Pete and Woody and Me

I’ve had the privilege of sharing the stage with many wonderful and famous musicians over the years – from Isaac Stern and Jean Pierre Rampal to Margaret Whiting and Patti Page to Tal Farlow and Charlie Byrd. But on October 5th I got to perform with one of America’s greatest living legends – Pete Seeger. At 87 years old Pete is as powerful as ever and the sold out crowd at the Birchmere was all ears and appreciation for Pete and all the rest of the musicians performing the Woody Guthrie Tribute. 

There’s a review here.

Pete told some wonderful stories about his times with Woody and though his voice was a bit wispy at the beginning of the show he was booming by the end. The man loves to talk about the state of things and is a convincing communicator. He’s also wonderful to look at. He still looks great and is always photogenic. With his Clearwater cap and banjo slung over his shoulder, jeans and work shirt he looks much as did when I last saw him over 30 years ago. His singing is clear and, of course, the audience needs very little encouragement to sing along with him. His banjo playing is as sparse and elegant as ever.

There were many fine musicians on the program and we all played together and in various combinations.  I was there with Baldemar Velasquez and Jesse Ponce representing FLOC. I’m playing on their new CD which should be out soon  – all sales go to support FLOC’s work. The show was MC’d by Cathy Fink who, with Marcy Marxer, introduced us to some of Woody’s wonderful children’s songs. Woody’s granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie and her partner Johnny Irion were the charming duo of the evening – beautiful singing and playing. The program was organized by Joe Uehlein and his band The U-Liners provided some kick-ass playing for the evening. Watch out for their young, hot guitarist Avril Smith – she’ll be making waves soon.

The Birchmere is a wonderful place to play. They take good care of the musicians and it’s smoke-free and people go to listen to the music instead of socialize (signs on the tables request that you not talk during the performance).

All in all it was one of the most uplifting concerts I’ve been involved with for a long time. 

Food for Thought

Back when life was crazier – on the road a lot and not taking time to take care of myself – I used to eat a lot of fast food, especially on the way to gigs. A good quick meal was a cheese burger and a small fries and a cup of really awful coffee. I don’t remember exactly at what point “small” fries disappeared from the burger chain menus but I just never could remember to order anything different and was always surprised to be reminded “we only have medium and large fries.” Why they couldn’t just give me medium fries when I asked for small I don’t know – I mean, it’s the smallest that they have. But no, I’d have to be reprimanded for asking for this non-existent item. I never figured out what was so uncool about small fries but in the burger world they were taboo. Well, after years of eating right I got a hankering for some grease the other day and being out and about decided to drop in on Mickey D – the old golden arches up in Hillsborough. Something odd caught my eye on the drive-through menu. Small Fries. 99 cents. Wow. I fell for it. But it was a trap. “Honey, are you sure you really want the small fries? The medium ones are just a penny more.” I was caught. What American could resist up-sizing for just a penny more. OK. I’ll take the medium ones. I had to stop in the middle of the parking lot just to make sure I really got my cheeseburger. It was buried under the largest pile of fries I had ever seen. My reward for making the right choice. I think I see what is happening here. Enough people complained about not having the option of getting only a small portion of grease and salt. The burger people listened. These are dangerous times for the fast food world. But that prejudice – whatever it is – against small fries is still strong and the marketing people have set out to prove that no one really wants small fries. They know you can’t resist up-sizing to the medium for just a penny more. For now it’s back to tempeh for me.

New FLOC CD

Just finished recording my tracks for the new CD to benefit the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. Should be out by the end of September – hopefully in time for the Woody Guthrie Tribute at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA on October 5th.

Anyway – this new CD, as did the last one (Baldemar Velasquez and the Aguila Negra Band Canciones por la Causa), features singer/songwriter/guitarist Baldemar Velasquez, the president of FLOC, and bajo sexto guitarist, singer, and accordionist extraordinaire Jesse Ponce. Recorded by my favorite engineer Jerry Brown at The Rubber Room in Chapel Hill, NC.

New and old Mexican music and labor songs. It will be available through FLOC and the Labor Heritage Foundation.

Oh, and thanks, Jesse and Baldemar, for teaching me to play the huapango

37 Cellos, 1 Man

This Video has been around for a while but I just saw it for the first time. Cellist, composer, and all-around very interesting person Ethan Winer put together a one-man band to beat all. So who was here first – Ethan or Apocalyptica? Really – this cello video made me laugh and want to have some fun doing this myself (just for my own personal enjoyment). Ethan’s website is full of useful information for cellists but his server was overloaded with so many people viewing the video so the video link goes to Youtube.

Pat Metheny Trio/Quartet

“An excess of talent on stage” were the words ringing in my head (or was that my ears ringing?) as I left the concert at Page Auditorium, Duke University last night. Made me want to put together a lecture for my students on the importance of not letting your talents get in the way of the music. Pat Metheny, standing inside a ring of amplifiers, is clearly a man in love with his sound. And he makes wonderful sounds and so many of them. His technique is awesome and even overwhelming. And his volume is – well – high. After being totally amazed by his sheer talent for the first few tunes I was ready to sit back and close my eyes and just enjoy some good music but it almost never got to that point. There were some golden moments but this concert was mostly about Pat, loud and clear. Bassist Christian McBride is a powerful and very musical player but most of what he played was drowned out by the guitar sound. His first solos of the evening were very lyrical but as the volume increased during the evening he appeared to adapt the classic bassist “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and cranked out impressive “power” solos – overwhelming in their virtuosity but lacking subtlety. His look late in the evening pretty much said “I know I’m doing my job here and doing it well. Too bad no one can hear me.” Drummer Antonio Sanchez is the perfect match for Metheny – a “wall of sound” drummer. He was a joy to watch and hear – a person who has just the right sound and complex rhythm for every occasion. I often wished for more space in his accompaniments though there was only one tune where that would have been appropriate – a ballad where he kept up constant cymbal rolls throughout. Just a little space would have been nice. But his were the finest solos of the evening – much drama, humor, dynamics, and incredible phrasing on top of highly virtuostic playing. The drum solos were also where some of the most interesting ensemble playing came in. Metheny and McBride punctuated the drum solos with subtle but complex lines and punches that really highlighted the group’s tightness and made it more like chamber music. Tenor saxophonist David Sanchez joined the group late in the evening and his first piece – a duet with Metheny that sounded like a Jobim tune – was the most beautiful moment of the whole evening. This was the sparseness and beauty and soulfulness I had been wanting to hear all night. Metheny’s playing was more like his playing with bassist Charlie Haden on Beyond The Missouri Sky and David Sanchez had that same simple, lyrical, and heart wrenching approach that Haden has. It was a bittersweet moment and got me through the rest of the evening which was basically “lets crank up the guitar!!!”.

Hurricane Katrina Benefit

Come to Panzanella Restaurant in Carrboro, NC on Monday, Sept. 26th from 6:00 – 9:30 PM. I’ll be playing with the Bernie Petteway Jazz Trio, Charles Pettee and friends will be there and other great music, too. They have great food and all proceeds go to hurricane relief efforts.