The Song of Bethlehem premiered tonight at Arts Quest and Craig Thatcher, Nyke Van Wyk joined Ken Goldstein for a live version of the song featured in the film. Another curious evening.
The project dates back to Dec. 4th of last year when Craig called me up and said that he needed me for a mandolin part for this piece on Bethlehem Steel and the subsequent invention of Musikfest, Steel Stacks and “Bethlehem’s” arts community. Funded by Arts Quest, it focused on the reclamation of the brown fields left by the Steel when it folded, and the City of Bethlehem working with Musikfest to build the current complex and its success for the City.
When we taped our part, it was hovering around 32 degrees in one of the old Steel buildings, with a sound stage, recording setup, etc. Ken worked on his solo takes while Craig, Nyke and I shivered in the background. Eventually we had our time recording our parts as we worked on the arrangement. (We had just worked on the song individually that morning.) It was brutally cold and that counts for the fact that we are not smiling a whole lot in the film.
This film is really good, acknowledging the Steel’s past, its collapse and the city’s effort to maintain the old and bring in the new. Craig mentioned his three generations of steel workers in his family. That brought it home for me. My friend Bruce (Clarence the Clown) also was featured. He worked there for years and has become quite an archivist himself. It was cool to see us on the big screen.
Following the half hour film, we were brought up on stage and interviewed by a MF gentleman. He had done his homework and asked some intelligent questions. I was curious how he was going to fit me it. I mentioned that the sound of the Steel was the soundtrack to my days at Lehigh (I left out the part about waking up sick from the fumes on rainy days….) and then talked about folk music – acknowledge the past, bring it into the present and push it into the future. This was the basic premise of this song and it’s why it works. It was the right thing to say.
Then we got to play the song live. It was curious that we didn’t have anything to work from prior to the gig. I found the lyrics on my computer with the chord progression and we basically learned it from the film as it played. We played it well and it was quite nice. Ken is very lucky he picked some of the pros in the Valley on this project, and it was a pleasure to share the stage with Craig and Nyke. We were a band tonight.
After the film, I received some nice compliments from folks, saying that they were very glad that I had a place in the film. That was a nice tip o’ the hat to my part in this SouthSide renaissance. It was gratifying to accept this deep compliment. And folks said they enjoyed my mandolin work as well. That actually gets my attention more than the historical niceties. I’m a player first, on stage with my friends friends Nyke and Craig.
But I didn’t get the chance to editorialize about Godfrey’s place in the artistic revolution of the SouthSide. Those days in 1976 were pre-Musikfest but I am sure that they were aware of this. That’s fine. I’m glad to work for their cause.
I headed back to Godfrey’s to connect with the Open Mike folks. I am grounded again.
Someday, though, folks will take it back to 42 years ago when Godfrey’s opened on the first day of spring, 1976. I’ll be celebrating the anniversary tomorrow. That’s when the acorn was planted. There, I said it.