The good folks at Christ Lutheran in Hellertown have asked me to play for their first summer service for several years now, usually a salute to the graduating seniors in the congregation and for the kids. Only three kids today.

I picked out songs from three of my gospel buddies: Bruce Cockburn, Pete Seeger and John Gorka, adding on Simple Gifts at the end.

I had prepared Creation Dream as an instrumental prelude, but the pastor began with his notes, prayers, etc. When he introduced Turn, Turn, Turn and walked towards the side door, I called out that I hadn’t done the prelude, that I was going to do it, and I said flippantly, “Go ahead back to your office, I’ll do my song.” There were chuckles, and I kinda surprised myself. It was okay with Pastor Phil. I did a decent job on the song on my new SE Martin.

I then quickly went into Turn, Turn, Turn and played it strong and the congregation stepped up as well. For the Offertory, I brought out John’s Good Noise and delivered a solid gospelesque version of the song, getting the congregation to clap along on the last choruses. It sounded great, and served up some energy. I finished with Simple Gifts with the audience singing along, and then as an instrumental as folks headed out.

I hung around for a bit as some elder folks came up to say hello, share their remembrances of my past gigs, and some common friends. I headed down to the buffet in the basement, talked with Pastor Phil and some other parishioners. It was a very nice gig.

I was a little fuzzy today, following my long jaunt to CT and back the day before. Another spectacular day, weather-wise, and only two hours today. I set up in the grass and started off. My lyrics weren’t sharp at all, but that’s no big deal. I enjoy being the sound track for the market.

There was a steady stream of kids and families picking up instruments, scarves and puppets. Several super-charged boys with little focus or quizzical looks on their faces. It was also nice to simply have some conversations with the parents, the kids and various Bethlehem friends as they stopped by. No pressure to keep on playing all the time.

One woman with her young teen daughter loved some of the oldies I played and then started requesting Chantilly Lace, Johnny B. Goode and other songs I don’t know. I started to get pissed after she said, “How can you Not know that song?!” She kept it up while I was trying to state my philosophy on learning songs that mean something to me, songs that I enjoy learning. I eventually gave her my Troubadour CD to help give her a clue as to what I like to play.

I finished up around 11:30 and hung out a little with Mary, the market manager, talking about community and the market’s place in it. Tips were good – about $60 and I got my check for the whole season from a local realtor who is sponsoring me.

This was my first Madison Green Farmers’ Market of the season; a long haul for small pay, but I was reminded why I enjoy the trip. When the traffic’s fairly light (if I leave early enough on a Friday morning), I get to enjoy listening to my podcasts and full albums in the car. That’s actually a rare experience these days.

I got there in plenty of time, set up under the old oak tree. It was a stellar day, weather-wise and I set into my three hour set. I gathered a few kids early on, and there was some fine interaction. As usual, most of the elder shoppers breezed on by but picked up a few tips from parents and grandparents.

About an hour in, as families gathered on the green behind me, I turned my chair around to face the new audience. It seems young families use the opportunity to spread out blankets and socialize and let the kids hang out together. It’s a nice scene.

There are familiar faces, moms, kids, etc. and always some new folks there to capture the moments with their kids. Six pm rolls around quickly enough and I head back to PA into the sunset, appropriately. Tips were much better this time – around $60 and I got my check for $100, cheap, cheap, cheap. (I had asked for more but the vendors and market managers said no.)

Again, I enjoyed the ride home, alone with my music and my thoughts.

 

This YANJ has been on the calendar for months and I’ve had lingering concerns about it, since it was booked as a virtual “Zoom” concert for about 500 kids and teachers. I have had very, very few of these over the last two years and my confidence was somewhat lacking. I also distrust the technology platforms, and the school wanted a new one for this one: Google Meet.

I did several stabs at learning the platform this weekend, and it seemed similar to Zoom, et al, so I plunged ahead, set things up in my kitchen on Tuesday with camera, computer, lighting, banjo, mandolin and guitar. The sound check was set for 9 am today with the principal and it went well. We decided that I would use a vocal mike to help the situation and that was a good move.

We had told the teachers to expect the kids to get up and dance across the separate classrooms. This is a big school so there were about 400 K – 4th graders going to be in the “audience”.

A 9:30 show-time rolled around, the individual classes started showing up, and the teachers were encouraged to show the classrooms on the grid. That turned out to be a great feature for me, and I had some visual feedback on how the kids were reacting. They were all responding and gave me a boost.

