Notes from the Road – Southeast Regional Folk Alliance (SERFA) Day 3

Saturday, October 17 – After having to get up early on Friday for the workshop gig I elected to sleep in Saturday and miss the first workshops. Around 10 am I wandered up to get some breakfast and a gallon or two of coffee. I finished in time to hear the closing minutes of the “road dog” workshop headed by Jack Williams and Still on the Hill. Next was the presentation by Still on the Hill and people from the Folk Arts Center itself about Arkansas folk life, history and heritage. I was really glad I kicked myself out of bed for that! Very interesting and, as usual when Kelly and Donna are involved, high energy fun! Amazing instruments and techniques were demonstrated and at the end we were all assigned parts in a mass folk instrument ensemble. Quite unique!

Even though I’d had breakfast only a little while before I followed the crowd in for lunch and still ate my share. Meals are great gatherings at these events, always someone new to get to know. All of the meals have been provided buffet style and have been adequate, but it has been a challenge for those who are vegetarians – not me, of course. I’ve enjoyed the convenience and the staff has been first rate taking care of us.

The afternoon schedule included organizational meetings and mentoring sessions which, while interesting, were not how I wanted to spend my afternoon. Craving some fresh air, I walked out through the extensive and elaborate crafts village where shops offered goods for sale which are produced on site in traditional ways. There was a clothing shop that made 1800’s style men’s collarless shirts on at a time by hand on a foot pedal singer sewing machine. I HAD to have one of THOSE! In fact, I picked one that would be perfect to wear for my official showcase that night. I wandered through jewelry stores, a luthier shop where they were making various musical instruments, a soap shop, wood crafts, etc. Soon I’d satisfied my fresh air craving and headed back to the room to put new strings on the guitar and practice a bit.

Saturday night was my official showcase onstage in the conference center. Like FARM, there is no other activity taking place during the official showcases, so everyone attends. Also, the Folk Arts Center allows outsiders to attend the show for an admission fee. These are 20 minute sets, one right after the other from 6:45 until 10:30. My slot fell after Kim Richardson who I met earlier this year at the national conference in Memphis. She is an excellent performer, very high energy, very funny, a great writer, guitarist and vocalist – not an easy act to follow so I really needed to be sharp!

I chose four songs figuring that with my stories between I’d get 3 done with one in reserve. Kim Richardson did the expected blockbuster job and had the crowd really fired up when it came time for me to step to the microphone. Taylor Cafferty, one of our radio luminaries in attendance, had been tapped as an emcee for these events. He gave me a warm and kind introduction (some of it was even true!) and away I went. Since one of the focuses of the conference had been the building of community through music and having a “sense of place” I began by telling the audience a bit about where Florida through “State of Dreams.” Then I took them to the Keys for the story of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and “Hemmingway’s Hurricane,” followed by a bit of Florida moonshining history and “Yellow Butter Moon.” At that point I got the two minute warning and, not having a 2 minute song, I gave a quick intro and did an abbreviated version of “This Old House.” I leave it to someone else to evaluate the performance, but the crowd response was excellent and I really enjoyed the set myself (which I always take as a good sign). I think I will have a couple of videos of the show available and should be able to post some clips in the weeks to come.

So, with my performance done (and once my adrenaline allowed me to sit) I settled in for the rest of the show. Unfortunately I missed most of Laurie McLain’s set as well as Ed Peterson’s. But, based on prior experience I know they were both excellent. As with the previous evenings, there was one exceptional performance after another. Any one of the performers should be welcome in any venue or house concert in the country with stellar results. K.C. Clifford, Jamie Michaels and Louise Mosry all really impressed me. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite act for Saturday, but if forced I’d have to go with Bill & Kate Isles from Minnesota. Bill’s song “Hobo’s in the Roundhouse” just floors me every time I hear it as does “Fences.” And, their total shtick and back and forth exchange on the “Kamasutra Polka” is just hilarious.

Soon it was time to head back to the room, have a little coffee and get ready for the private showcases. Only two for me on the last night and everyone approached things with a relaxed approach. I started with a solo set in Bill & Kate Isles’ showcase room following Ben Bedford and K.C. Clifford. While Ben and K.C. played their sets I warmed Kate and Ben’s wife, Kari Abate, with a little of the Irish Whiskey I miraculously had discovered in my bag – wonder how THAT got there?! When it came my turn to play I shared “Welcome Home,” “Break Some Stones” and “It Must Be You” with their crowd which, interestingly, included some of the “outsiders” who had purchased tickets to the official showcases and had managed to find their way back to the cabins for the private showcases – very nice!

