PASSION PLAY 2014: BOUND FOR GLORY
Shepherd of the Hills Church, Porter Ranch, California
Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
“I saw Jesus on the cross/On that hill called Calvary/Do you hate mankind for what they’ve done to you?/He said talk of love not hate/Things to do it’s getting late/We’re all brothers and we’re only passing through.” A song from a Catholic hymnal? A Protestant prayer book? Not even close: it’s from Lift Every Voice, the second left wing People's Songbook of 1953, the same book that contained songs by the soon-to-be blacklisted Pete Seeger, suspected communist Paul Robeson, executed IWW troubadour Joe Hill and Dust Bowl Balladeer Woody Guthrie. It was written by a professor of Renaissance Literature at Cal State Northridge and People’s songster, Dick Blakeslee. What’s a Godless commie folk singer doing writing songs about Jesus? Maybe because Jesus was himself a textbook case of a radical misfit.
Who said “The meek shall inherit the earth.”? Who said, “As you do unto the least among us, you do unto me”? Who said “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul.”? Who drove the money changers out of the temple? Hint: it wasn’t Karl Marx, who wrote The Communist Manifesto in the safe confines of the British Museum’s Reading Room. So what kind of a man was Jesus?
I wanted to find out for myself, so I figured where better than the best passion play in town, which Jill and I had the good fortune to see last night at the sold-out production of The Passion Play at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, with a cast of hundreds, including children, teens and adults, some of them highly esteemed Hollywood professionals. If you want to see a passion play, theirs is the production to see.
ANNUAL BENEFIT CONCERT
Saturday April 26 8pm
Reception at 7pm
Our annual benefit concert has always been a fun, ear-opening event and this year promises to be no exception.
SANTA MONICA Woman's Club
1210 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401
(near Wilshire & 4th St.)
Tickets: $20 general admission,
$25 VIP reserved seating
Info: concerts@FolkWorks.org 818-785-3839
Emcee Tracy Newman
Always entertaining, Tracy may throw in some of her own songs.
Los Angeles’ all-natural hillbilly and country blues band, combines the traditional sounds of fiddle and banjo breakdowns with the low-down sound of country blues, topped off with a touch of ragtime and hillbilly jazz. The versatile acoustic ensemble features fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, washboard, and a few odds and ends.
The popular Los Angeles-based women’s chorus that brings to life vocal folk/roots traditions from around the world. Their songs range from Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Bosnia to Rom and Sephardic songs - as well as recently added American and Irish music. Their spellbinding harmonies are at the core of their eclectic repertoire. Whether a simple American song or the complex harmonies of Bulgaria the voices of Nevenka’s women are sure to move you. While mostly singing a cappella, they are occasionally accompanied by percussion, mandolin, guitar, citern or panduri.
Swing Riots Quirktette
The Swing Riots are comprised of 6 core members who have played for decades in everything from Balkan dance bands to traditional Swing groups. They perform an irreverent gumbo of Gypsy & Creole Jazz, Klezmer & Romanian Horas, Parisian Musette & the occasional wild card thrown in for good measure.
Tunacious is a Celtic genre-bending band with songs and dance tunes with a blowout contra dance to wind up the evening.
(Click on hyperlink for tickets)
Series at the Talking Stick Café
FolkWorks Benefit Concert April 26th
Swing Riots Quirktette, Sausage Grinder, Nevenka, Tunacious
emcee: Tracy Newman
Rose Garden of Peace Concert May 31st
With Yuval Ron Ensemble
Remembering Leslie Perry
(May 28, 1936-March 5, 2014)
The last time I saw storyteller Leslie Perry was at a gathering he hosted in Pasadena in order to have his close friends surrounding him one more time; photographs were taken, memories shared and of course stories told.. His body was withering away from the devastating effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease, but his smile was still incandescent as he held forth in typical Leslie fashion, all eyes upon him till the end. He had hosted many such gatherings in recent years, refusing to stop living in the face of his dire medical diagnosis. Indeed, it seemed to propel him into action, as he published two books, organized fundraisers for the Pasadena ALS (Amytropic Lateral Sclerosis) Society and became the center of gravity to his friends who were already missing him. And always this Michigan-born California transplant continued to practice his craft and tell his stories.
One of four African-American storytellers of my acquaintance (Michael McCarty, Barbara Clark and Nick Smith are the others) from LAs Community Storytellers, he devoted as much energy to being the main organizer of storytelling events as he did to actually telling stories. He was a focal point for WOW—With Our Words—whose leader Karen Golden has now put some of Leslie’s best known tales from live performances at the Beverly Hills’ Public Library up on YouTube. But the thing I remember with most fondness about Leslie is not his own storytelling—it was the fact that if he wasn’t performing himself he would always be in the audience listening. He was the Supporter-in-Chief of the entire community and it didn’t diminish his pleasure one iota to be in the audience rather than up on stage. He taught me that the story listener is just as important as the story teller. Without fail with Leslie in the audience you could count on a great performance from the stage; his kinetic energy, his rapt attention, his joy in the entire relationship was profoundly contagious and enveloped the performer as well as the room of other audience members.
Beauty’s Currency: Janis Ian and Tom Paxton
Barbican, London 25.3.14
FolkWorks’ British correspondent Rosa Redoz reviews Ian and Paxton’s Together At Last Tour.
Beauty is a strange currency. Janis Ian’s ode to a youth impoverished by plainness is a lilting bossa nova gem. Had she thought herself endowed with familiar features the art would not have been created.