I rolled through I Like Peanut Butter, The New Cat Came Back (with acknowledgement of racist beginnings), Down By The Bay (mandolin), A Place In The Choir (banjo, with “All The World’s Critters” thrown in), and Giant, We Gave Names to the Animals and All Around The Kitchen as a dance fest at the end. It was a crisp 45 minute set.

The principal said that it was the best assembly they’ve had and hoped that the school will bring me in for a live assembly next year.

It was a taxing effort on my part, and I pulled it off well, with no errors (surprise, surprise, with such a lay-off), and I used all of my virtual performance skills in engaging the kids, acknowledging them, encouraging them, hamming it up, all through that little white light in the camera. It’s not easy.

I find myself exhausted, even eight hours later, but feeling good that I nailed this opportunity to reach hundreds of kids and teachers without having to put in three hours of driving to and from NJ. It should be a healthy paycheck as well. A good day on the planet.

I had replace my car battery later though, and my hands show the wear and tear of physical labor.

RockRoots had two NE Philly gigs this week, and there’s no direct route to these interesting neighborhoods. Our Wednesday afternoon gig was at Our Lady of Port Jefferson, in a fairly tightly-packed neighborhood. We were lucky to find some parking to unload out front, but latter gained access from the walled parking lot near the stage exit. Whew.

We loaded in and set up on the stage for the ~300 K – 8th graders. The kids were polite, though the 6th, 7th and 8th graders were a bit remote, no dancing or getting out of the chairs. One bright spot was a special needs 8th grade boy who surprised us all early in the show when he demonstrated the Irish jig. Not too shabby, neither.

The principal / nun was quite glad to have us, and we benefitted from an opening prayer. Perhaps she though we would need it. As usual, we played well, cleaning up the small stuff after our long sabbatical. The kindergarteners were great dancers, and the music teacher came up afterwards and thanked us for the show, as we thanked her for dedication to spread music in several school communities in North Philly. Not an easy job.

The ride home reminded me of our early RR gigs in Philly – afternoon traffic on the Schuylkill!

Friday’s gig was another NE Philly school Holy Innocents with a slightly smaller audience of 150 4 – 8th graders. This neighborhood was a little more spread out: I could see lots of sky today. And we were able to load in from near the stage. (We have to plan our escapes very carefully) This was held in a big gym, and since the group was smaller, we like to eschew the stage and play on floor with the kids.

The kids were mostly Latino in this neighborhood, and had taken in a Roots of Latin Music assembly the week before. Thus, the older kids were polite but a little removed. That’s why we have Kevin…. our secret ingredient.

The trip back was a tad more arduous – Friday afternoon, of course, I was pretty whipped when I got back to Fourth Street. Still, it’s great to be out there with RockRoots.

I was a little bushed from a RockRoots doubleheader in the morning, but had some time to recompose for Wednesday’s Dave’s Night Out with my friend Jack Murray. We figured we’d explore the space between Country Music and Folk Music, and it turned out to be very good topic. Jack has a mind and a gift for exposition on stuff like this so he came armed for bear with a great list of songs, and I put some thought into it as well. The conversation was easy between Jack, myself and the audience.

I found out that Mike Duck is helping to sponsor this series by doing sound for free for mention of his Web Foot Digital web-building business. Big thanks, Mike!

Jack brought out Four Strong Winds, Last Thing On My Mind, If I Were A Carpenter, Irene Goodnight, Long Black Veil, and Girl From Mexico, a song from Ramona’s dad. Jack gave up early on that one, but I insisted on him reciting it. It turned out to be quite wonderful and I hope he does it again as spoken word. There’s power in that medium.

I brought out Bill Monroe Georgia Rose, Carter Family’s Wildwood Flower, The Byrds’ Farther Along, Bill Staines’ Roseville Fair, Dylan’s Girl From the North Country Fair, even The Temptations’ My Girl.

We were able to mark important shifts in the folk/country continuum like, the Dylan/Cash duet on TV, The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album, Woody and Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene, Tom Paxton, etc.

There were a few more in the audience, breaking into double figures for a change. I really am proud of this series for the content and the way it is delivered on this historic stage. Tonight was a perfect example. Thanks, Jack.

