All entries filed under Elder Care

I picked up an old folks gig on the Northside of Bethlehem, and, upon realizing I knew a few of these folks, this wasn’t an elder gig as much as it was for my contemporaries. How about that?!

I was set up in a lovely courtyard in the middle of this large 4 story facility and it was a spectacular evening with a cool breeze and comfortable temps. This venue has music every Wednesday evenings, often coupled with a theme. Tonight was Scandinavian cousine, so I opened the evening by saying every song tonight was of that origin. Yeah, right. Folks chuckled.

Preshow audience

Right off the bat, a gentleman up front asked for Home on the Range. I knew what I was up against in these situations – some folks expected “The Hits”. That’s not how I roll. I started off with my positive tunes like Here Comes the Sun, We Are Welcomed, Simple Gifts and I Can See Clearly Now, and, though they weren’t the standard tunes, it set the stage for what I wanted to do.

There were quite a few familiar faces from my Bethlehem past and I felt comfortable in presenting my material, chatting about my performing career, my Martin connections, etc. and the show went well. I’m not sure the facilitator understood what I was doing, but there was a really good turn out, and the courtyard was pretty full.

All in all, a good gig in my home town.

As the gigs start flowing again, I’m getting some elder centers to go along with the farmers’ markets and I enjoy the challenge of trying to connect with the older folks (not that much older, I might add). For the most part, the audience tends to be mostly female, but also seem to be the more outgoing members of the organization; folks who still want to maintain an active lifestyle. As it turns out, they seem to be open to my set of music.

I’m not one to play “the hits” for this age group, and there are those who do it well, but I try to engage them with my stories, my interactions with children, my adult songs and a few sing-alongs that I know. That was the case today.

I was able to mix in Skip To My Lou, Simple Gifts, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Hello Marylou with my standard mix of Giant, July, Vegetable Song and others from my regular folk repertoire.

I mentioned Martin Guitars and my contact said that a gentleman Jack was in the audience who worked there and he had suggested that Moravian Hall bring me in. So, I dusted off Me and Martin Growing Old, one I haven’t done in a long while and managed to pull it off. I’m glad I did it.

The time went smoothly. I was glad I had my small PA with me, and the songs and chat flowed. I ended up with , another one I haven’t played in a while. I also mentioned Ellie Dinsmore who was a resident here over the last 10 years. Folks commented how much they missed her since her fairly recent passing. A nice connection.

As I was packing up, Jack wheeled up to me and we started to chat. I thanked him for the gig, and asked him what he did at Martin. I was somewhat taken aback when he said, “CEO.” I then remembered him more clearly. He had become a recent resident here having been hit by a car as a pedestrian and having his whole life changed in an instant. Oh, my.

He went on about how I was respected by many folks up at Martin, how my name often came up in conversation, how I was “famous”. This was all quite unexpected and somewhat gratifying, not that I have any delusions of grandeur. We talked about how I was lucky to be able to do what I love and how important Martin Guitar is important in my history. Amen.

This was a pretty interesting gig, one that turned out quite different from what I expected. Phoebe is retirement facility in West Allentown and has been around long time, with wonderful stone buildings and nice grounds with spectacular flowers. In fact, I was to play on the small band shell (a real old-time band shell) but the weather was too brisk for the residents to go outside.

The event was supposed to be a food truck gathering with folks checkin’ out the food while listening to my music on the lawn. Nope, and I feel badly for the vendors. I’m sure they took it in the wallet.

Thanks to FB, a couple of friends came out and, of course, I got them on stage. I asked my good friend John Christie (and Susan) if he wanted to sit in, spur of the moment. I was glad he did. Handman Bruce Gaston (and Betsy) said he’d show up, too.

So, it turns out I’d be doing a long set (originally 2 hours, outdoors), but in the large recreation/meeting room in the main building. Michele Kirby Butch, my contact for the gig, had a cart to get our stuff in painlessly. We set up the pa and got started, John and myself on our Martins. As usual, I abused poor John with a whole different set of songs. He is fearless.

