Monday, February 18, 2013
TEN DAYS BEFORE ~
An Amazing Gig ~ Who ya gonna call?
Flying in from Washington today is Alan Jabbour, head of the Archive of Folk Song & Folklife at the Library of Congress, and grants coordinator for the NEA.
He's also a hellava traditional fiddle player, and has tagged me for a show this next Tuesday. We will be performing in San Francisco's exclusive Bohemian Club. Unique, secretive, conservative. Yes, that one. Gulp.
He has put together a most varied and moving show of American musical gems.
The most difficult aspect of this performance is that one must wear a coat and tie.
It was nice to get the call....
DAY OF ~
So I showed up with my Fairbanks Vega #9 and my B&D 3# four-string.
This way I could cover all styles; old-timey, three-finger bluegrass with picks, and 1920's New Orleans jazz.
RIGHT AFTER ~
The Bohemian Club Show~
Together in the car driving across the bay to SF, myself and Alan Jabbour, director of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Walter Alverez, who along with his Nobel Prize winning father, literally changed the way we understand life on this planet. We are on our way to perform at The Bohemian Club, the closed and exclusive 140-year old men's club. (The membership waiting list hovers around 30-years.)
The interior of the building is like Downton Abby; every room is two stories high of oak paneling, marble staircases, marquetry, period lighting, with a remarkable collection of original world famous artwork. One of the dinning rooms is ringed with 16' portraits of each club president since 1872. All who enter must wear a coat and tie, turn off their phones and pads. There is no money exchanged...all is on the tab; yours, the man next to you, or that of your host. Our host was a man named Folger. I think he has something to do with coffee.
As the director of the Folk Song Archive of the Library of Congress, Alan had agreed to do a presentation of American folk music on the west coast, and that is why I am here. He had gathered a most talented and wondrous group of men to perform our full evening show. Our sets journeyed from a lost lively fiddle tune and a weepy ballad, through bluegrass rowdy, to humorous, a cowboy lament, full gospel, and New Orleans jazz closer. At one point, a man read a moving Lincoln speech from a small leather bound book of the 1800's while we played Ashokan Farewell. Our vintage instruments gave a joyful sound reviving our heritage songs and we sang in full harmony. (The piano was a Steinway full grand.) We finished to a standing Ovation.
One of the fellows at the bar said; "That was like Prairie Home Companion!... without the commercials,"
Besides his official duties in the Library of Congress, Alan is a powerful and accurate fiddler. Through his fieldwork, he is personally responsible for saving songs and tunes that we all thought had been around forever. Like Lomax, he learned them from 94-year old men and kept them going into the next century. My gawd! The stories he had!
I had my trepidation's about the conservative membership of the Bohemian, recalling the ring of 1960's protests at the grove. From the inside, I can report that it is merely an old-world gathering of men that have focused and accomplished something noteworthy with their life. I met surgeons, a world renowned geographer, a man that designed all the famous golf courses, a professor of paleontology, numerous lawyers, and renowned artists. Oh yes, and a performing musicologist of the American banjo. They were all courteous and intelligent men.
Another uniting factor is that they all are deeply interested in the arts, and do everything they can to support the arts in so many ways. It is at the foundation of the club. Again, that is why I was there, and also why my grandfather was a member, as he was instrumental in nurturing the health of the San Francisco opera throughout the 1930's.
After a fine meal in the upper dinning hall, we rejoined to the long bar and played more obscure tunes for another few hours.
Though it had begun with reticence on my part, the evening ended with a big hug from the director of the NEA.
~ Gordy Ohliger * February 2013