This is the second big CMN conference I’ve been to, and I was looking forward to the adventure: some old friends, lots of new folks and a congregation of like-minded arts/educators. I also wanted to see where I fit in this particular niche. My past experience has been that there are some pros, some semi-pros and some new folk just exploring this field for the first time. It held to form and it was a nice experience. 

The drive up from PA was easy for a Friday on I-95, and got there about 4 pm in time for registration. I checked in, and after a brief room snafu, I plunked down my stuff in a nice room overlooking a small golf course (it’s a resort facility in Hyannis, MA). The opening session was a group meeting and I started to see a few familiar faces from PA (David and Jenny and David) and Sally Rogers, soon to be feted on Sunday for the Magic Penny Award. The dinner was a good opportunity to meet folks from the NY and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Friday night featured the first Round Robin (open mike) and I signed up and got a middle of the pack slot. I was glad for that. The rules were: come up, introduce yourself and the song and play it, no longer than 3 minutes. Again, I was glad that I could do it because I’ve done it before at showcases and some TV and radio gigs.

Here’s where it gets curious. Not everyone at this conference is a professional stage player. Lots of folks here write songs, play libraries, teach in schools, etc. So it was nice to see the “players” in action, and then abide the others in their efforts. The sound crew was fairly scattered, though, and didn’t help the new folks settle in comfortably. When it came my time, I said, “Give me two mikes and let’s go.”

I came up to do Giants and one over-exuberant woman shouted out, “He’s famous!” I blew a few kisses, said, “Calm down” and launched into the song. I pretty much nailed it, the quick audience picked up on the spooky sounds and the call and response, I did a mouth trombone lead and let the audience do one themselves (marvelous) and I finished strong. I bowed and walked off stage. 3 minutes, baby!

I had made my statement early in the weekend, and over the course of the convention, got lots of compliments and respect from my peers. That opened up some doors with most of the folks I connected with. It also made my return appreciation of their sets mean something to them. I sought out those who were the pros who could deliver their material succinctly and in a timely fashion. I made some new friends.

I went to several of the workshops, though most were heavily into the “change the world” efforts, and though that laudable, it remains somewhat outside my philosophy.

The first session on Saturday was the Finger Play workshop, and I was looking forward to this one. I got to the room early with my guitar and had a chance to play some music and connect with myself in the quiet before the storm. As folks started to arrive I started to put my guitar away when the workshop leader came in and told me to put the guitar away, no guitars allowed and succinctly established her territory. I said that I knew that, but had wanted to play something before the session. As I put my guitar away, I mumbled a quiet “FU” which she may have picked up on…. Oh, well. I then asked if we could do ‘movement’ songs, and she quite firmly clamped down on that idea. Fingers only! Sheesh.

So, as we started out the round robin of finger tunes, I figured I would do Finger in the Air, a Woody Guthrie song from Playground, and I was a little rough in getting the verses straight, as the woman next to me was familiar with the song, singing along and giving me no space to do my version. It threw me off my game. As I hesitated before the last verse, the headmistress gave me a rattle shake she used to clamp down on folks going on too long. I quickly did the last verse. It silently pissed me off.  (I was the only one ‘rattled’ during the session.)

I eventually did Peanut Butter and Jelly later on during the circle and it was fine.

I realized that there are various factions here, including some children’s music purists. As in many musical circles, we differ in how we present our music. Welcome to the club.

The Saturday afternoon Keynote presentation featured Ken Whiteley, a Canadian performer, producer and one-time Godfrey’s act. His talk was based on crossroads, and being open to each other when we meet at them. He had produced Raffi before he was Raffi, as well as over 150 other folks acts on the circuit. He has a deft ear for the business, including getting the most out of a performer, the song and still be affordable. It was a fine philosophical jaunt through our folk music lives.

I came up during the Round Robin and reintroduced myself (my middle name is Whiteley) and connected to the time when he played Godfrey’s, the only gig he got from an early NERFA festival in Philly. I had booked him then. He actually asked me about my health (he had had some very serious problems a while ago). Somehow the word gets out on the circuit, proving the amount of caring that goes on among folkies.

The Saturday evening Round Robin had 40 folks signed up and eventually turned into a four hour event. I could only take so much, was glad to hear some of my new friends play and catch Bill Harley and some other pros.

