Thursday, December 04, 2008
She had a heart as big as the Universe ... and a voice that filled it.
Now, that magnificent voice is silent. And the Universe is almost still in tribute to the kind, generous, passionate woman that was Odetta.
My friend was a feisty, spirited lady. She treated a song with the dignity of a queen, yet presented herself to the audience with the humility of a princess. Never would she go onstage unless properly finished in dress and makeup, because "that is what the audience expects of her ... to care enough to look right for them."
I was a young, scrappy, energetic folksinger when I first met her. Oh, I knew who she was because of a Janis Ian record. At first, I thought "Odetta" was the name of some music gear that created these awesome, cosmic tones on the record. Then I found out that Odetta was a real person. One day, my agent booked me to open a concert at a dinner theater in Maine, named, oddly enough, Jonathans. I walked in for sound check and sitting on stage, positioned under a lone spotlight, dressed in white robes with a white headband, her guitar on her lap with a stick of burning incense positioned between the strings of her guitar tuners, was the woman named Odetta.
She looked like a black angel.
Odetta and I had a great time and, a couple of months later, she flew to meet me in a recording studio where we recorded Si Kahn's song, "New Wood." Oh, how her voice filled the speakers and the song and the room and my head. Later that night, we went to the Kirchner's farm to film the music video. It premiered on CNN of all places. I went to NYC and she and I taped an interview together that aired on CNN's Showbiz Tonight.
My point in all of this is simply to show that my friend gave more to me than I ever gave to her. And my little career didn't even register on the Richter scale of her world. The last we spent time together, she taped a WoodSongs special event in her honour (check out show #381 on my Archives page). The night before, we spent all evening at Portafino's Resturant talking and laughing and swapping stories of being on the road too much.
She fell sick recently, although she remained energized at the hope of singing for Barack Obama at the inauguration this January. That would have been a sight, so see Odetta stand and sing in front of four million people. The same Odetta who sang for Martin Luther King, Jr. at his civil rights marches all those years ago.
The woman who gave voice to the songs of slaves would have deserved that honour. And, darn, she would have made sure she looked great, too. Because that's what the audience would have expected of her.
Odetta was in fact a legend. She carried herself like a legend. She performed like one. But she never acted like one.
Yes, the Universe is a little less brilliant today. The stars reflect a little less light. The music that drifts in the clouds sound a little less sweet. And there is a silent place in any heart that loves the true spirit and passion of music.
I will miss you, my friend.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I guess the trick is simply not quitting ..eventually you can do 500 of anything so long as you keep showing up.
And so, on Monday September 15th we did the 500th broadcast of WoodSongs. And I think it went great. Our volunteer crew was sterling, the audience showed up all decked out, Joe Conkwright and Judge Ray Corns were dressed in tuxedos, Dorothy looked ravishing in her flapper girl outfit. The Hippy Chick Quartet looked smashing and played from the stage as the audience took their seats before showtime.
Me? I washed my jeans special for the night.
Anna Dickens, or "Anna the T-Shirt girl" organized the big WoodSongs cakes and the coffee pot and the tickets and the sponsor seats and did an awesome job. Here's her picture (taken by Larry Steur) with our guest of honor that night:
Richie Havens was our special guest for the entire broadcast. I've known Richie for a long time, he is a dignified, caring man. Humble to a fault. And very professional. He showed up on time, worked with our sound crew, loved the fact that they were all volunteers and really got into the spirit of the show.
I wanted Richie for the 500th show because in many ways he embodies everything we are about. Richie was one of the first big artists to leave the major record label world and start his own little company instead. Richie was way ahead of John Prine, Ani DiFranco, Arlo Guthrie and thousands of other artists who went completely independent. He always puts the music and audience first trusting that, in the end, the audience will respond to him and take care of him ... if he's good enough. And he is.
