Thursday, September 04, 2003
Robin Bullock at Baltimore House Concert, August 31, 2003
A man with a guitar case is at the door ringing the same apartment we are headed for. I know this is not Robin Bullock so I ask him if he is also a performer tonight. The man (whose name I learn later is Joshua) says - No, I brought my guitar to show it to Robin. I ask then, did you take lessons with Robin? He said - yes, actually one lesson gave me enough to practice on for a year.
This is Labor Day weekend. Restaurants and stores are mostly empty; I assume people are out of town, and wonder how many people our hostess Wendy will have drummed up for tonight. The answer is maybe too many. She worries about overbooking. The most she ever had before is 35. When everyone is in there are 45 people in this gorgeous condo, a record crowd for just the right number of chairs. There is still some floor space, but maybe we should be thankful that there were some last minute regrets. Wendy, who has a great knack for friendship, has guests tonight that include a couple she met at Longwood Gardens, and a couple from a polo match. So some new recruits, and friends and acquaintances who have already learned well what a treat it is to hear Robin Bullock in this kind of setting.
Before the show, Robin tells us he played the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage for the second time last night.
I tell Robin I remember seeing him first at Mays Chapel with Tom Paxton. He speaks fondly of Tom. I suspect it is a mutual admiration society.
Tonight he wears a black shirt with a pictures of wolves, black pants and brown leather sandals. He has 4 instruments: 2 mandolins, one guitar and a Yamaha keyboard. His set at Wendy's includes:
Westland Wings - from Scotland - Robin warns us "tuning will happen tonight"
The Secret Waterfall - This is from Robin's solo CD The Lightening Field. Robin teaches music each year at The Swannanoa Gathering. In the summer of 98, he met Jody (or Jodi?) there. They went hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains, and they sat by a waterfall to talk. The sound of the Irish jigs Robin had been teaching that week mixed with the sound of the waterfall, and the getting to know you romantic feelings, and this song came from the mix.
On the Yamaha keyboard Robin plays Redwood Jig - inspired by a cross country tour that took Robin to Redwood, CA
Wendy put Robin Bullock's music on her home answering machine (how many years ago?) So Robin explains he will play this music we have all been hearing - a pair of waltzes - First Light in the Mountains and The Open Road (still on Keyboard)
Ah, Robin moves over to get an instrument he calls the octave mandolin. He explains why it could be called a cittern or bouzoukis; it is similar to those instruments but not exactly the same. And anyway he relates, you don't want to mention you may have a bouzoukis in an airport, so in the airport is is definitely a mandolin. And now he both plays and sings, the Fair Maid of Norththumberland.
Next Robin tells us about Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), a blind musician, a genius as a composer who blended Irish traditional music and classical continental music. And plays 2 songs composed by the itinerant Irish harper:
Give Me Your Hand - by a blind bard who predated O'Carolan by 100 years or so.
2 Dance Tunes from Brittany
The Story of Willie and Mae Margaret (sung and played) - in the best English ballad tradition.
On the regular (smaller) mandolin -
Dr. John Hart - Bishop of A.
Robin saw a Celtic bumper sticker that said: "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because they are subtle and quick to anger". Or an even better one he saw at Swannanoa: "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, because you are crunchie and good with ketchup."
Sir Charles Coote/Captain Higgins - another O'Carolan tune - Robin explains we have these tunes because 60 years after O'Carolan's death, at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival, a collector wrote down the tunes. These songs are so mellow!
Traditional Appalachian tunes - Coleman's March and Bonaparte's Retreat - These are in what is called dead man's tuning (D-D-A-D).
A Robert Burns tune - a lullaby
OK Robin told this audience that he ended up in France because of meeting a girl. Toward the end of the concert the audience wants to know where she is (how did the romance turn out). He explains she lives in France, so to be with her he moved there. She is an American who has spent half her life in France, and is an actress in Paris. At some point too, Robin, perhaps in an attempt to invoke our envy, points to the copy of a French impressionist painting on Wendy's wall of a bridge, and tells us that he lives near that bridge.
Wendy shares that it is fun to tell her friends, oh this musician emailed me from Paris about doing a concert in my house.
A woman here at a house concert for the first time tells me "The music is beautiful and what a nice space for a concert." Some house concert hosts have a CD player and stack of CD's in their living room. Wendy has bookcases of marvellous books, pictures of family and friends, and copies of French impressionist paintings. The performer sits or stands in front of a large glass sliding door which separates the living room from the long adjacent balcony. It is lovely place.
