Friday, November 16, 2007
Pete Seeger used music to help clean up the Hudson River. He put a bunch of folksingers on a hand built sloop called the Clearwater, sailed up and down the Hudson and played concerts along the shore. The idea was "... get folks to the river for the music, let them see how dirty it is, and they will want to clean it up all on their own."
Pete was right.
Music makes a community FEEL like a community.
Music makes a hometown IMPORTANT.
WoodSongs has great hometown project that is working in many cities right now ... Start your own hometown, local WoodSongs Coffeehouse. A few times a year, once a month, whenever you like you and your friends bring great music, great artists, poets, musicians, and great fun to audiences in your community. It a wonderful way to gather people together ... and share good things. When communities come together and sing ... good things will happen.
Music lovers turn living rooms, cafes, church basements, garages (the WoodSongs Coffeehouse in Las Vegas is in a converted auto shop called the "GarageMahal") into small concert venues and invite some brilliant artists in their region to stop by for music. Sell tickets or pass the hat and enjoy a pot luck supper. We show you how, step by step. All new WoodSongs Coffeehouses get a great start up manual that I wrote to help them get it going.
And it's all FREE.
Visit our page at woodsongs.com for details.
PASS THE WORD ON, and consider starting your own WoodSongs Coffeehouse!
Music is part of the human celebration.
Art should always be this way.
It is a passion that trancends payment. It is love, heart, soul and spirit. I suppose, in many ways, WoodSongs stands for home, community and family. I believe in it, and commit to it at the end of every broadcast.
It was with this spirit that WoodSongs agreed to travel to Jonesboro Arkansas to produce a special event broadcast celebrating the deep, diverse musical history of Arkansas. We were hosted on the beautiful campus of Arkansas State University, the 1000 seat Fowler Center, Jerry Biebesheimer and partnered with our affilliate KASU-FM. Program Director Marty Scarbro even came onboard as a guest on-air announcer, with Stacey Brothwell.
The WoodSongs crew gathered on a Thursday evening and traveled in a nice coach bus and arrived in Arkansas about 2am. After a few hours sleep, this incredible group of people, my friends, created a multi-media stage (television, syndicated radio, XM Satellite Radio and complete online streaming, archiving and podcasting) to celebrate and spotlight the musical home that gave the world Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Levon Helm, Sonny Boy Williamson, Floyd Cramer and so many others.
And the spirit of WoodSongs was reflected in the talents of those selected from over 300 submissions to be on our broadcast. Blues legend Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, a 12 year old fiddle master Caleb Cobb and his dad, the award winning Apple Brothers, hard driving bluegrass of Runaway Planet and the sweet voiced Americana of Greenwillis.
I think the highlight of the show, for me anyway, was Thomas Nelson. I found him on YouTube, and he played the harmonica like Charlie Daniels played fiddle for the Devil himself. But Thomas is not your ordinary musician, he is a challenged individual and I had no idea if he would show up, or if he did, what shape he would be in.
The bottom line is that Thomas, like everyone else on the show, played brilliantly. They made me and Arkansas proud. And I even got to play a new song with a string quintet (pictured, photo by Ruth Adams) ... and who says folk music is boring :)
You can watch the celebration of Arkansas on the archive page of my website. Check it out, and hopefully, WoodSongs might come to your hometown in 2008.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Children need the ones they love to love each other.
A family is like a strong tower. It protects and nurtures kids, makes them feel both loved and lovable. It teaches little boys how to love a woman because they see their dad loving their mom. It teaches daughters how to care for a husband and family ... and how to be treated by a man ... because they see mom and dad being loving with each other.
I talk about it on WoodSongs virtually every show. Moms and dads and families have got to find a way to stick together and make that family work.
Divorce affects a child much like the planes that slammed into the World Trade Towers. The damage is more severe than first observed. It burns their very soul - from the inside out. The horror is progressive, unyielding and moves onward beyond the observation of those who caused the injury. And eventually, often when the child is now an adult, the internal foundations that make them a whole person come crashing down into a massive pile of rubble.
My mom and dad didn't love each other. He was dying of cancer, they were separated and, five days before I was born, my dad died. The families polarized, didn't speak to one another and my mom quickly abandoned my father's side of the family after the funeral, ran off and remarried ten months later.
My mom and stepfather didn't love each other, either. And I grew up hiding my brother and sister under beds at night during huge and often violent arguments.
