All entries filed under Dave Fry Gigs

Saturday night after Thanksgiving seems to be a good night for this type of show at Godfrey’s: Craig Thatcher, Dick Boak and myself, sharing the stage with songs and tales, similar to previous Dave’s Night Out shows. I had two gigs earlier, including an outdoor tree lighting at Touchstone at 5 pm, so I was slightly “out of breath” for this one, but one I was looking forward to – very little pressure for me.

The show was sold out a day before, and Craig was hoping to do two shows. Nope. Not enough time to broadcast a second show, and definitely not in my wheelhouse for a three gig day. When I got to the club after 6 pm, Craig already had his gear set up, with amp, an array of pedals, a fancy guitar mike, two Martins, a Martin stool. Dick had his autoharp through an amp as well. I plugged in my mahogany Martin into the system and with my vocal mike, I was ready to go. As it turns out, I think Craig over committed to his “sound” and it tended to overblow the stage sound for the night. But, that’s how Craig rolls these days.

The round-robin idea works well for this evening, so I started out with We Are Welcomed, a nice opener with room for Craig’s lead and a solid song for me. Craig followed with several nice instrumentals, original songs and a song that he worked up for a Loretta Lynn dedication in Nashville earlier in the fall which I played mandolin on. Dick was concerned with his ability to play autoharp being slightly out of practice and with some right hand issues. As it turned out, he stepped up big time with his original songs that he and Craig have worked out over the years.

Craig loves to share some of the amazing gigs he still plays and, as he talked about the Loretta Lynn gig with Chris Martin, he dropped the fact that Vince Gill was in the audience and gave him a thumbs up during the show. Craig’s audience love these vignettes. I followed by saying I was in Easton that morning, Santa was in the audience and gave me a thumbs up, too. There ya go. Matching his Vince Gill with the man himself, Santa Claus.

It was particularly pleasurable to physically sit between Craig’s big guitar sound and Dick’s phat autoharp sound. I closed my eyes a drank it in.

Playing with these guys definitely brings my A game, so I played really well, with tunes like Rosie Is a Griend of Mine, Lessons From Pete, Don’t Call Me Early and a few others. The time went quickly and it was wonderful to play to a full house at Godfrey’s, with many familiar faces in the crowd. I tried to pull the show in around an hour and a half, but Craig wanted to do two hours. Besides being a tad bushed after a long day, a two hour show is a bit much for an audience to sit through. We finished up at an hour and forty minutes. I am certainly appreciative of having the opportunity to share the stage with Craig and Dick, both incredible artists in their own right.

I was able to sell a bunch of books, as few CD’s and was glad to finish my day on a high note.

As it turns out, all three of us contracted Covid this week, so we did pay a price for the gig.

Touchstone had the honor to host the 2022 SouthSide Tree Lighting on their Barrio Stage on Saturday, early evening. I was asked to play some holiday songs and share the stage with folks from Touchstone’s Christmas City Follies. Mercifully, it was relatively warm (~50 degrees). I set up with a mike and direct box, and started with We Are Welcomed and a Christmas tune. The Chamber of Commerce woman welcomed folks, I played a few more tunes (including Zat You, Santa Claus) and Touchstone’s cast did a short engagement with the folks gathered in the lower parking lot.

There were only a few kids in the crowd but lots of familiar community faces. I finished up with a short set of other holiday tunes, packed up and headed for my gig at Godfrey’s.

 

I signed up for a long day on Saturday after Thanksgiving. I figured if I could make it to the Godfrey’s gig with Craig and Dick, I’d be fine.

I picked up a Breakfast with Santa gig in Easton only a few days before the date, and, in spite of an initial hesitation, I decided to do it. It was in a posh venue, Bank Street Annex (banquet hall) , a few doors down from Center Circle. It was set up for families to have a fancy breakfast and then meet with Santa and Mrs. Claus. I believe the admission was fairly steep, and there were about 50 people and a wait staff on hand. I set up my small sound system about 10 am and started in when the doors opened.

I had my bag of instruments on hand, and, gradually, the kids came over and joined in. Eventually Santa came down the stairs, read The Night Before Christmas and posed with all the families. He was a pretty good Santa. I continued to play with the kids and it proved to be a good time. I seemed to add a nice dimension to the affair. I packed up and headed home.