This was a pretty big deal for me in my strange but not-so-little world as an arts educator. The folk world knows that I been playing for kids for thirty plus years, but few have had the chance to see me do it, nor do they realize the creative challenge of doing what I do. It’s not part of the folk scene, but I play for thousands of people every year and that counts for something. This was one of those moments that counted for me.

I was nominated by my friends at Young Audiences of NJ and E. PA, a booking group I’ve been with since 1991. They were the first to book RockRoots early on, and have been the major consistent source of income for me (and my family) for thirty years, and have been instrumental in my development as a Teaching Artist. Lots of diverse performance possibilities and situations, as well as numerous high-level workshops with fellow TA’s over many years.

I was part of a roster of YANJ awardees, along with fellow TA’s Mary Knysh, Erik James Montgomery, David Gonzalez, booking pro Carol Hunt and a few corporate supporters. Waiting for things to begin, I was able to connect with Mary, a world music specialist from Bloomsburg. We both know Rand Whipple who’s from that town and travelled with me and Touchstone in Mexico in the early 80’s. Deep roots, again.

We finally we allowed in to the hall, and I found that my assigned set was an empty space. That was disconcerting, but didn’t matter a great deal. Lots of seats. I sat next to a principal being honored for Distinguished Service in Theater Education and we struck up another fine conversation about my high school theater experiences, financial support for the arts in schools. She said she had to leave early since the Prom was that night. I said I hope she gets a corsage.

So, the Young Audiences roster came up, and then my name. I hopped up on the stage to make the long walk across and I did a little dance for about four beats and the audience ignited. (not much spontaneity from the awardees so far.) I acknowledged the audiences response, and while getting my photo with the proclamation, I looked at it and said, “Paper,” again tickling the crowd. Curious and spontaneous but I got several compliments from folks later on. How little it takes, and how unconscious I am about being on stage to engage an audience.

The rest of the program featured many very talented high schoolers in Debate, Art, Music, Theater with some very nice short pieces and lots of awards. It was great to see the next generation of performers, and the salute to their talents was fine to see.

I drove off to a YANJ reception at a restaurant near Princeton for some wine and pretty good snacks. As we stood around, I picked up conversations and congratulations with many of the YANJ staff, many of whom I go back decades with. It was cool that when I walked into the small reception room, I got some applause and thanks for my impromptu dance. Funny that it rung a bell with the arts folks.

After an hour of standing around drinking my ginger ale and inhaling the tasty hors d’oeuvres, I headed out home, thanking every one for this honor. I looked forward to a crisp hour and a half drive through the Jersey landscape. It ended up being three hours, with some navigation errors on my part and a large accident on Rt 78. I arrived home after 11:30 exhausted. Still, a great day for me.

 

This turned out to be a remarkable gig at Coopertown ES in Bryn Mawr, PA this morning. It was good for me, for a change, not to worry about my part in the show. The post-Covid cobwebs have been, for the most part, banished and the show and my confidence  is back in good shape. Travel was easy and Kevin called and said he’d be late. No problem.

As I headed into the school with my guitar and mandolin, one mom in a drop-off lane commented that I might be pissing off a lot of people. What? As we struck up a conversation, she was referring to the tragic incident in a school in Texas the day before. I finally connected that my carrying a black case into a school was disconcerting to some parents. We straighten that out with a little humor, but, apparently (pun intended), the concern was in the air. And, we helped a little bit with the show. More, later.

The principal introduced us, saying that this was the first assembly in three years, and for many of the kids in the house it was their first ever (the 1st and 2nd and some of the 3rd grades weren’t in school), so that was interesting. Assemblies were the best part of going to school for most of us, I think.

Two shows with about 225 K – 5th students each, but the grades were mixed around so we had to aim for the middle ground. No kiddie show. The kids were great, a wonderful 5th grade girl nailed the Irish Jig, the Peanut Butter do-wop groups rose to the occasion and were delightfully giggly, zany and being kids. Everyone got up and danced.

The teachers and the PTA liaison loved it. One teacher said that she has I Like Peanut Butter and will play it for her kids in class. Again, deep roots. But the general feeling was that RockRoots provided a tremendous relief for the whole school on such a grey emotional day. YANJ got this message from the school:

“We all very much enjoyed RockRoots yesterday!  The show could not have come at a more perfect time for the students and teachers after such sadness in the news from Texas. It was so good for all of our hearts to see the kids laughing, dancing and singing.  The joy was palpable. Thank you!”

