Conceptual Irregularities

The modern composer refuses to die – Edgar Varese



The Grange Concert

Copake has a Grange, #935 to be precise.  From Wikipedia:  “The Grange, officially named The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, is a social organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.[1] The Grange, founded after the Civil War in 1867, is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope. The Grange actively lobbied state legislatures and Congress for political goals, such as the Granger Laws to lower rates charged by railroads, and rural free mail delivery by the Post Office.”  Essentially, in Copake, we are a community organization that does stuff to enhance the quality of life in the community.  It’s a membership organization like the Lions or the Elks; we put on events and we reach out to the community, doing food drives, cleaning up roadways and the like.

And like most Granges, it has a Grange Hall.  In this Grange Hall, built in 1903, we have dinners, movies, baking and cooking contests (we have a full service industrial kitchen), plays and concerts.  Our grange hall has a theatre with a box office and stage and green rooms.  It has about 100 seats and the wooden walled stage sounds great.  There is a piano, a sound system and some lighting.  There is a whole common room next to the theater where we have dinners and dances.

Before we moved out here, knowing that there was a Grange, I knew I wanted to start an open mic at the Grange.  I have been intrigued by the concept of the grange hall as a rural community gathering place for years, dating back to my song Peaceful & Clean with the line “Violent gyrations at the Grange Hall Dance.” This would give me a way to play music out regularly without having to go through the onerous process of constantly seeking out gigs. 

In Boston, in the nineties, I spent a lot of time at the Cantab Lounge where Geoff Bartley held a legendary open mic on Monday night where many performers got their starts. I loved playing there and met a lot of musicians. I started playing in several bands as a result of that experience. It was a great social life and a great musical experience.

So, out here in the hinterlands, I run an open mic. It is the first Friday of every month. We tried some other days but we landed on Friday. We’ve been going since June 2018. The pandemic got a little intermittent but we powered through. Originally we were lucky if we got a dozen people and the evening would mostly consist of me playing. Now we get 30-40 people and a full night of performers. We have a good amount of really talented writers and poets. We have a group of tween children who come and play instruments, sing, and excerpt musicals. And we have a bunch of excellent singer songwriters who play individually and in groups. I get to play with some of these people, notably House Band, Noyes and the Boyes, and The Solar Plexus.

Noyes And The Boyes
Damon Clift – Didgeridoo
Chrystal’s Angels
Roger and Lenny
Geneva O’Hara

This March we preempted the open mic to present a concert by my ukulele teacher, Charissa Hoffman. She was coming through town up from Nashville on her first tour since graduating Berklee College of Music in Boston. I thought she would be a good fit for the Grange so I arranged to have a concert. We had another young performer, Geneva O’Hara open for her and I backed up Geneva on guitar. We had about 40 people who loved it and it was a great success.

The best thing was having all these people staying at our house. Geneva and her girlfriend, Shelby, and her mom, Tami’s best friend, Maria, all slept scattered throughout the first floor and Charissa and her band, JJ Halpin and Garrett Goodwin, stayed upstairs in the guest rooms. It was the last night of their tour and after a week of couches and floors they deserved something nicer.

Tami made us chili for dinner and egg casseroles and vegan French toast for breakfast. I love having the opportunity to show off our house and Tami’s cooking. It’s great having young people here. It was also great to be able to play with such great musicians. I’m hoping to make it a regular thing.

Charissa Hoffman-Panic Attack On A Tour Bus In Philly

Triple Oh Eighteen

When my mother was growing up, a woman named Edna Conrad used to take care of her during the summers.  Edna remained a fixture in her life and subsequently in ours when we came along.  She was a Quaker from Philadelphia, born in 1898, whom my great grandfather, Earl Barnes met when she was a teenager.  He hired her to help out his family during the summers when they would decamp to his country house in New Hartford, Connecticut.

My mother was born in 1928, daughter of Howard Barnes and his wife, Virginia Hood, known as Hoodie.  Hoodie had issues and they divorced by the time my mother was 3.  Edna did the bulk of the mothering of mom after that.  Edna was a teacher at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village.  She lived alone at 8 Bank Street.  My mother lived there as well during her 20’s.  Edna had a little house in Belmont Vermont where she and a number of other teachers had gotten summer places.  I was conceived in that house, or so I’m told.

Mom and Dad at Edna’s the morning after…

When my mother was dying of cancer in 1983, Edna came down to Rowayton and took care of her making  macrobiotic meals as was the trend in cancer treatment in the eighties. No shrinking violet, Edna descended upon our household like a whirlwind, cooking, organizing and shuttling between our house, the Irwins’ house, and the hospital. She was in her eighties and my mother was in her fifties.  We boys were in our early twenties except for John who was 13. The prospect of a life without a mother was about to dawn on us, though we had been preparing for this for about two years since we learned of the diagnosis in Fall of 1981.

Edna remained a constancy in our lives through the  years following until her death in 1993. She would always be a destination in Vermont where we could bring friends, girlfriends and fiancés. Tony and I stopped there on our road trip in June 1991 and talked about the James Gleick book, Chaos, which she was reading at the time. After supper we would play Cows and Bulls. It was a kind of memory game that we’d been playing since we were kids any time we’d go to Edna’s. We believed it was responsible for her sharp mind.

When she died she left us Hussey boys $2500 to be divided between us. I had never had such a windfall.

I’d been going to Daddy’s Junky Music Store since 1972 when Fred opened his second store in Norwalk CT. I went into Daddy’s  on Mass Ave with $500 in my pocket.   They had a guitar towards the back which had no label but looked like a badly refinished small Martin. Sure enough it was a 1971 Martin 000-18 with a $500 price tag.

That was my main acoustic all through the nineties on the Boston folk circuit. It didn’t have a pickup and I didn’t have the money to make all the repairs needed to accommodate one. I made do with sound hole pickups and SM57s. Thirty years later and I’ve finally got some money. Lenny tells me about a guy in North Adams who works on Martins, whom he has used before. His name is Steve Sauvé.

Steve Sauve working on the 000-18 in his shop.

I bring the guitar up to North Adams. On the way, I drop off Neil at the Volvo dealership where he is getting his high end Volvo. Steve’s studio is in an old mill building. There are Covid restrictions so I can’t go in. An assistant comes down to meet me, goes over the guitar with me so I can tell him what I want done. He then takes the guitar and disappears back into the old building and I drive home and wait for 3 months. I realize I never got a receipt and for all I know that could have just been some guy who steals guitars for a living. I finally call him, expecting him to go, “Who? What guitar? A triple-oh-eighteen? Are you sure?” But he does have the guitar and tells me he was just about to start on it. That week, he does and starts sending me pictures of the progress. He takes off the neck and resets it. He replaces the bridge. He puts in the Fishman piezo pickup I have provided him with. I anticipate playing the guitar and having that magical feeling of a properly set up instrument cradled in my arms.

When I finally do go up to pick it up, I am not disappointed. It plays like butter. We have a discussion about what strings to use and how often to change them, something you would think I had worked out after fifty years but, alas, I haven’t. I pay the man and come home to play the guitar I’ve always had and always wanted. It’s beautiful as long as I remember to change the strings.

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