We gather traditionally for our Steppin’ Out! reunion on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s usually a joyous occasion but this year we lost our steel player Chris Jones earlier in the week. There was some hesitancy to bag the gig, but it seemed appropriate to forge ahead and celebrate our brotherhood in music. It was a good thing to do.

We had been doing some rehearsals over the last month or so, and were working up some new material, including original songs by Hub and Jeff. Per usual, Reid came down from New Hampshire a day early so we could practice that morning and run the set I had put together. Amazingly, we were pretty tight and were prepared for the evening’s show.

There was close to a full house and the audience was quite supportive, and we played well. We started off with a solid set of our swing stuff, and then gradually worked our way through the new stuff. Jeff’s Children of Uvalde song was poignant, as was Hub’s new one Some Day. I screwed up the lyrics to Lose My Blues, but nailed Far From Me. Kris brought a new Tom Waits song Chocolate Jesus.

There were lots of old and familiar faces in the crowd, and it was a good session after the show, catching up with friends. I had the chance to talk with Linda, Chris’s wife, after the show and she said that she was glad that she decided to attend. I’m sure it was particularly hard for her, but I’m glad we connected at the end.

  1. Choo Choo Cha Boogie
  2. She Made Me Lose My Blues
  3. Your Mind is on Vacation
  4. Bloodshot Eyes
  5. Payday / How Can I Miss You
  6. Til There Was You
  7. Twenty-Four Robbers
  8. Chocolate Jesus
  9. Don’t Call Me Early
  10. Someday
  11. Children of Uvalde
  12. What My Woman Sees in Me
  13. Got What It Takes
  14. Far From Me
  15. Ooh, Baby Baby
  16. Old Cowhand
  17. Lessons From Pete
  18. Six Days on the Road

I am constantly blown away with my guests on a Dave’s Night Out. Tonight was a particularly good one with two songwriters who have never met before, Andrew Dunn and Pete Gustavson. There were a few more people tonight, some friends of Andrew or Pete, but still not what should really be happening for this series. The format of conversation, music and philosophy is pretty radical but makes for some deep and satisfying (for me) entertainment.

The theme tonight was how the Covid lock-down affected our creativity and our songwriting. Both Pete and Andrew had divergent ideas, Pete alone with his wife and three daughters (no home studio there), and Andrew seeking community, and myself, with my 500 songs-a-day process.

I broke out my SE Martin tonight, somewhat neglected over the last few months, and it served me well. Clean and loud. I started with Don’t Call Me Early and passed it to Pete. Pete’s the real deal and over the course of the evening, his voice and his guitar set the bar pretty high for us all.

Andrew brought along a side man, Todd, on bass and guitar, and he chipped in a nice addition to the overall tone of the evening. I’ll admit that Todd distracted Andrew several times but no big deal. Andrew played some wonderfully emotional songs, as did Peter. I felt in awe of being in between these creative spirits.

I deferred to Pete and Andrew, and offered up Lessons From Pete towards the end, but also did Tropical Vacation, as I talked about my work writing songs with students. It worked well in this format and a rare chance for me to exhibit my Teaching Artist side.

Great moments throughout the evening and come away in awe of the creative friends I have in my life. Thanks, Andrew and Pete.

 

 

It was our first attempt and it proved interesting, but successful. There were some friends from the old jam that showed up, good players and good friends.

The space is a little strange: a bar, high ceilings, bar TV, but the staff checked in during the launch and seemed supportive. The bartender turned out to be a Steppin’ Out! fan from long ago. It was a little hard for folks to hear one another, but I was in the middle so it was hard for me to judge. If it gets any bigger, it could be a problem.

It was simply a delight to be back amongst friends, spinning tunes and tales with each other. A nice variety of folk tunes, pop tunes, old rock and roll, songs in the key of “we”. I chimed in with an assortment of Hank, John Gorka and others that set the stage for a good session.

There was another event going on during the day with my good friends Jack Murray, Doug Ashby and others, but we held our own in our little niche at the bar. I look forward to more of these sessions in the hills of Macungie.

 

A new friend Mike Patrick invited me to take part in a John Prine Tribute at The Pattenburg House from 4 to 7 pm on Sunday afternoon, along with a string of other acoustic players. I jumped at the chance to go play for some new folks in NJ, and the trip to Asbury, NJ is a mere half hour away. My friends Joe Janci and Bill Ihling were signed up, so I would know a few folks.

I said I’d be a little late, since I had to do a Steppin’ Out! rehearsal earlier that afternoon (and after the Saucon Valley FM gig), so I got there about 45 minutes late. The host Mike Patrick was on stage when I arrived, and, unfortunately, I missed Joe and Bill. I regret not being able to support their sets.

Pattenburg House in Asbury, NJ

Bill said he was the sacrificial opener, but benefited from having a quiet, listening audience (before folks got liquored up). I got to absorb the situation while Mike was doing his set – take in the bar, the audience, Mike’s bar room talents. He’s obviously at home on this stage and with this audience though I still feel uncomfortable with players and their I-pads on stage. Even though, in situations like this where you might be covering relatively unfamiliar songs when the I-pad is useful, that device separates one from your main obligation to interact with the audience. Flipping through lyrics gets to me, luddite that I am.

Various other guys came up to cover John Prine’s great repertoire and it was great to hear the audience singing along with many of these songs. A very friendly and supported group of folks. John’s songs are truly American poetry of the finest kind.

Eventually, it was my turn to do the last set before everyone would come up and sing Paradise. I had only two Prine songs to offer – I didn’t want to do a new one cold – so I started with Frying Pan, a quick, bluegrassy tune with three verses, one I used to do with The Sheiks. I decided to follow with Far From Me, a rather heavy break-up song that I’ve been doing recently. I picked it up again after the breakup of my marriage eleven years ago, and it hits close to home and is easy to perform with heart. I could feel the audience react to the power of this song, and I was able to quiet the barroom with this song. That felt good.

I was allowed to do a couple more songs. I did Lessons from Pete, and screwed up the order of the 3rd and 4th verses (it’s always something…) but otherwise played it well. I then did Pay BoDiddley and invited one fellow who was up on stage earlier to play some lead acoustic guitar. He was a little confused (especially with a one chord song), but played well and gave me a little breather from the spotlight. I thanked folks and Mike for the opportunity to play in a new situation and got off stage.

The Paradise finale was scattered but spirited, as it should be. Afterwards, I chatted with some folks, including a fan of Live From Godfrey Daniels radio show. I remarked that I was surprised West Jersey folk had radios. I gave out a few Troubadour CDs, thanked the other players for their sets and headed back to the Lehigh Valley.

A good day of making music.

It’s my last farmers’ market of the season on Sunday in Hellertown. It was pretty chilly early on, with frost visible on the grass in front of me. For the first hour, my left hand was cold and I remarked that there was frost on the northside of my guitar, right where my fingers go. Still, I was glad to play this particular market over the summer. Play local, buy local.

From warmer times.

One of the nice things about this market are the familiar faces that stop by. The lady on her way to church, various folks from other FM’s, the vendors, and, most spectacularly, the kids running across the open lawn in front of me, eager to jam with me and dig into my bag of instruments. Cartwheels, spins, dances, big smiles, followed by the smiles of the moms and dads in tow. There are other folks who re-introduce themselves to me, and I often don’t recognize them until they fill me in on our old circumstances. Today, my friend Tom stopped by, and reminded me of his son Eric’s guitar lessons in the basement of Godfrey’s for many years. It was great to catch up with him. Another woman/teacher from Hopewell ES stopped by; Baby Shark was a feature at her wedding 20 years ago.

Lots of dollar tips today, gave away a few CDs to parents, and finally warmed up in the last hour. I’ll miss these extended practice sessions over the winter. I find them great opportunities to work on remembering the lyrics to my songs (gettin’ old…), trying out some hazier newer tunes, exercising my fingers and working on my social skills, as well. A lot goes on and I love being engaged publicly, and the time goes quickly.

I made the long haul to Madison on Friday on a spectacular fall day. The traffic up was light and I had a chance to land some Chinese food before the gig at 3 pm. I set up under the tree and launched in. Things were friendlier in Madison today, with a good flow of $1 tips. (One would hope for a few $5’s, considering the average New England wealth). Gradually, kids and families stopped by, and, half-way through I turned my chair around from the market to the open green where families gather on a Friday evening.

I have two bags now – one with rhythm instruments and the other with puppets, so I can sort of guide my way through a long 3 hour gig like this with a few aces up my sleeve. The up-close work with the individual kids is particularly rewarding, and I like to see the older folks watch the interactions with smiles. I’m giving away lots of kids CD’s these days, and that’s okay.

I struck up a conversation with the Bagel dude, and he gave me a half-dozen onion bagels for later. Good barter, as I gave him a Troubadour Cd.

The trip home was longer, with traffic heavy on a Friday night headed into New Haven. But, I enjoy my time listening to full CDs and left-wing podcasts. I am alone with my thoughts.

I got back around 10 pm, another 12 hours or so on the road for $100 and tips. Still, somehow, it’s worth the drive.

I was asked to help kick off Touchstone’s Festival Unbound on Wednesday night with my loose bag music on the Greenway among various arts organizations showing their materials on tables, just trying to add a little atmosphere to the initial gathering before the “show”. I was then asked to play a song before introducing my friend John Gorka towards the end of the community event.

The local Dixieland trio strolled the Greenway and onto stage to get things started. The local Middle School sang some songs, followed by a group of elder Latina women dancing to music. Two fellows from out of town did an arts exercise about “Home”, and then it was time for my set and John’s introduction.

I was introduced as a “local legend” which turned into “local legume” and played Chuck Pyle’s Step By Step, as requested by Mary Wright – an excellent choice, considering the theme of community.

“Step by step, side by side. Hand in hand, this old world’s a better ride. Step by step, side by side. Take a little step with your neighbor, side by side.” I had hoped to have it memorized by show time but decided to take the words up with me, just in case. Good move. People caught on the chorus nicely and it came off well.

I introduced John and he did a couple of songs, finishing with Good Noise with the school choir up on stage to sing the chorus with him. Nice.

It was great to see the community come together on this outside venue with several good friends and local arts supporters in the house. One young man came up and thanked me, saying it reminded him of his grandfather singing and playing in his house. He sang a few bars of a folk tune (I didn’t recognize) but I thanked him for sharing that moment with me.

Another couple thanked me, and I said it was only a song. They said, “No. It was a performance.” That was particularly sweet.

I headed back home, pretty much whipped from the two assemblies in the morning and this fine event at night.

I returned to Pine Run ES in New Britain, PA for two assemblies on Wednesday morning. I played here a long time ago and as I was welcomed back, one teacher reminded me that I had done a songwriting residency here back in 1996. We had written two songs A Day at Pine Run and Pine Run 2021 and the school had put the cassette of these songs in a time capsule that was opened just last year after 25 years. (They couldn’t find a cassette player to play it…. I said it was like the CD’s I had with me today.)

I had a great chat with the custodian about guitars, etc. (how many custodians I meet are musicians?!) I set up in the gym and waited for the fun to begin. It’s been a while since I’ve done a solo show, so I was scratching my head on what to do, but trusted my instincts.

Both shows went well as I rattled off I Like Peanut Butter, Tutti Tah, We Gave Names, Down By the Bay, Giants and All Around the Kitchen. The response was great.

I brought my mandolin with me on this one and used it to “go mobile” (no mikes and wander the crowd), break the plane, as they say, for Down By the Bay. As we made up rhymes, it was a good device to engage the whole audience (including the 6th graders!). I eventually pit one side of teachers to come up with animals for the other rank of teachers, and the back and forth between them proves to be a gas, with the students invested as well. The process proves to be electric.

It’s always a challenge to engage the older classes and the teacher who booked me made a point of thanking the sixth grade for “modelling” good behavior by staying involved, to make an example for the younger students. I backed her up on that, and the kids actually did it. As I told the custodian as we headed out to my car at the end, I often have a chip on my shoulder when the older kids get an attitude and I react in kind. I recognize this tendency and try to reign myself in, in spite of myself. Today, the good vibes were evident.

As I’m doing these days, at the end of the show, I asked the teachers what they like about the show. This also models for the students positive feedback of what just happened as a community and adults having a conversation. It also reinforces the concepts I foster as a Teaching Artist. Things came up like: rhyming, having fun, dancing as a community, creativity, laughter, and I like to follow up with, how rare these opportunities are for a school community. A very rich moment for us all.

I wonder what those old Pine Run songs sound like? I wish I had a copy of them, twenty five years later.

 

Tuckerton ES

This was a long haul, and I had my reservations about dragging the lads down the shore for this one. It turned out to be worth the trip. We were in Tuckerton ES about 2 plus hours from home, but I’m not too concerned with my time on the road these days. Still, I left home about 5:45 for a 9:30 and 10:30 set of assemblies.

