Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Folk music in Newport News. Take 1.

I spent an evening in Newport News, Virginia attending a performance by songwriter and folk/country singer Marion Elsass. Marion attended Capital University here in our wonderful Bexley back in the sixties. Some of our listeners may remember a rather grubby young man struggling to learn the necessary three chords to most folk songs. Most of those performances were limited to one or two songs as that was the limits of both his repertoire and ability to remain sober enough to be understandable. It was refreshing and inspiring to witness the addition of two additional chords now that forty years has passed. He has also added several new songs but still is attempting to master those first two songs from 1963. It would appear he has made some progress, albeit limited.

I asked Marion when and why he began to write his own songs. He allowed he started back in the sixties for the obvious reason on not being able to remember the words to any songs. “I discovered one day, while sitting outside of the Berwick, that when I sang Amazing Grace no one recognized it. When asked what song that was it was less humiliating to say it was a new song I had just written rather than admit it was something they had heard many times. It also seemed to impress the women.” Later in my interview, Marion said he expanded his performance philosophy by actually inserting other words for the original ones. In 1982, during a brief moment of relative sobriety, he actually performed a song the same way twice in one month. Inspired by this dramatic success he began to gain confidence and set a personal goal to perform at least two songs not just twice the same way but three. With many years of practice he came painfully close to reaching that goal. By 2000, with much hard and dedicated effort the goal was finally achieved and as they say in the business, the rest is history. Now, he has almost doubled his catalogue of unrecognizable songs.

As Marion’s limited talent gradually increased so did technology. He now uses a Harmonizer which adds an additional voice or two over or under the singing voice. While it does seems to hide many of the performance errors, unfortunately, it can’t hide them all, particularly when Marion attempts to sing in one key and play in another. The resulting chaos makes me long for the old days when one would only have to endure one of Marion’s voices messing up a good song. Two voices made the evening tedious at best.

As I look over the audience I am struck by the average age, approaching 70. Mercifully, most have lost a goodly portion of their hearing, a fact I discover as I attempt engage several in conversation at the much needed break. This knowledge helps me understand why so few left at the intermission. I did note that someone was at the door manning a basket. I originally assumed this was a donation box to help with the cost of the performance, perhaps to purchase a one way bus ticket out of town for the performer. Upon examination I discovered it was actually a system for attendees to check their hearing aids devices upon arrival, a nice and needed touch. Obviously, some had heard Marion perform at some other time.
As the evening dragged on, finally Marion announced the performance would close with one last song. I noticed a number of attendees attempting to wake up their spouses. Some of the luckier ones were able to fall back asleep quickly. The rest of us had to suffer through one last attempt at music. As the song ended, the audience arose as one, clapping with a vigor that surprised me. Never in my life had I witnessed so many so happy to see a performance end that it they applauded the end with so much enthusiasm. I glanced down at my watch and was surprised to see only two hours had passed. Surly, something must be wrong with my watch. It could not have been only two hours! I hurried opened my phone to confirm the time and was shocked to see the time was accurate. Even more shocked to discover it was still Friday night. I was certain at least three days had passed. This must be what purgatory is like. As my wife and I make our way to our car, she remarks that the 10 hour trip back to Bexley will seem like mere moments after what we had just endured. I’m afraid that for the first time in a long time, I have to agree with my wife.

Song list - Elsass Concert May 28, 2010

First Set

Mosey by Elsass
We Were Kids by Elsass
That's A Hero by Elsass
The Wedding by Elsass
Cold, Cold Heart by Williams
Jambalaya by Williams
I Saw the Light by Williams
Leaving on a Jet Plane by Denver
The Promised Land by Elsass
Amanda by McDill

Second Set

Four Strong Winds byTyson
I Reckon I'm Destined by Elsass
Wonder if Daddy Felt This Way by Elsass
Help Me Make It Through The Nigh by Kristofferson
Me and Bobby McGee by Kristofferson
Lingering Dream by Elsass
Lonesome Bound by Elsass
Bottle of Wine by Paxton
Ride the Wind by Elsass
Mary Had a Baby by Elsass

Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved by Marion Elsass

No comments: