No one alive today can assay for certain the scope and reach that is Prairie Empire. Arcing across the untrammeled and mysterious blank on the map that is the Great American Desert, from the crumbling wharves of Brooklyn to the misty mountains of Oregon, the only thing that can be said for certain is that Ms. Brittain Ashford stands at its center. But is she its Secret Empress, or merely the inscrutable power behind the throne of its mellifluous and far-flung sonic landscape? Where Ashford came from is an enigma; one day, she simply appeared on the Coney Island Boardwalk, carrying a Gladstone bag packed with a dulcimer and a glockenspiel, and clutching an autoharp to her chest like an orphan, abandoned on some distant doorstep, that she alone can protect and carry into the wide, wicked world.

When mistaken for a radical agitator, thanks to her skill at squeezing out sounds on the Marxophone, Ashford decamped to the City of Roses, where nefarious agents of composition and concord were drawn into her orbit. Soon she was seen, late at night, in the Harlowe House Grammophone Recording Emporium, accompanied by noted arranger and international rapscallion Mr. Mark Robertson, who escaped a burning wreck in the Bay of Bengal with nothing but a cello and a bass, which he soon put to work in service of the Empire. Also reported skulking in the shadows were none other than Mr. Andrew Campbell, the Western Wizard of violin and viola, and the perniciously pulse-pounding percussionist Mr. Bob Reynolds: all members of the notorious musical band of brothers known as Harlowe and The Great North Woods. Having narrowly escaped tarring and feathering down in Chico, their fortuitous appearance in the woods of the Northwest Corridor coincided with Ashford’s vast musical conspiracy, traces of which can also be found in the dulcet vocals of such infamous fugitives as Ms. Caitlin Steitzer, Mr. Chris Miller and Shenandoah Davis. Scholars of the period also detect the distinct signature of Mr. Matt Iverson’s trumpet and, floating like a will o’ the wisp above a bayou, the clarinet of Mr. Cody Caudill.

The recorded document that arose from those midsummer nights round the microphone took the dream-life of the nation by storm, its simple title humbly concealing its mad ambition: PRAIRIE EMPIRE. When Ashford next surfaced, it was once again on the streets of Old New York, where now her comrades in concord routinely take to the streets, taverns, and coffee houses, mesmerized dazed citizens with the overpowering beauty and melancholy of the Empire’s songs: Ms. Portia Zwicker wielding the viola, Ms. Layne McNish the cello, Mr. Zach Huckle-Bauer the trumpet, and Mr. Adam Jacobson the devilishly hypnotic drums. Close confederate Ms. Caitlin Steitzer, who alone is rumored to know the whole desperately divine and intoxicating truth about the Empire, is often spotted playing with them as well. They say no blade of grass can rustle, no cicada can pierce the air, without the sanction of Prairie Empire. Only those initiates into its majestic yearning can ever know for sure.

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