A couple of months ago, Diane Tankle, NERFA’s guiding light, asked me to get involved with the conference and its relatively new spotlight on family folk presenters. She wanted a 15 minute showcase as well as input on a workshop on presenting family music in small folk clubs. I said, I could do that.
I was glad I had the chance to ‘do my stuff’ at the conference and perform in the new format. The last time I did the showcase, it was awkward. The cool part was, it was in front of 130 third graders from the local school, many of whom had parents that worked at the resort. The problem at the time involved having to perform in a fancy stage and sound situation. The other performers and family acts did their sound checks. I saw the enormous gulf between me and the kids, so I asked if I could forgo the stage and work to the kids down in the seats. They said no.
At the old showcase, the acts in front of me were excellent, quite well-traveled and professional folkies, and they did their stage show. The performance and songs were clever and cleanly presented. Good Stuff! But something seemed ‘wrong’ to me. The slickness seemed to be aimed at adults and teachers, programmed to promote some edu-cause. Save the animal, planet, and other cirriculum-driven topics. That’s all good, but I don’t do that. How come? …more on this later.
When it came to my set, I set up my guitar and stand, mentioned that I brought the guitar to get me in the place, and left it there for my whole set. I thought I would do all playsongs and try to project as if there wasn’t 49 feet of darkness between myself and the kids. It went well, the kids responded and there were a few folkies awake at that hour that commented that it was good. No gigs, though.
This year, they got it down. Small stage and sound in a meeting room with chairs and the 140 kids filled it up nicely, and in a more normal performer/audience space. This is going to be good.
The showcase was set up by David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans, Two of a Kind, a really fine couple who are as active as folks can get in the children’s music scene. They emceed, did a couple of tunes in between, and, most importantly, set up the relationship with the neighgorhood school. Phew.
The Neilds, sisters Katrina and Narissa opened the show, the ertswhile headliners (at least to the folk clubs on the circuit). They had a panel to go to so they led off. Nice to model family singing, harmonies, sister relationships, some good ‘folkrock’ movements, natural banter. Fun songs (The Pirate Song is a keeper), a song with spontaneous rhyming. They finished with a song about wanting to be a princess as a young girl. It was about empowerment and a good statement song. Good for them, and I mean it. (My warped stage sensibilities wondered whether 3rd grade boys would tune in to the message.)
I was disappointed that the sisters didn’t stick around for our sets.
Dave and Jenny did a tune and introduced me. I walked up to a wonderful sound of murmured recognition from the kids. They don’t even know me? Then it dawned on me that Jenny had forwarded my CD’s to the school so they had some introduction to my music. That’s the small things that lead to a good show. Thanks.
I had several variations of my three song set going around in my head. I landed on I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah and Giants for this age group and for the time limitiations. PB gave me a chance to rock out early, get them singing and doing hand motions and be engaged but not up and dancing. But the back and forth of singing choruses, leading and dropping out with my vocals, established a ‘dance’ I try to do with my audience. Lead, and then give up the lead.
I got the kids to do a Super Star, and its a brief exploration into physical movement and expression. I stole it from the phenomenal Billy Jonas, and it remains a great tool to establish connection. And it flows (if that’s the appropriate phrase) directly into the physicality and humor of Tutti Tah. Yes, it is cheap theatrics, but this vaudeville has its ‘learning’ moments that are rich in brain development. Yes, I just said that.
It is silly. And we get to be silly together in this safe community. That’s why I compliment the teachers’ involvement and investment. It has a community voice to it and it’s an important statement on my part that I am on their level and we are in this together. It’s a gas.
I followed with Giants, a song with no redeeming cultural or educational here at a relative pinnacle of the folk circuit on the East Coast. It’s got lots of cognitively folkie things going on. It has call and response, a chorus, audience sound effects, a Cat Came Back chord progression and kids on stage. I got two kids up to play Thunder Tubes, and it great to see the kids discover how to play them, as well as take ‘leads’ on them during the song. I get to do vocal trombone, too, so the whole song unfolds with many surprises, and I’ve honed it to deliver on many performance (and, yes, educational) levels. It’s so nice to have it in my repertoire. Thanks, Kent Aldrich.
It rocked. The kids and teachers had a great time. The sound crew loved it. And the few conference attendees up at 10 in the morning had a great time.
But I was only the opener for Ruth.