Marrying the Music
Gifted couple making a stop in Lexington
By Chris Webb

Victoria Williams and Mark Olson, in love and in tune.

Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts.

-Thomas Merton from The Road to Joy

Former Jayhawk Mark Olson and wife Victoria Williams aren't your typical couple. A truly unique pairing, Olson and Williams are one of those couples who just seem right together. They strive to share things and delight in the life they've chosen to experience as man and wife. In addition, they create music along the way, as they just happen to have two of the most interesting and delightful voices in modern folk music.

"It's a family thing," Mark Olson says. He's in the middle of packing up the van at their home in Joshua Tree, CA, getting ready to head out for a few weeks.

"It's something we do together, something we enjoy," he continues. "We enjoy being out playing music. And we enjoy each other's company. That's the best part."

The trip they're about to take is in support of their latest record, a trip that will bring them to Lexington for the first time in several years. Olson is polite and soft-spoken, humble and warm. In the background, Williams is practicing her scales.

"Vic's working on a standards record," Olson says with an obvious amount of pride in his wife's work.

Just listening to them speak, it's evident that there's something almost magical about them and between them. And the music they create is no different.

Flowering Trees

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. -Willa Cather

Olson is best known as a founding member of the Jayhawks, whose sound virtually defined a musical movement in the early nineties. With the Jayhawks, Olson and Gary Louris recorded four albums, two of which are included in a listing of the most influential records of the past decade, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. Longing for a different way to enjoy life as a musician, Olson left the band in 1995.

Prior to his departure from the Jayhawks, Olson met up and fell in love with Victoria Williams, a songwriter of singular and spiritual depth. With an engaging, unmistakable warble that is as characteristic and endearing as her songs, Williams demonstrates a spiritual sensitivity and an innocent inspiration that speaks volumes. She released her first record in 1987 (while she was still married to Peter Case) to much critical acclaim. Several more records followed and Williams made an appearance in the film Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

However, things came to a screeching halt when Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the spring of 1992. As her hospital bills skyrocketed, a group of friends and admirers gathered to help out, playing a series of concerts for her benefit and putting together Sweet Relief - a benefit album where fourteen artists, including R.E.M., Lou Reed, Michelle Shocked, and Lucinda Williams - joined to contribute cover versions of Williams' songs.

Around this time, Williams met up with Olson and their relationship helped Williams to sustain herself and continue performing. In 1994, Williams reemerged as a singer/songwriter and released a new album titled Loose, again to much critical acclaim. Two more albums have followed and Williams continues to keep her illness under control.

Olson also had to start all over after his departure from the up and coming Jayhawks. Stepping away from the big label headache, Olson and Williams headed to Joshua Tree, CA, where they bought a cabin, renovated it, and started a farm. Together, they began to write songs in a simpler, homier manner. With friend and multi-instrumentalist Mike "Razz" Russell, they chose a new path, one more resigned to the way they wanted to live, and formed a new group, the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers.

You R Loved

All you need is love. -John Lennon

With what has been called "a roving band of musical gypsies," Olson and Williams embarked on a new adventure together. Converting parts of their home into a studio, they set out to make something genuinely theirs. But rarely has musical reactionism sounded so beautiful and free-spirited as with the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers. A gorgeous thoughtfulness lies at the core of the music they create. Reaffirming the eternal verities with a moving sense of emotion, the music they perform is the kind of stuff that blossoms into brilliance.

Shunning industry, image, and major label status, Olson instead pursued a practical method of making music while negotiating the limitations of Williams' illness. With a stripped down, lo-fi country elegance, Olson began to record again.

As Olson and Williams combined their shuddering, delicate voices, their low-budget, laid-back living-room albums shined. From their desert home, they sold OHRCD releases by mail order and eventually online at their website.

Olson got back to the basics and the result was music borne of sweet sincerity and a life of true love.

"I liked playing with Vic and Mike at the house," Olson said in an interview with Country Standard Time, "Once you get companies or managers involved, it gets complex, and I was really into simplifying my life, I guess. And I certainly simplified it."

Olson is quick to point out the difference between recording with the Jayhawks and recording with the OHRCD.

"We get in the studio and we have no real idea what it's gonna end up sounding like. The songs are pretty much brand new songs, so they haven't been rehearsed. We get in there and kind of just discover it together."

Another difference is the amount of time dedicated to the recording process.

"There's a time limit involved. Now, I have to book musicians and I usually give us a week or so. It's usually a get in there, do it, and get it done kinda thing. In the past, it's really been go, go, go. I'm kinda antsy and I just wanna get it done. I've never been much of an audiophile anyway. At the end of all of it, it's pretty exciting to see what happens."

With a terrific chemistry, this process has repeatedly inspired them, and the result is the release of four albums in four years. That's as many albums as the Jayhawks have put out in a decade.

Olson attributes their volume to the desert location, which is hospitable to their "homemade records."

The Eyes are the Window

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. -William Blake

Since their arrival in 1997, the OHRCD have managed to endure because they have a real love for the music and an even deeper love for each other. The songs on their debut album play like tender masterpieces, the products of a shared commitment to pursue something they enjoy and hold dear. The following two records, Pacific Coast Rambler and Zola and the Tulip Tree, built upon the same formula and with much success.

Williams continues to record as a solo artist for Atlantic Records. The end of 2000 saw the release of a brand new Victoria Williams record, Water to Drink. Friendly and honest, the strength of Williams' songwriting and her warm vocals are what truly shine on this effort. She has a commanding voice with a sweet presence. Her vocals and fabulous arrangements make for an outstanding record, the most straightforward and gratifying of her career.

For the latest Creekdippers record, My Own Jo Ellen, Olson decided to enlist the help of many musicians who worked on Water to Drink as well producer Michael Dumas.

