Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Folk Singers Palooza

One of the great nights of my life:

I was living in Manhattan the summer of 1991. Through my brother, I’d met a family who lived near Lincoln Center. One of their grown daughters shared a common interest in singer/songwriter John Gorka with my brother and me, and I became pretty good friends with the family. I still sometimes run into the parents when I travel to New York on business, but I can’t remember the daughter’s name. Let’s just call her Whatsername.

One evening, I read in the Village Voice that John Gorka was performing at a club in Greenwich Village (and sadly, I can’t remember the name of the venue either – Let’s just call it Wazzit). I called Whatsername and asked if I could take her to see the show at Wazzit. She was totally up for it, and said she’d meet me there since I lived down on 15th Street and she lived a block from Lincoln Center. It wasn’t that far away from show time, so I walked down to the club and then hung out in front of Wazzit waiting for Whatsername.

As I waited for her to arrive, John Gorka came out and started hanging out on the corner with me... Well, he was about eight feet away from me and we didn’t talk. Which I regret to this day, that I couldn’t just strike up a conversation. But soon, another guy came up and you could tell he was friends with Gorka.

It was actually Cliff Eberhardt (whom I would be a fan of within a week). So, there we were, these two handsome, masculine Jersey/Italian looking folksingers, with lots of dark curly hair and friendship bracelets, and me, this skinny, dweebily-dressed balding guy. Hanging out. I’m sure they didn’t really notice me.

Then these Brooklyn-ish girls showed up and were really friendly with John and Cliff. They seemed like fans. Big fans. Then the girls went in. Then Cliff wished John good luck. And they went in. Then Whatsername arrived. She looked very pretty and seemed very happy to be there, and she was impressed when I told her I’d been hanging out with John Gorka.

We went in and got a table close to the stage on the far right of the room. Julie Gold opened for John. I immediately thought she was one of the coolest female performers I’d ever seen. Her voice? Not great, but gutsy, and her songs were wonderful. Almost exactly a year later, Mrs. Wanders and I would be dancing at our wedding to Nanci Griffith singing Julie Gold’s song, “Heaven.” But I hadn’t met Mrs. Wanders yet (I would in just a couple of weeks, and I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me), but I did like that song.

I can’t remember if it was during Julie Gold’s set or John Gorka’s set (but I think it was Julie Gold’s set), Christine Lavin came on stage to do back up vocals for a song. Now, as you must know, Christine Lavin is a goddess to all folk singers because she’s amazing, and she’s been a remarkable promoter of modern folk music. And she’s hilarious. So the place went pretty crazy (at least for a nerdy folk concert). And then Christine brought Cliff Eberhardt up for the song, and said that if we hadn’t heard Cliff’s debut album we needed to go out and buy it (which I did just a couple of days later, and it is still one of my favorite albums – in fact, this was 1991, and that CD was the first CD I ever bought).

After Julie Gold’s set, John Gorka came up and gave a fantastic performance. One of the things that made the night special was a new song called “Gravyland.” It was so new that he played it out of his spiral notebook. It’s a great song – a gratitude song. A song that simply says, I never thought things would turn out this well, and if it all ended tomorrow, I’d still have more than I ever asked for.

Whatsername and I left Wazzit and walked over to the subway station. I was going to accompany her home, but it was a warm night and neither of us wanted to wait down in the swampy station, so I said, “Let’s catch a cab.”

The cab ride was a treat for me, a poor graduate student. We completely enjoyed talking about the show scrunched down in the massive back seat of the Yellow Cab. There was something tremendously romantic about it all, even though Whatsername and I both knew without saying it that this was simply a platonic summer friendship. I walked her back to the lobby of her family’s apartment building and then headed home on the subway.

The next Saturday I saw that Cliff Eberhardt was performing at a folk festival on a South Street pier, so after helping a friend move into a new apartment, I headed down. I had wrenched my back during the move, and the concert was outdoors and seating was on the planks of the pier, so I found a barrier to lean against since my back was in a lot of pain.

I looked a few yards away, and there was Julie Gold, hanging out with several friends. They were having a wonderful time. I wanted so badly to tell her how much I enjoyed her performance the week before, but I couldn’t get up because of my back. So, another regret: that I didn’t introduce myself and hang with Julie Gold.

Cliff Eberhardt’s concert was fantastic as well.

So, I moved back to Ohio, met Mrs. Wanders-to-be, and fell instantly in love. We went to a Nanci Griffith concert where she sang Julie Gold’s “Heaven.” We got married. Danced to “Heaven” at our wedding.

I guess there’s more to the story, since Mrs. Wanders and I have seen several concerts over the years (Most recently, Cliff Eberhardt at a ridiculously little venue in Germantown, Maryland). But this entry has already gone on way too long. Suffice it to say, 1991 in New York City was a wonderful summer for me....

...But the best was yet to come.

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