There was a Sunday workshop on making a difference with kids. I got there late and sat in the back. Lots of anti- bullying songs, etc. I felt that I had little to offer. Eventually, one fellow offered a space to me and I tried to think of what I could play. I settled into to circle and admitted that I have no songs of redeeming social value but try to focus on empowerment.

I decided to do Rosalie, Where are You Going. I led it off and got two other fellows to demonstrate. It worked well, but I didn’t heed my own advice and did one too many verses. I got caught up in the performance. Lesson learned on my part.

The Magic Penny Award is given to folk who truly excel in Children’s Music. A couple of years ago it was given to Ruth Pelham, a woman I did not know but came to appreciate her work in my home town of Albany. We became friends back then. Other folk honored are Pete Seeger, Malvina Reynolds, Bill Harley., Tom Chapin, etc.

This year’s recipient is Sally Rogers, a woman I’ve known through her visits to Godfrey’s as a solo and with 

Claudia Schmidt as well as her living legend as an arts educator and children’s music studio artist. (When I applied for Young Audiences of CT in 2001, I found out that she was the “folkie” on the roster. Dead end for me, and quite understandable.)

The ceremony featured some great plaudits from other kids’ performers, school principals, etc, several nice You Tube cuts of kids singing her songs. A special moment for me came when my friend Claudia Schmidt came up to do some music with Sally. Sally then did some tunes with the audience, her family and the very responsive audience. A marvelous ending to a good weekend of friendships and the deep commonality of children’s music.

The ride home was good until I got into CT on I-95 through the GW Bridge. What was a 5.5 hour drive on Friday became a 7.5 drive to home. I got back for the Godfrey’s open mike but found myself exhausted.

It was a good experience, I learned some new things, met some fellow children’s music travelers, knocked my one 3 minute song out of the park and saw the ocean briefly. It was worth the trip.

My good friend Mike Duck asked me to share this two hour gig at my local farmers’ market at Lehigh today. I always look forward to swapping two song sets with him and we take advantage of flipping our tunes with each other. I get to work on my noodling skills on mandolin, something I rarely get to do in public (0r otherwise).

It was a cloudy, breezy day with temperatures in the high 50’s, but I was fairly comfortable. I brought my small combination vocal/instrument amp and settled in for our noontime start. Mike is comfortable in presenting both new and old songs, with me trying to figure them out on the fly. I appreciate his confidence, but then again, there were few, if any folks paying attention other than the vendors. (I did get a nice comment from the kiffle lady at the end.)

It was a pleasant two hours playing some music with a friend. And it was a block from home.

Off to Hyannis tomorrow for the International Children’s Music Conference for the weekend.

I am amazed about this band, that we are able to rally early in the morning (6 am) for a drive to NJ and an 8:15 assembly for 500 middle schoolers in Allentown, NJ. We got there about 7:30 with little traffic problems, were ushered into a very nice auditorium with great lighting and set up with time to spare.

We proceeded to do a great show for a large crowd of hip kids and teachers. I was thankfully in command of the script, the band energized and the kids receptive from the start. We were told that the school’s band was top-notch, with annual trips to some of the great parades in NYC and in California, so we kind of knew that this would work well.

As usual, the 5th and 6th graders were really into it, and the more sedate 7th and 8th graders were off in the distance so it was easy to feed off the younger kids. A cool moment happened early on when I ask if there are any kids who can do a jig to our mandolin tune. One very bright 5th grade girl came up as well as a 6th grade ‘dude’. I knew where this was going and I welcomed it. The girl was incredibly good, with leg kicks that I can only dream of and a precise nimbleness to her dance. The boy started in on some goofy scissor moves that were done in fun and in the spirit. The place went nuts and was simply wonderful Celtic yin and yang, both performed with great zest. It made the rest of the show a piece of cake.

The band played great and I remarked after the delta blues tune that we sounded amazing at 8:30 in the morning. Actually, I know of no other band that could do this.

So, there we were, packed up and headed back to PA at 9:30 am. A much better feeling from yesterday’s tough gig.

We were booked for a return to this special needs school way up in northeastern New Jersey for a 10 am show, and though it wasn’t an early show, the traffic made a 1.5 hour trip over 2 hours and we got there with 25 minutes to spare. No problem for us but the head teacher was worried.

