I am constantly watching and listening to other performers do what they do so well. There is no shortage of creative people in my life, and for that, I am truly blessed to share their company. I am always trying to find out where I am in this mix.
Godfreys has been the overwhelming laboratory to see the Best work their magic on a small, intimate room. And these great performers enjoy the challenge and reward of playing in this room, and, as importantly, so do all of my fellow storytellers, open mikers, opening acts, jammers and listeners, so many folks I respect. It is a good place to play.
I could never tell stories like Utah Phillips, write songs like John Gorka and Stan Rogers, sing the blues like Brownie McGhee or Johnny Copeland, shake the house like The Green Grass Cloggers, play guitar like Tony Rice or Ronnie Earl, banjo like Steven Wade or Tony Trischka, mandolin like David Grisman or flat out entertain like The Red Clay Ramblers or Gamble Rogers. I know my place, believe me.
But I enjoy exploring what I’m good at. Folk Performance. And that’s okay.
It is in ‘the moment’ that I do my best work. And this reflects on my experience in my high school’s theater and debate clubs (yes, debate club, 2nd in State of NY in ’68), Doris and Wayne Fry, my parents who loved music and stage performance, and a great group of creative HS friends whom I still stay in touch with today. My six years with Touchstone Theater also gave me some great experiences in mime, theater, artistic rituals, as well as introducing me to the world of Arts in the Schools for Money. ‘Let’s play in schools!’ Yes.
I do kick myself in my lack of practice in my home studio. I have to do some pushups on guitar , songs, etc. this fall. Practise is fine, and I really should do more of it. Really.
But I realize that the place where my ‘art’ comes to life is in the moment: playing, reacting, thinking, communicating and more. I get to take advantage of a very rich opportunity to observe, reflect and then create new situations that are truly transformative for me as an artist and musician, and, hopefully, the kids, parents and friends that are present. It’s often feels like I’m working without a net and I often surprise myself with the confidence I have to experiment with my material and let the kids/audience lead the way.
I learned a great performance method from a clown class I had with Avnar, the Eccentric, in Mexico on tour with Touchstone, “Lead, and then let the other lead. As we pass the lead between us, we both become more than you and me.” Avnar would amaze us and then fail (only to draw us in and let us lead). He said, as the lead goes back and forth, we start a dance. A dance. Something unto itself, as art.
This is essential. We folk performers must dance with our audiences, especially with family audiences. Let’s play. Let’s dance. Take chances and learn.
Yes, I still do Cat Came Back, Down by the Bay, Bear Hunt, Skip to My Lou, but each time I dig deeper into these very simple songs, I learn to open up to new ways of connecting with people.