Robin Bullock, guru of instruments and history and all things Celtic, will be back in this area in December for holiday concerts.
Castlebay will be at Wendy's house concert on October 25.
8-30-03 - The Fourth Annual Country Roads Folk Festival at the Historic Almost Heaven Farm in West Virginia
The hay wagon cart is full of festival goers, instead of hay. All wait to be shuttled down to the festival site down the hill. I get an awe filled comment on my tee shirt - you went to Falcon Ridge? I am surprised. This may be the same woman who tells us that she recently moved here from Boston and is bemoaning the fact that this area doesn't have the radio stations and clubs and folk venues she used to have. I tell her DC/Baltimore/VA have quite a music scene in the suburbs. Although we drive a lot, we reach most places, like this one, in about an hour.
How fortunate to have several local festivals. Right after Country Roads is the venerable and free Takoma Park Festival next Sunday, 9/7/03 from 11 am to 630 pm. And will it be the third annual SMAF festival this coming May 7-9,2004 in Havre de Grace, Md?
Last year we baked in 100 degree July heat here, and this year it is mild and may rain (but not storm). Better weather than last year. I will just get a sampling here today - as we walk in I see I've missed most of We're About Nine set on the Garden Stage. As we walk in they are singing "Hello Maria, Have you seen William". There are 4 stages here; I will see only a few of the many performers.
The Pat Humphries duo are singing We Are One. A breeze rains leaves golden in the changing light. The cascade down from the trees to the left and right of the stage. Pat comments on the beauty of this. Then the wind increases, and rain begins. I race for the barn, where We're about Nine are finishing a set.
Then Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer have us all up dancing to a rain song.
As the rain stops, I head back to the main stage to catch Pat Humphries and Sandy O. singing Peace Salaam Shalom.
Magpie is on next (oh I think all these people I have seen so far will be on of the eight stages at the Takoma Park Folk Festival).
Who Will Speak for the Trees - Contact your Senator to lobby against HR 1904. With the impassioned plea to lobby against the lumber industry, the sun comes out.
Dear Natalie - Magpie is encouraging the Dixie Chicks and others to continue to share what they feel. To Magpie's surprise they learned that at the Philadelphia folk festival Natalie's dad, I think, called her so she could hear this song via cell phone.
Raise Your Voice
On the Garden Stage - In the audience Cletus Kennelly confers with Pat Klink as Vance Gilbert begins to sings Unfamiliar Moon - Vance jokes about the "yard" - as if the various meadows on this lovely farm are front yard. He jokes that he'll have us all over to his yard for a folk festival (and he is definitely NOT serious)!
Waiting for Gilligan
I see something I think is so cool - a man sits on this wet grass keying notes into a laptop.
The Hard Travelers main stage set includes;
One Life Stand
Civil War Song medley
The sun is out and getting hot now - a sort of last Harrah for a short time and then it starts to cool off.
Maureen, the hostess of this event, introduces Vance Gilbert as one of her personal favorites who "plays like God, sings like the top angel and has the wit of the devil". You say it well Mo.
Vance's set includes:
Why are We so Cruel
Vance tells us he turns 45 in October and he's not cool anymore. Living in the suburbs - with a white poodle and a blue van. Many of us here are older than we were once. Maybe none of us (except We're About Nine) are cool anymore. This is a great lead in to his next song
Heaven Help Us All
When Jimmy Falls in Love
Vance asks Maureen something and she begins to tell us the history of the house. Vance jokes if you ask her the time she'll tell you how to make a watch. But Maureen's passions for so much are part of the gift that leads her to share her property, her love of music.
Maureen and her husband and foster girls are gracious to share this incredible farm land with meadows, tall trees and a stream with the folk community. So many great performers today. Although I leave before headliners Beth Nielson Chapman and Richie Havens, I am grateful to have been in this "almost heaven" for the day with congenial fans at this well organized song-fest. Mo recruited so many dedicated volunteers to keep this all running smoothly. What a great "lawn" party as Vance would say.
Monday, September 01, 2003
Vic's Music Corner - August 27, 2003 - Lucie Blue Tremblay and Rachel Bissex
Bad summer thunderstorms caused a power outage here last night. The volunteer at the door wonders nervously if he'll have to give money back if the predicted thunderstorm tonight also outs the power.