They loved the show last time (several years ago) but the teacher wanted more music and less talk, thinking that the kids wouldn’t get the history lesson. We agreed but it also put pressure on me to selectively edit as we were doing the show. It’s been awhile since we did the show last so I was a little off my game. The sound system was screwing up at the beginning as well. It was a rough show (to our minds) but it didn’t seem to matter to the kids and the many teachers. The live music was what saved the day.

We weren’t communicating well, not looking at each other for visual cues when we were extending the music and I was dealing with what to cut out in the script. It was not our best gig but we were lucky that we didn’t have to play a perfect show to make a difference for these kids.

A long day on the road and a hard gig. Tomorrow, another long drive for a 8:15 assembly for 500 middle school kids. Back to back, baby!

I was asked to return to this law firm’s annual family picnic on Sunday. Last year, it was held at a private estate in Bucks County and it was somewhat uncomfortable with my set separated from the food and festivities.

This year, it was held a large day camp site near Doylestown with lots of activities for kids and families, a nice pavilion and some great food, a local beer truck and a big common space. I was set up on the grass along with a fine face-painter and an activity area for the little kids. This year I was aware that I was not a concert spotlight but one of the many activities available for the kids to choose from. That made a big difference in my attitude.

I sprinkled my bag-wares out on the grass and started to play. The music was able to disperse amongst the folks in the pavilion, and some kids eventually came over to pick up an instrument and react. Too many choices for the kids, but that’s the gig.

I had some nice interactions with a few kids including a young girl coming up and playing my guitar with her fingers. Another girl was particularly enthralled with a tambourine, dancing around on the grass. I made a point of giving my Peanut Butter CD to the parents. I didn’t have a ‘show time’ gig, but I was paid well for an hour of music on a cloudy Sunday in PA.

It was a yin-yang performance day for me today, starting off with a long drive down to Delaware for a noon set at the Harvest Moon Festival at a large farm/nature center. I followed my friends, The Druckenmiller’s on the stage.  Not much of an audience for them since families were roaming the grounds for the many activities, corn maze, pumpkin decorating and food. But, the music added a nice atmosphere for the festivities.

I started out with few folks, but eventually kids came up and started in on the bag. One particular young girl came up early on and supplied her energy that drew other kids in as well. It was a good set and appreciated by my friends John and Todd who booked the music for the weekend. It was a beautiful fall drive down to the Festival and it was great to hear The Druck’s in action. Tom and Betty’s son Nate came up from West Virginia for the gig and it was a pleasure to hear his fine backup guitar work on their old-time tunes.

I picked up a gig for the drive home a day before. There was a memorial service for a doctor who passed on in Pennsburg and I got a call from the funeral director. The family wanted someone to play Simple Gifts on a Martin guitar, and I said I could do it after my Delaware gig. The service was held in a large gym at the local YMCA and there were hundreds of folk who came by to pay their respects to the family of this good doctor. I was glad I brought my small amp for the song, especially since there was a fairly weak system for the speakers in this large space. I played and sang this rather short song and it fill the hall. The funeral organizers and the family were very please that I could do it. My new Martin sounded great.

In preparing for the presentation, I imagined that I would play the tune on the guitar, sing the two verses and then have the folks gathered sing the first verse at the end. One of the doctor’s sons came up at the last moment and asked me not to have the sing along. I certainly agreed but privately wished that the congregation had the chance to raise their voices in support. But, it turned out fine with this very simple but beautiful song. A few folks came up to thank me for the song. I don’t think I’ve ever been paid so much for two verses of a folk song, but it made a difference for quite a few people.

When I packed up to leave, my “new” car’s battery failed, and had I left my phone at home. A kindly 90-year old gent stopped by to help out. I used his phone and as we waited for AAA, we picked up a friendly conversation. I found out that he had a few cars at home, including a ’52 Jaguar and a mid 50’s Rolls Royce. That sparked some fine conversation as he smoked on his pipe. A nice lady stopped by with jumper cables and we were able to get my car going. As I drove my new friend back to his cheap car in the parking lot, he said that he was glad to help out and that it made his day to help someone. I added that he made my day as well.

It was a long day with 4 hours of driving with two quite varied audiences: a lively family harvest festival and a somber family memorial service.

