I got a request from out of nowhere to do an informal workshop for the residences (the not-fraternity) crowd on a lawn off of Packer Avenue. It was a nice summer evening and there were about thirty or so students gathered. I said, “Serve pizza and they will come.” A lot of truth to that. Anyway it was an interesting performance/workshop opportunity, especially dealing with college age kids, something I rarely do.
The initial idea was to talk about my years at Lehigh and my career decisions that came out of that Lehigh experience. I got to really expound on the folk music I saw on campus (Elizabeth Cotton, Paul Geremia, Rosalie Sorrels, Pete Seeger, John Jackson, Michael Cooney, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong and more…) and how I got involved with the Catacombs presenting and performing folk music on campus.
I led off with Don’t Call Me Early, a good uptempo song they’ve never heard and it’s a strong song. (no, they didn’t sing along…) I linked the verse, “He fills himself with pills to retire worth a million then falls asleep when he’s 64”. That really resonated as I sang it, and mentioned to the folks.
I talked about being an Arts/Engineer at Lehigh and how it forced me to think deeply and in very different ways. It was nice to be able to refer back to that really basic arts/science dichotomy several times during my blatheration. I talked about trying to figure it out and that was the essence of my studies at Lehigh. It dawned on me to play Figure It Out, but I hadn’t played in awhile. But, trusting myself, I launched into it. I did a Readers’ Digest version of it, and remembered most of it, and doing a short version in not a bad thing. The kids dug it. Thanks, guys.
I called them out several times. On one call and miserable response, I called them pussies. It was at that time I saw my good friend Silagh White (Dr. White, to these people) off to the side. I immediately apologized for saying pussy on a college campus. Again, it’s what I do in schools, playing off the teachers to gain acceptance from the youth. Community building, yet again.
A magic moment happened when a lady in the back asked for something uptown funk, disco or something I had no way of playing. I considered Jelly in the Dish but had second thoughts. I related that a young kid had just asked me for some Michael Jackson. In that moment I had the time to decide to do My Girl and ask the girl if Motown was okay. She said yes. I went on to say how this tune is a true folk song, known cross-cultural in most situations that I play. Immediately the three wonderful ladies of color in the back started to do the Motown Strut, a subtle yet satisfying back and forth. That was the connection that I needed. They knew.
In RockRoots, we do this song every time, and I have worked out various ways to engage people with the chorus. I took the first My Girl, I asked the girls to do the second on (My Guy) and the men to do the final falsetto My Girl. Actually, the guy did better than the ladies. Hmmmm. Those loose college guy’s.
The big moment came early on when there was not much response from the group. I said, ‘You guys are really white!’. The ladies in the back collapsed in fits of laughter, and the rest of the group took it as it was meant. It was a poke at the classism and racism that still permeates an institutional like Lehigh, though we have come a long, long way. College kids are still trying to figure it out. That’s why we are here, no?
I talked about Godfrey’s, establishing a community in my hometown, being able to put my kids through college with my music. I did ‘Legends’ from John Gorka to illustrate (or audiate) the power of folk music at the club. It was nice to present a solid contemporary song for these folks. I’m not sure they have ever heard an acoustic presentation like this, especially in this context. That was pretty cool.
All in all, it was quite a rich experience. I had the rare opportunity to talk about my deep personal and artistic philosophies, about finding and following my passions, and I got to play some of my music in front of a new audience. There will be pictures on FB.
I got two slices of fine pizza and a cup of Coke, paid for by my alma mater. Payback is sweet.