I got into to town early enough to go take a brief glimpse of some shoreline smells and vistas. Gulls….. I got back to the school to check in and the staff were most accommodating. We set up on the gym floor. Kevin and Nick hit some traffic but the school was flexible enough for us to start ~ 15 minutes late.

The first show was for the little kids (K-3) and it moved quickly with kids up and dancing right away – a good sign. I decided to pare down the edu-speak and keep it moving. Kevin commented that that was a good thing. We played a fairly short set.

The second set was for the older kids (4-6) and they were really responsive as well. A small boy in the front row was up and dancing right away – and he was busting moves like you wouldn’t believe and gathered a lot of attention from his class mates. It was very cool that the teachers let the kids react the way they did. Remarkable, but indicative of a small town elementary school. As we finished out the set with Rock and Roll Music, I invited that kid and his friend to come up and dance in front of the band. It was the perfect way to end the show. Sometimes I surprise myself with my instincts.

I got back home around 2 pm, so it was a very long day on the road with two shows thrown in. Still, it was a good gig; the school loved the show and the band gets paid.

 

 

 

 

The festivities of the 60th Anniversary of the Liberty Bell Museum were moved inside the beautiful Zion Reformed UCC Church in Allentown on Sunday, and, frankly, it was a gorgeous place to perform. It was 10 years ago I got to premier my song The Ballad of the Jubilee Bell in this space, and I was delighted to have a chance to reprise the song again.

Zion’s sanctuary.

There were lots of speakers, a high school band and a wonderful singer on hand to celebrate the occasion. I was asked to perform the song along with two others during the session. I set up on the side of the nave without sound, but that was no big thing. I enjoy opening up and playing to this marvelous space.

Rev. Josh introduced me by referring to my playing for his elementary school years ago. I played The Ballad of the Jubilee Bell full throat, and was glad I had spent some time rehearsing it as well as running by some friends the day before. I was able to enunciate all the big words, and guide myself through the phrasing. I did well.

I was asked to do a sing-along mid-ceremony and, a few days ago, stumbled over an obvious choice If I Had a Hammer, a song I have never had the chance to learn and perform before, in spite of it’s deep history as a folk standard. I had worked it up over the last few days into a rollicking sing-along, though folks didn’t really sing along. I had assumed that folks would know it, but perhaps it has drifted into the foggy folkie past. It went well, though.

Zion Reformed UCC in Allentown.

I was tasked to play a recessional, and, being no stranger to having folks leave while I was playing, I finished with We Are Welcomed. My job was done here.

The Liberty Bell (formerly known at the Jubilee Bell) was hidden under the floor planks of this church during the Revolution when it was learned that the British were going to take all the bells in Philly and melt them down for cannons and cannon balls. Ironically, it had to remain a secret due to a large Tory presence in Northampton Towne (pre-Allentown).

Here’s the You Tube version from two years ago. https://youtu.be/5AwBWmOJSZ0

It was a pleasure and an honor to be part of this celebration, and I was reminded that I had written a very good and moving song, one I don’t get to perform very often. I guess I am a songwriter.

We played a religious school this early this morning – Bryn Athyn Church School north of Philly – and we had a strange stipulation: we had to be set up by 8:00 am for an 8:30 show, with a half hour church service in between.

I left 4th Street at 5:45 and traveled the NE Extension down to the Huntington Valley area, a bearable 75 minutes. I made it with my usual hour to make contact, scope out the venue, lug the sound system in and tune up.

Bryn Athyn Church School

Amazingly, the band also got there with time to spare (pros that they are…), set up on stage and the curtain closed in front of us. There were hymns, prayers, invocations, a sermonette on “Walking and The First Commandment”, more prayers and hymns, and then we were introduced, the curtains parted and we launched into the show.

We did a good show and the kids were really responsive. I’m feeling better about this revival of the show, post-Covid, and the band is tight, and my monologue is becoming smoother. I’m still working on remembering some of the expositions, but I’m not as worried about leaving whole sections out earlier in the year. That’s good. I’m getting really good with the pacing of my introductions. Always learning how to do it better.