I have played audiences like this but haven’t recently. My repertoire is somewhat lacking with the sing-alongs that other folks who do this regularly. These folks simply love to sing along, and it’s no mystery why. But I try to engage them with kids songs, banter, stories, some country songs. It seems to work for most of the who accept the situation. Frankly, I love the older women who display a sense of humor, sing along with The Cat Came Back; they are all there, in spite of the wheel chairs.  I play to them.

My friend Bruce Gaston is one of my favorite stage mates, and we’ve been doing this for decades. Bruce is a manualist; he plays his hands. When I see him in the audience, I know I’ve got a real treat for my audience. I told this to Bruce today – that I have the best seat in the house – I get to watch the audience as they react to this bizarre talent.  Today was no different. I love him.

John and I churned through a mess of country, early rock and roll, kids’ stuff as the staff passed out shakers, maracas, tambourines, etc. That made a big difference, as expected. Older folks connect (as do toddlers) with a physical device in their hands, whether they are familiar with the type of song that I’m playing. It gave John and me some room to move around stylistically. (Sorry, John, for puttin’ you through some weird ‘changes’.)

Though I was booked for a two-hour set, I brought it in at an hour and a half. Michele agreed. It was a good, entertaining afternoon for us all. It was a stretch for Michele to book a folk act, but it seemed to work. Bruce and John and Betsy and Susan got to meet each other, hang out and swap gig stories, etc.

While they were chatting I found out a deep family/Godfrey’s connection with Michele. Her dad, Ed Kirby was around when Godfrey’s was in its primordial ooze. Ed found a source for all the barn wood that is the wainscoting, front and side window ‘fences’. I was able to tell Michele and her son how far Ed Kirby and Godfrey’s go back and that his presence is still alive in this world and part of the actual sound of this club. That’s pretty, no, that’s very, very cool.

Anyway, it was a lot of physical work, a challenging audience for not a whole lot of pay. but, as always, the joy is in the performing and the friendship and deep connections that rise to the surface.

Check in the mail next Friday but beats working.

I signed up for an artist’s chat with Mary Lilley-Thompson, an acquaintance from my old UU church days in town. She had developed an interview format called “Rising Stars – Live Talk Show Series”  This was held in Kirkland Village, a retirement facility in North Bethlehem. Mary was quite familiar with my career and put together a lively set of questions, improv inquiries, some leading into some songs she knew I knew (I Like Peanut Butter, A Place in the Choir, The Cat Came Back).

The twenty or so folks who showed up were wonderful and attentive, the conversation was spirited and we covered some interesting phases of my life: early Fats Waller influences, Beatles, Lehigh years, Touchstone Theater, RockRoots, etc. so I got it all said, played some songs and Mary was adroit in navigating the proceedings.

As we wrapped up the sessions (with no questions from the audience), I suggested I do one more song. I did Lessons from Pete and it encapsulated everything that I had brought up during the set. The reception was spot on.

It was a good afternoon among the seniors in my community.

I was asked to do a pro bono set at an old folks home on Monday, to help bring a little Musikfest to the residents. I haven’t done one of these gigs in a while, and I forgot the challenge that this audience requires, and how important music is for folks in these situations.

There was scepticism from some ladies up front when I brought out my bag with puppets, scarves, et al, but I explained to them why I carry these with me. I also knew that putting shakers, tambourines and maracas in their hands would be an important connection with them, some of whom were in relatively unresponsive modes. As I rolled through my songs, I added some tunes they would know (You are My Sunshine, Tennessee Waltz, Hank Williams tunes, etc.) and it was good to see them singing along as best they could. I did my other stuff, including Hannah, a young girl, volunteer and Fry fan from the past, who did I Wanna Be a Dog with me in front of the crew. I found myself drenched in sweat with the effort to entertain these folks who went to considerable effort to come down for the music. I also realized that I should have done my homework and brought more singalongs that they know, stuff I have packed in my musical library from similar gigs in the past. I can always do better.

The two ladies up front thanked me at the end and said they had a good time. A gentleman in the back who played tambourine waved goodbye. Folks visiting older relatives were glad I was there. There may not be applause at the end of each song, but we all chipped in, in our own way, to celebrate making some music together. It’s the best I can do.