After the show, we had dinner together at Natasha's Cafe across from the Kentucky Theatre and, as tired as he was, he took care of any and all fans who came up to our table to say hi, get an autograph, snap a picture, ask a question. He never winced, never waivered, never expressed anything but pure appreciation for their appreciation.
And I guess ... when it was all said and done ... that's what we all of us are left with when the night was done ... total appreciation for the audience for making our whole WoodSongs adventure even possible.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
What a night.
What an earth shattering, volcanic-to-the-core, musical, magical, mystical night.
And that was just the lobby music. Chuck Leavell didn't even make it to the stage yet.
Let me explain:
As a musician and a dad, I am convinced that the best way to teach a kid to play music is to NOT teach them. Instead, give them the opportunity and freedom to really love something. To be excited and happy about it. I always wondered if my daughter Rachel would ever be interested in music. And until last year, she didn't really show any signs of it. Oh, we tried the ballet thing. We tried the violin lessons. It all eventually fizzled out and I didn't push it in any way.
Instead, I waited.
And then it happened. Rachel saw the Beatles on YouTube.
From then on she dove into the Beatles with all the passion of a sixteen year old. She devoured every song and every chord and every record. She read books and put up posters and memorized John's harmony lines and picked Ringo as her favorite even though she would give the world to meet Paul. We watched the Beatles anthology DVD together and and ripped apart George Martin's productions. I took Rachel on a concert road trip and she packed up all her Beatles CDs and we had a real father-daughter love fest for a week.
And the next thing that happened was, "Dad, teach me the C chord ..."
After that, I never saw my Martin 00-21 again as it was held hostage in my daughter's room as she practiced and whispered and studied and tended to her sore but excited fingers. Rachel has a friend named Lauren, who also loves the Beatles and plays guitar and has a wonderful voice. They formed a duo and play, obviously, only Beatles songs. Rachel and Lauren practiced their guitar strumming and harmonies and laugh and sing and call themselves Marmalade Sky.
They had their premier in the lobby of the Kentucky Theater last night, singing in the outer lobby right before WoodSongs began. Fans mingle together, pour themselves a free cup of coffee, enjoy some conversation ... and listen to real music while waiting for the theater doors to open. Yes, I felt like the proudest daddy in the world watching my little girl preparing to sing in front of people for the very first time. I stood in the lobby as they practiced and couldn't help but appreciate the irony ... Chuck Leavell was on the show this night and he was standing next to me, watching the rehearsal.
Chuck is one of the most successful and sought after musicians on the world of rock. He played on many of the Allman Brothers hits, like Jessica. He toured with Eric Clapton and is a major part of the huge UnPlugged album. He's been a band mate of the Rolling Stones for the last 25 years.
But none of that mattered to Rachel.
She wasn't impressed with his bands or his touring. She didn't care about all the historic records Chuck plays on. There was only one thing about Chuck Leavell that rattled Rachel to her core as she shook his hand in the lobby last night ...
He knew George Harrison ...
... in person.
tree hugger - folksinger - daddy
(Thanks to Ruth Adams for the above pic of Lauren and Rachel, and Larry Steur and Dr. Bob DeMattina for all the great photos)
Monday, August 11, 2008
It's amazing how frightening good things can be.
Most musicians head into every project ... whether it's a tour or album ... with a mental pre-nuptial in their head. We pre-plan if not expect the inevitable demise. When the stars line up and the sea parts and it actually works, most of us stand back in shear amazement and terror. We have that, "O lordy, what do I do now" look written all over us.
WoodSongs is like that. Sort of. When I started the show in a small recording studio with 18 people in the audience who we bribed to show up with apple cider and home made brownies and one radio station willing to air it, the idea of holding the reins to a broadcast of this level would have been ... well ... scary ... but exciting.
But it's been a great summer. We've had so many spectacular artists, the WoodSongs crew continues their incredible effort and work. Our affiliate base keeps expanding. Season 3 of the Public Television series launched nationwide and season 4 is being finished as I write. My daughter Rachel and her friend Lauren put together a little singing duo, they play only Beatles songs and call themselves Marmalade Sky. Listening to them reherse in the sitting garden at the farmhouse on Sunday afternoons is so priceless.
