David Bromberg returned to Godfrey Daniels for a solo show on Sunday night, a gig he wanted to do on his way back from Albany on Saturday night. I remain amazed and gratified with his connection to the club, dating back to his first visit in 1985. He hadn’t been here since 1990, but had personally helped me out for my Band Aid benefit concert with John Gorka in 2013 at the IceHouse.

David rarely does solo shows, so they are very special in that he calls upon his folkie roots, playing blues and songs from some early songwriters as well as some of his own. Very special evenings. He pulled out, in particular, Delia and Mister Bo Jangles, songs that harken back to my very early days as a beginning folk musician.

In my early days at Lehigh in the late 60’s, I would travel back to the Albany area for the summer. I would hook up with my friend Dennis Mike, a fellow acoustic guitarist who would introduce me to Cafe Lena and Jerry Jeff Walker. Dennis played Jerry Jeff’s first album and I was amazed to hear leads on acoustic guitar (Beatles’ electric guitars, yes, but…), Sure enough, there was a skinny dude on the back cover with an acoustic guitar, David Bromberg. Imagine our surprise when we found out he was playing at our very local coffeehouse (The Bethlehem Coffeehouse) in Delmar, NY.

We were up front with twenty people or so. He was accompanied by a strange bass player with a leather aviator’s helmet on, feature by Dave as “The Flying Torpedoes”. He proceeded to blow us away with his flatpicking, fingerpicking and stage presence. We had never seen anyone like this before. Damn. He played Delia and I was thunderstruck with the simplicity and restraint in his rendition.

I tried valiantly to figure Delia out, bought a book with the tablature (another new device) and gradually found out that this  Rev. Gary Davis version wasn’t remotely the same as what I heard from Bromberg. This was not going to be easy to become a folksinger. But I persisted, learned it by ear, and I still pull it out on special occasions. David did a great version with some superb storytelling and it seems I still have some woodshedding to do.

As he was packing up, I thanked him for returning to room and pointed out his photo from 1986. He said, “A lot of my friends are on these walls.” Some deep connections here in this very special room. I think that’s why he came back, and why he helped me out when I was pretty low four years ago. He is a very special human being, as well as a world-class musician and folkie.

David led off the evening with this, “You know that you are in the last of the best, in this room.  There were  times when rooms similar to this were all over the United States. And there are still some of those old coffeehouses, some of them older than Godfrey Daniels, that are still in business, but they’re not the same. They’ve all expanded, got more modern spaces; they can bring more people in. They’re just not the same. They don’t have the history that is here, and that history counts.” Bang.

 

This is always a big date on my calender for several reasons. It pays really well. It’s a long day with two two-hour sets of music. I connect with folks who are familiar with me and my music over several generations. Pretty good reasons.

I do two ‘sittings’ for the Santa brunch at 9 am and 12 noon and the country club really rolls out the food, a great Santa, horse-drawn wagon rides and more. I add music and personal interactions with the kids, many of whom know me from years past. The girls dress up in Christmas dresses and the boys in bow ties. The grandparents bring the newer kids up to play along and the situation brings out some deep familial ties. I get to watch and enjoy.

The bag o’ instruments continues to be a great device to encourage interactions with me and between the kids as well. Lots of back and forth.

I have a good selection of Christmas tunes including some obscure, but rockin’ rhythm songs. My friend Jack McGavin is the Santa (he’s really, really good at it) and comes out later in the set to dance with kids during my Santa medley. Lots of cell phone pix from the adults. The club really appreciates what I do and I appreciate the work. This year’s check goes towards travel to Italy to see my daughter Rosalie in February.

I’m sure the folks are movers and shakers (I chatted with the Yocco’s Hot Dog dude and one of the Arts Quest folks) and they all thanked me for my work with the kids. That’s pretty nice.

What I take away from it all is the fact that I can provide a rich experience for generations of families in this community. And I really like working with the kids first hand. They fill up my sets with smiles, dancing and fun. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday in December.

I was able to perform today at the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown today, unlike a lot of my fellow performers who lost out due to the snow later in the day. The snow started as I headed out and things were fine for my 11:30 am show.

This was my first time at this museum and it is pretty cool: fire trucks, old racing cars, hybrids, vintage cars from the 20’s, 30’s, etc. I got a warm welcome from the staff including an older gent who remembered me from some local school gigs when he was a custodian in Catasauqua. There were actually a number of retired men who obviously loved automobiles.

