I had two nice sets at Philly today, as well as a visit from my daughter Rosalie and her beau Cory, so a full day.
The first set was on the Craft Stage, a full hillside of people, with a whole passel of performers including John Flynn, Roger Deitz, Sonia, Josh White, Jr., myself and Janis Ian. I was seated next to Janis, so that was cool. In fact, as John opened with Kisses Sweeter Than Wine and invited everybody up to sing harmony, I had to bend down considerably to sing in the same mike with Janis. Whodathunk? Janis followed with one tune and split.
I followed her with two songs. I decided to feature Pete’s kids’ songs, so I led off with Skip to My Lou and invited Ansel up for a harp solo. I got the hillside singing along, with spots that I withdraw my vocals completely. It’s effective in several ways. It surprises the audience, challenges them, and gives them (and the performer) a chance to hear the ‘voice’ of the people. There’s a Pete learning moment right there. Ansel was superb, as usual. I got in the silly verses in, skipped the personal verse at the end, so it was full and engaging. There was some nice interactions with the audience that I’m not sure other performers achieved.
I then stepped up to the plate with Lessons from Pete. I guess this is the moment I had been practicing for, though not over-anticipating. I did an intro about seeing Pete along the Hudson years ago and followed up with the ‘brain-trust’ rap. It was a good setup, received well. ..and personal.
I launched into it and it flowed really well; the phrases felt natural and I pretty much nailed it. I added “Stan, Gamble, Hartford, Utah and now Pete, too” and, surprisingly nailed that also. There was a palpable reaction from the audience there and at other times during the song. Perhaps my antennae were up (no doubt) but this particular audience ‘got it’ on a level that was other than my usual ‘good time’ vibe. I got a great response at the end, though I was in a more in a ‘phew’ mode than ‘thanks’ mode, having gotten through the piece.
I had some nice reactions from performers later during the Festival, and they meant a whole lot to me, not being a songwriter. Ansel remarked that if that was the only song I wrote, that would be the keeper. Even John Flynn said it was good.
I knew I had to split early for a nearby family set in Dulcimer Grove, but I also realized that they might be running short of material. I asked Andy B. if an extra song from me would help and he said sure. So I stayed on stage as the other performers did Pete tunes (and, surprisingly, Josh White, Jr. did humorous tune that was more a showcase piece than a Pete piece, and he also did it from three sheets on a music stand…. more on that….). All in all, great Pete tunes with fairly standard sing-along techniques. (hmm…)
I had figured out that I had All Around the Kitchen in my bag. I channeled Pete again, and explained how he started working in his local schools when he was banished from the airwaves. I also connected folk singing and folk dancing as important learning (performance) experiences … and, under my breathe, actual stage devices.
I got people, yes, adults, up to participate. You know, upon reflection, this was a no-brainer. Philly Folk Fest, tie-dyed T’s, hippie and hip audience, presentational (yawn…) folk concert, a beautiful summer day, great sound. Time to dance.
Again, it came together for this one. I got ’em singing the chorus “All around the Kitchen, ca ca doodly do. Frankly, one of the better folk chorus’s – give ’em something completely nonthreatening, so’s they can dance. So off we went. It was great to see hip folks dancing on a hillside at Philly.
I did a few of the new standard verses: boo, sprinkler and another that was not tight… So, I take a performance leap – what moves do they have? After the shock of me suggesting this, three fine ladies came up with the Whooo, the Wave, and the Pirate. The last one was a riot, a keeper, and sealed the deal. Argh!
So, off we go, doing this fairly R’n’Roll music dance piece, folks dancing to this spontaneous song. You know I trust my muse when I throw it out there: somebody, as much as an artist as me (kid or adult), will creatively throw it back to me. Boy, that’s the true essence of what I’m trying to do as a performing artists.
Feeling my oats, I threw in Born to be Wild as we danced, a tune musically close, and is a certain anthem for folks my age. As we sang the chorus together, I humbly apologized to Pete for doing this. Actually, I hope he would have loved it. I think so.
I had to get to the next stage in ten minutes so I hustled off for part two of my Philly Tour. I do regret not being on stage for the rest of the tribute, but I felt I had connected with, and energized, a Philly Folk Fest crowd. Again.
Now to the obscure Dulcimer Grove. A new challenge awaits.