There are actors who sing and singers who act. Florence Dore is a professor who’s also an author and musician, and she’ll kick off her tour on March 21 (https://www.florencedoremusic.com/) to promote her latest album “Highways & Rocketships.”
“My tour is a little unusual since in addition to the regular rock shows we are delivering, I am also trying to address the problem of how to bridge the divide between universities and the world beyond the so-called ivory tower,” said Dore, who teaches literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It’s not actually wrong in my view to claim that universities are out of touch and elitist. So I am playing plenty of rock shows in rock venues with my band, but we are making other stops along the way at public libraries, art galleries, high schools and other sundry public venues – a juke joint exhibit in downtown Fayetteville was one of my favorites – so that I can address that problem.”
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Q: How do you balance teaching at UNC with hitting the road for your music?
A: I have a sabbatical at the moment and rather than writing a fourth book, I have decided to spend it touring. When I get back to teaching, I will tour on breaks. I have been teaching for a long time, so I have all my lectures in the bag. It would be harder to pull this off if I were earlier in my teaching. A lot of prep work goes into one's lectures over the years and it's a lot more time-consuming at the beginning. The tour is eye-opening. I had never been through southern Louisiana or Arkansas or Oklahoma before. There are huge cotton fields and trucks carrying bales of cotton on the highway. Little pieces of cotton escaped from the bales and float along the highway and land on the shoulder of the road. We stopped and picked some up and brought it into the van. The cotton is unbelievably soft. We were kind of mesmerized by it.
Q: Are you able to work on any of your projects while traveling?
A: So far, the tours have been packed in with shows night after night, so I have not found time to write prose while we are out there. But because I am playing with such an experienced rock band, I have come up with a bunch of new songs on the road. I have still had to come home and close the door to finish them, but the people in the band — my husband, Will Rigby, Gene Holder, and Mark Spencer — are seasoned and talented. Will and Gene are founding members of the dB’s. Will played with Steve Earle for 15 years and Mark currently tours with Son Volt. Sound check with these guys has been inspiring. Honestly they are my teachers out there. They’ve toured a whole lot more than I have.
Q: What untapped destination should people know about?
A: Water Valley, Mississippi – a magical spot near Oxford. It is a tiny, beautiful, unassuming town, but there is an artist or writer on every corner. We played one of our most memorable shows at an art space there called TIN, which stands for This is Noteworthy, and were treated to some world-class hospitality. I also drove into Oxford and ate the best breakfast I ever had.
Q: If you could only pick one place to eat, would you prefer a food truck or fine dining?
A: Food truck. I am always in a hurry!
Q: What are your five favorite cities?
A: So far Nashville, New Orleans, London, Chapel Hill, and New York. But I am about to go to Kilkenny, Ireland, then Dublin, so we’ll see.
Q: Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A: Tokyo, Tuscaloosa.
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: Packing cubes. On tour I also take my pillow and a hot plate. I don’t like eating road food, so I bring a cooler of healthy stuff and cook carefully in the hotel rooms.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?
A: Vegan marshmallows from Whole Foods.
Q: What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A: Hotels with parking lots big enough to accommodate a trailer, safe neighborhoods near the venues, grocery stores, whether or not I have old friends in the towns, public libraries. My husband looks into museums and other cultural landmarks. I am usually too beat to check anything out. Memphis was hard because there was so much I wanted to see but I had to rest!
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow “Go Away With…” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)