“That seat will go.” said my neighbour as I spread my coat on an adjacent spare seat in the sold out concert in the Barbican, London on Tuesday evening.
“Have you seen Janis Ian before?” she asked me. “I did a few years ago and she was fabulous.”
And they were; from the moment Tom Paxton and Janis Ian took to the stage with Robin Bullock on mandolin.
“Yes we all still sing songs of hope and peace,” said Paxton after a fine opening rendition of How Beautiful upon the Mountain - the harmonies were perfect; the mandolin fills were divine and I caught glimpses of the extraordinary guitar skill Ian was to reveal as the set continued.
Who Put the Jangle in Mr. Bojangles?
In Concert at McCabe’s March 16, 2014
There are guitarists, and then there are guitarists. And then there is David Bromberg, the guitarist who put the jangle in Mr. Bojangles, Jerry Jeff Walker’s hit song about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the legendary African-American tap dancer who was for black America what Fred Astaire was to white America—the standard against which all others would be judged. But before you even heard Jerry Jeff’s voice on his signature recording, you already were captured by its descending bass-line guitar intro hook—that made you see Mr. Bojangles descending a staircase—as he did in one of his famous dance routines. It was musical magic at its finest—and the guitarist who came up with it was David Bromberg.
To see him live at McCabe’s last night was pure acoustic artistry that comes along about as often as that great dancer—once in a generation—if you’re lucky.
We were lucky to hear him—solo (for the most part) acoustic—just Bromberg and his orchestral vintage Martin D-28 sitting on stage in front of McCabe’s legendary microphone—where so many great musicians have now stood—and none greater than David Bromberg; if you love folk music, Bromberg is as good as it gets. And it is truly a rare pleasure to get to hear him solo; on his current tour every one of his other bookings is with his band, or at larger venues his “Big Band.” I prefer the one-man band and he gave us a very generous two and a half hour concert with one intermission, two standing ovations and three—three!—encores.
The Young Lady with Strong Sweet Voice
In my last column, I mentioned that the Battlefield Band’s latest album, Room Enough for All, had been named album of the year at the 2013 Scottish Traditional Music Awards. The awards this year were, I think, interesting in the way that they reflected the shifting and merging of the old and the new. The composer of the year award went to Donald Shaw, founding member and keyboard player of Capercaillie and the driving force behind the annual Celtic Connections festival. Though certainly a member of the “old guard” of modern Scottish music, he is also known as one of its most innovative and creative players.
The Scots Singer of the Year award usually goes to someone who fits the standard image of a tradition-bearer; someone of fairly advanced years who has a long history of learning, singing and sharing the old bothy ballads and travelers’ songs. Not so this year… the award was given to Siobhan Miller, a young lady whose strong, sweet voice is among the newest in the genre. Siobhan could easily have taken the folk singer-songwriter path, but instead she’s dedicated herself to learning and preserving the old songs.
Folk music is always going to evolve. If it didn’t, then it would cease to be the peoples’ music as the people left it behind. I find it reassuring to see the young and the older musicians joining forces both to preserve the past and shepherd the future.
If you’d like the results of the remaining Scots Trad Award categories, they are online.
How Old? You’re Kidding, Right?
Part of the aging process is figuring out that you are old. You’ve done certain things thousands of times. Why aren’t you better at it? And how much longer do you have to improve?
Most of this stuff comes in little puffs. I recently realized I’d been playing a club in Newport Beach for 25 years, and had held the same last Friday of the month gig at the club for over ten years. That’s a long time. Also, I had to realize that I’d played with a couple of the guys in the band for over 20 years. No wonder they look so old.
I think more of a shock comes when you “inventory” yourself and your accomplishments. I’ve been writing songs for 40 years. Although I’ve written some good songs, shouldn’t there be more? Or better songs? I’ve played the guitar for 45 years, the mandolin for 22 years, and the bass for 20 years. One would assume that I’d be a cross between Segovia, Bill Monroe and Jack Bruce, but I am decidedly not. I’ve been writing about music for a much shorter time, only about 15 years, so most likely I will get better at that.
One can argue that since Mick Jagger and Keith Richard are 187 years old and still playing rock and roll it’s not a young man’s sport any longer. Folk and roots music has always been much more forgiving about age. Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and many others perform(ed) well into their 80s. But marketing does rear its ugly head. I can recall seeing a folk diva that used 40 year old photos in her promos and ads. Odd, since she was/is still a very attractive middle aged woman, but apparently a more marketable young woman.
Since it’s an aging world, we can expect more guys with hair extensions and spandex pants still romping at 65 or 70. Ringo just hit 72, looks good and can still smack the drums well. Debbie Reynolds still tours. Synchronized walkers next? Probably.
What about us oldsters that want to try something new? Luckily, 70 is the new 60 or something like that. The truth is that taking up a musical instrument or learning to write songs probably is easier when we’re younger, but most of us older folks have something young people don’t and that’s free time. Unless some major physical maladies are involved, there is no reason why an older person can’t learn an instrument or start writing songs. Stretch yourself a little.
My goal is to continue as if I’ll live to 125, but with more focus on learning more about the instruments I play, and turning my “give-a-shitter” (Bob Brozman’s term for how we govern ourselves) way down when I perform.
So go out and support live music. Don’t notice how old the performers may be. Tip the wait staff, smile at your brother and everybody get together and try to love one another.
Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He’s released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard’s and Paul Simon’s revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.