Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Songwriters' Night at Sparkytown

Wow...the month is almost over and I never got around to blogging about the Songwriters Woodshed at Sparky's. And it was a fabulous night, definitely one worth writing about. Since the surgeon said no to surgery (lots of physical therapy in store for me, so I guess that means I'm OK to type even though it hurts like crazy) I guess I'd better get caught up on all I've wanted to write about. (Tomorrow I'll tell you about an awesome live show we caught at Sparky's put on by Dana "Short Order" Cooke and his Band Joe and then you're liable to hear some ranting about the health care system we have.)

Almost every song presented at the April session seemed fairly polished and near performance level. Each one was unique. What I found even more delightful was the level of critique offered. There is an elevated comfort level within the group....perhaps not with those having to listen to the remarks offered about their work....but definitely with those willing to offer suggestions, which is sometimes even more difficult than accepting critique. Without fail the word changes that were put out there for consideration made sense and I even understood some of the "you need to add a bridge or chord change here" conversations. There did not seem to be an awkward moment.

I loved one song about arm pain (as I sat there still in an arm sling) even though its message was much deeper. I've come to expect lovely poetry from this gal as well as haunting melodies; she didn't let me down.

Another woman's "Shaky Ground" ended the evening....and it's stayed with me. It reminds me of an old Emmylou Harris tune.

Usually I am totally lost when songs rely on Biblical references to get their messages across, but I was able to follow a delightful song called "Martha, not Mary", even after initially thinking the Martha referred to was Martha Stewart. I wasn't alone in thinking that, so that was good. It was a great song about questioning our quiet desperation, a song that I am certain would speak to many women.

A newcomer to the group left the line that played in my head for days: "I could catch a straight if the lady shows up to dance." I loved his song about all that happened to him when he left home. For a youngster, he's off to a great start and I hope he keeps wearing his heart of his sleeve.

"The Picture" was a haunting tale of race relations past and present that makes you think and I hope I hear it live some day; I'm amazed that this songwriter keeps pulling important issues out of his idea pot to mold into songs to sing to us....and glad he does.

And there's a songwriter I long to hear each month because I never understand his songs yet I yearn to hear what marvelous rhyme schemes he'll come up with, wonder what he'll make me think his song is about and what debate his piece will inspire; his "Renewed Somehow" fit the bill again. I really think there's genius in his words, we just aren't smart enough to know it.

And my favorites of the night? A lovely ballad "Too Young to Realize" that had several interpretations (and the other song played by this performer during the break was memorable, also.) "Too Young to Realize" was a pure blend of emotion and melody, the kind of song you'd always listen to and find yourself remembering exactly what you were doing the first time you heard it.

I really like it when the songwriters return with a song they've already presented to the group, and then worked on some more and try again. I've seen this songwriter struggle with "Town Pond" --he's said he's felt he's "wasted" too much time on it, although I strongly disagree. I think this song simply means too much to him, and that's certainly not a bad thing. He weaned it down from the first version we heard to a leaner, easier-to-listen to version. He lost some of his anger in telling his story, but I think he'll find where, with just the change of a word of two, he can find the right blend and get that back. It's a story worth telling. It's a very good song, on it's way to being a great song. I hope he stays with it. It's worthy of his time.

Can't wait till next week to see what the group brings. I am always humbled by their talents. Come on down to Sparkytown....1st Tuesday of the month....6:30 pm.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mark Zane at Burritt's Cafe

On April 4th, we traveled on that snowy Saturday to Weedsport to hear Mark play at Burritt's Cafe.

When we stepped inside Burritt's Cafe, I wondered if we'd arrived via was a slice of Greenwich Village transported to the midst of....of....well, nowhere, actually. What a delight this cafe is to the eye, to the ear and to the taste buds! Brick walls and antiques, delicious foods, owners who are charming and friendly as they take your orders and provide excellent service. I highly recommend the seafood bisque. Go visit's worth the drive.