I was the sacrificial opening act at Godfrey’s for a SouthSide-wide music event sponsored by Lehigh Valley Underground. There were only a few folks in the house, including some of the band that was to follow. At least I was playing for a few fellow musicians. I did my good stuff, regardless, of course and I was eager to play my new 000-15M Martin and I was not disappointed. It rocked. The lead guitarist of the next band came up afterward to ask about it.

Don’t Call Me Early, Barrelhouse, These Days, Voodoo Chile on mandolin, Rosie, Branching Out, Lessons from Pete, It’ll Be Me, Nadine. As I was finishing up, a couple of women fans came in and I was asked for one more. I remembered that one of the ladies loved Tutti Tah, and opted for Baby Shark, along the same lines. It went over well.

Again, people do not come out to see me play. It remains a major frustration for me but I insist on playing strong sets, if not for a crowd, at least for me.

I showed up for my first afterschool session at Marvine and found out only four kids were signed up, all boys. Oh, boy. As the gym emptied out I settled in with my four lads and tried to figure out how to work this out.

I was glad I had my bag of instruments so they would have stuff in their hands and it went well, teaching them some basic rhythms, getting them to play together. I worked for a while but as I got into the lyric part, two of the boys started to act up and I had to stop and pull things together often. Eventually one kids said, “I wanna go home.” I agreed silently.

I even tried to have them run around the gym when I played the ‘big endings’ and that worked well for boys. But I really, really missed having some girls in the room to provide some gravitas to the proceedings.

This is not working out, especially if we are to produce a song by the end of the sessions. I like challenges but not like this.

This was a session I’ve been waiting for: adding female vocals to the Troubadour project. I leaned on my close friend Wendi Bourne, who has been a major part of all my recordings over the last 28 years. She has worked with me and her fellow  Girls From Mars cohort Lauren Jansen on I Like Peanut Butter, Shake It! and Pearls, and also with Robbi Kumalo, most recently on Playground. Wendi is a superb swing guitarist and knows her vocal arranging skills as well.

With Lauren and Robbie out in the greater universe, I invited Annie Patterson, the third Girl From Mars to work with Wendi on this session. This was my first time working with Annie. I rehearsed on Thursday with them down near Landale and we worked out our ideas on Wendi’s porch. They did their homework, incorporating my ideas and adding theirs. This hand-held phone technology is incredible and made for today’s productive session.

We got started around 10:30 am at Kevin’s studio, and thanks to familiar relationships, we were able to get Annie and ourselves comfortable and we set to work. We had five songs to work on: Louise, Rosie is a Friend of Mine, How Legends are Made, False From True and Smokin’ Babies, the last one considered the ‘fun’ tune to end the session. (Yes, it was the hardest one.)

Kevin is wonderful to work with, He really is at home (quite literally, in his basement) with his equipment, his creative musical instincts and his warm and encouraging presence. We have always worked well together (RockRoots and more), and he is great with the players who visit his studio. It’s why he is good at what he does, beyond being a fine drummer.

Wendi and Annie set up with the vocal mikes in the studio and we set into the project. The communication between the women is really deep (why I trust them), and they had worked on some ideas ahead of time and we could refine the arrangements with Kevin and myself in real time. There were lots of trial runs, punching in on troublesome spots, on-the-fly improvisations and collective thoughts passed around and we came up with some simply wonderful stuff. Some will never make it to disc, but we agree that the object is to have it ready to use if we need it.

Their overall effect is to support my vocals, add some nice atmosphere to some sections and generally soften my sound. That’s exactly what they did today. They did it professionally. And we did it together as good friends. That’s as good as it gets, in my book.

Their voices are the cream in the icing on this project. There’s a great foundation with all the instrumental players but it takes Wendi’s and Annie’s warm, human voices to infuse my songs with that something extra. It’s the stuff I tend to listen to when I put on my old recording efforts. The human voice rules.

We finished up after four intensely creative hours, and we all split for home in four different  directions. I continue to be heartened by my talented friends who support me in making music on this earth. I am blessed.

This is good stuff.

This gig I love for several reasons. I support my fellow teaching artist Miss Maggie in her efforts to bring folk music to her neighborhood in Oley and I get to travel the roads into Berks County that I drove back before Godfrey’s (BG). I worked as a carpenter after graduating from Lehigh in the mid 70’s, while living in a hippie farm cooperative situation outside Seisholtzville. I know all the back roads out here and it was a beautiful day to drive through here. There was a superb folk festival – The Lobachsville Folk Festival – that the Sheiks and Mary Faith Rhoads played in 74 and 75. We were treated like pros for the first time at a festival.