We gathered in the North wing and it filled up with families, granddads and dads, moms and a 4 year old’s birthday party, so I had folks to work with. I mixed holiday material with my regular stuff, passed out red reindeer noses, and we danced, sang and carried on.

It was a pleasant gig with one grandpop thanking for doing a good job. It was my first indoor gig this week so I was thankful for the warm climes today.

Tomorrow, Brookside CC’s Breakfast with Santa with new snow on the ground.

I was asked to return again to PP&L Plaza for Allentown’s annual Tree Lighting event, as a performer and emcee. When I started about 4 pm, it was chilly and a tad windy, but not to bad. The temperature would drop into the 30s over the next two hours.

Families were lined up down the block, waiting for Santa (and the Toys for Tots’ free giveaways) so I encouraged the kids to come on up and dig into the bag of instruments, scarves, noses and hand puppets. It took a couple of kids to break free and soon, the grassy spot in front of the stage was filled with kids. Controlled chaos.

Some of the kids remembered that they came up on stage last year, so, after a while I invited them up for (appropriately) a freeze dance. It was good theater for the adults (taking cell phone shots, of course) and we filled up the time before Santa’s arrival. I chased the kids off but some kids didn’t take clue and I had turn, off mike, and tell them to scoot. I’m sure some of the instruments walked but I expected that. Still, some of the families don’t get it. 

Santa arrived via fire truck and I launched into my Here Comes Santa medley, and folks settled in for the tree lighting. I was joined on the stage by Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Melvin, the Phantom’s mascot (he’s really good) and the local TV weatherman to count down for the tree lighting. There was the big build up and most of the lights went on (it worked perfectly ten minutes beforehand…). The top and bottom were lit and the vast inbetween remained dark. I made a remark that was pretty snide on my part (and really, really regret), “Welcome to Allentown.” What I thought was clever in the moment was quite foolish on my part.

The lights came on (apparently Melvin’s scooter unplugged the lights behind the stage just before he came up) and the was a nice, appreciative cheer from the crowd. I then introduced the local choral group from Dieruff HS, the Allen HS band and a local youth dance group YEA!. It was getting really cold and I applaud this kids for performing in this tough situation. But it was in front of families and friends and the energy was very nice.

I was supposed to close things down at 6:30 with a few songs, but I didn’t think I could handle the cold at this point. I thanked folks, the community performers and we closed it down. I was still shivering an hour later.

The sobering moment occurred when my friend Miriam came up to me during the first group. She was disappointed with my comment on stage, and that someone had complained. It was then I realized the enormity of dissing Allentown with my remark, and in a most public situation, live TV…. gack…). I apologized to Mir and said I would make some positive comments later on, and I did. But, my ironic sense of humor was inappropriate, to say the least, especially since I was hired by the Allentown Chamber.

I was uneasy the rest of the night with some loss of sleep. It kind of ruined my recollection of what should have been a successful, but very cold gig. Lesson learned, once again.

My friend and fiddler Amy Forsyth led a unique class at Lehigh this semester: imagining musical instruments. Each student was to build an instrument during the fall and Amy invited me up for an end of the semester jam with them. From flutes, kitchen pot theremin, kazoos, fluted pipes, various boxes and stringed instruments to a functional banjo.

We gathered in the stairwell in the basement of Chandler Lab (chemistry lab in my LU years) and it turned out to be the perfect place to jam. Each student demonstrated his or her instrument, their thought processes and sound experiments. There was a small Pignose amp available for instruments that used a pick up.

One enterprising student by the name of Gibson (!!) made a wood head banjo that was set up perfectly: frets, 5th string, neck, etc. so I asked to try it. I clawhammered a tune, Amy joined in on fiddle and the others tooted and banged along. I had the chance to brainstorm with Gibson, compliment his craft, gave him a short lesson on my simple, but effective frailing style.

We jammed on a Bo Diddley beat that morphed into a blues. Another LU professor joined in and we attracted various students and staff in the stairwell. I’m sure the sound was pretty cool and it was a particularly good jam, especially with the curious but untrained students. I was glad Amy asked me to help grease the session on guitar. And I got to have another bizarre Lehigh experience.

Amy’s great in inspiring young folks in the creative arts, not just music. She also teaches furniture building and is a fine graphic artist, too. Quite the renaissance woman, and a kindred spirit.

Accordion kazoo. 

Electric banger twanger.

 

 

 

 

3D printer flutes.    

