Today is my fifty-third birthday, and here I am in a meeting room at the Marriott Hotel in Memphis, getting ready to watch Chasin' Gus' Ghost, a documentary film on Gus Cannon and jug band music, after which John Sebastian will get interviewed. I can't think of anything much better for a birthday present.
The Folk Alliance convention began yesterday, but I was too busy running out of gas and having flat tires to attend anything. This is what Chris and I are here for, to promote ourselves as viable entertainment for 2009. Just like all the other folk here. It's big business, this folk world. At least I'm not the oldest guy in the room.
(John Sebastian has just sat down in front of me to autograph a couple of Gretsch guitars. Dear lord in heaven.... Should I tell him we tried to borrow his autoharp from him once at Bearsville, reasonably raising his ire? No, maybe not.)
I rode over here this morning and registered. Suddenly it occurred to me that this was supposed to be a place where I should shake hands and make new friends and promote our new record. (That kind of stuff was a lot easier with a cocktail in my hand, honestly.) I feel like I've gladhanded at these conventions for years, but I know that this one is really an important one. The face of the business I've been in for years has changed drastically. We have to rethink how to make professional music making, of our style, as a profit-bearing experience. The traditional channels have gone by the wayside. Record companies and hit music seems to not really exist anymore, not the record companies whose release parties could feed a destitute rock band for a week.... I know they're still out there, putting out 'product' that's aimed at the moneyed teenage audience; but their interest in older fellows like me has largely waned. So we get to try to put stuff out on our own, or on tiny concerns that leave much of the groundwork to the artist. I'm certainly fine with that, not that I know how to market a record myself--although I would have to say that some of the labels for whom I've recorded were approximately as qualified.
(Dick Waterman, Bonnie Raitt's old manager, is chatting with Sebastian. Lots of history in this room.)
I got a visit in with my old bluegrass pals from New Orleans, Jeff and Vida, who have been living in Nashville for the last few years. They explained it not so much as living there as having a place there for when they're off the road. Jeff and Vida tour incessantly and are supremely tight musically for all that work. We talked about independence and the new ways to make a living in the business of music.
After seeing them and poking around, I decided to make my way down to the trade show floor and collect information and business cards. Guitar makers, graphic designers, house concert bookers and tourist trade organizations are all scattered around the floor with their wares. I found Jody Stephens from Ardent there, and we chatted for a while until I was tapped by Sally Spring to help bring some cases of beer to the duet showcase room (which will host Chris and myself early early Saturday morning). Sally's a Winston-Salem singer/songwriter/treasure who I grew up admiring; she later married Ted Lyons, another local I'd known since I was a kid; he used to play drums in Mitch Easter's teenage band Sacred Irony. Ted's gone on to painting and playing guitar and mandolin with Sally and generally being a character. I went with Sally and helped bring the beer up to the right room. Boy, the showcase rooms are... well, rooms. Hotel rooms that have had the bed replaced by a dozen folding chairs and a small area for the performers in front. Talk about intimate. I guess if it works in a room like that, it'll play in a house concert. I'll tell you how it goes from the performers' point of view once we have done it.
This morning I got serenaded for my birthday by my teenaged daughter and her mother from New Orleans. It was so nice to hear from them. And speaking of New Orleans and Mardi Gras (which is right around the corner,) when I came back to Robert's house, I was presented with a king cake/birthday cake by Robert, Candace, Vivian and Farmer Jason Ringenberg, an old acquaintance from the 1980s who has gone on to find his fortune as a childrens' performer (he had just been informed he'd won a regional Emmy for his PBS kids' show). Three candles--I asked Candace if it was one for every twenty years, give or take, but Jason said "three after fifty, maybe?" That sounds more like it.
For the rest of the evening, I went back over to Ilene's house and rehearsed some more, making sure we were all ready for the Big Performance Day, er Night on Friday.