A very nice night at a small coffeehouse in Northampton tonight with my friend Sam Steffen, a marvelous young songwriter and new addition to the verdant Godfrey’s open mike scene. We have a run of three shows together over the next week, so this was a good chance to hear full sets of each other, and give me a chance to figure out how to back him up on mandolin.


Sam’s songs are front loaded with deft lyrics, and tend to be long so I have to figure out how to pick my spots for mandolin. Mostly percussive rhythm at this point; no real leads… which is okay.


Before we even started, I was ambushed in front of the coffee shop by a dad with two young, talented boys and precocious fiddle players. He’s dragging these talented kids all over the place. They are good, but I was struck by quite a bit of ‘stage door mothering’; the kids had their fiddles out on the street, cranking out tunes. I almost wanted to tell them, ‘Enough. Put them fiddles away, boys.’ A little too much and too early, but then, what would they know of ‘gig’ etiquette?


We negotiated a deal to let them open up with a ‘guest’ set and I reconsidered my attitude, and got out my guitar and supported them. I knew the tunes they were good at, so I chipped in with solid rhythm guitar. Actually, I love doing that. They sounded good, and we created some good energy at the beginning of the night for the venue. I overcame my initial curmudgeon, and I grasped the bigger picture.


Sam did a great set of his tunes, ballads and intros. Having been limited to hearing two or three song sets at open mikes, I finally got to hear Sam do a full set, enjoy his stage craft and engaging skills, while listening to his challenging original word excursions (songs). And I got to noodle on the side on mandolin. I also figured out what tunes not to play on. That’s important, too.


I set up for my set: eliminated the sound system, and started out finger picking July, in honor of the first day on the month. There were only a few folks in the small front room with some good friends and some new, young folks. It was nice to play acoustically and it worked really nice. So nice to play to the space.


It was good to play a set of my good stuff, talk about gigs, entertain the folks, especially in a new and friendly environment. I got to play a nice set of tunes in a comfortable room of listening people. I asked that we could do it again, please? We will.


I was surprised by a more than generous wad of money (which I had no expectations for) and I meekly protested. I did it for the opportunity to play on a Tuesday night, do it with Sam, a new friend and artist in my life, and play a new place.


A good opening to the Sam and Dave Tour.