 

We had a rare afternoon assembly in central Jersey, and thought the drive in was smooth, we hit afternoon drive traffic back. It’s one or the other – early traffic for morning gigs on the way or late traffic coming back in the afternoon.

There was substantial security at this school, with three or four no-nonsense guards, stiff vetting at the entrance (Wayne had trouble getting in – I guess the name Smith causes problems), all a product of the times. So it goes.

The audience was somewhat rammy today and I felt, though we played well, we didn’t connect as well as usual with the kids and the teachers. I also broke an A string during the second song so I managed to get in tune quickly but played the set with only 5 strings, something that tends to provide a distraction from my presentation.

The principal and the PTO woman thanked us for a good job but something was missing in connecting like we usually do. I can’t put a finger on it. Sometimes it’s not a sure thing. It was good to get out and do the show, though. We don’t play as many RR gigs as we used to.

Our next two gigs are the Friday before Christmas vacation, and I’m sure the ‘rammy’ quotient will be pretty high then.

My friend Craig Thatcher asked me to join him and Nyke Van Wyk on a music video project on Monday in one of the old buildings on the Bethlehem Steel Company site – the Turn and Grind Building. LA singer songwriter Ken Goldstein and award winning producer and director Peter von Puttkamer were putting together a music video about the demise of the Steel and how it’s rebounded with the arts at Steel Stacks. “The Song of Bethlehem” is an interesting tune that Craig sent me, and I figured out the chords and arrangement on Sunday night and Monday morning. Live, Craig would play guitar, Nyke violin and I would chip in on mandolin. Eventually, a local choir came on board to do some vocals. All the rehearsal happened on site in 40 degree temperatures.

It was a cold morning in the dilapidated building, with the occasional space heater cranked up, some coffee and bagels and a full crew of video and audio folks on hand. When I got there, Ken was recording his vocals and guitar and we waited patiently for our turn. There were many pauses to let the frequent trains pass by. I thought that was pretty cool but not for recording. Eventually, after more than an hour or so, we were set up to do our parts. The arrangements were done on the fly, and we were pretty rough to begin with, trying to play along with Ken’s guitar part, his vocal and a click track in our headphones. It was pretty cold – Craig and Nyke were having the worst of it. My hip was bothering more than the cold. 

As we worked through the arrangement, my mandolin part was shoved back further and further into the song. Ken’s initial guitar rhythm on the track was a problem, and I had some problems with synching up. But, I was fine with sitting out while the song builds. We ended up doing about 10 takes while Ken figured out what he wanted. Craig and Nyke are champs and were able to add some fine licks while I added my mando noodling in the back. It actually turned out nicely. Craig heard some of the final mix and thought my part was great. I wasn’t as confident, but it was good to hear it from my friend.

We eventually took a break to get some lunch in the warm visitors’ center nearby, and I got to catch up with my fellow performer/clown Bruce Ward who also spend a long time working in the Steel while it was still functioning. He gave me the lowdown on that building and his time on the job. He has also taken it upon himself to produce several videos on the Steel and laid a copy on me. He said it wasn’t as cold as standing on a metal ladder outside a shut down furnace, with a sub-zero wind whipping down the Lehigh River. Perspective.

I headed back into the shoot site to get paid, but ended up waiting an extra hour to ask Ken for my money. Not terribly professional on several parts. Just because you’re from LA doesn’t mean you treat the locals as an afterthought. Still, I appreciated the chance to experience this whole thing. I got my $200 in cash, signed the waiver and finally headed home after four and a half hours in the cold.

The local TV-69 crew did a 10 minute piece on the shoot and I got a couple of close-ups on my mandolin, my tapping foot (!!) and the three of us playing in the cold. All in all, it was a marvelous experience, a chance to play with my two good friends and contribute to a historical piece about my home town.

Bethlehem Steel

By Kenneth Scott Goldstein

intro C | F   C / Am

  1. 1. They closed down the steel plant that Winter,

And left the people out in the cold.

No work to do, no plans offered, no sympathy,

The day Bethlehem Steel Factory closed.

2, Families, generations – lost their wages

As they watched their benefits go up in smoke

These were the same men and women who built America

On Bethlehem Steel Factory’s goals

But what they left a legacy of integrity,

From hard work, their families would prevail.

Deep in the soil beneath the furnace

Their roots burrowed deep

They dug in, trusted and believed

They went boom bang boom we’re going to re-build this city,

Boom bang boom this time on solid ground.

Boom bang boom no fear of this land will break us,

Because Bethlehem Pennsylvanians won’t back down.

