Konrad Wert has been a performing musician for 10 years. But it wasn’t until June of last year that he committed to going full-time—specifically, being on the road for weeks or months at a time.
Rather than hitting the road by himself and leaving his wife and two children behind, however, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who performs as Possessed by Paul James, brings the family along with him. The four are on a year-long experiment to determine whether life on the road could work for them. They live in an RV, homeschooling the children, driving from gig to gig, and seeing the country as they go. When asked how it’s going, Wert says that they’re enjoying the experience, but he’s not sure how long it will last.
“My wife and I love the adventure,” he says by phone from the RV, “and the children have a fantastic time, but every kid needs a grounded community to blossom. We think we can get by for a year.”
Living a life of simplicity is not a new experience for the Florida-born Wert. The singer-songwriter was raised in a small Mennonite community with a focus on simplicity, service and pacifism. When asked if he still identifies with the Mennonite religion, he says that while he doesn’t consider himself part of the Christian religion any longer, he very much identifies culturally with the Mennonites.
“It’s very service-oriented,” he says. “The intent is to serve others in need with your skills.”
For Wert, being of service means teaching. Before hitting the road full-time, he spent years as a special education teacher in Texas. He continues his service by lecturing about special education reform at stops along the way and working with a film crew on a documentary film about the state of special education in the U.S. He juggles this with being an energetic and engaged musician who gives all he has during performances.
A longtime musician who picked up the violin in fourth grade, Wert had added the viola and double bass to his wheelhouse by eighth grade. He considered studying strings in college, but a teacher gave him some tough love that set him on a different course.
“One of my teachers said, ‘Your skill level won’t ever progress to where you’d like it to be as a professional, classically trained viola player or violinist,’” Wert recalls. “But then he said, ‘Your passion’s great, though. Don’t ever let go of your passion.’”
When he plays, Wert’s passion is, indeed, revealed. His music is full of what matters most to him: love, family, community, connection, being human. And he delivers his songs from a deep place, with eyes closed, head shaking, fiddle bow flying, and emotions bared.
When he talks about performing, Wert speaks of “we.” When asked about who that refers to, he says that, among other things, it’s his family and ancestors.
“It feels best when we share by just closing our eyes and trying to shake out the little anxieties that pop up in your head when you play,” he says. “If a note sounds kind of funny or you missed a note when you sing, you try not to worry about any of those things. You try to just convey what’s out there.”
Another way Wert honors his family is with the name Possessed by Paul James. Paul was his grandfather’s name, and James is his father’s middle name. The name also gave Wert sufficient cover from a Texas rule that teachers can’t moonlight—“especially when it’s in circles that might be unsavory for the state,” he says.
“In many of the small towns in Texas,” Wert explains, “there is truly no separation between church and state. However districts would like to spin it, there’s very much a bias if you delineate out of that wholesome presence as a schoolteacher.”
Wert has an album slated for release in early 2017, but in the meantime he has his hands full with being on the road, lecturing, working on the documentary, writing songs, and performing from a soul level.
“We close our eyes and find comfort in the darkness,” he says. “[We] try to get lost in that darkness a little bit so we’re not so concerned about the trivial things.”
Possessed by Paul James will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9 at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. $15. 335-2800.