Monday, December 24, 2012

Silent Night

I used to be embarrassed to tell or hear this story, but over the years my feelings about it have changed. I guess innocence must be lost in order to appreciate its value.

When I was just a young kid growing up in Sacramento, our family went to the St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in town. To a kid, church is very mysterious and special, and maybe a little bit scary.    All those people singing. All the pageantry and ritual. The large sanctuary with soaring stained glass windows and row after row of wooden pews. 

Our church structure was somewhat a mixture of the traditional and the modern, reflecting some of the aesthetic of the 60's or 70's as I recall. Part of the dias was carpeted, which made it seem more like your living room than some cold empty hall. There were peace flags with a dove icon that still come back to me in memory. The alter was not so imposing as other churches I later saw. The stained glass windows gave me something to look at when my mind wandered during the more tedious moments of a Sunday service. My eyes learned every beam and joint in the soaring ceiling.  The walls were of a warmer earth toned brick or block. 

When you came up to receive communion, it was a little scary at first, but you got a wafer of bread and some wine that either tasted like grape juice or was grape juice. Reverend Churchill was a kind soul, grandfatherly and dedicated to his flock.   He visited me one year in the hospital when I was very ill with spinal meningitis.  He gave me two books, both about Christian athletes.  The one I recall the most was the Bobby Richardson story.  But that's another story for another night.  

My favorite day of the year for St. Andrews was midnight on Christmas Eve. It seemed like the entire church membership turned out, filling every pew and sometimes standing in the back. Their voices would rise up in unity, expressing hope and joy. The entire congregation would receive a small white candle with a little cardboard ring that acted as a holder and wax shield. At the end of the night, as the congregation walked out, the reverend and lay volunteers would light each candle, starting from a single candle, and a candlelit procession would emerge into the chilly Sacramento night, singing a hymn.

One year, when I was still very small, our family was helping to hand out the candles as people entered the church. The entry hall had doors on three sides, and people passed through this space through a set of large double doors into the main chapel. As often happens, not everyone is on time for church. As the congregation was seated and the preliminaries started inside, I remained to hand out candles to the latecomers. 

Eventually, the flow of arrivals dropped off and I was left in the large antechamber alone. I could hear the organ and the choir singing. Somehow this got me in the mood to sing as well. The song that came to me was "Silent Night". I started singing it to myself. What a lovely moment as I stood there in this cavernous, resonant entry hall, feeling my voice reverberate back to me, and feeling things in my soul that I had not felt before. A tremendous sense of love and warmth enveloped me. This in turn fueled my voice. I had not noticed that the sound from inside the chapel had gone quiet. There was no organ, no choir and not even a sermon. Someone from my family emerged through the double doors to retrieve me. Apparently, my solo version of Silent Night had brought midnight services to a temporary halt. 

Something in me knew to be embarrassed as I took my place in a pew next to my family. But there won't be another midnight mass like that one, and I've only felt that degree of utter joy and love a few times since. Each time, it's usually when I am inspired by something larger than myself, whether it's a midnight mass candlelit procession, the view from half dome in Yosemite, or a poem or song that stirs you. Many years later I experienced such a moment as I watched the quiet rituals of an ancient Buddhist temple along the river in Bangkok.  No words were needed to convey the sincerity of the old monk I encountered there early one morning, and he motioned to me that it was okay for me to be there and offer my intentions.

One can find meaning and transcendence through many paths. My wish for you this Christmas and into the new year, is that you find your own path to love and joy in your life.  Simply that, and nothing more.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Kate Wolf 2012

Kate Wolf Music Festival, 2012

I managed to get away a couple of times to music festivals this year.  In June, I made the long trek up to Laytonville (on the edge of the Redwoods) for the Kate Wolf Festival.  It was a good chance to catch up with a few friends who came up from the Santa Cruz and Bay Areas, as well as some old friends who used to live in Anaheim and had moved up to Washington.  Song circles popped up a few times over the weekend.  I stayed up wayyy too late the first night at the big campfire down by the river.  Still, there was a great song/jam circle that got going as the night went on. I paid the price in some missed music later that night, but heard most of it from my tent, wafting over in the evening air.

Kate Wolf has a special place in my musical heart.  Her songs were one of the big inspirations to try to learn how to write my own songs.  My sister gave me two tapes at Thanksgiving one year.  On the 500 mile drive home, I kept them on continuous play.  I was hooked. She wrote about lives, loves and places like almost no one else I had heard.  There was a gentle knowing in her songs, and if there was a place in the song that you'd been to, you could sense it in the setting right away ("Rising of the Moon" does this to me every time, as does "Streets of Calgary", "Old Jerome", "Everybody's Looking for the Same Thing", and so many more. 