Rod, who does the sound here (as well as music in Baltimore), is a co-worker of mine, and we catch up on stuff about commuting and the building construction at work. I realize I haven't seen Rod in ages; I am now in an outlying building at work. Why has it taken me months to get back here to Vic's where Rod does the sound each week? The music is great, the barbeque (beef, ribs, turkey, chicken or as an alternative salmon) is good and portions generous. And what words can describe Vic and Reba, the hosts, here - venerable, benevolent folk royals, nurturing sages? They welcome fans with much grace, and open large hearts to so many artists. How many performers, like Rachel Bissex, are extra daughters in their extended family?
Vic introduces Lucie Blue as a singer he met about 7 years ago when she was opening for Patty Larkin at the Birchmere. He mentions she whistles. We saw Lucie Blue Tremblay for the first time at SMAF (the May festival near Havre de Grace Md) and knew we would enjoy seeing her for second time. She is Canadian and tells us that French is her first language. I am glad she said this, because I don't realize it hearing her speak English. She sings some songs she writes in French, some in English.
Her many songs of love and life include the following:
Because of You - from her new CD
Pour Toujours - in French - and with her whistle - which is an otherwordly sound; it is like another instrument, some pure melodic classical orchestra instrument; totally another language, not English, not French, pure clear gorgeous sound.
Lucie Blue tells us that touring the South this year, it was not her frankly "out" signs that got her in trouble, it was her peace signs. A West Virginia newspaper even said she deserved to die (for her peace sentiments). But she says she is just "glad to be alive and queer". She wrote a song for her lover which she fedex'd to her lover's mother.
Mrs. Kline I love Your Daughter - In a song called "Writing Again" Brian Gundersdorf of We're About Nine credits breaking up with unblocking writer's block. But for Lucie Blue falling in love caused the songs to flow - she wrote 14 songs in 10 days after meeting her partner.
I'm Moving in Your Neighborhood - diversity never hurt anyone, so get ready for me.
Lucie Blue tells us that last year at the Southern Women's Festival in Georgia, some guys in pickup trucks fired shotguns into the women's camp grounds. Later, she went to a nearby Waffle House to get grits, and they were there bragging about it.
Is This Some Kind of Love
At the break, I see Paul Iwancio, another Baltimore singer-songwriter in the audience and he puts it succinctly, "Rachael Bissix is so special". Though Lucie Blue is great, Rachel is the reason we just had to be here. Mary Cliff of the Traditions show on WETA is here too.
And Rachel looks great. She is quite open about the fact that she has two more chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and has lost her hair. Her hair pieces have names. She appears first in her "Audrey" look - a wig and a cute small black leather looking hat with a brim in the front. She is glamorous in a rust colored silky blouse and matching vest with sparkling black and multi-colored jeweled beading; and she wears elegant long shining earrings. Later in the evening Rachel wears 'Lizette" - a shimmering blue sort of Egyptian metallic looking head covering with long bead strings like hair (this she ordered from a catalog of head coverings for people undergoing chemo).
Rachel's songs include:
People just like That - Rachel dedicates this, as always, to Vic and Reba. In this song, Rachel describes them more eloquently than I have been able to.
The Royal Blues - Rachel shares that this song helped her through the last few months - it is a favorite of Sherry Panzer's (and of mine too) with the chorus "Do not be afraid"
Dancing with my Mother - a song that never fails to move me is now also a children's book by Rachel. Rachel tells us her book illustrator has been her friend since 5th grade, and the illustrator's family is here tonight. Rachel also shares she wrote this song 6 years after she lost her mother. As she finishes this song, I wipe tears from my eyes.
Dear Martin, Who Knew it Would Come to This Now - Rachel's mother greatly admired Martin Luther King Jr. Rachel's soldier son, is out of Baghdad now and will be home in early October. But in 1991, when the first George Bush decided to start the first Gulf War on MLK's birthday, but then waited till the next day because of "timing", Rachel wrote this song.
Starting Over - an audience request
Just hold on, sping is comin on - a new song of Rachel, written from the point of view of the trees. Rachel was driving back to Vermont from New Hampshire on April 4, and saw the trees bent over with snow, covered by freezing rain. In this song, the tree remembers that spring is coming.
Sun Goes Down, Moon Comes up - A song Rachel wrote thinking of her son Matt who will be home soon - "the moon will see me safely home"
What a gifted evening - songs of love and being yourself, of tolerance and peace, of courage, of the coming of spring, of the moon's protection. Beauty and harmony surround us. May healing light continue to surround you Rachel, and peace surround us all.