Borgnine. Seth says being in the film was a pivotal experience, that it made "the big world smaller and small world bigger." He used his earnings to produce his first album, Hello Fellow Travelers, and to spend time in New York City and New Orleans. He also went on the road with the National Theater for Children, a touring educational troupe that had Seth performing as Louie the Lightening Bug in schools across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas – and giving him experiences that would eventually become fodder for his songs.