We’re making a difference sometimes when we don’t even know it.

 

I was honored to be asked to do the lobby pre-show for this production from our local community theater outfit Touchstone, one I have deep connections with, having being an ensemble member back in the 80’s.

This is a wonderful part of Touchstone’s outreach in the community, reaching creative teens and preteens artists, writers, actors and more, across the Lehigh Valley. The kids get to work with some of Touchstone’s ensemble as directors. A noble endeavor.

My small part is to engage kids and families as they make their way into the large Baker Theater. I like the fact that I was along one wall, between two bubble machines! I was asked to play from 7 to 7:30 when the show would begin. I got there early, and so started in about 6:45. Why not? I immediately engaged a young family with two older sisters and their younger brother. He was wearing shades and immediately put one of my sunglasses over his, upside down, of course. The other folks picked up on this right away. I knew this was going to be fun.

As folks gathered in the building, I motioned for other kids to join in. I even told one older teen girl to put down her cell phone and take up a maraca. She smiled, and she did, and played along, When her two friends showed up, they joined in, as well. Smiles all around. That was nice. Shoo That Fly, I Like Peanut Butter, We Gave Names to the Animals, etc. All upbeat and playable.

Things dried up about 7:25 as folks drifted in for the show. I finished with Branching Out to an empty hall. Not so, as my friend Carol Schachter walked up from her station at the entrance, and said she was singing along to the song. Sweet. Lisa, Touchstone’ managing director, mentioned toward the end that it didn’t matter if it was a throng of people or that one girl in front of me, I make connections. That was a spot-on reflection.

I packed up and headed to the parking lot to retrieve my car and then back to Fourth Street.

Bill Christine and students discussing art work.

Bill Christine, Katie Santoro and I came down to the final day to wrap up our Climate Change residency at Marvine. We had to document the project for Doug Roysdon in order to give him the ability to market this process for prospective funding, so we had an hour and a quarter to finish it up.

Painting the cardboard costumes

Doug was able to arrange to have Al Silvestre to bring his camera for stills and video, something I was particularly glad for, since I was prepared to take videos with my own equipment, while trying to interact with the students. Whew!

We decided to break the studio sessions into three pieces. The first manageable slot was to record the kids doing the Who Dat choruses for the four verses. One older girl proved to be a problem, saying that she didn’t want to be in no video. I had to prod her several times, often doing my mean ole grump to convince her to look like she was smiling. (I eventually apologized to her and she eventually relaxed).

Chorus: Who dat?  Who dat? Who dat, you say.

We’re the Brezz Family, here to save the day. 2x

I’m a Wild Fire in the forest, better get out of my way. 2x

I’m Old Man Pollution, making your blues skies grey. 2x

I’m Carbon Dioxide, changing our climate every single day. 2x

We rehearsed and did several takes and managed to get some good footage, but it was an introduction to production for these kids and it took a lot of focus and energy to get through this.

Next up was recording the verses with the kids in the cardboard “costumes”. With the help of Doug and Bill, we were able to put together the kids moving behind the cut outs, adding construction paper props, working on “faces” of the characters, etc. We decided to skip the kids singing and went with my guitar as the sound track, to add the lyrics later. This turned out to be a very successful and rich session.

Working on the lyrics for the song.

With only about fifteen minutes left, I turned to working with a fifth grade boy as the narrator, and have him be the vocal actor doing the verses. We did them out loud and then had him do them solo. That worked really well, and, though the verses were new to him, he was able to pick up on the inflections and delivered nicely, to the delight of everyone listening. He really stepped up. We’ll be able to sync his narration with the guitar sound track from the earlier video. We might be able to pull this off.

I hope that Al does a good job editing his version of the song (we still have to find funding for him) and I plan on working on my version of Who Dat? for my own purposes (and the fun of home productions). Doug hopes to put together a short video of the project in order to find more work for us all.

 

This is the third RockRoots in Catholic schools this spring, and it’s good to back in the saddle again. Mother of Providence School is in Warrington, PA, not far from our school gig on Wednesday and about an hour and a quarter down the Blue Route (476) into the burbs outside Philly. We set up again in the gym on an increasingly hot Friday afternoon.

I’m finally feeling secure and confident in my handling of the show, with two gigs under my belt with lessons learned. This was a full house of about 270 K – 8th graders and teachers.

