I was asked to play for a small banquet celebrating the 80th birthday of Bob Lucas, a professor of mine back in my Lehigh days, 1971 or so. I really didn’t make many connections with my engineering profs, but Mr. Lucas was one of them. I’ve actually become more friendly with him over the years since he and his wife Joanne have been coming to some of my festival gigs at Mayfair and Musikfest. I’ve always thought it curious that an engineering/math teacher would come see me do my work as a musician.
Anyway, he has seen something in me other than a Lehigh student and that’s pretty nice. He wanted The Cat Came Back so I obliged right of the bat. There were about 35 people in the hall so I went without a sound system. There were family members, about 7 grandkids, as well as several older, professorial types in front of me, and I knew this wouldn’t be easy.
I asked that everyone turn their chairs around to face me, and there were some begrudging looks and some slow turns. I don’t think they expected a ‘show’, but I wasn’t going to be back ground music for this type of event. The initial stabs at sing alongs was less than I had hoped so plowed into my ‘entertaining’ songs.
I hit pay dirt when I asked Bobbie and Luke (Bob Lucas?) to come up, two rambunctious lads that were beginning to react to the songs. We did Giants with both of them on Thunder Tubes, and it broke through to the older folks and shifted the spotlight off of me. They were great. I then got the other kids up to do Tutti Tah and that turned out well, as I watched the crustier older folks smile and break out in laughter.
One interesting moment came earlier when I was eating with Bob’s son Mike and his wife. Apparently I had played for their wedding in the 80’s and they mentioned knowing John Gorka when he was a scuffling kid out of college. They even had rented out a closet to John on Seneca Street as he was finding his way. They were big Godfrey’s fans as well though they now lived in NC. I’m going to send them a copy of the Stan Rogers concert from 1984, one that Mike said he was at.
I did Branching Out for the audience knowing that Mike and his wife would connect. I followed with Lessons from Pete, both stretches for the un-folk people. I ended up with Hey Now and packed it in, knowing not to push my luck. The Lucas family thanked me, I signed and gave away CD’s to the kids, ate my ice cream and cake and headed back to the South Side.
It was a tough gig, especially having to play for a former professor of mine. Those authority figures still have some sway, if only in my mind.