These folks are trying to preserve a fine PA farm homestead and this festival is an attempt to raise awareness. I was scheduled for a noon time set on a small stage behind one of the out buildings. I did it last year and I was fine with dealing with a small number of folks.

I got there early and caught one of the acts on the ‘main stage’, a local gentleman who performs with an array of loop pedals, creating a wall of sound for his songs. As I sat next to my friend, Mike Holliday, who was performing next while I was playing on the ‘kids’ stage’, I remarked, “How pretentious!” Too much sound for this situation in front of next to no one.

I set up and played my set for a few folks gathered on hay bales under a shedding hickory tree (danger, danger!). It was chilly, breezy and only a couple of kids. But, I engaged the few kids and parents/grand parents with scarves, rain stick and thunder tubes. It was good work.

What was curious is that the loop player was intrigued by what I was doing, initially by my new Martin and its sound. After listening from the parking meadow, he and his lady came over and sat down for the remaining last songs in my set. In my mind, I accepted the challenge to play for his ears. He was able to recognize what I was doing and we chatted about it after my set.

I thought about this later. My loop, my feedback is my audience and I use them to create my performance space. His attention is directed entirely into his devices and, unfortunately, moves his concentration away from the audience and into his sound. Now, some folks can do this subtly and still remain in immediate contact with the audience. I’ve seen it and it is powerful. I’ve tried but I’ve dismissed it as too much work.

It was a good gig for little pay but those around me appreciated my craft.

It was a fairly breezy drive up to Madison Green for my last FM of the season. It was a beautiful day, with a slightly chilly breeze, but families and familiar faces came out to play. I especially appreciate when the kids come back, race over and grab an instrument and engage right away. Several homeschool kids came early and they were bright and curious, and knowing that they were homeschooled, I was able to do some in depth work with them. And, as the Friday afternoon became early Friday evening, families met on the green and socialized while I worked on the kids.

Again, I am befuddled with their lack of understanding (tip-wise) as to what I am providing for their kids. Some don’t tip at all while some give their child a dollar to toss in my mandolin case. I left with around $16 in tips for three hours on the green and eight hours on the road.

I still do this because I want to. I enjoy the interaction with the kids (the adults cruising the market could care less) and I enjoy the opportunity to play my music in public.

I notice that I am exhausted the next day from the travel though.

I started my next Southside Children’s Festival residency at Marvine ES, a predominantly Hispanic school on the north side of Bethlehem. I’ll be doing weekly afterschool songwriting with these kids, so I figured we should have some sort of introductory session with the 4th and 5th graders, the core group for this run of workshops. Mr. Cordova, the school liaison for the project has great connections with the kids so I trust his instincts. He suggested that I come in during the lunch period and play while they ate. Normally, I would have said no, but this turned out to be the perfect teaser for the workshops. Kids signed up.

I set up a new PA for me, a simple amp with room for a mike and my guitar, low volume and easy load in and out. It worked great! Lesson #1.  I got there early so I was able to play for the younger kids eating in front of me, and, as the older kids came in and settled into their lunches on the far side of the room, I introduced myself and did some songs that other kids had written words to: Tropical Vacation, Cat Came Back, Names to the Animals, etc. We connected in spite of the lunch situation. Each set was brief and the kids filed out for recess for the rest of their period. The teachers, and the lunch ladies all had a good time with some of the younger kids getting up and dancing (with their teacher!).

Mr. Cordova was handing out papers to the kids, explaining what we were going to do over the next few weeks and recruiting kids for the sessions. He was pleased that he came close to handing out all of his stack. Looks like we stirred something up. It was a low pressure, social situation for the kids and myself, and it worked well. Lesson #2. Since I have been paid for the whole project up front, I am more willing to invest on the long run, and not just for this gig.

An interesting and unexpected thing came up at the end when Mr. Cordova mentioned that the school might be interested in this type of event, especially during the winter when there is no outside recess. The teachers commented how much the kids were engaged during the period, perhaps with less mayhem and uproar than usual. Can you say ‘crowd control?’ I was able to play for younger and older kids at the same time.