And now we zoom forward to the impending milestone of our 500th broadcast on September 15 with the great Richie Havens as our special guest. What a spectacular way to end the summer.
Part of my summer was doing a lot of fun things with my kids. I took them on the road to Little Rock and Memphis and Nashville and lots of other places while I was on tour. We saw Batman three times and even went to a big amusement park called Kings Island. They charged my 9 year old son as an adult because he was over 42 inches, but then he was barred from riding all the cool rides he wanted to go on because he was one inch too short. I didn't like that.
But any irritation I had with Kings Island management evaporated when I saw the looks on my kids faces as they came screaming down the roller coaster.
They looked scared.
... and very, very happy.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
So, last night I took MichaelB and Rachel to the Kentucky Theatre to see the 1939 film classic, The Wizard of Oz.
I don't often get to sit in the Kentucky as a fan. I'm usually onstage or working with either WoodSongs or the Troubadour Concert Series. And I must say, it was very nice to be in such a beautiful, old-school room for this classic film. The grand Theater was build only a few years before the film came out, so the setting and sound was perfect.
The audience was awesome. Over 800 people crammed into the theatre at 7PM on a Wednesday night to see Dorothy duke it out with that creepy Wicked Witch of the West. They booed when the nasty woman appeared on her bike to take Toto away, they cheered when the Lollipop Guild sang, they cried when Dorothy clicked her heels and repeated, "There's no place like home ..."
Another surprise was how funny that old movie was. It never really clicked until you are in a big audience and hearing the laughter from lines you've heard a hundred times but always took for granted. And for being made in 1938, this was a very adventurous and high-tech film. Of course, it never got it's due, as it was beat out at the Academy Awards for Best Picture by some flick called Gone With The Wind. I don't know, Clarke Gable didn't have anything over on the Tin Man. I guess that simply proves the old show biz rule: Timing is EVERYTHING.
I guess the best thing was seeing my kids enjoy something like this in a setting that most folks don't often get to enjoy anymore. Life sorta slowed down and moved backwards in the Kentucky Theatre last night. MichaelB turned into the same nine year old boy who watched the film back in 1939, all wide eyed and happy. There was no remote controls, no wide screen TV or DVD player, no cell phone ringing, no election, no global warming, no war, no recession, no terrorism. Just a good movie and a big bucket of the best popcorn made anywhere in Kentucky.
We got home as the sun set beyond the woods and took a walk down to the lower meadow where our big garden was, all tall and healthy and already yielding some of it's bounties. We picked a big ole cucumber and had ourselves a little snack as we talked about flying monkeys and how water can melt a mean old witch.
Later, Rachel clicked her sneakers together as she ascended the stairs to bed. All in all, a great evening ...
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I must get 1,000 emails a year asking me, "What exactly is a Tree Hugger, anyway???"
Good question. I know to some it carries a bit of a political, eco-nazi image, but that is not what I mean by it nor is it my viewpoint. A heated argument about whether or not global warming is real or contrived is irrelevant to my views.
To me, a Tree Hugger is a peaceful, earth conscious person who enjoys a simpler, intelligent, artistic life. It’s about the artists and the music they make.
It’s about you ... and your music.
Tree Huggers are folks who choose people over money, family over careers, dreams over reality, home cooked meals over fast food, a fireplace, homemade music and those who listen closely to the dreams of their children. Who enjoy a hearty laugh, a good glass of red wine late at night, a hot cup of coffee in the morning. It’s for anyone brave enough to bring a dream to life.
Tree Huggers work in the hope of making you a little happier, to get you to sing, and draw, and create. I don’t care if it’s music, art or cooking, so long as you’re having fun. Life is too short to be worrying about half the stuff we fret over nowadays.
