Northwest Folklife

I just played my ½ hour set at Northwest Folklife in Seattle. An indoor stage called Folklife Café.

Now I’m drinking a Pepsi in the Performer Hospitality building. There must be a hundred folk musicians in here from around the country. I’m surrounded by the sound of banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and twangy Appalachian-style vocalizations, coming from all directions. I love this part of festivals like this. Between the stages, behind tents, behind the scenes. You get this at Oregon Country Fair, High Sierra Fest. Folks will jam all night on blue grass, old-timey, gypsy, etc. It’s enchanting.

I confess that I am musically envious. My own singer/songwriter art barely qualifies as “folk.” It has some rural leanings at times, with a modicum of storytelling, but there’s a lot of so-called “composition,” and elements of pop. (You know, the umpteenth generation of ubiquitous Beatles influence.)

I could jump into these jams and hang on for dear life. I know the music, I love the music, and, yes, I have a few chops to play it. But I prefer to sit by and let the people who live this stuff do it without my hack intrusion.

Someday, I’ll practice up, get my Django down, and then I’ll joyfully participate.

My own set went well, although I was worried at first. I went on after a nylon-plucking guitarist who had the place riveted with his expertise, specializing in Italian and flamenco flourishes. With only 5 minutes of set change, the room was still full of the virtuoso’s exotic and exhilarating vibe when I was introduced. What are you gonna do, but do what you do best? I kicked it off with the story of falling in love with my wife in Seattle and broke into “Hours Go By.” Call it sucking up to the Seattle-ites, but people seem to like that song.

I brought out a new song that I only just finished on the drive up. “Villain.” It used to be called “Leni Riefenstahl.” I would like to say that it’s the only song of its kind. That is, a song that name-drops women associated with Nazis. But David Lindley already has one. It’s called “He Would Have Loved You More than Eva Braun.” As much as I love David Lindley, I think that’s a dubious way to tell your sweetheart what you think of her. (“You’re so special, Hitler would have taken you as his mistress.”)

No, I think that if you’re gonna talk about Nazi women and romance in the same song, it’s unlikely to travel in the sweet-n-light direction. That’s why mine is called “Villain.” It’s about the frustration of good men who are eternally losing out to the bad guys.

The chorus:

Eve Braun, Leni Riefenstahl/You seen one, you seen them all./Beauty loves her beast, and she’s always willin’./Some girls can’t help it; they love the villain.

Yeah, the song is sort of funny. But like all my “sorta funny” songs, it’s not meant to make people laugh. It’s actually quite sad. The audience liked it, but I could tell they didn’t quite know what to make of it. (Maybe because they don’t know who Eva Braun and Leni Riefenstahl are… For the record, they are Hitler’s mistress and Nazi Germany’s main filmmaker.)

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Waning Kafka-esque

“Do not despair,” said Kafka. “Not even over the fact that you do not despair.”

There’s a lot Kafka said that I don’t understand. And this, too, I’m probably not getting. But in the context of my own concerns as a songwriter, it stirs up dizzying contemplations.

Click for more if you really find this kind of brainiac psychobabble interesting.

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Skinheads in Albany? Mark Alan’s song is still relevant

I was in the middle of my set last night at Calapooia Brewing in Albany. A fine place to set up in a corner and play original acoustic tunes. I like this gig, I recommend it for my brewery-gig colleagues.

But there was a bit of surprise. In walked a group of 6 or 7 guys, a few of them with shaved heads. Tattoos, leather, patches, black denim, chains and belts, etc. A quite normal assortment of styles that you see in most of the venues I play in. But I love tattoos, and I love patches, and I tend to gawk closely at such adornments. I couldn’t help noticing that these patches and tattoos were SS Lightning Badges, Parteiadler Eagles, and Swastikas. Striking, to say the least.

Normally, when I see this, I am fairly unfazed. A little bit fascinated. I think to myself, do these people really exist anymore? It seems like the tide of history would have swept them away by now. But another thing I couldn’t help noticing was that the next song on my set list was Mark Alan’s “Don’t Pass Montgomery By.”

At that moment, I was playing “Lightning Rod,” a fairly aggressive, funky acousto-rowdy number about televangelists. And Skinheads being music lovers (as I hear), they were paying pretty close attention. As I wound up the outro-vamp of “Lightning Rod,” I begin to wonder what was going to happen when I started singing Mark’s lyrics, which come right out of a Martin Luther King speech. Especially when I get to the part: “They gotta word for a black man/They gotta word for a Brown man…” And the chorus: “Open up your eyes/See the ugly face of hate/They only want to hide/From their ignorance and fear.”

A lot can go through your mind in 10-20 seconds. Here’s what went through mine:

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