While My Own Jo Ellen retains the spirit of their previous releases, it's also a bit different. This time around, Olson used a few more musicians and a few more instruments, creating a group where musical possibilities were unlimited. The result is a richer sound with more textures and the most satisfying Creekdippers record yet.

Olson's dust covered vocals spin wonderful tales on ten self-penned tracks of American tradition. With the help of the rest of the Creekdippers, Olson's music plays like a patchwork, weaving together what Olson has called "a romantic depiction of some real-life events."

"I was working at this school with these kids," Olson says, describing how the record came about. "And I wrote the record in two weeks right after working with those kids. Basically, it seemed like I was just able to get out the things that had been going on in my life at that time. The record has a lot to do with the environment, and even more to do with family stuff."

The title song, inspired by Olson's grandmother, to whom he attributes his artistic inspiration, is a perfect example of how a song can speak volumes about the complexity of the human condition. "Someone to Talk With" details how one person can save another in crisis. And "Linda Lee" comments on how different spiritual energies can call people to create.

With a fond eye for nature, Olson even wrote a few songs expressing concern for his surroundings. "Ben Johnson's Creek" is a tale of toxic contamination and comment on so called "progress." And there are political rumblings on "Meeting in Lone Pine," as Olson pays homage to those who work the land for the greater good.

Like snapshots, the songs on My Own Jo Ellen come to life, carrying the OHRCD down a fresh but familiar path.

Farther Along

Twenty-thousand roads I went down, down, down. And they all led me straight

back home to you. -Gram Parsons from "Return of the Grievous Angel"

The past few years have seen steady tours and performances by the OHRCD. Fans continue to step out to enjoy these musical treasures. But Olson and Williams haven't been to Lexington in quite a while.

The duo last visited Lexington a few years back when Olson was still in the Jayhawks. Performing at the Kentucky Theater (with Wilco as opening act), Olson played with his old band while Victoria sat in. Several years have passed since then.

"We've never played in Lexington as the Creekdippers," Olson points out. "So we're really looking forward to it."

With four records under their belt and several more by Williams as a solo artist, there will be plenty of material to choose from. As Olson explains, "We usually play some newer songs first. Usually I do a few songs, then Vic does a few songs, and then we take requests. We open it up to the audience and let people call off songs and we try to play the ones they call off. We pretty much let it flow from that point. We've got a full band, so we can play pretty much anything. I've even learned how to play the bass. So we switch around a lot on the instruments. It's really fun that way."

In an effort to obtain a wider release for My Own Jo Ellen, the OHRCD recently decided to take a different road, signing with major indie label Hightone Records. Major distribution will allow stores a chance to stock the new record, an almost impossible task to accomplish when you're doing it out of your home.

"We've made some changes," comments Olson. "We'd like to get some records in stores so people have a better chance to hear our music."

"Also, we're hitting the road a bit more," Olson continues. "It got to the point that we thought, if we're musicians, we gotta get out there and be playing. If this material is worth anything, then we've got to go out and let people hear it. I don't want to keep writing stuff that nobody hears."

"And if we want to play in nice places," suggests Olson, "we have to build an audience. We're gonna show that there is a way for bands to get out there and build an audience, without big record label money."

There's a touching quality, something deep, that's apparent in everything Olson and Williams say and do. Their harmonies convey a remarkable depth of intimacy, an understanding that's exquisitely soulful, manifested in an incredible musical and marital rapport.

"I love the fact that we play and sing together," adds Olson. "It's something we do together, like a family thing. I wouldn't have it any other way."

The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers will do an in-store performance at CD Central at 4 pm on April 14th, and at 9 pm at Helios. Tickets are $10 and are available at CD Central, Helios (367-0167), and Hello Records (for credit card transactions over the phone, 232-8986). WRVG will also be giving away tickets on the air. For more information on the band, please visit their official website at

l Restaurant Changes its Spots

To the dismay of many hungry Lexingtonians, the beloved Mediterranean restaurant Helios is no longer serving downtown.

Choosing to make lemonade out of lemons, Helios will remain open - it's changing its focus from a full service restaurant to a full service music venue.

So you'll still be able to absorb the building in all its aesthetically pleasing splendor, just without the food.

As owner Clay McClure explains, "As this space is so unique and has such desirable acoustics, I wanted to be able to use it in some capacity, even if food service wasn't an option. The exposed brick and multiple dining rooms give it an urban feel."

Anxious to get the new program under way, the folks at Helios have wasted no time in booking some bonafide talent. This Saturday, April 14th, former Jayhawk Mark Olson and his wife, critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, will solidify the restaurant's transition from dining to nightspot.

Shedding some light on the Helios agenda, McClure explains, "We're looking to book pretty much anything that we feel has integrity and isn't your average 'kiddie' MTV Korn metal trendy garbage. We are interested in booking punk, hardcore, indie rock, noisy rock, and good metal. On the flipside, we are also looking to book jazz, blues, positive hip hop, and on the fringe electronic music. The idea of booking national spoken word artists has been thrown around. Also in the works is a fashion show and an art show."

Upcoming shows include such acts as The Smacks, The Brassknuckle Boys, J.J. Nobody, Crimson Sweet, High Hopes, Rooker Assassins, The Almighty Hangovers, and many more. Lots of upcoming shows will be "all ages" events. Cover usually runs around five dollars or so, with special events raising the price a tad.

The second annual Taste of Ace (highlighting the work of Lexington's top chefs and raising money for the Thoroughbred Area Rescue Association) will be held there on Friday, May 11. Several local musicians will perform. (Advance tickets can be charged at the Ace business office, 859-225-4889, ext 224).

With the music venue plan in full force, Helios hopes to make a real impact supporting a thriving entertainment scene in Lexington.