I might be able to come back and provide active and intelligent activities during the lunchtime periods. Sounds like a whole lot of fun for me and the kids, too. Lesson #3.  Making a living doing what I do.

The Celtic Classic is in town this weekend and I tend to stay away due to the crowds and drinking, along with some recent immobility with my hips, so I was glad I picked up some sets at a new craft festival in Emmaus at the Wildlands Conservancy Center. The Fiber Festival was well attended and I ran into several friends attending, as well as some families who came to see me and stuck around. I had two hour sets on both Saturday and Sunday.

This particular nature sanctuary is a wonderful place; I took my kids there many times when we lived in Emmaus. Lots of trails, green lawns and shady trees so the place was hopping along with the various weavers, knitters, etc. gathering and celebrating their art with perfect, though hot, fall weather.

I was set up off from the artisan tents, near the mouth of one of the trails. They set it up nicely with bales of hay for seats in relative shade. It worked quite well, as folks stopped by as they drifted past. It was unseasonably warm (high 80’s) and I lathered up in sunscreen for the duration, brought out my mandolin, new Martin and my bag of instruments and pitched in. It was fun to play off of the ‘wildlands’ theme, often referring to what ‘wildlife’ might be behind me in the woods. No elephants, probably snakes and cats…..

I had the opportunity to interact with the kids, families and occasional elders who stopped by, and worked my magic as best I could. Still, some kids are incredibly shy when confronted with a guitarist who talks back, while some kids quite naturally just join in. It’s always a workshop. I like to watch the sibling relationships, perhaps an older brother/sister leading the way and I always try to get the parents and grandparents to play along. The foam noses come in handy when the three generations put them on, to the delight of the small kids.

On Sunday, one retired couple came up, sat down and stayed for the whole show, with the woman singing along, enjoying my repartee with the kids. Towards the end, as the families dispersed, she came up and grabbed a tambourine and a clatterpillar and started to play along. I commented that it was about time she joined in. She and her husband had seen me many times, especially at Mayfair and Musikfest so we chatted about the evolution of those two community festivals. I had the chance to share my philosophy on performance, how I engage the audience and involve the kids in the arc of the show.

The woman was particularly taken by my version of Here Comes The Sun, and hoped I would put it on my next album. I chuckled and thanked her. Though it remains one of my favorite songs, I thought that it remains a tune I would feel totally inadequate on a CD of mine.

Four hours of community music in a sylvan setting. The festival organizers were quite thankful for my participation and will ask me back next year. I’ll be there.

I had a bizarre request from some folks to appear in a locally produced movie, and the shooting was scheduled for Tuesday night after my radio show on DIY. Taylor Purdee is a recent graduate of the LV Charter Arts School and is writing and producing an original film. It’s about a recent college graduate whose plans to go on a music tour fall apart, leaving him trapped at home. He soon meets other similarly educated, similarly unemployed young people and turns disappointment into hope by forming a new band. Yup. Been there, done that.

I finished up my radio show at 9 pm and headed towards Easton, and, as I drove the back roads, it started to rain unexpectedly. I wondered if the campfire scene would go one. I arrived in the rain and, after a short spell, (and after I got makeup on), we headed down to the site. There were lots of extras on hand, including some youngsters (one of whom knew me from Calypso School), and some other familiar folky faces. They ran at least ten takes of  a general campfire scene that didn’t involve me, so I parked myself in the damp to watch. Lots of support to make this happen.

I was cast as the elder of a local folk music scene. (hmmph…) I had two scenes to deal with. The first was a campfire scene with a bunch of folks sitting ’round, starting with my duet with a woman singing Satisfied Mind and morphing into Taylor leading This Train is Bound for Glory. We ran it many times while I was still trying to figure out what Taylor wanted. Seat of Pants Production. It eventually congealed, with several good moments that I hope they will use. I was good at working the crowd to sing along and react. It will be authentic, I think. We finally got what they wanted about 1 pm, past my bedtime.

The toughest scene was a one-on-one with Taylor. He had asked me to learn The Death of Queen Jane, a traditional tune that was featured in the Coen brothers’  folk music movie Inside Llewyn Davis. That’s where Taylor probably found it. I looked it up on YouTube, and worked it out on the mandolin as an instrumental. I spent a lot of time working on it and came up with a loose variation. The scene involved me playing an obscure tune and Taylor’s character figuring it out, thus giving him some folk bonafides. We did many takes, all the while I was trying to remember the tune on the mandolin, my relationship with Taylor’s character and my acting skills. We finished up around 2:30 am. We’ll see.