It’s a sense of nature, a log cabin you built yourself and a walk in the woods in October. It’s flannel pajamas on a snowy Appalachian night with the fireplace cracklin’ all warm and cozy while reading a good book. It’s a guitar, a poem, a song, a canvas, a sculpture, a dream and a vision all wrapped up together like a fresh baked batch of homemade cookies, ready to share.
Henry David Thoreau was a Tree Hugger, he just didn't know it at the time. Al Gore is a Tree Hugger that rides in limos and private jets. Me? I'm a Tree Hugger who lives with his kids in an old Kentucky farmhouse and loves to play old wooden Martin guitars and my banjo for folks.
A Tree Hugger simply loves planet Earth. I love what the earth is here for, I love what it provides and respects how it does it. I believe the earth has a purpose and that mankind (that includes women) have a purpose on it. And I believe that taking care of the earth, being a good steward of it, starts in your own hometown, in your own back yard.
So ... what kind of Tree Hugger are you?
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Last night at WoodSongs we had a tribute to the music of A Prairie Home Companion with our friends Robin & Linda Williams and the great master instrumentalist Peter Ostroushko. Both have been on the legendary show for about 30 years, since the early days - before syndication when Garrison had a daily show on public radio and they played and sang in a little studio room.
Much the way WoodSongs started.
As much as I looked forward to the day, it was riddled with disasters. After writing the script and putting the show concept together, I got an email from one of the folks who work with me. Her father passed away. So very sad.
Then Scott Napier, who played mandolin on the show with me for a year, was coming back to make an appearance and play a banjo/mando instrumental with me called the Pete & Woody Rag. But we are in the middle of a deep freeze and all the pipes in his log cabin froze up and burst, so he couldn't make it.
OK, says I. Pete's on the show, maybe he will play it with me. After all, he's one of the best of the best, it would be an honor.
I get to the theater and the lights in the grid are blowing out so the crew is distracted trying to fix it, our stage manager is stressed because his young wife is heading into the hospital, our TV director's wife is in labour and her contractions are 15 minutes apart, the theater is over sold and the audience is freeking out about seating.
No problem. A cup of hot tea and a quiet moment in the dark hallway backstage before I go on. I'm leaning against a door jam with my right picking hand and a crew member comes up without noticing and SLAMS THE DOOR ON MY MIDDLE FINGER.
Ouch! And I'm supposed to walk on stage and play the banjo in 4 minutes.
When you watch show #468 on my archive page, you will notice that my hand is shaking and I start and stop the song. Peter, good natured pro he is, hung in there with me. I decided to redo the song again after the taping during the encore. I think we got it, but I had to have my hand in a rag of ice for the entire show to keep the swelling down.
Well, we got it done. The show was a success. The audience was happy. Of course, now when ever I think of Garrison, my middle finger will probably start swelling.
... no offense GK.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Spring is coming.
Yes, I know at the moment it's freezing across half the north American continent ... but it will be here soon enough. And with spring come thoughts of green living, warmth, life, planting gardens, mowing the grass again.
And Earth day.
Last year, we launched the play "Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau" which is a four character, two act project about the final two days Henry David Thoreau spent in his cabin before leaving Walden Pond. The play, lesson plans, posters, director's notes and more were available free of charge to any school, college, community theater or home school that wanted to put on a show.
Over 4,011 schools registered for the play in nine nations. Including Korea, Egypt and Syria. Wow.
This spring, it is available again ... and this time in Spanish and French as well. Prisons have registered, a lot of home schools, and now the Radio Drama of the pay will be posted on the www.waldenplay.com website for any fan to listen to ... fully produced, great acting. And free.
The album, Walden: The Earth Song Collect is released and if you order it from the website you get a free T-Shirt. Not bad for $11, and the money is used to support the free performance of the play in schools.
Spring time. Earth Day. The Walden play ... and a free T-Shirt.
Not a bad way to head into summer :)