I didn't know about my real father till I was 12, during one of those wall-smashing fights. I didn't carry his name, I knew nothing about him. Who was this man? Who was this mysterious new father? And who on earth was this guy I thought was my dad all this time? I wasn't allowed to ask, so I let it go.
I stayed silent for several years and just lived my life. I have learned that kids who grow up like this often gravitate to the very drama and unhealthy personalities they desperately want to flee from. And the planes that crashed into me as a kid burned. And my towers fell and my first marriage ended in rubble. When my second marriage failed, very much against my hope and will, I went on a search for my real dad and his family.
I recently found my cousin Laddie, who as a young boy was very close to my dad. He has given me a wealth of photos and newspaper clippings and told me many stories that helped get to know my father better. And he showed me a copy of the family tree that listed all the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles of my dad's family.
And when you come to the line of my dad and mom, to the part about me, there is simply a question mark and a note that says "... name and location unknown."
Wow. It wasn't intended to be that way, I know. But all I ended up being in my dad's life was a "question mark."
Laddie and his lovely wife, who have been very kind and supportive, took me to my father's grave for the very first time a couple of weekends ago. As we walked through the green grass past the headstones of hundreds of people in the cemetery in Forest Hills, NY my cousin finally pointed and said, "There, Michael. There's your dad."
This was the closest I have ever been to my father. I was six feet away from being able to hold his hand and hear his voice and watch his eyes as he spoke to me. And I knelt over the grave and ran my fingers across his name on the family headstone. And every image of every fight and every moment of confusion and desperate thoughts of wondering who I was and where did I fit and how much I completely needed this man crashed into me again.
MichaelB was with me, and Laddie took a photo of my Dad and his grandson at his grave (my dad's name is on the lower right of the stone, next to MichaelB.)
And everyone left and gave me a moment alone with my Dad. It was very hard and very emotional. And as I knelt down I took an oak leaf laying on the grass atop his grave as a keepsake of the moment and said my farewell. The wishful images of my dad playing baseball with me the way I play catch with my own son flashed through my head. The dream of my dad scuffing up the hair of my head with approval over something completely stupid I accomplished, the way I do for MichaelB, danced across my eyes.
My heart was very heavy for my own children. I don't want those emotional planes burning inside their hearts, too. They deserve, need, so much better. And as I walked away from my father, I was left wondering how different my life might have been if only the people I loved would have loved each other.
Monday, July 02, 2007
It was pretty busy around here last week.
After the WoodSongs broadcast with the Governor, we had a lot of affiliate promos to record, I worked on the 2008 version of the Walden play, began the draft of the next WoodSongs III book, wrote a song for the next album, spent a lot of much needed Daddy time ... and our friend and band mate Ben Sollee got married.
It was a great wedding. The setting was 7:30PM, Friday evening at a historic home in downtown Lexington, in a garden surrounded by a 6 foot high red brick wall. Lots of plants and flowers and vines and trees and water falls. Abigail Washburn played her banjo along with Casey Driesssen on fiddle. It was all rather lovely, except for those thunder clouds roaming the skies in the distance.
I went with my 8 year old son, who was a perfect gentleman in his jeans and little suit jacket. We sat on a stone fence in the back of the yard as all the white folding chairs were filled. Ben and his bride walked down the garden path and took their place in front of everyone. To a person, most have watched Ben grow up and become a major talent on the cello, traveling the world with the likes of Bela Fleck and Abigail and Otis Taylor. He came to us on WoodSongs (that's Ben on the left of the pic) as a scrawny 17 year old over-playing hot dog ... of course, he's not 17 anymore :)
I watched my little son next to me and wondered what Ben's dad must be thinking at this moment. Time screams through us like a piercing bullet that we have no control over. Life is way too fast.
So it was Ben's moment of moments. The vows were being said. At the very second the bride said "I will" and Ben placed the ring on her finger, a lightening bolt struck in the distance directly behind them in full view of everyone. You could tell who was on their second and third marriage because all their eyebrows flew up on their foreheads.
An omen? I don't believe in such things ... until the fellow offering up the wedding vows forgot Ben's name.
Then, for some reason, I thought of that pretty brown haired girl shaped like my Martin guitar that I met this past Monday. I wondered what it would be like finding a girl like her, standing in a garden like this, seeing her across from me and vowing the rest of your days to loving and taking care of a girl just like that.