The first Kate Wolf Festival I went to was the memorial one at Caswell Vineyards in Sebastopol.  It is easily still the most soul stirring and inspirational music event I've been to.  I was blown away by Rosalie Sorrels and her song "I Can Fly" as well as the one about the flower that lives on the edge of volcanoes.  Utah Phillips told stories and sang as well.  For a little while, he was sitting next to me near the front of the little grass bowl near the stage.  Utah's most impacting words that day were about Kate herself.  How she paid attention.  If someone needed help, she saw it.  If something might become a song, she recognized it and paid attention.  But more, she paid attention to what people needed.  Utah also talked about our songs being like seeds, to be cast upon the wind.  I had written down many notes that day.  My mission in life was to really learn how to write my own songs, and learn how to play guitar in such a way as to sing them.  

By the next summer, I had a notebook full of her songs, transcribed in pen, with chords worked out.  I had to figure out what chords worked for my voice (and as a newbie guitar player, my hands).  On one road trip, I was sitting in a small laundry-mat along the Russian River transcribing and learning her songs.  I was playing them to myself in campgrounds at night.  Sometimes people would stop in and listen or bring out a guitar and share a song.  A lady from Lake Tahoe had taken down my address, and sent me the nicest card later that year, encouraging me to keep learning to play guitar and write songs.  Some time later, I wrote a few songs of my own, initial efforts, that leaned heavy on Kate's form and sensibility.  "Big Green Waves" was rooted in my favorite northern California beach, at Patrick's Point. "Asking You Why" was written for and about Utah Phillips.  "Trabuco" was one that particularly resonated with a place near where I was living at the time.

When my sister got married, in my grandparent's home, she asked if I would play Kate's song, "Cornflower Blue" for the ceremony.  I practiced and was ready, but it was just too much emotion.  We let Kate sing it from a CD.  It's still a little embarrassing, but that song, in that context, meant so much.  
I missed the transition years when the Festival moved, eventually to Laytonville and the Black Oak Ranch.  I went back to a Kate Wolf  in 2005.    I felt the reverence and respect for Kate were very much there in 2005.  Rosalie Sorrels was back.  She did a fine set "in the round" with Garnet Rogers.  Nina Gerber was there and Greg Brown as well, and the writer of one of my all time favorite songs, James Keelaghan.  

Nothing remains the same over time, of course. By  2012, I was wondering if Kate Wolf had become just another music festival?  Despite a packed lineup that included Richard Thompson, K.D. Lang, and many more, I was concerned that this legacy had been lost, until two things happened.

First, Ferron was there, and managed to captivate us with her passion and soulfulness. It wasn't about radical musicianship or jumping beats, it was about finding that deep place and opening it up.  She was terrific. And funny too.  She admitted she was a little rusty, having just been in the hospital with a health issue.  So she confessed all, saying how happy she was just to be here (as in here on earth) and went on to give a great performance. At one point, in her mid morning set on the main stage, she came to the point in her song where a band might have ripped into a stirring solo section... standing there with just her guitar, she looked left and right, and said "hit it".  Then she looked behind her at the empty stage, microphones and gear laid out for the next act, and kind of shrugged.  She had us.  We were in for the rest of the ride. A special kind of grace.  This felt like folk music.  One thing she said that stayed with me was her current role working in a program for at risk youth in Michigan.  She said she had done a lot of great things on her bucket list, but it was good to do something that was about giving of herself and helping others.  (She said it far more eloquently than I just tried to recall).

The second thing, was a tribute set to Kate Wolf on the smaller stage. It was the highlight of the festival as far as I was concerned.  The Cache Valley Drifters, Sherry Austin, Paul Kamm and Eleanor MacDonald (they had been there in 2005 too!) were there along with Rita Hosking, who was appearing at other times with Cousin Jack, her great band.  Not noted on the program, but participating, was a fellow who had played music with Kate way back in Santa Rosa days.  I wrote his name down, but I can't find it at the moment.  He had some really good stories.  The Cache Valley Drifters played and told some good stories.  Bill Griffin talked about meeting Kate when they first came to the area, and her wrangling them into a gig within hours.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the audience, many of whom did not know of Rita Hosking, discover her that afternoon.  Finest moment of all was an a capella version of Kate's Lilac Bush and Apple Tree that Rita did.  Not a sound other than her voice casting out the story with such passion and tenderness.  It gave me chills and brought tears.  Tears for the beauty of that moment.  Yes, it was still the Kate Wolf festival I remembered.

