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The Reboot: 2020 inspired Rochester musician to take nomadic journey

Beth Adams/WXXI News
Avis Reese in her Rochester home, which she just sold before setting out across the U.S.


The first thing you notice when you walk into Avis Reese's house is her grand piano.

The Steinway dominates the dining room.  She's playing a song she wrote a few years ago for a friend who was going through a tough time.  It's called "Loss of Meaning."

2020 brought loss to Reese's own life; several members of her family died during the pandemic.

It's shifted her perspective and she wants to break out of some old habits.  She's looking for adventure now.

"I kind of felt myself getting in that space where I'm feeling too comfortable," she said, "and I'm not taking risks and I don't feel like I'm growing personally."

Reese plays the keyboard for the Danielle Ponder & the Tomorrow People.

She doesn't have anything against Rochester. It's been her home for 34 years, but she wants to find out what will happen if she's forced to make it on her own in a new place.

She said the pandemic taught her the risk is worth it because anything can change at any moment.

Credit Beth Adams/WXXI News
Avis Reese plays the grand piano gifted to her by a stranger. A friend will store the piano until Reese decides where she'll make her new home.

"We had music taken away from a whole year," she explained. "We had a bunch of shows planned and those were taken away and life felt very aimless and very hopeless in the midst of it and so this year, it's about having experiences, you know? Because nothing's promised. Nothing's guaranteed, so why put it off for another 10 years? Just do it now."

Reese has mapped out a 10-month journey. 

She'll spend August in Washington, D.C., and then move to another city each month. Her tentative route takes her from Philadelphia to Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Austin, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and finally, Minneapolis.

"I wanted to really hit up a lot of music cities," she said. "Instead of agreeing to a year-long lease in L.A., why not just book a bunch of Airbnbs that's the same amount I'd be paying in rent, and experiment with different cities to see which one I may like."

She sold her house and is getting ready to pack up her Dodge SUV with huge containers for her clothes and three keyboards strapped to the top of the vehicle.  A friend will store the Steinway until Reese finds her new home. She leaves Rochester on July 30.

Credit Beth Adams/WXXI News
Avis Reese is taking three keyboards on her cross-country journey.

Reese said she'll support herself with music gigs along the way. She's already booked for some weddings in D.C. and plans to make a quick stop back in Rochester from time to time to perform with Ponder.

Beyond that, she's OK with not having an agenda.

"It's just nice to, like, do something a little more risky and not really have a plan and not really know how it's gonna turn out," she said. "But I just feel deep down inside that it's gonna turn out great."

For Reese, the journey isn't about finding herself. She already knows who she is. But when she lost a few family members to COVID-19 and two young band members in the years leading up to the pandemic, it made her reevaluate her own life and realize something was missing.

“I definitely think those losses are huge factors for me because I don’t want my story to end unremarkably," she said. "I want to add some remarkable things to my story, and if I end up going, there’s a whole list of things that people can say, ‘She did that. She experienced it and she loved it.’"

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.