"The Big Bass Has Set Sail": A Tribute to Sean Kelly 

Sept. 12th 2021

I got word late last night that my old friend and past touring partner Sean Kelly passed away in Austin TX on September 4th. I feel shot full of holes for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that this big old hurting world just lost one of the kindest, gentlest souls I've ever had the privilege of knowing.

We met Sean in July 2005, when Michelle and I did a month cross-country doing shows and visiting national parks. Sean was the "house bassist" at Bruce and Dale Blew's house…

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The Woman Who Changed A Nation 

Gratitude on this day for Frances Perkins, the women who helped transform the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy into the modern American social safety net. In honor of the miners who didn't return to the sunlight, and those who survived to organize for better working conditions and pay. For all those who labor in dangerous places with insufficient protection. And for those who find a way to make their way, making a living from doing their own thing with their talents and creativity, from plumbing to poetry and…

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Beginnings and Transitions 

Today was the first day of high school in our house. I've been thinking about it for awhile, because it's a big transition in so many ways. I know her experience will be a lot different than mine, with different pressures and stresses as well as different opportunities. (And she doesn't have a parent teaching in her school). These next four years really are the journey to adulthood and independence and the inevitable and necessary separation that comes with that - eventually. 

But that's not today. It's not…

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The Backbeat Has Left the Chat 

My teenage musical education came playing in a bar and wedding band starting when I was 14. There are lots of iconic motifs, riffs and other signatures that became part of my own musical DNA in those years, but the drum intro that stands out the most from that part of my life is the simple 2-tom-hit opening to the Stones "Honky Tonk Woman". As I think back to the repertoire I learned - "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" as well as HTW - I realize how much my sense of rock and roll drumming, timing and…

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The Last of Her Generation 

My great Aunt Muriel has gone on now to her greater reward. She was the last of her generation; my grandparents' siblings - and just that fact seems astonishing at this point in my life. Born the same year that Ireland became an independent nation, Aunt Muriel was the granddaughter of Irish immigrants, and the keeper of her Ryan and Murray families' stories. We visited with her Mother's Day weekend, just a few days before her 99th birthday. Still living independently, and still enjoying her afternoon tea…

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Once in a Very Blue Moon 

After a week spent largely away from civilization, my ears are finally filling with the sounds of the inimitable Nanci Griffith's beautiful voice singing "Once in a Very Blue Moon." Nanci passed away this week, too soon for all of us who loved her music, although she's been retired from performing for a few years now. It's been a few years since I spent any time with her songs - the last time I saw her might have been at the Kerrville Folk Festival a lot of years ago. But I'm revisiting her tour de force…

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"oh the Times Keep-a Getting Stranger" 

To paraphrase Mr. Zimmerman, it's gotten to be busy time between the studio and the stage! This weekend has already been in one studio mixing the Nor'easter record, the video studio shining up a couple videos from the Treasures in My Chest concert last March, scheduling a recording session of for one of my student's big projects, and oh yes - a SHOW today with my dear pal Tony Denikos. Life in the performing arts was rarely boring before the pandemic, and it certainly seems to be resuming its wonderful and…

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And the Band Took the Stage 

First time onstage with a band again since March 6, 2020. At the festival we helped start back in 1994. With people I've known that long, and longer, and many who weren't born for several years yet. The Mountville Folk Festival has always been this crazy sort of house concert on steroids with camping, put together with love by songwriters and dear friends who take great pride in somehow magically making a festival appear and vanish again in the space of a couple days every year. Every year is different, but…

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Father's Day 

On this Father's Day, I am glad and grateful I can pick up the phone and call mine, that we can still play music together, and that I have a song I wrote that he played on to help mark the occasion. And yes, I'm glad and grateful to be a dad too. To all of those who have fathered or served in that role, may this day bring you something special. Here's a little something special from me and my pop.

 

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Like We Used To 

A rehearsal. At the studio. In person - four of us in the room, the core band, getting ready to unleash an acoustic set at the Mountville Folk Festival in just two weeks. I don't have words, and I don't have pictures, but damn - this feels illicit and dangerous like opium or something in my veins - a bliss beyond description. Playing guitar, and bass and percussion, and singing. Like we used to. 