Now, there, my friends, was a lightning bolt :)
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Last night, we had a celebration of Bluegrass music on WoodSongs.
And today, I am very, VERY tired :)
Bluegrass of course, is a passion of mine. Although I make no claims to be a "bluegrass" musician, but I've enjoyed playing with and recording with many bluegrass artists. And I love the gentle, family, and community nature of the music. Folk music used to be that way. Good, down home music brings the very best out in people. Like Bill Monroe said, it draws folks together and makes them friendly.
I often thought that if Sadam played the banjo he would have been a much nicer man ... might even still be alive today.
But last night was pretty amazing. First of all, the WoodSongs crew, all volunteers, did an AMAZING job of putting that show together. They come in at 1 in the afternoon, assembled the stage, set up cameras, ran cables, set mics, did sound check, brought in dinner, took care of the artists, sold their CDs ... let me go on stage and stumble around for an hour ... then rip it all down and packed it away in about 40 minutes.
It is like watching a ballet without the tutus.
JD Crowe, Ronnie Reno, Cherryholmes, Scott Napier and a band of teenagers called Kentucky Sassafrass were all on the stage. It was a monumental exercise in mental organization to get that show done in 59 minutes and 30 seconds with no editing ... but we did it. Very few mistakes, other than the fact that most of the notes I had on stage were wrong. But I have that same problem in life no less WoodSongs.
Governor Fletcher was on the show and signed a declaration making bluegrass the official music of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. What a very nice guy. And he stayed for the entire show. At the end, he even came back on stage while I did the TV commercial, holding my banjo in his three piece suite.
Now, I'm not a political person ... I could care less whether you are Democratic, Republicratic, or Automatic ... but when a guy has a freaking ROOT CANAL in the afternoon and comes on an international broadcast in front almost 2 million people plus a theater audience of 400 without even mentioning it, well ... 'nuff said on that.
Of course, everything was going great until I met this heart-stoppingly beautiful woman in the lobby. Brunette hair, soft smiling eyes, an hour-glass figure to die for ... she looked like my Martin guitar - only it jiggled. She even came up and talked to me. And I'll be darned I couldn't stop thinking about that and it kept me up half the night.
That's why I'm so tired today.
Folk on, my friends.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Sometimes, WoodSongs is fun.
Don't get me wrong, it's always a great time. But after 444 shows, the routine becomes evident and you sort of go into "auto-pilot." Which of course, is the life of an artist. Musicians and songwriters must cultivate a very high tolerance for repetition in order to survive.
Think about it: they write a song. Practice the song. Rehearse the song. Record the song. Make a music video of the song. Release the song. Radio plays the song. They perform the song. It becomes a hit and they play the darn thing every night for the rest of their career.
Now, I've never had a hit song ... granted. But I have performed over 2,500 Earth Concerts in less than four years which meant that I was playing the same song-set two, sometimes three times a day for up to six days a week ... for four years. It may not have been a hit record, but it sure felt like one.
I had a conversation a few years ago with a great songwriter who has had several global hit records. He described that, as much as he loves his songs and all they give him, it can be a bit of a struggle at times to stay interested in the moment of performance. Then he said something that really stuck with me:
"It must be horrible being Chuck Berry."
Please remember that we were speaking in the context of repetition. He wasn't implying anything about Chuck Berry personally, just the situation Chuck was in. You see, Chuck has a whole concert set of 2 1/2 minute hits, written in the same key of E with the same chord structure, and his audience and the promoters expect to hear every last one of those hits on stage that night. If he ever left out Johnny Be Good he would be booed off the stage.
"Massive hits" are awe inspiring events ... yet can feel like a bruise to your brain and vocal chords. It must be exciting at first, but after a decade or two and five thousand performances later it can't be all that interesting anymore. I guess that's why Arlo Guthrie stopped playing Alice's Restaurant for over a decade. He had to rest from it and he said so publicly. It didn't mean he didn't like the song or that he didn't appreciate how much the audience wanted to hear it. He simply needed a break. Obviously, he respects the song because he's playing it in concert again.
John Platania (pictured here) was on the show this past Monday. He is a brilliant and in-demand musician who toured with everyone from Van Morrison to Bonnie Raitt ... he toured with Don McLean for almost 15 years ... he made a living backing up these great songwriters with the huge hits that made those careers possible.
