I played a gig at the Ocean Charter School Winter Faire last weekend. This was a school fair in Culver City. The stage was in a big tent. The kids moshed a bit and generally committed to the music. An odd thing was that they formed this kind of open space for activity right in front of me and used it for all kinds of miscellaneous stuff, like playing with toys. They weren’t watching in the way adults would at a concert hall, they were just making the music a part of their own thing. The music wasn’t irrelevant, which I know because they weren’t drawn in by the other acts in the same way.
I played with my normal intensity, and afterward a few adults stopped me to say they liked it. I loved playing in that environment — there was high quality attention, decent sound, a sizeable audience, and interactive listeners.
Then this Thursday I played at the Hyperion Tavern for my regular bi-weekly show. I did two new songs.
One was the original 1907 Ada Habershon/ Richard Gabriel version of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken.” I started too fast, which matters because there’s a fairly hard fingerpicking part, but then I figured what the hell go with the flow and things worked out fine. Learning this song has involved a lot of research into its history, which was necessary because the 1935 A.P. Carter version is so famous that it has drowned out most information about its predecessor. The turning point in learning it was finding a 1962 recording of the original by a guy named Dorsey Dixon who was then an old man. I speculate that he played the original because he was born in 1897 and would have been familiar with the original for many years before A.P.’s version existed. He died in 1968, six years after this recording. It’s amazing and beautiful that his life span, his background as a musician, and this recording session by archivists during the 1960s folk boom all lined up to allow me to play this lost song.
The other new tune was Nothing to Wear, an 1857 “comic ballad” by Septimus Winner. The song is a lot of fun and people loved it. Google has a history of the song. pdmusic.org has a midi version, which is as a-musical as all midi files but gives you an idea of the melody.
It takes me months to master a new song, so it was cool to get past that phase and inject fresh music into the set.