But not like we used to. Because we're all different now, you know? The part of us that always was has been…

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Memorial Day and a Thought for Those Who Returned 

As an American on Memorial Day, my mind usually goes to one of two moments; the beaches at Normandy and the desperate assault to dislodge a genocidal fascism from Europe, and the killing fields of nearby Antietam, where we ripped our own hearts open over whether all men were truly equals in the eyes of our fellow Americans as well as God. 

Current events certainly compel us to revisit those conflicts with renewed contemplation of their lessons, even as we solemnly remember and mourn those who did not return…

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A Toe in the Water 

Last week I actually left my pod and went out into "the real world." Two weeks after Shot 2 was Tuesday, and by Wednesday night I was 450 miles away at my parents house, the house I grew up in. Besides visiting beloved family including my 99-year old aunt, I saw old dear friends in person (the best Zoom meeting I've had, without the computer or the zoom), visit another friend's period instrument luthier and repair shop (WOW!), and yes, play music with other people.

My Dad, my longtime friend and bandmate…

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Let Us See What Survives in These Ashes 

I knew this last year has been really hard, even as my family and I managed to stay out of trouble and not get sick. As the pandemic unfolded last March, I wrote a series of daily blog posts on gratitude to help me cope with what was happening in the world as well as my life. One of those gratitudes was that this was 2020 and not 1918, with amazing technology that allows us to stay connected with people most anywhere in the world even as we quarantined safely at home. It has been a godsend for so many, me…

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The Sturdy Backs of My Irish Grandmothers 

I'm a fan of inspirational stories. Perhaps more than anything that is what motivates my deep dives into my ancestry; once in awhile you get lucky and learn something personal of your ancestor beyond the BMD (birth, marriage and death). How they lived a bit of their "dash", as described in the now-famous poem often read at memorial services.

St. Patrick's Day is meaningful to me as an adult mostly as an appreciation of my ancestors and an excuse to crank the Dropkick Murphys while drinking Guinness in the…

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The Difference a Year Makes 

Today is hard. One year ago today was the last day my kid rode the bus to and from school, a day mostly like any other for middle schoolers. After she went to the bus, I started my long journey for a show in New Orleans on the 12th and Austin on the 14th, after a lot of back and forth messages about whether or not to cancel. We hadn't learned all these new words and survival tactics yet. I always took hand sanitizer and a variety of treatments to ward off colds and flu in the winter, but this time I thought…

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Hibernation and Healing 

I've taken a bit of an unplanned hiatus since the holidays, in part for some much needed time for reflection and healing, but also to deal with the minor but unseemly process of dealing with some pre-cancerous spots on my face (not-so-subtle sub thread - wear your sunscreen!). 

I suspect I'm not the only one mentally and emotionally spent from these last many months since my career essentially evaporated. I am not complaining - I am extraordinarily grateful to have my guitar and songwriting students, the…

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A Long Ago Lesson from the Fab Four 

Tomorrow will be the anniversary of the world-changing appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, before I was even born. Like most musicians, I learned a lot from the Beatles, and their music was a soundtrack for lots of moments of my life despite the fact that they broke up before I was old enough to know better.

When I was a young musician, most of us were in or trying to start cover bands. Our rural area of eastern Connecticut had an outsized wealth of bars hosting live music on weekends, and…

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Parsing the Data, Asking the Questions 

For my performing artist friends, peers and colleagues - our Virginia Commission for the Arts conference kicked off with an artist peer group session, and it got me thinking about what we've learned and lost in this pandemic. I made a list, and I'd welcome feedback, comments, and especially ideas about how you're planning your performing schedule and/or to take in performances in 2021 and beyond. The plusses first because I'm always a glass-half-full-with-room-to-top-it-off kind of guy... 

POSITIVES 
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Dawn 

It is a beautiful morning in America. The long night at last yields, and hope dawns anew. Almost like a painting, the sunrise on the clouds. A brisk fresh wind fully loaded with winter chill and clarity. Forward then; fiercely, without fear or malice, but with empathy and humility. And above all, with purpose and determination.

Omens and Eagles 

(For those who see signs, omens and portents) Wise enough to see that the forecasted icy rain was late in arriving, my far better half egged me into a morning walk. Our reward for a couple miles of dreary gravel trudging was to surprise a bald eagle down on the creek bottom, not 20 yards from us. The closest I've seen one around home for sure - a still rare and always delightful treat.

I'll take it as a sign of good, and a reminder of unexpected joys (and that to the biggest birds go the spoils).