John has his own solo CD out. It really shows off his guitar style and voice and it becomes obvious why so many want to work with him. And he's a great guy. He's gone from side-man to front-man. And the sense of the repetition is different. It is no longer someone else's song. Now, he is singing his own songs. Every night. Every concert. Every performance. He was on the show with Chip Taylor, a wonderful songwriter and true gentleman who has seen several of his songs travel the years and go around the world. Chip plays Wild Thing and Angel Of The Morning every night. Every ... single ... night.
But here they are, traveling on and introducing their music to new audiences. Because at the very heart of them they are both artists, they both appreciate the audience, they both love what they are doing. And whether the next song becomes a hit or not, they choose to let the music live and breathe in the voices of the audiences they sing to.
And that is fun.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I get asked a lot about the guitars I use on stage. Which is nice, it means folks are listening and noticing. They look like pieces of art. To me anyway. I love my guitars. So here you go ...
All my guitars are Martin 12 fret, wide neck models. Why the wide neck? Because of tone and clarity. When you play a chord on a regular guitar, Martin or otherwise, you hear the wash of the chord. With a wide neck, especially these, you strum the chord and actually hear the individual notes that make up the chord. I love that. And I love the classic look of the slot tuners (pictured from left: Martin 00-28s, 000-28s and D-28s).
Specifically, I have a 1969 Martin 00-21s, a 1971 and 1974 Martin D-28s, a 2005 Martin 00-28 and two new Martin 000-28s guitars.
I use D'Addario phosphour bronze 80/20 medium guage strings on all of them. All have a McKinney capo that I leave on the nut of the guitar, I use .88 Dunlop ridged flat picks, .013 Dunlop steel finger picks and Goldengate large white thumb picks. I find the most convienient and accurate to be the Intellitouch Center Pitch tuner. Works great on banjos, too. I prefer a good, padded leather gig bag to a hard shell case. The best are made by Reunion Blues. I strap a small, leather Indian dream catcher to the B string tuner of the guitars. Always have and I don't know why. 'nuff said on that.
My favorite guitar is the Martin 000-28s. It is a perfect songwriter's tool. Let me rephrase that: it is a PERFECT songwriter's tool. The D-28s has a larger body which sounds awesome in a room but does not translate to mics very well. So the engineer has to EQ the bottom end down. Essentially, making is sound like the 000-28s. So why not just use the 000, I say?
Honestly, the real gem in my collection is the smaller body 00-28s. It sounds and records like an acoustic diamond, even more so than the 000. The 00-21s is the same body type and style, but the 00-28s has a deeper, richer tone. I can hear the wood. I used it throughout the new Walden album. The problem with the 00 is cosmetic. The smaller body makes the player (me) look bigger and every time I use it onstage I get a series of emails from fans suggesting I do something about my "sudden weight gain." Funny, but true. This is the strange road that always leads me to my Martin 000-28 slot neck, 12 fret guitar.
It is balanced, rich, easy on the eyes, different from the rest and DANG it sounds pretty. Back in the day, I would protect my Martin guitars at all cost. Even at big stages with union stage managers. I would stare them in the eye and say,
"There's my Martin - and over here is my wife. Don't EVER let me catch you messing with my Martin."
... at least I still have those Martins :)
Friday, May 11, 2007
Greetings WoodSongs Fans,
Yes, it's been a while since I've been on here. I guess I had a difficult time seeing my friend Homer Ledford drift down the page since his passing. It's hard to have someone that close pass on. But life, music and love move forward ... so I'm back.
There's a lot going on.
I just got back from performing at the Las Vegas Cable TV Convention with my music buds Ronnie Reno and Stan Hitchkock, from BlueHighways TV. I'll be telling you more about BlueHighways in the weeks to come.
Vegas was an awesome place but it made me miss my farmhouse. Aside from sweating through three songs of KC and the Sunshine Band (yeeks) A high point was sitting on stools in the middle of this convention center surrounded by all these huge Cable Network booths swapping old Pete Seeger songs on a Deering Good Time banjo (this is the pic: Ronnie Reno, Me and some corporate dude from a cable channel).
Anyway, WoodSongs has been making a major move onto PBS stations around the nation. It's already airing in millions of USA TV homes. I'm excited to fill you in - so check back often!