Early on in the show when we do the Folk Dance segment, I always ask if someone takes Irish step dancing and, often, especially in catholic schools, some one steps up, so to speak. After some prodding, an eighth grade red-headed girl was volunteered by her teacher and she really delivered to the delight of the whole school. When this happens, the entire audience hops on our side.

When we do Blue Suede Shoes, I pick on the teachers to get up and “Go, Cat, Go”, another way to prod the audience and have the teachers loosen up for the kids. Once the teachers are up, we get the kids to get up too, and it’s the first actively dance moment for the entire group. I noticed two men who didn’t initially get up, so, as I’ll often do, stop the show and spotlight the teachers who aren’t participating. Invariably, the teachers do it, to the delight of the students. This time, one gentleman, immaculately dressed refused to join in and leaned on him to no avail. As I found out after the show, he was the major donor for this assembly. Again, I amaze myself with my ability to amplify my ignorance.

We rolled through the show today, with kids and teachers up and dancing for the last ten minutes – Beatles, Disco and Rock and Roll Music. As we packed up, several teachers came up and thanked us for the show.

As I drove home in Friday afternoon traffic, I was walloped with several torrential downpours and by the time I eventually landed on Fourth Street, I was whipped. As much as I love the travel, the whole process makes for a long and exhausting day.

I figured one thing I’ve missed, though, with the long commutes to gigs, is the chance to take in a whole album of music. Today, in spite of the traffic and weather, I was able to fully digest a new album from my friend Geoff Bartley and unpack some beautiful moments in his new CD Eyes on the Road (an apt title if ever there was one for this trip). He made the hassle all worth while.

 

St. Mary Magdalene School in Media, PA

We headed to Media, PA for a doubleheader at St. Mary Magdalene School on Wednesday afternoon. Only an hour plus drive from home, I got there early enough, set up the PA in the gym and waited for the lads. We were ready to go for the 1:15 start. We were scheduled with only a 5 minute turn over so we discussed that we should run a tight 45 minute show, something that Kevin wants all the time. (He will occasionally give me a “keep it moving” poke during one of my introductions. Noted.

I did some homework to help me recall what the show was like pre-pandemic and found our disco section. We decided to put that in, extend the dancing from the previous Beatles set, and head for the ending. It worked well and I even recalled the call-and-response during the second show. I only drew one blank with my cue for Good Golly Miss Molly, as the band was looking at me while I was looking at them. Anyway, I recovered quickly…. I’m still thinking too much.

The first show was for 130 6th – 8th graders and, per usual for a catholic school, polite though reserved. The teachers were similar but enjoyed the show. The second show for 3rd – 5th grades was predictably more spirited and responsive with lots of dancing at the end.

The band played well and the boys put up with a slightly scattered set list. Thankfully, after two years in hibernation, the show is gelling again. Personally, I’ve been worried that I have lost the total recall of the show that was the case three years ago. Yes, some of it is due to my age – I don’t have the muscle mental memory I once had, but we stumble through and put on a great assembly. Again, teachers love it (the music teachers thanked us at the end of the second show) and the kids left the gym charged up, yelling “Kevin! Kevin!” like old times. Wayne and Nick get some shouts, too. Good for their egos, too. I have to settle for the smiles and chuckles from the teachers during the show.

We’re headed back this way for a Friday afternoon show at another Catholic school nearby.

Clouds roll in towards noon.

Twas a spectacular morning on Sunday, with temps in the high 60’s, no wind and drifting clouds and May green in the trees. I settled in for my 9:30 start with my new amp, my bag of instruments and took a survey of the place. It was nice to see the vendors consolidated; post Covid, they didn’t have to have a vast lawn like the last year, and there seemed to be a stronger sense of community.

I saw the former market manager Terry as I first landed and congratulated for no longer being in charge. He chuckled and said he was feeling good about just being a volunteer. It was good to see him. The new folks came over as I set up and I thanked them for the work. I know we’ll do fine over the summer gigs.

The smaller amp seemed to do just fine, though with less bass, but enough volume to fill the space in front of me. I’m able to keep things down so the vendors can chat with the customers. Rule #1. I started off with Shoo That Fly and felt right at home.

