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December 2001-January 2002 Musings: Waterbug

Ah, the invigorating cold air of a New England winter! Uh, well, not quite, this year! But I’ve managed to enjoy even the warm interludes. The woods out back call me as always, and the little bit of snow we’ve had has been enough to get me out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing a number of times. December started out with a flurry of concerts, and then settled into a quieter time for reflection, domestic activity, and holiday time with family and friends. Walks in the woods, good food, lots of contradancing – my kids are all avid contradancers, so that’s one of our favorite family activities. The big news of January is that Waterbug Records selected one of my songs, Rarest Rose, to include on their new Sampler, artists sampler. You can get your copy of this sampler from me at a concert for just $5. Or you can go to themselves to order a sampler – and you can get one free with any CD order from their site.

Waterbug Records, home of some of the finest singer-songwriters in the country, was the brainchild of Andrew Calhoun. Andrew, originally from Chicago and now based out of Portland, OR, is himself an extraordinary songwriter and musician. I was introduced to Andrew’s music years ago by another midwestern songwriter, Tom Dundee, who made me a compilation tape of several of his favorite midwestern peers. You know how it is with these compilation tapes, I soon lost the box with its listing of songs and performers, but I listened to that tape over and over and over. Years later, I ran into Andrew at the Boston Folk Alliance Conference. Our names were familiar to one another, but at one point when we sat down to trade a few songs, I was amazed to realize that his voice was equally – and eerily – familiar to me as well. Until he sang one of the songs from the tape, when I finally made the connection.

Andrew’s concept with Waterbug was to draw together music that, though highly respected by fellow musicians, often remained below the general public’s radar. He established the record company in 1992 as a cooperative venture with the musicians. Over the years, Waterbug has released a fine collection of music. As Bob Franke put it, “It was much easier to find out who was worth listening to when the whole folk scene was driven solely by people’s hunger for meaning. These days I look first to Andrew Calhoun’s Waterbug label.” Recently, Waterbug has limited itself to CD distribution and the occasional compilation. Along with including “Rarest Rose” on this latest sampler, Waterbug Records is now distributing my CDs! I am honored to be in such good company.

This January has been a great month for concerts. The highlight was a wonderful little mid-month tour, out to Pittsburgh, then down to Virginia and Maryland, most of which involved house concerts. I’ve played at Kerry Ban’s beautiful Pittsburgh house before, and was happy to be back there. Baltimore was a multiple pleasure, the Sunday afternoon concert itself, dinner with a longtime friend and others afterwards, talking Baltimore history and poetry with my host the next morning, and ending with a long walk through Greenmount Cemetery. I am clearly more used to country/small town cemeteries, or maybe it’s a regional difference. Parts of Greenmount brought to mind the phrase “City of the Dead.” It was as if I was walking along a narrow street, but instead of having shop windows to gaze into along the way, this was lined with small family mausoleums! With many of them, one could walk right up to the front latticework and look down into the vaults. It reminded me hauntingly of Romeo and Juliet.

Marika Partridge somehow managed to shoehorn over 50 people into her lively (she and her family alone are enough to make it that) Takoma Park house on a Monday night – amazing. But then, she’s an amazing and delightful woman. She had gathered several musicians into the audience, including Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow, who joined me – and Marika’s children, who love the song – “on stage” to sing Pat’s song “Swimming to the Other Side.” This song had been the original connection between Marika and myself. Marika is preparing a special radio feature on the song, and Ann Percival (of Wild Asparagus contradance/concert band) had introduced Marika to my version of it, with the descant part I had written for the chorus. The morning following the concert, Marika interviewed me, asking about my connection with the song, my interpretation of it, and the origin of my descant. It will be fun to hear how the whole piece comes together, when it is aired on NPR, hopefully, in the spring. I just emailed Marika to check on something, and got the following reply: “We loved your concert here and many friends have mentioned how special it was to them. It was the barefeet in the sheepskin that made me know from the start what a comfortable night it would be! Don’t neglect to mention those cold bare toes in that thick Vermont sheepskin!” Indeed, I must say, it’s the first time I’ve ever had a sheepskin on stage with me!

The Virginia concert was a shared bill with Dana Robinson. I had the pleasure of singing and playing banjo on a few of his songs, and he accompanied me on a handful too. The Shenandoah Coffeehouse, in the Gleedsville section of Leesburg, VA, is held in a small country chapel with perfect acoustics. It was originally a freed slave church – the perfect place to sing Gone But Not Forgotten.

I’ve been keeping busy between tours with a couple of other projects. Keep watch here for some news on Moondancer CD’s very shortly!

Think global, act local. Celebrate life, remember to breathe, and I sure hope to see you out there somewhere!

Quite warmly, Lui

Posted in Musings

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