Much like Ilchi Lee’s first Sedona experiences, it was an extreme connection to the land which drew William Eaton back. Discover how this gifted musician, harp-guitar luthier, and three-time GRAMMY Nominee found his way to the red rocks of Sedona.

Photo by Nancy Bartell

Photo by Nancy Bartell

WE: My first visit to Sedona was 1969. I was living in Tempe at the time and had heard about Sedona. I just remember being awestruck . . . growing up in Nebraska, everything is flat! Coming to Arizona, it was so exotic. Especially to see the plant flora, the cactus and palm trees. I was just spending a lot of time gawking at the trees—the Palo Verde, the mesquite . . . just being so amazed by such a different terrain than I was used to growing up.

And then Sedona just took it to a whole different level with the beautiful rock formations! I remember that making a very deep impression on me, and I spent some time there. I hiked up Oak Creek for a mile or two, in the canyon, and I still have pretty vivid recollections of just being so amazed and absorbed by the whole landscape.

You know the feeling you get when these things are so present in that way: it takes you to kind of a timeless place where every part of your DNA recollects, “Oh, this is where I’m from. This intimate relationship with the natural world is something that not just me, but that all of our ancestors experienced.” And you kind of get swept away with the beautiful sound of the creek and the birds and looking beyond.

It was in the summertime, it was warm and I was jumping into the water holes here and there, which is so refreshing. That was a pretty indelible experience. Those first few years of being in Arizona I visited a lot of parts of the state—there are so many beautiful places in Arizona. But Sedona really stood out. I have to say that it’s kind of the gem of the state in some ways.

But at the time it wasn’t something I thought, “Well, I want to move here.”

LT: What ultimately happened to draw you to Sedona?

WE: Christy and I fell in love with iron oxide, I would say; with red rocks! We knew about Sedona, and we’d made trips to enjoy being there, but we never thought we could make it work financially. In the late 1980’s we bought a property near Moab, in Castle Valley. Prior to that we spent a couple of weeks going around what’s called the Grand Circle; we went to Arches and Canyonlands and across to Escalante, Bryce and Zion. We went all around Utah, including the Pink Sand Dunes, before returning to Arizona. Near the end of that we took a little road down to Castle Valley and just fell in love with the place. It just happened to be this beautiful, perfect day, and we thought, “This is where our home is.” We bought a five-acre property.

At the time, the music I was making was selling a lot of CDs, and we thought Utah was a good place to base from. About a year went by as we were trying to get organized to move there. What happened next is I’d been involved with the guitar-making school [Roberto – Venn School of Luthiery] as one of the founders since 1975, and my mentor, John Roberts, got sick. It happened very rapidly, and I realized that I had a decision to make: If I go to Utah, for any length of time, the school is probably not going to continue. I made the decision to stay with the school and keep it going, and that made Utah a very difficult proposition.

About a year later, my wife Christy got a residency at Verde Valley School, and I came to Sedona to stay with her for two weeks. I was going back and forth, working at the school in Phoenix and staying with her. We just kind of fell in love with Sedona and said, “We could make this work . . . I could commute.”

Sedona is an amazing place on your first visit, but the longer you stay you realize, “Wow, this is such a special place.”

So that [idea] became more of a reality, and we had picked a good time because we found a place that was manageable for us and affordable. The other thing was our kids were pretty young; Ty was 4 and Walker was 1 year old. We’d been living in downtown Tempe and decided this would be a better place to raise kids.

LT: You have spent some truly contemplative times in the outlying desert areas of Phoenix and under the Arizona skies.

WE: I think underlying for me, the most important thing, when I left school in Palo Alto and moved to the desert, I had this dream of just living out in the desert. And I did for almost two years. I didn’t have a home; I had a car, which I didn’t use all the time. And I spent close to two years being on the ground every night, mostly around the Phoenix area. On some weekends, I traveled to different parts of the state. That was in 1975-76. It transformed me and my perception of the natural world; it was really a wonderful period in my life. But that kind of really set the course and had as much as anything to do with me wanting to be in a place like Sedona that has that natural beauty. I’ve just always been drawn to that, and it’s something that everybody feels.

LT: It seems your contemplations had some profound influence on the music and even the exotic-looking instruments you would one day create.

WE: Yes, and what I’ve always felt about that relationship is that when you look into cultural anthropology (or for me a lot of ethnomusicology), a lot of the stringed instruments, listening to oral tradition, and of course my relationship with Canyon Records, where many of my friends are indigenous to North America . . . hearing the stories started to remind me of the tens of thousands of years we’ve really had this very intimate dialogue with the natural world. And I always felt really in tune to that.

But I was noticing our personal habits about being in houses, being in cars, sitting in front of a computer terminal or a television, and how it makes you realize how distant we’ve become in a matter of generations to having that relation with the natural world.

And I think to some degree, maybe a major part of why we have become disconnected to the biosphere and our relationship to the world is because of our lifestyles. In some ways it’s a wonderful thing, but in other ways, we’ve lost a part of our collective knowledge in our collective experience.

LT: Rediscovering and maintaining a connection to our planet, as well as all other life, seems paramount to survival of life on Earth.

WE: Well, it just keeps getting magnified. Like the recent talks in Paris about global climate change and everything, and we are really at a point, a critical point perhaps in human history (some people will argue that), a point at which we recollect and remember and know that we are part of a biosphere and we are part of a larger system and it’s not just human centered. And Sedona has an important role there.

I will say this, we hesitated to move to Sedona because we could feel a little bit like this is a sacred place, this is a special place and people shouldn’t live here. This should be a national park. Our only rationale was, we didn’t start it, it’s already there. And when I moved to Sedona, I did get involved in things early on: Vision Sedona, which I was the Chairperson for several years, and then later I was one of the founders of Sustainable Arizona.

LT: As a touring artist, what are you most often asked about this unusual land where you create the music they enjoy?

WE: People ask me sometimes, “Oh, Sedona, that’s where the crystals are.” I always find myself explaining, “Well, you just need to go there. You don’t have to go into a single store. Just go out and walk the trails, and then you’ll know what that experience is.”

LT: Thank you, William!

William Eaton and his wife Christy Eaton are co-directors and founders Old Town Center for the Arts, in Cottonwood, Arizona, which begins its 9th Season after producing 375 events over the years.

This fall, watch for the Celebrate the River Concert event, dedicated to bringing attention to our most important natural resource—water.

Lynn A. TrombettaBy Lynn A. Trombetta: A freelance web writer on topics of art, music, and wellness, Lynn is also a wildlife artist/photographer, professional flutist, recording artist, and published author.