Luckily, it was great weather for a September evening, warm with lots of crickets in the background. We were among lots of local folks, a few professional movie techs, and whole lot of energy to make this project happen for Taylor and his community. I was proud to have been asked to participate and glad to watch it all happen in my backyard.

I made several comments about snipes in the nearby fields which several folks got, but many did not. That was cool. I went on a snipe hunt in Boy Scouts. Yes, I did.

I made it home by 3 am.

My friend John Christie asked me to do a duo with him for a gated benefit event for children’s cancer down at the Steel Stacks area. Several large tents were set up with wine tasting and upscale food demonstrations. It was essentially a gathering of well-heeled patrons eating and drinking on a nice Saturday afternoon. I played this event last year, invited by Craig Thatcher, and was pleased to take part. They had pared back some of the loud bands from last year so I knew that our music was to be background for everything else, and especially today, playing for the last hour.

One of the nice perks, besides playing with John, is the full sound system provided by Phil Forchelli, a class community supporter and great sound man. We got to play with a full PA, and he made us quite comfortable. We started up the last hour after the auction, and folks started leaving (understandable with the food and wine they all imbibed…). There were a few folks who stayed and appreciated our music. John, of course, went with the flow, responding to the tunes I put up for grabs. We got some good music in, as I knew we would, as volunteers started to fold up chairs on the tables. I did mention to some of the flotsam remaining not to give us a standing ovation for anything or they would lose their seats.

The organizers apologized for the disappearance of the crowd but that was no big deal for us. We knew what we were in for, and, besides, it was a benefit that seemed to do quite well because of the format of fine food, good wine and folks with lots of money. There ya go. And we got to crank it up with a big, professional sound system.

It’s been a good run of Rose Garden farmers’ markets this year, once a month this summer, and this year, they found some money to sponsor me. I play in the middle of a green area under a large tree, and, over the season, the shade has made for a very pleasant spot among the vendors. I’ve developed some nice relationships with them and today was particularly fine. I lent out my mandolin to a young sparkling tea vendor to play while things were slow for him. Another vendor is a blues harpist and it gave me the idea of a potential flash band, with music popping up among the vendors with me in the middle. A nice thought. It was nice to add some encouragement to a younger player.

As I started, I realized I hadn’t played much over the last week, and I was rusty. With a gig with John Christie coming up this afternoon, I was glad I had a chance to get my performance feet back on the ground. Gotta stay in shape. 

Towards the end, kids and families gathered for some good interaction, including Abigail Adams in costume. I mentioned that she was the first AA in American history. Another funny spot happened earlier on when two young twin boys finally stopped tormenting each other and played some tambourine with me, loudly and quite loosely. With some of the vendors looking on, I said how hard it was to play with white percussionists, and they all chuckled. Later on, while I was playing Pay Bo Diddley, those same folks were trying to find the groove with little luck and I repeated my comment. We all had a big laugh together. The connections with the vendors is as important as those with the kids.

I was able to chat with several good friends from my Bethlehem past and pass some nods, comments and conversations between us. A warm September Saturday at the Rose Garden. Several vendors and market organizers thanked me for doing these over the summer, making the time go quickly for everyone. I have had a good time doing it.

I was called upon to play some music for a SouthSide community that I rarely get a chance to travel through, a couple of blocks up South Mountain from Steel Stacks and the Sands Casino. It’s cut off from standard city traffic so it has its own neighborhood identity. This small park features a basketball court, some grass and a pavilion. The community folks, and the city set up pop-ups, invited some snow cone vendors, the Thai and Latina take-out places to provide free food, and invited some fellow arts-educators to mix it up with the kids and families: Touchstone Theatre doing masks, Hala doing dance, Doug Roysdon doing puppets and myself doing music.

I got the chance again to work with Doug and his marvelous marionettes. Dancing Granny danced to several songs, his flute-playing puppet and I did Charlie Stone and we worked on a fairly dark Frog dance. Otherwise, I spread out my instruments and connected with the various kids that stopped by. It’s the very young ones that catch my attention. One young girl, pre-speaking, was enchanted by playing the maraca. I invited a couple older girls to join in so that she could react to other girls playing along. As I would play guitar, the little girl would go pick up a tambourine and hand it to me to play (while I was strumming guitar) and I did. I would go back to my guitar and she would go pick out another instruments and hand it to me. This went on for a while, all to the delight of her dad standing nearby. She did not want to leave when her mom picked her up to leave, and as she left sobbing in her mom’s arms, we waved to each other. It was a rich connection.