Lots of dogs show up with their humans. Directly to my right is the Dog Biscuit couple, and happy dog tails are shakin’ that thang when they arrived. The dogs know (nose). It certainly takes the spotlight off me, and I have a front seat. There were few families at first, and parents (and kids) were hesitant to commit to playing shakers. I’m fine with just giving them a CD. That even coaxes a few bucks for the case/cause. Eventually, a few familiar kids and moms stopped over and we had some good moments, and I could see some older folks stopping and watching from a distance. I love the fist bumps with the kids. One kid Oliver through in a high five for good measure.

It was good the exercise the repertoire again, with most stuff in good shape. I played well and the time flew by. I usually don’t even look at my pocket watch til after an hour. My mahogany Martin remains a joy to play, and certainly makes me sound competent.

As I packed up a couple vendors came over, signaled a heart-bump, and one lady gave me a small loaf of Japanese Milk Bread. (??!!) I’m enjoying some luxury toast these mornings.

I was simply a delight to be back at this Farmers’ Market, and have the chance to mix things up playing live music in the neighborhood. Record tips and a few CD sales! I can do my laundry this week!

My friend, Amy Forsyth, runs an instrument design class for Lehigh students, and invites me for the final display and critique of the class’s projects. I did this several years ago in the basement of one of the buildings on campus, but this year, they’ve moved up to a spacious lab on the Mountain Top Campus.

Amy invited my pal Russ Rentler up, to join in on some jamming and commentary. We were out on the lawn this afternoon in temperate climes. As the students demonstrated their works, we talked about what worked and what didn’t, and I was able to add some folk history and context to some similar instruments, noting that colorful instruments helped the joy of community music in many culture.

Students, Russ and myself.

The students’ work was inspired and the fact that Lehigh even has such a course for non-musical students is quite amazing. Amy is amazing as well.

We headed down the Turnpike to Levittown for a Wednesday morning assemble, near Bristol, Pa, hometown of my folks. I got there early, introduced myself to the principal (dressed in full beard as Joel Embiid!!) and set up in the gym. As the band arrived, we had a chance to go over The Snippets – the short medley of regional R&R styles, and that proved to be beneficial.

I really didn’t review the show like I should have, relying on muscle memory, and, for the most part, I did okay. I did misplace the Elvis section, putting the Do Wop first. Our Peanut Butter section is a riot with four kids coming up, giving them red shades, and the crowd loving it, including the older kids (7th / 8th graders) responding to one of their own on stage.

We finished with All Around The Kitchen with the entire gym up and dancing. I always ask several teachers to come up at the very end, and one teacher (who I noticed dancing in the back during the show) came up and demonstrated The Bristol Stomp (only three miles away). She nailed it!!!.

The principal lauded the show after the kids left, claiming that he had played drums in bands a long time ago. The Stomp teacher came back in and said we were the best assembly ever. It’s nice to hear that, and important for the rest of the band to hear, too. RockRoots is pretty special.

We decided to move to the Art Room for the next couple of sessions so that Bill can lead the way in slinging the paint to move things along. As could be expected, the attendance has shrunk to three or four students, but these kids are charged.

Two weeks ago we used cardboard frames with head cutouts for our three concepts. We worked on the Brezz Family during the first session, selecting colors, transferring characters. We also worked on vocabulary for Wild Fire, and I’ll put something together for the next session.

  1. We live on top of a hill, soaking up the breeze.

Our blades spinning in the air with the greatest of ease.

Taking that wind, put it in a battery.

Turning that wind power into cheap energy.

Chorus: Who dat (Who dat?) Who dat, you say?

We’re the Brezz Family, here to save the day. (2x)

The second session started on Wild Fire and Pollution cardboard characters. I was about 20 minutes late for this one (finishing up with Amy Forsythe’s Lehigh class), and Bill was in production mode with painting Brezz and Wild Fire. I settled in and ran the chords for the song to get it in my head and then joined in with painting the Pollution smoke stack. The kids were listening to some current pop tunes on the computer and goofing about. Bill was cracking the whip, in his friendly way.

With about 15 minutes left, we cleaned up and I introduced the Wild Fire verse. My young friend broke out his trumpet and we worked on a place for him on the Who Dat. The kids are getting into the chorus, the attitude of some of the words, and one older boy, who seems to have a flair for oratory, tried out the verses as an orator. This might be cool.

2. Like a dragon flying through the trees,

I’m a wild fire on the wind with flames in my teeth.

Yellow, Red and Orange in a wild salsa dance,

Leaping through the air from branch to branch.   Chorus...

