That feeling helped to inspire his fourth CD, “Troubadour.” Highly refined in production, the album retains Fry’s warmth and humor throughout its many genres, which include country, Celtic, folk and blues.
”I wanted songs that reflected my diversity of musical styles,” says Fry, speaking at the counter of Godfrey Daniels, the renowned south Bethlehem listening club he co-founded 42 years ago. “There aren’t any repetitive beats. We used a metronome for each song early on so that we didn’t fall into a rut rhythmically. There is a different feel to each song, but they all have continuity and integrity to the album as a whole.”
The 12 tracks, mostly covers, include many lighthearted ones, including the Celtic flavored “Don’t Call Me Early in the Morning” and “The Crawl,” and “The Baby Smokers,” which explains that smoking helps to calm infants. There is also the heartfelt “How Legends Were Made,” John Gorka’s tribute to the late Stan Rogers; Fry’s own “Lessons from Pete,” about how he met Pete Seeger, and a blazing blues version of Seeger’s “False From True.”
Fry loves doing children’s performances and educational work, but he does not want people to forget his other music. “With this CD I wanted to re-establish myself as a viable adult performer in the Lehigh Valley and the folk scene at large.” It is still family-friendly, of course, and includes the kids favorite “Giants.”
Fry’s vocal approaches differ depending on the song, for which he credits a $15,000 microphone in Kevin Soffera’s Hybrid Studios in Nazareth. Soffera plays drums on the CD and co-produced with Fry.
There are 19 musicians and singers on “Troubadour,” varied according to the type of music, except for the consistent trio of Fry, Soffera and bassist Kjell Benner. “We took time to let in as much personality as possible. There is a conversation among the musicians as they play off each other. All these voices bubble up to the top through the mix,” Fry says.
Fry and polka musician Walt Groller are the only performers who have appeared at all 35 Musikfests. Fry will appear twice at the Bethlehem festival this year, with his group from the 1970s, called Steppin’ Out! and with his Dave Fry Trio. He’ll also perform as part of TeleBear’s Summer Jam, a free series of children’s performers at PBS 39 at SteelStacks during Musikfest.
Steppin’ Out! will play music from “Troubadour” as well as its own lively mix of Texas swing, rock ’n’ roll, country, and novelty songs. Fry calls the group a “rock and roll art band.” “They formed in the late ’70s, and became one of the better bands on the bar scene that also participated in the country rock scare of the ’70s,” Fry says. He recalls the group helping to close down the first Musikfest, with fireworks going off behind them.
After personnel changes over the years, Fry says, “In 2013 we got together for a reunion at Godfrey’s, and have done it annually the Thursday after Thanksgiving. We realized we were a functional band, not just a reunion one, and are also great friends. We were surprised at how good we were after 30 years.”
The Dave Fry Trio plays what he calls “aggressive folk music, stripped down to bass [Kris Kehr], acoustic guitar [Fry] and electric guitar [Ed McKendry].”
“The journal is important for me. It is what keeps me in touch with my creative self. For me it is perform/reflect, perform/reflect. That’s something learned from my work as a teaching artist.”
Fry is putting together a book about Godfrey Daniels, having done 90 percent of the writing. He hopes to have it come out next year. It will include his reflections and year-by-year retrospectives, as well as interviews, photos and reviews.
Last month, as part of the children’s education part of his career, Fry performed as part of Allentown’s “Summer Slide” program, sponsored by United Way. It involved all 14 Allentown schools and three Bethlehem magnet schools, focusing on low-income students. He played music, engaged the students in games and conversation, and got them to dance.
“Summer Slide” refers to the two or three months of learning kids lose during summer vacation. “Schools are realizing the importance of having arts and academics available to kids in the summer,” he says. “They lose 30 percent of their academic ability then, and teachers have to reinvent the wheel for the first month after classes start in the fall.”
Another project for the past four years has been “Dave’s Night Out” at Godfrey Daniels, usually on the last Wednesday of the month and usually having a theme. Fry interviews artists on stage. The September show will feature singer/songwriter Sam Steffen with a theme of political songs.
“It is chat and music, a talk with professional musicians where we encourage the audience to join the spirited conversation. It is totally different for us as well as for the audience, often with personal philosophy and/or a history lesson. Things happen there that don’t happen in any other form in the Lehigh Valley.”
Fry also shares hosting duties on WDIY Public Radio for the “Live From Godfrey Daniels” archived shows 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays and “Sunday Folk” 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.
Fry, with many other performers, finds it regrettable that it is difficult to get people, particularly younger ones, out to see live music when Musikfest is not running. “Today’s music consumers are niche consumers. It’s a Spotify world. People only hear what they are familiar with. They only listen to their devices or back and forth from work.”
The extensive variety at Musikfest does not seem to carry over to expand people’s musical horizons the rest of the year.
“Godfreys has been trying to do that for years, having an audience take a leap of faith,” Fry says.
Dave Howell is a freelance writer.