Somehow, I related Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” to the preacher/teacher’s homily. Phew…

As with our Catholic school assemblies, the audience (about 240 kids and 25 teachers) runs from K through 8th grade; the show has something for everyone, even if some of the historical observations are at a pretty advanced level. Still, the little ones get to see a live band in a social situation, the older kids get some sophisticated education, and the teachers are engaged to the point of dancing with the kids. The biggest takeaway is it’s great to see the whole community have a great time together. It’s still a pretty powerful presentation, in spite of its somewhat dated material. (We end up at Disco these days. We’ve, thankfully, eliminated the Rap.) Still, it’s a well-oiled and effective Teaching Experience.

I was back home by 11 am. How rock n’ roll is that?

The hill side.

I was pleased to be asked to add a short set to the festivities at the rejuvenated Berks Fiddle Fest, post-Covid. It’s been moved from Topton’s community park to the old Doe Mountain ski slopes, now a resort, Bear Creek Mountain. I think the festival has lost some of its charm, as nice as the new digs are.

I was asked to do a thirty minute set in between the various fiddle contests. I followed the 13 – 18 age category. The slope area formed a nice amphitheater, and there was a nice crowd out in front of me, though the sun was pretty brutal today. I set up my guitar and did a quick sound check and launched into Don’t Call Me Early. During the song, I asked for a choral response and got absolutely nothing. That kind of gave me the information I needed for this challenge.

I followed with Blue Mule, and during my introduction I asked for the people’s favorite tall tale, and, again, I got nothing back. I rolled into the song. glad to do a bluegrassy type of tune. I then did Branching Out, again asking for a call and response during the refrain. Nada. I gave up and just sang my own response.

Next was Giants, and finally got the audience to give me back “They’re Big, They’re Bad” and the spooky noises. I got a little vindication on this one. I got the “one more song” nudge from behind the stage and finished with Lessons From Pete, mentioning that getting kids to sing along, dance along was the whole point of what I try to do with kids (and these adults), trying to create a deeper community connection.

The stage.

I played well (only one repeated verse) and thought I did a good job. It was pretty hot and felt drained after just a half hour.

As nice as the new venue is, the festival has lost the communal nature, and I experienced that with my inability to get folks to chip in. In some messaging later on from some of my friends who go to this festival to hang out and jam, the feeling was mutual. No trees to play under, escape the sun. One friend said he played under a ski lift, not exactly the idyllic setting one would hope for, for a fiddle festival.

Still, it was nice that the three fiddle sessions on stage brought out folks who were willing to get up in front of people and try their best: some excellent players, some beginners but all willing to take a chance in front of strangers. Good for them; too bad for the audience, though. So it goes.

The original Burnside House.

I’ve played Burnside Plantation for many, many years, going back to my friend Gertie Fox’s introduction of this special place before there was nothing a beat-up old house down a dirt road. There were a couple of years when I wasn’t invited to play here, but this year I got to play the Blueberry Festival in the summer and this relatively new Apple Days in the fall. Not a high-paying gig, but I’m not picky. I’d rather work.

Since they have prohibited vehicles on site, I hiked in from a near-by parking lot with my guitar and a box of CDs. I played at the Brewery Stage further up the hill, and I had a 11:45 set following my friend Nick Franclik to an empty tent (save for the five or six volunteers). Over the course of the next hour and a half, I played to some young families, a few older folks (including a couple with links to my Lehigh days over 50 years ago!), and assorted others.

Burnside Plantation

I made a point of striking up conversations about peanut butter, dogs, etc. and succeeded in drawing the audience in and drawing out the set to fit the time given to me. I played well with little cramping up in my left hand, I did well with the lyrics, for the most part (I did repeat a couple verses), and was able to engage the crowd with a mix of kids and adult material. Of course, the couple of toddler girls that approached the stage and danced worked wonders in giving the audience something to look at other than the old guy on stage.

It was another perfect weather day, and though it wasn’t particularly crowded, I thought I did a really good job entertaining the folks. I opened the envelop with the check and it had my old Madison, CT address on it, going back 16 years. Sheesh.

This is only my second FM here, a block away from my home at Farrington Square. Deb, the market manager, likes what I do and I like what I do, too. I still wish I could play here regularly.

I set up in the middle of the square, unfortunately away from any traffic so the prospect for tips is diminished, but Lehigh sends me a check in a couple of weeks, so it’s a trade-off. I am able to wheel in my equipment in one trip, my small amplifier sounds great in this acoustic shell, so things are good.