We’ve got one session left in two weeks, and, gradually, we’re getting there. We talked about why there was such a attrition with the kids, and, we figured that we should have presented a fuller picture of what we were going to do. Part of this process is to develop a template, and, now, we can present a better idea, with photos, song, etc. for the kids and the school. We’re all learning on this one.

 

 

 

This was a flash-back to a DNO that we did four years ago, almost to the day, with my friends Bill Hall and Gregg Cagno. I started with Going Away from Utah Phillips and then passed off to Gregg. Early on, we talked about Jersey songwriters like them (I included John Gorka) who had access to the NYC folk scene and were able to head into the city to see the greats and play the open mikes, as well. As we rotated amongst the three of us, Gregg and Bill did some really fine original tunes. I was able to bring in my new arrangement of Imagine, Branching Out, Rodeo Rider (on 12-string), and my Lessons From Pete.

My friend and now Eastonite Andrew Dunn had chatted earlier.  I said how much I liked his Steel Is Strong song from the recent Bethlehem Steel album, and that I was playing it on my radio shows. He then said that it was based on my Lessons From Pete. I found that amusing, but, in playing it on stage tonight, I caught the reference. No wonder I liked it. Frankly, it was a honor to hear that.

Martin SC-13E

Bill had come in early to do some recording for his Rosie Project and had worked with Gregg already. When I came down around 4:30, things were all set up for my session. I brought my SC-13E down for this one and rolled through my version of Rosie is a Friend of Mine. The Rosie Project plans on having a multitude of version of his song on one album, with the other album Bill’s other material. Since we all set up, Bill suggested I try out a few more tunes so I stepped up with Stan Rogers’ Giant, John Gorka’s Branching Out and Alex Bevan’s Rodeo Rider (on 12-string). Bill and Gregg filled in some vocals on Branching Out. Amazingly, I was able to roll right through the songs on the first take, though the process is pretty exhausting.

Bill bought Indian food from Na Wab down the street, and it served as a nice break between the recording session and the show.

As usual, there was a dearth of folks for the show, but the music and conversation was stimulating and humorous. It was good to be with these good friends.

Part two of my very rare Saturday doubleheader. A local riding academy Equi-librium held and informal volunteer recognition fling at the nearby Mountain View Ice Cream/Miniature Golf/Snack Bar above Nazareth, PA. I was asked by my friends Rita and Ted to provide some background tunes as the folks gathered together. It was a grey day but temperatures were in the 60’s and not too bad. The proprietor asked me to set up facing the restaurant so as to not further piss off the neighbors behind the place. I dragged out my new amp for the occasion.

The stables are part of a therapeutic effort to mix horses with special needs people, and the volunteers certainly deserve celebration. “Healing Through Horses.”

I set in playing tunes as folks pulled up, started to mix, eat ice cream and have a good visit with each other. My friend Sue Wallace showed up and she was kind enough to treat me to a crock of chili after I finished up. The folks seemed to have a good time. I packed up and headed back home, when, upon arrival, I was pressed into service at Godfrey’s counter for the evening. I really was beat but pitched in. I needed all of Sunday to recover.

Mountain View, Nazareth

 

 

Packer Chapel at Lehigh

My friend Lloyd Steffen asked me to play for a memorial service for a Lehigh professor who had passed in November, 2020 (mid-Covid) and the family had a chance to gather in his memory. I said I’d be glad to, and the family asked for John Lennon’s Imagine. I said I will work it up. At the time, I didn’t recall James McIntosh, but got to know him at the service, and then recalled him quite well. He was the weirdo Social Science guy in Price Hall. In a sea of conservatism, his shorts and T-shirt set him apart.

I spent four or five sessions working on an arrangement for it. I like doing this stuff. Listening to the original, jamming with the chords, looking them up, finding a key I can sing in, and then just playing the tune for a while.

It’s tough doing a song that such a well know anthem; everybody knows it. It’s the LICK that everyone expects, so I concentrated on the quick arpeggio between the verse lines, got it down on guitar. I then figured I could use it as a vocal community tool to get everyone to sing it. I decided to do it mid stream, after the first chorus. It should work.

I don’t have the head for memorizing lyrics. I don’t play the songs out enough these days to keep them on the mental desk top. So, I print ’em up, and sit and play, make sense of the song, find places to breathe before a falsetto (boy, you don’t want to hear that in process…). I have to pitch Beatles and Lennon songs lower, where I can sing with conviction. What was C was now in A (G capoed 2), and it fell together nicely, with several shots a couple days ahead that sounded really good. I looked forward to performing this in PackerChapel.