A lighter moment, as the weather was hot and uncommonly humid, was when Rita came out into the audience with water bottles and offered to soak anyone who needed it.  It certainly helped!  Another personal favorite moment was being asked by a woman, who saw my older Kate Wolf shirt, to help her pick out a good first CD of Kate's to get her started.  I think I convinced her to get three by the time we were through looking at the song titles on a dozen choices.  I recognized the kid (relatively speaking) working at the booth as one of my campfire mates on that "all night jam" the day before.  We both smiled about that and traded sleep deprivation stories.  Turns out he had managed to survive a second night, while I had managed to turn in by 1 or 2 AM.  Youth has its advantages.  But I was walking around with some precious memories.  He'd get his turn at that too, and where better to store them up.

I'm not sure if this is an every year festival for me.  Were I living closer, the decision would be easier. But so long as they remember to keep that essence of Kate in the program, I'll be back again.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Welcome to Matt's Folk Musings


Take a look around, read a few words, enjoy a photo, and comment.

This Folk Musings Blog is new, and comes as a companion to the new Web Page.

Over on the web page, you can find a music profile, some songs, performance schedule, and so forth.  You can also sign up for email updates there.  Look for the Wolf down near the lower right and fill in your email address.

Here on the Folk Musings Blog, I'll be posting news updates and short essays, photos, and reviews of my favorite songwriters and festivals.

Feel free to participate.  Life works better that way!


Matt "Folkmuse" Stone

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

News for May 2012

It has been a busy spring, and an even busier May.  Here are a few News items.  That, and I've started a new Blog.  I hope you enjoy it.

Web Page

Some time ago, I began thinking and planning for a new web page.  I'm slow.  This is evening and weekend work.  So the process went along.  I figured out a domain name and reserved it.  I collected ideas and photos.  I looked through several dozen pages and made notes about what I liked best.

Sandy Frye was a referral from my friend Jade Taylor.  She and Valerie are the yin and yang of web design.  Sandy, the sharp eyed and intuitive graphic designer, Valerie the tech savvy programmer.  We started with a standard template plan, but soon realized this was too much fun and we developed some new elements.  One particular day I recall was the day I was out in my driveway taking photos of driftwood and river rocks.  Anyone who really knows me knows about my thing for rocks.  Sandy soon learned.  Then there was the hilarious driftwood incident.  Let's just say, one piece looked a little to "masculine" for Sandy, and once she said it, we could just not UNSEE it.  It had to go.

I like the end result.  My goals were that it reflect a little (or a lot) of me, presented my music, showed a gig schedule, and basic information for a bio, as well as provided a place for people to get on a mailing list or (once one is available) find out about getting a CD.

So the web page is almost ready for a roll out.  We may be adding more or making adjustments still, but its mostly there.

If you'd like a sneak preview, go on over here:

And while you are there, sign up for email updates.  Look for the "Wolf" on the lower right hand side of the page....

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May Gigs and Mini Tour

May Gigs and Mini Tour

I've had a flurry of gigs in May.  Most fun was what I dubbed the "Central Coast Mini-Tour".  I was up in Monterey for some business, and managed to fit in three gigs over a weekend before coming home then three more here locally.  

I played a show at East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey with friends Jade Elizabeth Taylor and Glenn MacPherson.  It was a great venue and a fun show!  I lured a few work friends in (who probably were stunned by all that).  Our friend Midyne helped in many ways, including running sound and fetching things from the stage when needed.  It was such a supportive and attentive crowd.  I never sleep well after those kinds of shows because the adrenaline and endorphin keeps flowing for hours.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sweet Barcelona

Sweet Barcelona

A few years ago, I found myself in Barcelona over a long weekend.  Every city has its rhythms and cycles.  Barcelona was a revelation.  I'd been to Paris. Beijing. London. Amsterdam.  They each had their patterns and vibe.  Barcelona (Barthelona in the local Catalan dialect) none of these.  Streets filled up on Friday evening and people did their shopping and then dined, socialized and strolled late into the evening.  Saturday, I had a chance to visit La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral under construction for more than a lifetime, to be finished (barring economic collapse, or perhaps in spite of it) in another decade or so.  This was the work of mastermind Antoni Guadi.  It is a masterpiece of imagination and dreaming.  Most impactful was the statue of Jesus near the top of the spires, sitting on a stone bridge, not impaled on a cross, but sitting peacefully looking down on the city below.  Like  a gentle sentinel, he watches out for Barcelona.