3. From the banks of the Lehigh River you can feel it,

But the factories got a make-over you just gotta see.

Where once stood ghosts of things they’d lost; stands a vision

Of a future proud to have this past.

What they built was a legacy of integrity,

From hard work, their community will prevail.

Deep in the soil beneath their homes

Their roots run deep,

Because they created; re-imaged; and believed.

They went boom bang boom we’re going to re-build this city.

Boom bang boom this time on solid ground.

Because Bethlehem Pennsylvanians won’t stay down.

Because Bethlehem Pennsylvania is our home.

The Sherman Theater is an old venue in Stroudsburg, PA and have opened a smaller venue next door as a showcase stage. Scott Judy has convinced the theater to start a children’s series every other Saturday, free admission, and I was the third act to appear.

It started out slow but as 2 pm rolled around families started to show up and the folks had to round up more seats. Eventually the small space was filled. I’m not used to having successful family shows the first time around, so this was a good one.

I was lucky that they found some newspaper coverage during the week, and the folks running the series were not only surprised by the turnout, but enjoyed my ‘show’, my engagement with the audience and my professionality. The sound guy even ‘got it’ with my guitar work.

It felt good to drive home from the Poconos on a warm fall day. Money in the bank. Job well done.

I haven’t had a lot of work this November but found some time to go to some local jams this week. I hosted the Godfrey’s Acoustic Blues Jam on Tuesday with only Cliff and Steve in the house, plus a few listeners. Surprisingly, we had a good time passing tunes around. Steve is especially fun to have in the house; he’s a fine harp player but also is a blues encyclopedia as well. He know the backstories of a lot of the obscure players, even some of the really obscure ones I dig up.

Wednesday was Andy Killcoyne’s Hot Acoustic Jam in Riegelsville, always a full house of players and listeners and I usually get an early slot. Tonight, I was hoping to get out “Chuck E’s in Love” as a solo for the first time, always a challenge to premier a song in front of a real audience. Andy chided me that it was supposed to be a jam, and that solo stuff was for Monday’s at the club. He was half kidding, so I said I’ll just do this one by myself. (Some songs have complicated bridges, like this one, and are not suitable for a jam). I pulled it off, and people were surprised to hear a pop tune from me. It was a good lift off for the song. Andy came up after it and proceeded to play the lick flawlessly (unlike my attempt) and I muttered a FU under my breath.

I finished up the three song set with Hey Bo Diddley and It’ll Be Me with lots of room for guitar and bass solos and it was appreciated.

Thursday night was my Emmaus Jam and there were only about 5 folks there, but we proceeded to pass around some good tunes. My friend and banjo player Tom sang a song for the first time in public ever. He messaged me later, “Hey Dave, I just want to say thanks for being involved in this Emmaus Jam. I’ve never sang in public before and tonight it was so easy to do it and I attribute that to you. Stick your head out the door, I think you’ll hear Pete Seeger saying “Well done Dave, you’re doing good.” . Thanks again.” That made it all worth it there.

The small gatherings are precious unto themselves.

We’ve performed for this annual gathering on the Friday after Thanksgiving for about 4 or 5 years now, and I relish this opportunity to play with these friends, for the music and the camaraderie. The band played quite a bit back 35 years ago, back when the local music scene could support bar gigs during the week, weddings on the weekends and we developed a strong reputation as a country band that could rock and roll and swing while entertaining the folks with our humor on stage. 

Well, we still do that. The Texas Swing material still kicks, Reid’s guitar is still nasty and he can still belt out the vocals. Chris Jones still plays steel regularly with a local country band, but Jeff (drums) and Hub (piano) only play occasionally. They alway rise to the occasion. Kris Kehr has done a great job taking over the bass duties when Denny kind of rusted out on the instrument, and Kris really does his homework on a lot of material we take for granted. I still play a lot so I’m primed and ready to go. 

It has fallen to me to produce the show, writing setlists, gathering folks for rehearsals, etc. and take the responsibility for divvying up the material among all of us. The older material is solid and folks come out to hear the tunes, but it’s up to me to provide some new stuff on the menu and keep things fresh for us and the audience. The combination makes for a really good show.

 

Peggy Salvatore has joined us for a few songs at the beginning of the second set and tonight we worked up Rickie Lee Jones’ Chuck E’s in Love and Bonnie Raitt’s Give It Up or Let Me Go. I’ve been wanting to do Chuck E’s for a long time, and I’ve been working on my version of it. This was the perfect opportunity for me to really get it down. I almost nailed it, blew the last chord but caught it off my shoe strings. Give It Up rocked nicely. Peggy is singing more and it shows. She had fun.

