July 2015 Newsletter
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
To argue about what constitutes a particular genre of music is to engage in one of our most tireless (and fruitless) debates. Does anyone recall the conversations in the early 90's internet chat rooms and discussion boards about the nature of folk music, which seemed mostly centered on white people with acoustic guitars? Much of what many would consider to be the hallmarks of folk music--simple song forms and melodies, changing ever so slightly as the song is transmitted casually from person to person--don't really apply to what is classified as "folk music" now. But the folk process, the evolution of a simple song taking on a life of its own, is alive and well as evidenced by the reaction to the recent shootings in Charleston, SC.
Peter Mulvey was waiting to perform an opening set for Ani DiFranco (who has long referred to herself as a Folksinger) at a recent show. Still reeling from the latest headlines, Peter wrote a song called "Take Down Your Flag" in his dressing room, and played it for the first time in his set a few hours later. It is a simple, harrowing incantation that both memorializes the victims and demands the smallest of reparations (e.g. the lowering of the Confederate flag on the grounds of South Carolina's state house to half-staff) in the name of respect and common decency. His version featured a verse about Susie Jackson, an 87-year old grandmother who was murdered at the church. Someone suggested that he write a verse for each of the victims, and with the wisdom that imbues much of what Mulvey does, he instead tasked his friends with the job of covering the song and writing their own memorial verse.
What started with a few emails or two to some of his closest troubadour pals, has grown slowly but steadily. Before the song was a week old, a YouTube search for "Take Down Your Flag" resulted in at least 40 different takes on the song. Now, about 10 days after the song was written, there are over 100 versions with a collective 60,000 views, as well as a video posted by Mulvey deconstructing the song and explaining how to create your own version. Watching these videos is to witness the folk process in fast forward, and it's fascinating to see the song spread beyond Peter's circle of friends to encompass versions by casual pickers and professional musicians alike. I would humbly argue that this is 21st-century folk music at its best--addressing some topic of note with heart and compassion, marrying it to a simple melody and chord changes that anyone can play, each version inspiring and informing the next. Each one is slightly different (e.g. mine was recorded after my kids went to sleep and I subconsciously changed the word "today" to "tonight"), and together they represent a thoughtful, compassionate rejoinder to hate and terror. All deserve to be heard.
Peter Mulvey took me on my first big tour in 2002 to open shows for him up the west coast from San Diego to Seattle. I learned a lot of things from Peter, like how the thing you remember most besides the music is the food, which is why it's important to enjoy meals and eat well. I also learned that even if it's 2 am, you're drunk and playing poker for the first time, there are still only 4 (not 5) quarters in a dollar stack. All in all, it was a master class in how to approach one's job as a calling--with passion, artistry and a truly tireless work ethic. I am still learning things from Peter Mulvey 13 years later.
No one is naive enough to think that one folk song will bring down that Confederate Flag, solve racism and end gun violence. It does, however, give us a chance to counteract in some small but concrete and proactive way what would otherwise be crushing and overwhelming sadness and despair. We can't change something until we can talk (or sing) about it. And it doesn't matter if you're a professional musician, weekend warrior, or have never played outside of your bedroom. Just lend your voice to the choir, record your own version and post it on YouTube.
Thank you, Peter, for reminding me what a folksinger does.
MP3 of the MONTH: So, yeah, it has to my version of "Take Down Your Flag," right?!? Keep in mind this was recorded on iPad, at the end of a long day while I was otherwise on vacation with my family. I did it quickly, trying not to think too much about what was or wasn't good. It's rough, but it's my small contribution to the conversation. I have given a song away for free each month since 2001, and you can download "Take Down Your Flag" for free for the month of July on my Bandcamp page HERE. If you are so moved, you could instead pay whatever you choose to download the song, and at the end of the month I will download all the funds raised from this track to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston SC.
Thu July 16 - Ballard Park (Gilbert & Main St), Ridgefield CT - 7 pm
This is part of the wonderful Concert Happenings In Ridgefield's Parks (CHIRP) series. It's been awhile since I've played a solo show so I'm looking forward to this one. What's even better than a Mark Erelli solo show? A Mark Erelli show where I bring along Zachariah Hickman to play bass and pump organ and just be generally badass. Should be rowdy but completely family friendly...and FREE...that's a win-win-win! And the show goes on rain or shine...it's moved to the Ridgefield Playhouse in the event of inclement weather.
Thu July 30/Fri July 31 - Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport MA - 8 pm
I haven't gotten complete confirmation that I'm opening these shows yet, but I am 99% sure it's happening. I am, however, 100% sure that I'll be there make music in some shape or form, as I'll be part of Paula's band along with legendary drummer Jay Bellerose.
Fri July 10 - Berklee College, Boston MA (with Paula Cole)
Thu July 30 & Fri July 31 - Shalin Liu Performing Arts Center, Rockport MA (with Paula Cole)
ON THE HORIZON:
Sept 11 - Dreamaway Lodge, Beckett MA
Sept 12 - Sounding Board Coffeehouse, West Hartford CT
Sept 18 - Deb's Chesham House Concerts, Harrisville NH
Sept 19 - Music At Sanctuary Hall, East Weymouth MA