The event was pretty nice, with the good weather, lots of testosterone out on the basketball court, young girls dancing, some older neighbors stopping by, good snacks, and a fair amount of applied art as well.

It’s nice to have an early fall RockRoots so we glad to pump up the show on Friday after a three month respite. We were asked to play for an assembly in a Catholic school across the Delaware from Trenton. A nice day for an hour and half trip down the Turnpike. We set up in the cafeteria/stage area, and, as always with parochial schools, there were stairs involved. It was also a welcome-back to school gathering with parents and grandparents in the house, so it was a very nice crowd of about 300 people.

I always wonder if I remember the finer points of the show, especially with a long layoff and my increasing number of senior moments. Amazingly, it went smoothly and the band played well.

One special moment happens early in the show when we talk about folk dance, ask if there are any step dancers in the audience when we play the Irish tunes. This being a Catholic school, I thought this would be a no-brainer. One third grade girl volunteered and said to me that she improvises, and I said that’s fine with us. I started out the tune on the mandolin and she stood there with her finger on her lip, sizing up the enormity of having the full school with parents. We continued to play the tune when about 45 seconds into the song, she broke into a lively jig, to the great relief of everyone. She knocked it out of the park and the place went nuts. It was a very precious moment for the school, the girl and the band. Magic!

The rest of the show went fine, the school loved it, kids and teachers got up and danced at the end. I was back on the road at noon on Friday, headed back to Bethlehem. I found myself quite exhausted but content with another RR well done.

Ag Hall was buzzin’ on Monday and there was a good crowd on hand at the Centennial Stage. I set up, half expecting Kris Kehr to show up and saw quite a few kids in the audience with grandparents and parents in tow, so I know what I had to do. Several of the kids were fans and they made themselves at home with the instruments laid out on the table in front of me. Still, the general crowd was somewhat lethargic in singing along, and I tweaked them a little. I’m not sure audiences are used to the performer critiquing them.

Today, I had several opportunities to bring the kids up on stage for Tutti Tah, Keep a Knockin’ and Giants, all good opportunities for some performance art. It worked well, though, at the end, I only gathered about $6 in tips as the crowd gradually dispersed during the show. That’s how it goes these days. 

Nonetheless, I appreciate these opportunities to mix it up with a transient festival audience. I respect the challenge to play to the kids and the seniors, acknowledge those who participate and create on the fly. I’ll be back next year, for sure.

I had my yearly chance to jam with Steve Kimock at Ken  Labor Day Weekend party. Steve stops in to sit in with the local LV bar band guys, and I usually try to do an acoustic set early in the proceedings. Steve asked if he could sit in with me, and I agreed right from the start. We did it last year and it was fabulous.

Steve has always been a ‘boy genius’ on guitar, and, having left the Lehigh Valley years ago, moved out to San Francisco and fell in with the Grateful Dead crowd and joined that jam band scene. He now tours internationally with his mostly instrumental music in front of thousands of people, folks hanging on every note. But we have shared our mutual respect for decades and it was great to sit down and play to each other and the folks gathered for the picnic.

Steve is a great guitarist because he listens first and then finds how to add to the song, and we both have a great sense of dynamics. He also recognizes that I can set up the song, the chords and sing the tune and he doesn’t have to worry about fronting the music. I have great confidence that he will pick up the changes, even on tunes he’s never played before. We did this today. Our antennae were up for this set this afternoon and we did played some fine music. Steve enjoys the challenge of my diverse material, from country to blues to folk to original songs, stuff that is new to his ears, I’m sure. I get to enjoy his response to my music. Simpatico. Many wonderful moments between us. And, like myself, he would rather play than socialize. It’s how we communicate best. We nailed Lessons from Pete, Barrelhouse, Louise, among others today.

Several folks complimented our exchanges, the material and obvious respect for each other. All I could say was, “That was a whole lot of fun.” Steve loved the tunes and the challenges and the interaction. This was a good as it gets at this level.