We have some solid tunes to start out with and help us establish our cred from the get go, which is no small thing when we only do this once a year. Choo Choo, Zombie Jamboree and I’m Walking do just fine and we roll from there. Walking Stick (sans tango), Reid’s Dehlia was particularly manic with his Buzzy vocal conniptions, Hub’s solo Song for You, Jeff’s Old Cow Hand, and another raucous Red Neck Mother were highlights.

I’ve added False From True, Rosie is a Friend of Mine, Louise and Lessons from Pete to the roster this year and we did each one well, playing with our antennae up, looking for cues from me and listening hard. The audience appreciates the effort. Lessons came out very nicely. My friend Bill Hall did a multitrack tape and it should have some fine cuts on it.

The stage raps and comments were, as always, fresh, spontaneous and surprisingly funny. Part of the magic of the band has always been our repartee with the audience, finding places for asides without getting in each other’s way. Lots of chuckles tonight. 

Though we were not as tight as we were back then (and we were extremely well rehearsed), we cover for each other and trust that we will pull the songs off well. We did, for the most part, and the audience was none the wiser for the small fluffs. Most of the comments after the show were, “That was fun.” That’s pretty good in my book.

I am still amazed how tight we are as friends and we naturally fall into our grooves and roles on stage. We remain brothers and it shows on and off stage.

It took a long time coming but I finally got violinist Nyke Van Wyk in the studio to put down tracks for the album. We lined up three cuts, the first being Louise, a fairly straight-ahead country tune. Nyke got a handle on it right away, was able to lay out for the piano and steel parts to come in and then add fills and rhythm chops as well as playing a fine lead. He is no stranger to the studio, being a producer himself, so he knew what to do.

Next up was Giant, a fairly different feel but he has Celtic sensibilities to go with his country ears. Again, fine work, supporting the strong melody while being able to play around it. There’s some great improv going on as well and was able to respond to the outtake of whistle and bodhran.

We finished up with Ten Men, a fairly aggressive ballad that has some anger in it. Nyke was able to attack the tune, play with emotion and give Kevin and myself plenty to work with.

Nyke was able to deal with three different pieces of music, with three different feels. He knocked them out of the park today.

This project has been great, working with professionals who happen to be friends, as well. We’re getting to the end, with a couple of sessions with my “drunken friends” on The Crawl and some retakes on my vocals. It’s been a expansive experience to hear the songs rise from nothing into musical pieces of art.

 

I put together an ambitious evening of music, photos and videos celebrating the arc of my life as a folk musician. It came about when my friend Doug Roysdon gave me a Saturday slot as part of his Ice House Tonight series, and when it came up on my radar last month, I put together an idea for this particular show. I invited friends from my past bands and assembled a powerpoint presentation with the vast amount of images and photos I have amassed over the years. It seemed to have a historical narrative and could prove to be entertaining. It was, but it was an exhausting project worth doing since I now can do it again down the line.

I started with a list of my various bands, picked out a song from that time period, assembled the players available (there were several who couldn’t do it on such a tight time frame) and linked the songs with the visual projections. It turned out to be a good format.

Each slide gave me an opportunity to tell an interesting anecdote, add some good storytelling and humor to the show and then play a live song with a friend or two. I was able to play some videos of some gigs at the Philly Folk Festival and on PBS-TV to give some added diversity to the show. I was also able to build to the material I’m doing for my new CD Troubadour with a nice cast of live musicians.

The fly in the ointment that caused some stress was an intermittent drop out of the speakers that developed 15 minutes before the show. My sound system has become somewhat road-weary and it rose it’s ugly head just in time for this gig. The sound would cut in and out, depending on vibrations from the stage, and was often set off by tapping my foot. Do you know how hard it is for a musician not to tap his foot? But I also found pounding my foot would bring it back on. It was a constant battle.

I was lucky that there was a small and very forgiving audience in the house. Yes, it turned out that I was thankful for a small audience.

I did not do a good job of promoting the gig, especially in such a tight time frame of one month. But it turned out to be a successful way to put the show together for future events. I appreciated the support I got from my fellow musicians Chris Simmons, John Christie, Hub Willson, Jesse Grim, Michael Beaky and Harley Newman (sword swallower). They were all wonderful.