I got there in time to set up, check in with Lloyd and drink in this place, a sanctuary for me for over 50 years, from freshman student, to Sunday folk mass with Hugh Fleisher (after bar gigs in Allentown the night before), and my early folk roots in the Catacombs Coffeehouse in the basement beneath us. And the room itself is quite awesome, in the richness of that word.

Jim’s widow Sally was seated up front, right in front of me, and started up some conversation, sharing our memories of the early Musikfest days, when this community felt that it had a place in its construction and its implementation. Esprit de corp.

My workspace for the morning.

Several other folks came over to say hello, mostly folks who have seen me over the years at Musikfest, and it felt good.

Professor McIntosh, bearing the Mace

The organ cracked up with the opening. My god, what a sound. Gets your attention. The service started with Lloyd doing his best self, setting folks at easy, chatting about Jim’s honors at Lehigh (he carried The Mace at Lehigh’s formal function – rumor had it that he also carried Mace in case of a felony.). As I listened, I was studying the audience, and noticed that Jim’s son was sitting next to Sally. Then it all came together in his son’s resemblance. Yeah, I knew exactly who Professor McIntosh was.

Lloyd wrapped up with the readings and it was my turn. I chatted that I was wearing the requisite Lehigh Brown, that my diploma was checked at the door, and my connection with The Catacombs, and how I had now broken through the slate ceiling to be here today. Chuckles.

I launched into Imagine with two bars of the intro – I’m glad I could posit it, from my practice that week. Two verses and then the chorus with its falsetto (You oooo, may think that I’m a dreamer.) I did fairly well, enough to get me through.

My view from up front, a tad to the right.

When it came around on the guitar, I asked the audience to sing the LICK, “it’s easy if you try….”, and slightly badgered them to sing louder, and then proceeded to the third verse. I could see some folks singing along and the LICK seemed to hold. We finished with the chorus and we did the LICK three times – last time just the audience – to a fade. The last part was what I wanted to nail, and it did, with the common voice of the people, filling up this marvelous and historical space. It landed as I hoped it would.

I stuck around to hear the fine memorial speeches, and everyone was great. The family and friends soaked it up. And, it was nice that enough time had passed that their was more joy than grief. I packed up, thanked the organist for such an experience, and headed out into the gray Lehigh afternoon.

Another gig later.

 

My task was to warm the kids up, and had fun with Tutti Tah, even though the oldest 5th grade girl, new to the class, wondered what was going on. Anyway, the kids were great.

We hoped to revisit our vocabulary list, which Bill did, but, as we figured out later, perhaps, because of lack of information and the reticence of answering questions in class, we didn’t get much out of the kids.

Windy Brezz

I did an exercise with rhythm instruments after dividing the class in two. Amazing that some of the kids had a problem with counting off in twos. (occasional “three”). What worked – we were able to break up the little click of 5th grade girls and spread the kids out. After getting each side to play a beat, and, importantly, our “big endings” (so much fun…), I had each side take one part of each line, with Bill leading the other side.

I’m made of carbon / So are you.

Carbon is in the air / It’s CO2.

Makes a monster hurricane / makes a monster drought.

Makes a monster wild fire / That’s what I thought.

I added: Who dat? Who dat? / Who dat? Who dat? I’m going to follow up with this later.

Mini Brezz

We pulled out wild fire, pollution, hurricane and drought and voted for wild fire and pollution. Since one young girl had already worked up the Wind Power Family, we went with that. Bill then divided up the groups into Wild Power, Wild Fire and Pollution, and introduced the idea of how that group could make costumes for themselves, and gave the kids paper and markers to ideate what that would look like.

As the session came to a close, we shared the pictures with the larger group. Time’s up.

Aliey Brezz

As Katie, Bill and I put our heads together, we figured that the kids should start painting a small model of their project, water-color on cardboard, next week, in preparation for creating a full size, production model. I still have to figure out how to get verses for the three WP, WF and P models. We figured I could frontload the three verses with the first two lines and have the kids finish them.

One boy really relished “scientist”, so we figured that he could read the lyrics as a mad scientist while I play the chords, incorporating the “who dat? into the song. We only have three more sessions so the pressure’s on.

This is hard work.