I started off a little rusty as far as remembering the lyrics to some of my songs, and, if I am the least bit distracted, I am tending to mumble a few words – not that anyone other than me notices. But, I notice. But I’m glad I’m not using a tablet to read the words like so many of my FM comrades. I still think it’s a cheat.

I have a festival gig at a fiddle contest on Sunday, so I was able to play some tunes that I may break out for that particular gig: Blue Mule, Don’t Call Me Early, Rosie, I Wanna Be a Dog, Drinking Whiskey Before Breakfast and a few others. It was a good run-through of my material.

It was a glorious day, weather-wise, lots of Lehigh coeds chowing down, a few friendly faces from my community on-site and a happy Peanut Man, glad to have me playing music. A good day.

My friend Jim Fiorentino asked me to donate a set for our House Rep Susan Wild’s campaign, which I was more that glad to do. Susan’s the real deal, a progressive Democrat – we are lucky to have her in the House.

Jim sponsors a bi-weekly jam session in his backyard in a fairly high end community in North Bethlehem. The sessions are quite successful, run by another friend Bill Medei, who sets up a sound system and channels quite a few regular players to these jams. Somehow, I figured this would be a little different with a slightly different audience, so I was looking forward to playing for these folks. I hoped to do some tunes with Dana Gaynor, a friend featured on this jam.

As it turned out, the usual group of players showed up (a good thing) and as I pulled up around 5 pm, I was greeted by Bill and Dana Gaynor. Bill said that he would put me on shortly, so I grabbed my folding chair and my gig bag, and headed for the back yard. There was nice audience of leftists, musicians and fine young Black kid, Kelal Shuford, playing piano. A very nice scene to walk into.

I had enough time to settle in, survey the situation, find my friend/bassist Steve Foreman and then it was time to take the stage. I set up my chair, plugged in, said a few words to Dana and Steve, encouraging them to let me set up the tune, shooed away a couple of drummers and started out with We Are Welcomed. Remarkably I hit it strong but found myself slightly out 0f breath with having just arrived and then on stage so quickly. Luckily we settled in, toyed with the song with Dana and Steve doing solos. Good, solid ending and we had arrived. We made a good impression. Phew.

I was still settling in and decided to keep it simple for all of us, but still rock out a little. We followed with Pay Bo Diddley, perhaps too simple for Dana’s considerable chops, but a good jam tune anyway. Steve and Dana are pros and I was confident we could build on this tune. It worked well.

I then pulled out Mama Wants to Barrelhouse from my Cockburn kit and sprung this fairly sophisticated blues on Dana and Steve. Steve, by now, was kneeling down to my right, trying to catch the chord changes, so I adjusted a bit so I could telegraph the changes. Still, it was a leap for both players and I was shaking off some finger rust myself. We acquitted ourselves nicely. Another phew….

Bill motioned that I should do one more, so I pulled out Lessons From Pete. I tacked on  drummer Bret Talbert, whom I had never played with before, thinking that he’d be fine on this one. Turned out to be true. The band picked up on the progression quickly, Dana played a nice initial lead and I delivered the lyrics well. The second lead gets creative with a low-volume bass lead by Steve, a louder, driving electric lead by Dana, and solid last verse to bring us in. It was good. I was soaked with sweat and somewhat beat from the set.

I packed up and moved off stage as Dana, Bill and a few others did a nice jam tune. I noticed Kelal off by the pool area, walked over, set up my chair and thanked him for his set. We started up a great conversation and I found out quickly that he works with children. Bam! Teaching Artist!

As it turns out, I knew Kelal from his days with the Charter Arts School, his several visits to Godfrey’s for some of their events. This kid is the real deal, and now he’s out in the real world. I laid a lot about what I do with kids, the joy of working with other TA’s, the challenges and rewards of playing with kids, and more. He made my day.

These social jams have some stress for me. On one hand, I feel a little uncomfortable commanding stage time from the crowd of players that are here to play. I cruise in and get a set at my convenience. I hope that they accept my position and don’t harbor some ill will. Another strange situation is the presence of the former husband of my former wife, someone who has put me through the emotional wringer over the past 20 years. I really don’t like him/her, in spite of being former good friends over the past 45 years, and I am very uncomfortable around him/her. I should be over this, but I’m not. Pisses me off.

Susan Wild came up and did a nice campaign chat, giving us all forewarnings about what this election means to our society. Sheesh. That’s why I tried to add my talents to the cause today.