This was a seat-of-the-pants operation for me. I was in charge of sound, promo, production, etc. and was a little above my pay scale. But, as a friend said, no one left early and there was no snoring in the audience. I was told, “Your presentation was excellent because you are a good speaker, excellent performer, and it’s apparent where your heart really is because of your accomplishments. I was fascinated by all of the performances you chronicled.” Mission accomplished.

I love the opportunity to play a coffeehouse outside of the Lehigh Valley, especially in the nearby Oley Valley. The drive through Berks County to Oley takes me back through decades of my life and brings me into a beautiful old PA town of brick and stone houses, part of my DNA at this point. The Half Moon Cafe is in a larger arts building dedicated to pottery, thus Clay on Main. These folks have put together a series of folk concerts, open mikes, etc. in their own community and I welcome the chance to perform for them.

It was a small audience of about 16 people, and though I wish for them that more folks come out to see me, I wish more people would come out to support the venue.

I was quite comfortable in doing two sets of my ‘good stuff’, and relish the chance to bang on the guitar and mandolin. I played relatively well (as usual, a few lyric mumbles…) and thoroughly enjoyed exercising my material through a sound system. I brought out my recently neglected D1 Martin and I believe it responded nicely.

My friend Bonnie Wren chipped in some harmonies on Louise and Jack Murray came over the mountain to support me, as well. Several nice interactions with the few who came out and that makes it all worth it. A beautiful full moon escorted me home.

I was selected as a standby for this library showcase in middle NJ, and was move up into the starting lineup last week. I figured to do my 20 minutes and see if I can get some lucrative work in the libraries. I got the last slot of the day at 2:30, after another dozen or so acts and after an animal zoo act. As it turned out, there were a lot of the librarians sticking it out to the bitter end so it was a good slot.

I did Peanut Butter (next year’s theme is ‘Libraries Rock!) and followed that with The Cat Came Back. Along the way I got to chip in my bona fides and other comments to amplify my teaching artist skills. I finished with Giants with a librarian playing Thunder Tube. It was a good way to finish the showcase strong, and I ended up giving away lots of CDs, and even selling a couple as well. Not to bad. We’ll see if I get any calls.

The other acts were a mixed bag of very creative storytellers and musicians, jugglers but also a very standard magician (I was called up on stage to be a stooge during the morning set) – comedy magicians have some pat shows that tend to be forced, demeaning to the person on stage and too clever and unfunny.

There was some good conversations with some of the other presenters, but little chat with the visiting librarians. I like playing for librarians but they tend not to get too out of hand. Shhhhhh…..

I was a little trepidatious to perform today, after my cosmetically challenged eye surgery ten days ago, but it turned out fine. Low lighting.  

The Brookside folks know how to put on a party. The place was decked out Harry Potter, to the max, down to the floating candles on the ceiling.  One server was the spitting image of Harry. Well done!

I did two hours of music while folks dined on the fine buffet (I made sure to indulge..). The kids came up to play from the bag, while other small kids came up and danced with grandmom or mom. It is really special to see these very young kids experience dancing with close relatives, and how much the elders appreciate the chance to do so. The family connections are what makes this a wonderful gig.

I get paid very well, but the staff and the families also respect what I do for this community. That’s okay in my book.

I’ve been recuperating from some eyelid surgery (basal cell) during some intentional downtime in my schedule. I was hoping to wear a pirate’s patch for Halloween, but it seems I’m spooky enough without it.

I did do a Dave’s Night Out with Sam Steffen last night and a RockRoots this afternoon, so I’m back on the boards though pretty exhausted from the effort.

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Steffen joined me in a night of topical songs which he is quite adept at, with songs about unemployment, black lives matter and other rye commentary on modern life. He has come a long way with his compositions, both lengthy and deep. It was a good crowd for one of these evenings and Sam stepped up. I added a few tunes to the mix including Study War No More, Ten Men, If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Put the Frack Back, one I had written several years ago for a protest in Allentown. It was good to unpack it and sing it again.

 

The RockRoots gang headed to Far Hills, NJ, thankfully not an epic trek, for an afternoon assembly at a Day School (read posh private school). 250 K – 8th graders and their teachers were all great. We played well and the school loved the show. Again, this show is routinely successful, the band plays well, I remember the lines and folk dig it all. I made it back through relatively smooth Friday traffic.

 

I set up sound at Godfrey’s for the Celtic band and got the show going before heading upstair to write this blog. A busy 24 hours and I’m glad I have some down time before Sunday’s next gig at Brookside C.C.

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!