The stage area at Burritt's was definitely not constructed as an after thought. It allows the audience an intimacy with the performer, and Mark Zane is the perfect artist to take full advantage of the arrangement. He banters easily with the crowd, draws them into this songs until they are hanging onto his every word, never wanting the songs to end. Mark knows how to play to a crowd, changing gears to add a cover of "Country Roads" to his set so an elderly couple there to watch him (they'd been to previous shows) could dance, and they did, with elegance and grace. And the sound system here is amazing. You can tell the owners have a love and respect for music, it's not just something they think might be cool to add to the menu.

Mark welcomed a walk-in guest who happened to play the sax up on stage for that number and a couple more. It was the magic created by musicians who love what they do. The bass player, Steve Pederson, quietly played beside Mark, a powerful addition to Mark's music. We enjoyed hearing all our particular favorite "Is There a Banjo In the House?", hubby's favorite "Ruby". We hummed "Hambone" all the way home. It was nice to hear him do a John Prine tune, also.

Mark Zane is a PRO....playing throughout the afternoon, making each and every song special, each song's story begging to be heard in spite of the rattle of dishes or folks placing lunch orders. Another performer mentioned previously in the blog would never have made it through his first attempt at a song here.

The highlight of the day? The cafe was a delightful surprise and Mark rocked the place. But what warmed our hearts on this snowy day was the news that Mark and Alice are engaged! Congratulations. Guess Mark isn't such a Knuckleheaded Fool after all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Poetry Reading

This past Saturday the winners of 54th Annual Poetry Contest sponsored by the CNY branch of the National League of American Pen Women and the Syracuse Post Standard were honored at a reading at the library in Liverpool. The contest is open to poets from kindergarten age to adults. I've entered the contest in the adult category almost every year since about 1990 and have won honorable mentions, third place twice and second place once. This year I was honored to receive first place.

At award ceremonies other years I have cringed when some of the youngsters have read their poems, wishing someone had spent some time preparing them for the public speaking part of being a poet. Often very wonderful poetry got lost in the terror of having to stand in front of a room full of people reciting the words. It was totally different this year. Some of the young poets had even memorized their work....certainly a humbling experience for me.

I absolutely loved the poem I submitted this year, although when I sent it off, I was certain my chances at even an honorable mention would be slim. One never knows what others are looking for in these contests, and typically the poems I write that I really like fall short. When I got the phone call I had won, and that this particular poem had been selected, I was floored, to say the least. It's the only really good thing that's happened in awhile. I needed that success.

My fear of flubbing my reading due to the level of Vicodin in my veins was great. I was one of the very last to read, and the poems read before me, by all ages, were absolutely fantastic. I sat there thinking, "It's so hard to imagine that my poem compares to these others; they are so fine." I knew I had to be "on".

And then I began to read, and I fell in love with my poem all over again. It's a long poem about a really bad day my friend had when a neighbor's dog got into her chicken coop. I gave it the title "The Last Straw" as it chronicles all that goes wrong that day. Folks laughed in the right places, though. They "got" it. I loved reading it. Their applause seemed genuine, more than the polite "oh you won a contest" clapping I've heard before. I walked away, for the first time, feeling as if I'm really a writer.

That's what I'm going to tell the surgeon Wednesday: I'm a writer! Hurry up and fix this shoulder. I need to write. I need to get out there and read my poems to more people. That's what I do. I'm a writer. Fix me up so I can get back to doing what I need to do. Fast.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Irony of It All

I fell on the ice this winter, fracturing my shoulder.....
and now the only thing that gets me through the afternoon is applying an ice bag to my shoulder.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sounds of Silence......

....that's all I had to offer lately.

I know. You're waiting now for a rant about Paul Simon's back-up singer.

But, I'd rather write about Mark Zane's terrific performance at Burritt's Cafe recently in Weedsport or my winning first place in CNY Pen Women's Poetry Contest or complain a little - no, ALOT - about my health insurance company, but I am in too much pain to type for too long or do much of anything else even thought I have graduated from Vicodin to Oxycodone.

So while we wait for the insurance gods to bestow their approval on my medical team to perform the tests I need to determine the source of the pain I've dealt with since December there will mostly be "Sounds of Silence" from my errant pen as the pain allows few words to escape that are printable.

This message brought to you by Sunny's back-up typist who is anything but arrogant or mean and who is always kind to the handicapped especially when it is his wife.