Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bluegrass Music and WoodSongs

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

Show 444 - John Platania

Sometimes, WoodSongs is

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.