Saturday, September 22, 2012

The End of Summer Concerts

There are a lot of things I will not miss about the end of summer: 50 days of temperatures at 90-plus, power outages, mosquitos or a case of poison ivy. But I will miss the free summer concerts in the park. As a kid, I used to go with my grandparens to Lions Club Park in Zionsville, Indiana. Now they are just down the street and the best music deal around.

Mason District Park (named for George Mason, the Virginian who came up with the idea of a Bill of Rights) is only about ten miles from the White House and two miles from where Lincoln reviewed troops during the Civil War. In those days it was a farm. Today, about 120 acres has been preserved for nature trails, athletic fields, sports courts and playgrounds and a small ampitheater with benches for about 150 people and room to picnic.

Saturday mornings it is home to music and puppet shows for the kids but three nights a week in summer, the venue hosts music from jazz and swing bands to zydeco and blues, folk and rock.

Many of the groups are local which brings out their loyal fans and prompts a lot chatting from the stage. When some of those like Last Train Home have gone on to national stages, the return to Mason Park is a homecoming. Other performers who live near here, like Tom Paxton and Robin and Linda Williams, make it part of their regular circuit, perhaps as a payback to fans who pay good money to see them at local club and in larger venues. Or maybe they just like the intimacy of a small place under the stars where a Tom Paxton can talk about his grandkids and then sing “The Marvelous Toy” for the one millionth time. Or because the band members can dress like the audience in Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals. Or the comfort knowing that the aging boomers in the audience will get their historical references and joking asides.

It’s also a place to showcase new material as Robin and Linda did with tunes from “These Old Dark Hills,” including a beautiful break-up ballad, “Arizona” that grabs you with this simple chorus:
We don't hear much news from Arizona
She said she'd be back in the fall
But it's warm and sunny in Sedona
And I don't think she'll be coming back at all

Everyone likes to perform with Robin and Linda (especially Garrison Keillor) and on this evening, they had two amazing musicans. Jim Watson, a veteran of the Red Clay Ramblers was on bass and the fiddle player down from Vermont was Dr. Chris Bashear, a full time veterinarian. (During one long guitar tuning break, he cracked, “Don’t make me start talking about heartworm diseases!”). That segued to their song about a favorite pet, “ Tessie Mae,” which ends on this tribute to The Band’s Levon Helm.

That Bessie girl he once knew
Tessie she sure sounds like you
But Levon had you pegged it seems
Cause Tessie, you're a drunkards dream
You mend me when I spring a leak
You defend me I don't have to speak

Like too many people with good things next door, we are guilty of not taking enough advantage of these concerts but we got to more this year and finished off by discovering another local group that specializes in Celtic music, The Ocean Orchestra. Led by composer and arranger Jennifer Cutting on keyboards and accordions, the group came came dressed as pirates for the evening. That led to Steve Winick’s hilarious sendup of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Modern Major General” as a “A Buccaneer Piratical.”

Our neighborhood music is one of nine summer series sponsored by Fairfax County Parks (plus one drive-in movie site). The concerts are supported by private funds, local businesses and donations at the door. But our taxpayers dollars bought,built and preserve the parks where we get to play in.

So as the day get shorter and colder, I will remember singing under the starts along with my neighbors and Tom Paxton,
And here's to you my ramblin' boy
May all your ramblin' bring you joy
And here's to you my ramblin' boy
May all your ramblin' bring you joy.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

John Prine: Poignant and Powerful

On a dusty pew in a vestibule
Sits the Devil playing pocket pool
He’s waiting for the next poor fool
Who forgot that it was Sunday

Whenever I hear a John Prine couplet I never know whether to laugh or cry. Usually I can do both because he is the Zen Master of musical irony. John’s abillity to tug at your heart strings and tickle your funny bones was on full display during the recent evening when he shared the concert bill with Emmy Lou Harris.

Prine doesn’t so much re-invent himself for a tour as he re-tools his sound. This year it is a spare acoustic take provided by David Jacques on bass and Jason Wilber on guitar and mandolin. Looking a bit like nineteenth century undertakers in dark suits, they played serious sounds to accompany’s John’s repertoire of classics.

Here’s a lyric sampling from the evening:

Humidity built the snowman
Sunshine brought him down.

He voted for Eisenhower
Cause Lincoln won the war

Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven

Prine can move from sublime to ridiculous faster than he can change guitars and that was highlighted in his duets with Emmy Lou. After they did the raunchy, rocking “In Spite of Ourselves” (She gets it on like the Easter Bunny/ He ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays), they crooned the classic, “Angel from Montgomery.”

Prine completely brought the house down as he battled his way through the hysterical, “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian,”
The steel guitars are playin’
While she’s talking with her hands
Gimme gimme oaka doaka
Make a wish and wanta poka

Just reading this song ( will crack you up.

Then as he wrapped up with a solo version of the haunting, “Sam Stone,” I was reminded how many of those protest songs of the sixties and seventies (Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven any more) are still relevant today.

Prine brought everyone back on stage to send us home on an upbeat note with “Paradise” and the satisfaction that once again The Singing Mailman had delivered.