Monday, March 03, 2008

My Kind of Olde Town School of Folk Music

If there not a point in my life when I get to sing sweet sweet harmony with someone else with at least a guitar and possibly a mandolin for accompaniment, I will be unsatisfied in heaven.

Now is not the time for that, though. I could not cram another thing into my life right now and still I'm trying to make some space for developing a couple of new friendships and for a crafting group at church.

However, as busy as I am with school and church, I'm interested to look back on the last several weeks and to see how many cultural events I've built into the pattern of my days. Especially considering I spent a total of 9 and a half hours on the Economics problem set that I turned in last Monday and that's only a little bit extreme for most assignments.

In the last month I have:

Listened to Angela Davis speak.
Gone to see Buddy Guy in his penultimate performance at the old location of Buddy Guy's Legends.
Attended a Super Bowl party.
Saw Haphaestus at the Lookingglass Theatre.
Saw Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.
Listened to a band at the Hideout.
Went to see Vance Gilbert.

I feel a little bad about the Vance Gilbert one. I had invited several people to go see it with me but in the darkness of two weeks ago, I cancelled on everyone because I was looking ahead in despair at one more thing that I had to do. But when Susan still wanted to come out from the Quad Cities and spend the day with me, we decided to see if we could still get in that night.

I'm so glad we did. Susan and I have been going to see Vance since we were sophomores in college. (I went Freshman year before I knew her but took her with me the next year when he came to play at the Blue Moon Coffee House again.) Since then, we've seen him together and separately all sorts of places, including Seattle, Cedar Rapids and a nice lady's house in Evanston. I have all of his albums and can sing almost all of his songs by heart. He has a heart-stoppingly pure tenor voice that also communicates soul and the poetry he writes and sets to music is of the highest order. He is also extremely funny.

Going to see a Vance show with Susan is like putting on an old pair of comfortable pajamas. It feels so good but you can get a sinking feeling of disappointment when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize that you look pretty dumpy. That sinking feeling of disappointment that the reality does not measure up to the internal sensation hit me when he started telling a joke I've heard him tell maybe 7 or 8 times before. "I'm so glad to see you. So many nights at these folk concerts I'm the only chip in the cookie." Vance is black. He says this to a black woman in the audience. It's a really funny joke. But I get a sense that he's clinging to old glory with it.

There are several old chestnuts that Vance serves up in a show. You're pretty much guaranteed that at some point he'll take an 8-bar as a muted trumpet and in another song, he'll hold out a note for little 3 or 4 minutes. I still haven't figured out how he breathes but he must.

But while he's doing this, my mind gets to wander into nostalgia as I look back on the last 12 years or so. Old pajamas are, above all else, comfortable. I also get to notice the nuances of his performance, like a lovely dip in intonation as he sang the word "mountain" in Unfamiliar Moon. Susan leaned over at that point and whispered, "Think of how far you've come since the first time we heard that song." She was referencing a concert at that same venue about four years ago when we heard the song for the first time and I felt like he was describing my life as he sang, "This can't be my house. How can this be home? I don't recognize it anymore. Each step to the front door is higher than I've known. It's like climbing up a mountain 'cause now I climb alone." I still picture the front steps to the house my ex-husband and I bought in Westchester with those words. One of Vance's first songs of the evening was brand new to us and it was about a woman who chooses small town life, which is Susan. He is pretty amazing at his ability to capture the experiences of our lives.

Earlier in the evening, Susan had said, "I love that this is a unifying force in our friendship. And that it has been for years." I love that Vance Gilbert has repeatedly told Susan that she is beautiful. The first year we went to see him (1997?), we sat at a table right up next to the stage and he stopped the concert to listen to her laugh. "What is that? It sounds like someone reading laughter out of a book! Hee hee hee. Hee hee hee." We couldn't breathe we were laughing so hard at being singled out. I've only heard him tell that joke once since then, so I'm fairly confident that Susan was the first. She really does laugh that way. No stretching necessary to make the comment funny. A couple of years ago, Vance said to her, "Look at you! You are what a woman is supposed to look like." He held her face in his hands with those long fingernail beds and she blushed. She blushed again last weekend when he told her she was like a whole pinchable cheek. She blushed in her cleavage and he touched her again. Both agreed that it was OK since it was as lucky as either was going to get that night. If nothing else, I love the man because he loves Susan as a fan more than he loves me.

Vance was followed by Rani Arbo, a sweet-voiced and sassy woman with a great blue-grass funky band. It is she who makes me ache to sing tight harmony with someone. And I can actually see a point in the next five years when I'm comfortable in a job when I can give one night a week to jamming like that. The evening ended with a song from their upcoming children's album. It was a play song in which she would call out an item of clothing and if you were wearing it, you were supposed to stand up and dance. So, Susan and I danced in our blue jeans and sat it out for button-down shirts. For the final iteration, I stood and turned to dance with Susan because I was wearing underwear. I danced all the more joyfully as Susan stayed firmly seated on her chair, looking up at me sheepishly.

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