Its been a major struggle to reestablish myself in the greater folk scene, having pulled out of the Lehigh Valley, Godfrey’s, radio, etc. in order to move with my family up to CT back in 2001. It was a no-brainer for me because of the importance of ‘family’ in my life, and I welcomed the chance to start over in a new part of the country, exercise my folk skills in front of new people, become a ‘stealth’ musician and sneak up on unsuspecting audiences. It was almost worth it – the big ‘almost’ being my wife Kim divorcing me out of the blue in 2011.
I moved back to the Lehigh Valley with my tail between my legs and tried to restart my folkways here. But, with no money for a new album, and the short memory of the folk scene powers that be (what have you done lately?), I was spinning my gears trying to get back into the Philly Folk Fest, a festival I had played regularly since 1986.
My history with the festival.
In general, I had scored some very nice workshops along with the kids stuff, had some really fine moments on the main stage as a tweener, emceeing on Saturday nights along with Gene Shay, playing tunes in between major acts. These were major highlights in my performing career. But, I moved up to CT and the ‘tweener’ gigs were replaced by videos of famous folkies from yesteryear on the big screens on either side of the stage. There was also a new regime of bookers involved who didn’t know who I was or my history with the festival.
I made it a point to get back and a large part of that was to get a new album out. Playground was part of the plan, and to get it on WXPN’s Kids Corner with Kathy O’Connell was important as well. New stuff.
It was not easy to coax an invitation out of the festival. I was in contact with a lady I had worked for in a small folk club in Bucks Co. who was now on the booking committee for the kids music, and I had been in touch with her for months to make sure I was in the mix. She had assured me, even as recently as 10 days ago, that decisions had not been made.
I emailed one of the main bookers on Monday to remind him that I was looking forward his decision, and he wrote me back that the festival had been booked back in January. Damn. (Not my exact words) I immediately wrote him back and expressed my dismay with my conversations with the other woman. He was quite up front with this and said that he would forward my email to two other folks.
Amazingly enough, I heard back from him in an hour, offering me a fee and a weekend at the festival. I was tickled like I haven’t been in a long time. Here’s why.
I grew up at the Philly Folk Festival in many ways. I attended back in 1972 with Jan Sprague, my future first wife, as a camper and avid workshop attender. It was the weekend of a great rain, and we survived a night of
‘creeping water’ in our tent (inch by inch), loud late night music in the camp grounds, but it was an exhilarating weekend of great music. Notably, I got to see Michael Cooney on stage as the tweener with Gene Shay, bringing out great and wonderfully esoteric folk songs to share with the crowd. It was a major imprint. That’s what I want to do. (and I did it.)
The festival continued to draw me in as they graciously invited myself and Cindy Dinsmore as the Godfrey’s honchos to enjoy the festival in the hospitality area with other folkies and performers. It’s there I got to connect with folks like John Hartford and many other greats and made the connections to bring them to Godfrey’s. And I got to see great musicians on stage…. and backstage, too. Damn.
I then got to perform at the festival, thanks to some folks in the society that were interested in the kids music. Touchstone Theatre did “Yellow Moon Jamboree” in the kids area, sans PA and competing against Tom Rush and a band 40 feet away. Always a learning experience. So it goes. But it got me on the bill. Teresa Pyott took care of me.
Then I got in as a solo folkie as well. Another ‘don’t blink or you’ll miss it’ moment, though not without some perks: My second shining moment was leading off the Friday Showcase of ‘New Folk’ at 4 pm in front of pretty much nobody. But one Philly TV station had to get a report in before 5 pm so they grabbed me for an interview. I said I had been going to the festival since ’72. That’s a fact. But, as I learned from relatives who saw the segment, they said, “Here’s Dave Fry who’s been playing the festival since 1972.” Cool. I can go with that.
By some stroke of luck, the bookers at that time recognized my skills as an emcee, probably from seeing me introduce acts at Godfrey’s, and asked me to co-emcee with Gene Shay for some evening concerts. … and play some songs in between the acts. Another dream come true. Tweener heaven.
These were incredible situations, high pressure and indelibly informative performing experiences. I will pursue these later on this blog.
I had achieved some sense of place amongst a folk audience, and, more importantly, amongst my peers – professional folk performers. That’s it, for me. Not just a folk venue promoter, but a folk musician. I define myself as a player.
That evaporated when I chose family over folk to move to CT.
This year’s inclusion to the roster means several things.
1. I have new and creative material, thanks to my efforts with Playground. And I have thanked Kevin, Dina and Hub for their contributions to making Playground a truly profession entity, in production, design and photography. My creative engine has been restarted.
2. I will be recognized as an active part in the folk scene. It is all that I have always wanted to be.
3. I get to hang with my fellow performers again, as a peer and as an active artist.
4. It connects me with my historic roots as a folk musician. It hasn’t been that long that I strummed my guitar next to a campfire in the folk festival campgrounds late at night.
This feels so good. The circle is unbroken. Whodathunk?