The jam started up again, and, unfortunately, some of the same old hackneyed regulars came up and rehashed so of the same old pop covers that has made me somewhat reluctant to become a regular myself. As Popeye says, “I can’t takes no more!” and I packed up my guitar and chair and headed for my car.

I was glad to add some quality music to this crowd, for this candidate in these tough times. I was especially glad to connect with a young and talented Black Teaching Artist. A good way to spend a Labor Day Sunday afternoon.

I’m lucky to sneak into some very prestigious festivals as a kids’ performer and Saturday’s gig at the 50th Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is an example. My friend Jayne Toohey, photographer and Philly Folk Festival volunteer has asked me to do a family set at this festival several times, and I was glad, especially after the last few Covid years, to do it this weekend.

Jayne Toohey

I do a set in an unused pavilion on the Salem County Fairgrounds as the main festival rolls on further away on the main stage. My scene is a dusty, saw-chipped empty space, better fit for cattle and sheep, with a section of bleachers up at one end, with a small sound system run by another good friend from my Philly folk relations, John Mac.

Another act, a clever Black magician Chris, was booked at 2 pm and he did his wonderful show before my set at 4 pm. He had a good crowd to play for (as do most magicians in this business), working in his tricks and clever patter. He’s really good at doing this.

I set up my guitar, bags of instruments and puppets, and waited for my time. Nobody anywhere near this pavilion. As usual, I will have to start from scratch.

There was next to none in the way of promotion of the kids area, no mention on the web site and I even had to talk my way into the festival at the main gate. No mention of me with the powers that run the festival. So it goes.

At four pm, with nobody in the house, empty bleachers and a family picking some tunes just outside the pavilion, I started playing Shoo That Fly, apologizing to the family for interrupting their session, but I had to start somewhere. The folks were gracious enough to pull it in, and I continued for about 10 minutes until a mom and dad and their two kids stopped over and sat down with their snow cones. Here we go.

I opened up my bag of rhythm instruments and encourage the boy and his sister to join in. Gradually, a few more kids, moms, dads settled in and I finally had a basic audience to work with. I ended up with about a dozen kids and scattered adults to do my set. Scarves, puppets and instruments and a cloud of dust and chips. I finished up, and after the kids helped put my stuff away (it’s going to be quite a clean up later), I handed out CDs to all the kids, fist-bumped and packed up my stuff in my car. I hoped to catch some homemade ice cream and some bluegrass music from the main stage before I headed home.

I ran into some surprising folks while on site, including a woman who knew me from her wedding that Pavlov’s Dawgs played at back in the 90’s. I did remember the site at Mensch Hill outside of a small town in Berks County. We had a great chat about acoustic music, Godfrey’s, the state of bluegrass, folk radio and more. It was remarkable to run into someone that distant in my past. Deep connections. Only my friend Fred Gilmartin made the effort to search me out after my set, knowing several other friends were at the festival. So it goes. I know I’m lucky to have a small part (but a very nice payday) in this festival.

I could only take one set from the bluegrass band on stage, and drove off into the setting,  sun in rural South Jersey, headed for home on a beautiful Labor Day Saturday.

My friends at the Bethlehem Food Coop asked me to play for a block party on the North Side at Friendship Park, a small city park. I was signed up for a two hour set from 4 to 6 pm, and I was glad that it wasn’t terribly hot. I set up on the macadam under a pop-up tent with jump ropes and hula hoops spread out in front of me, with various community vendors spread out (Food Coop, Bicycle advocacy, etc.) and the mayor was on hand as well as various public servants.

I started out playing tunes with my handy dandy amp, mike and guitar. Gradually, folks drifted by and kids started to pick up instruments, and join in. Grandmothers, dads, moms, etc. joined in, played with the hula hoops and generally mixed it up with me. Doing my thang….

In these small, one-on-one situations, I’ve been breaking down a song and giving the kids a break on their rhythm instrument, and it’s been working out nicely. The kids sense that this is their time to shine and have been nailing the improvisations. A nice way to share the stage and create some magic with the kids (and the pride of the on-looking grandparent, too). It also stretches my material during the long set.

Folks appreciate having a sound track for the event, and watching kids and families having some fun making music. Adults I know in the community stop by and say hello. I even got to give a hug to my friend Gail who’s been estranged due to a political kerfuffle with her wife. I felt good that we were able to share that moment together. And that’s what a community block party is all about.