I have very few opportunities these days to poke my performing head above and into the larger folk circuit, and this was one of them. Spring Gulch is in its 31st year and I’ve been invited now three times. I am the sacrificial opening act on the Sunday, ostensibly as the family folk act. The last two times involved rain so I was looking forward to good weather today. I was also anticipating playing the set before my friend John Gorka. Simply being on this national bill was quite gratifying, and similar to opening for Tom Paxton at Musikfest Cafe and my many memorable gigs at the Philly Folk Fest.
Unfortunately there is no longer a crowd of kids to play for an aging folk audience, and I am hired to do my family show. The Sunday crowd is slow to make it down to the stage area, eating breakfast, breaking down camp sites, all for a “kids” show. I really do appreciate the folkies who do show up, and they are as good an audience as there can be, sans children. They join in singing, doing hand motions, etc., but my ‘show’ really is in about my interaction with the kids. I am somewhat handcuffed in these situations and I try to engage the adults while doing my kids material. I’m glad that I am comfortable enough with my asides and observations that it turns out to be an engaging overall show. But, it is hard, hard work. I did get many compliments afterwards, so there was some gratification. And several folks who have heard me over the years reflected back on some of my gigs way back when. Good to reconnect with my other excursions in the past.
I actually owe this gig to Sophie, the daughter and granddaughter of the two presenters of the festival Andy and Michael Braunfeld. They both said that she insisted I return. She said, “Not just Trout Fishing or John Flynn, but Dave Fry.” Whatever it takes, I suppose. Sophie knows.
I did my good family set: Bear Hunt, Peanut Butter, Names to the Animals, Giants and more, all the time trying to encourage more kids to come down, grab an instrument in front of the stage and get involved, while balancing on this thin adult/kids edge in performance values.
What makes these occasions so special is the opportunity to for me to perform in front of my peers on the Folk Circuit. I feel I have the performance chops to play on main stages like this, and I certainly have played in front of large audiences, especially in my assembly work. I belong here.
Driving back, I regretted not doing Lessons from Pete at some point in the set, risk stepping aside from the kids material just so I could present my folk opus to this very particular audience. But I felt constrained by the task at hand assigned by the promoters. I would love to return with my trio for a real Dave Fry set, play to the hard-core folkies and deliver my good adult material. But, I am glad that I can set up avenues to the Philly Folk Fest, meet the good folks who know what I do, and, with my new CD, get back to that festival.
I particularly cherished my time back stage with my friend John Gorka. We were able to share some quality time as friends/brothers, talk about how lucky we are to be able to do this for a living (especially compared with those old blues guys…..). I was able to share some of my botherations about where I am on the folk food chain, but was able to provide for my young family over the last 25 years. And I found myself saying, “But, you know, nobody else on the circuit put together a folk club like Godfreys.” John chimed in, “and made it last.” We shared our family’s recent histories, heath issues, how our bodies are turning into our dad’s, talked about some recent passings of fellow performers, and shared great Godfreys stories and more. This was a precious time; I rarely have conversations like this but with only a handful of close friends. I felt flush with my kinship with my good friend. …and there was good hospitality food on hand.
John has become a consummate performer and I complimented his ‘show’. His patter in between songs is as finely scripted as his songs. His timing, his stories, his delivery all amplify his stage persona. His vulnerability and warmth is unlike others on stage – he realizes this and crafts his stage personality to that end. He know what he is doing, just like I know what I’m doing with kids. We are the only folks who feature scrapple in our songs, and I was mildly disappointed that John didn’t have time to work it in his show. Understood that he had a 45 minute set, which is short for him. Such interesting connections.
John and I were talking by the CD tent (I, of course, sold nada….) but we were waylaid by a talkative fan (one of many for John, and it’s nice to see him handle it with grace). As I found my out of the conversation (the one about his friend’s choice of visiting with a dieing mother or going to a JG concert…that brought some raucous laughter from myself and John), I headed back to the stage area. As I was passing out of earshot, the guy said, “Who’s that guy?” John said, “He’s my hero.”
That’s all I needed.