I was lucky to enlist Craig Thatcher and Nyke Van Wyk to join Kris Kehr and myself for a set of Troubadour material at Godfrey Daniels’ Day at Musikfest. This Liederplatz stage in the Sun Inn Courtyard is a perfect arena to perform at this festival and features the great sound of Terry and Dave. They truly make the experience comfortable for every musician (even if the musicians don’ know how to do a sound check….). Craig and Nyke had a gig later that afternoon so I made sure we had an early set. Kris had just come back from his family beach vacation, but, as it is with professionals, we settled in quickly, got our sound down and started off at 1:30 pm.
I worked up a set that had a variety of pairings, duos, trios and a full quartet. I started out with Kris on Don’t Call Me Early and a whimsical Giants, brought out Craig for We Are Welcomed. Craig hadn’t played on this one before and I mentioned off mike during the tune that it was modal D and he picked up on that immediately and played accordingly. (One of many instances of great stage communication – more to follow) It was a good, solid start to the set, with good audience interaction, not that they have a choice at my concerts.
Rosie is a Friend of Mine is a strong, uptempo song, locally produced (Bill Hall) with lots of space for Craig and Nyke leads. I was able to stretch their leads in the moment and both got applause for their efforts. (Again, this was an indication that folks were really listening, almost a jazz-type of respect for the players). The ending (stay on the four!!) was nailed, another point when I had to direct C. and N. in the moment. It worked, to great effect.
I, unfortunately, missed Ten Men on the set list (I really need to play it out more), but continued with a great version of False From True, a Pete Seeger blues that was a highlight of the set. It pulled things back tempo and dynamic-wise and brought it down to my simple acoustic riff, the base for the song that lets the lyrics shine. Again, Craig played the first lead eloquently and the rondo that I’ve added to the song made for a great second, extended lead. Kris gets to lead off with four bars (a nice jolt to the audience and a nod to Kris’s creativity), followed by Nyke, Craig and myself. The audience picks up on that we are playing a game with and for each other. There are two lines in the song that resonated today that I sang with conviction and brought acknowledgement from the crowd: “No song I sing will ever change a politicians mind” and “No song I sing will take the gun from a hate-filled mind.” The Power of Pete. The song finished with grace and the recognition from the audience of what had just happened – and with only two chords!
Stan Rogers’ Giant was next, so Craig took a break. The open tuning, the arcane lyrics and the modality of this makes it a delight to perform and experiment with. Having Nyke’s violin and creative mind simply takes this song to another level. Nyke and I had done this on Monday, so everything was comfortable. Kris, though, hasn’t had much opportunity to experience this, so I was tickled that he had a chance to be on stage for this one. In the middle, I bring the song out of its chord structure and put in a simple two chord space that sets up Nyke’s freedom. Again, I can present a solid rhythm pattern that the other players recognize on the fly. Nyke got another warm round of applause, one of the gifts that I can give my friends.
It was a good spot to have Craig and Nyke do their duo set. Craig does a nice acoustic finger-picking Blind Lemon Jefferson tune See That My Grave is Kept Clean that they have updated, and yet with great respect for the tradition it comes from. He followed with his collaboration with Dick Boak, Steel Town Refrain, a song about the rise and fall of Bethlehem Steel and the new Bethlehem. He gave a nice introduction about his father sitting in this courtyard the first year he played Musikfest. Spot on. I signaled to Craig that he should do an extra song (I’m no fool…) and he and Nyke did their Irish rocker Where the Shannon Meets the Sea, blowing away everyone in the place. They are a tsunami of sound as a duo and I stand in awe of their prowess on stage.
Yes, I had to follow that, and, mentioning that from the stage, I had to figure out how to move on. As I watched from the side, I decided I should break the mold and do an a Capella song: Tom Lehrer’s The Irish Ballad. It was a good choice but not without risk, especially in these rather violent times and my spotty memory. If people hang in long enough, they hopefully realize that it’s in jest. I was amazed that I was getting through it until I screwed up the last verse. Drat. Sometimes the little mistakes stick out the most when I reflect on the set as a whole. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. This blog helps me see the bigger picture.
I was glad to have The Crawl up next, one that Kris and I have performed for a while, and one that is up to snuff over these summer months’ of farmers’ markets gigs. Straight forward and strong presentation. Good. Back in gear.
We headed for home for the last twenty minutes with Louise. Again, I hoped to break the flow and insert a solid and gentle Paul Siebel country song, Louise. I sing it well, it has a nice story arc and the leads are short and focused. Nyke and Craig split the lead, again all communicated among us with nods and recognition from every one.
We teed up John Gorka’s How Legends Are Made, and without much fol de rol, I launched into an aggressive, uptempo version of the song. Nyke and Craig are not very familiar with this one, and John rarely leaves room for leads, but the tune lent itself to a really strong presentation, and had an almost rock feel to it. It surprised me how full the song sounded as a whole. John would have liked it this version, I’m sure.
We had ten minutes left and decided to bring it home with Lessons From Pete. Craig, Nyke and I did this on Monday, and with Kris’ bass, I knew this would be a great closer. It was. Craig and Nyke did short leads early and then the extended lead at the end developed nicely. I’ve been featuring Kris on the first part and I depend on the other players to back off completely, which, of course, they did. It becomes a special dynamic zero point to build from. It came back to Craig and Nyke’s rhythmic violin chops propelled this excursion (Nyke know when not to play, but support. It’s one of his great strengths as a player. It’s no wonder why Craig really doesn’t need a band for this kind of gig.) Craig brought the heat to the climax and we gently brought it down the final lyrical statement and landed the ending. I extended my thanks to the audience, reintroduced the band members (Craig made a point of mentioning me, too – I forget these things…) and gracefully we exited stage left, with three minutes to spare.
Sometimes I wish I could jump out of my brain and skin and watch from the side. I’m all caught up in the heat of the moment and wash of the music and I wish I could experience the set as a spectator. This is where writing about these sets helps me do that, to the best that I can.
The quartet had a remarkably clean sound, unlike the final act of the day (too many guitars…) and made for an intelligent and stimulating presentation. One comment on FB – “Glad you’re so tight with Craig & Nyke along with Kris, the instrumentals were powerful & heart felt. I could feel the electricity between everyone (no pun intended)”
That’s the whole point, isn’t it?
The Final Set List:
Don’t Call Me Early
We Are Welcomed
Rosie is a Friend of Mine
False From True
Craig and Nyke: See That My Grave is Kept Clean, Steel Town Refrain and Where the Shannon Meets the Sea.
The Irish Ballad
Lessons from Pete