I ran over to the Concerts In Your Home room to hear a couple of tunes from Roy Schneider – this guy has the stuff! Make sure you catch his show sometime. I was to finish up in our Florida showcase room and I got there in time to hear a couple of Larry Mangum’s tunes which is always a treat. Gloria Holloway and David Russell were there and we started talking about old cover songs. Larry had done one at the end of his set so while we worked on the Irish Whiskey, David and I played a couple, “Long Black Veil” and “Go My Way” I think were the two. I repeated “It Must Be You” to hear David play lead on it and he did a wonderful and tasteful job.

Things were really winding down, but I had one more stop to make. Kari Estrin always has a last night session at her showcase room and I wanted to stop by and say thanks for all of her hard work. I was too tired to play anymore and there were plenty of guitars already uncased anyway. Fran Snyder played a tune, then Roy Schneider put one on us, followed by David Llewellyn and Louise Mosry. About there the Irish Whiskey and my ability to stay vertical ran out simultaneously. I said my goodbyes and trudged back to the room for a last night of not enough sleep. Larry, of course, was already dead to the world so I quietly squared myself away and conked out myself.

The Departure and Travel Epilogue

Sunday, October 18 - Rest assured that 8:30 came WAY too early. Larry had already made coffee again (good man) and was loading up, anxious to get back to Florida. After infusing some caffeine I began to organize and pack. It’s always so much easier to pack to go home than to leave home. There’s no choosing what to take and you are less concerned about what condition things arrive in at the other end. So it’s more of a “stuff and haul” affair, much quicker. I was soon packed, loaded, showered and ready for Breakfast. I stepped out into the most beautiful cool, clear, sunny morning imaginable – figures, just when its time to leave.

I sat and ate breakfast with Kim Page and her husband Leon and Garrison Doles came over and joined us for coffee as well. We rehashed the conference / retreat and solved most of the world’s problems in short order. It’s a burden to be so wise and all knowing!

Goodbyes take a while, so many friends to hug and thank. But soon the airline schedule dictated that I get started on my 2 hour drive back to Little Rock. I am exhausted, but at the same time energized. The tremendous talent I saw here challenges me to work even harder at my craft and continue to grow as an artist. This was a superb atmosphere for making new connections with other artists and getting a sense of the heart of the Southeast Region moving forward. While actually booking gigs at conferences is great, validating your artistic focus and sharing it with your peers pays untold dividends, financially and otherwise. I see writing and gigging collaborations on the horizon with so many of these fine folks. Thanks again to the SERFA Board under Kari Estrin, John Stoecker and Denise Williams for putting on a great conference. Thanks also to the unsung heroes who worked hard getting the event set up, but were unable to attend themselves, Betty Friedrichsen and Christine Stay and Aiden Quinn of Friction Farm. Lastly, a huge thanks to the Ozark Folk Arts Center – you really treated us great and made us feel so welcome in your home!

Lastly a couple of travel notes. When things are done right (like how the airlines have treated me with my guitar, etc.) I try to give credit where credit is due. The same applies when things are done wrong. Travel Note #1 – avoid the Dallas / Ft. Worth airport at all costs. It is a poorly organized, poorly run and over crowded nightmare. If your only choice is to travel through DFW I suggest you buy a horse. It’ll be faster, much more comfortable and far less infuriating. It ranks right up there with O’Hare and Miami for being a giant pain in the @#!! and makes Atlanta seem like a walk in the park. Travel Note #2 – if you work in the “service industry”, remember that the word “service” literally in your job description. The two ladies working the counter at the Starbucks in DFW across from Gate C20 get my award for least likely to succeed at anything in life if they don’t improve their attitude. When the “Peter Principle” hits you at the counter at Starbucks you are really in trouble. They were obviously annoyed that I would ask what the flavor of the day was and when I was unfamiliar with it and asked whether is was light, medium or bold the woman at the counter sarcastically and with great teenager style attitude declared “I don’t know.” I was also informed they didn’t have any decaf brewed at the moment and were unsure when or if they would. Sure seems like in a time with record unemployment these two would be thankful for a job and be more cautious about losing it. Ok, that’s off my chest

Alright, as I write this I’m finally home in Orlando at 12:30 am, sipping a little o’ the Irish and waiting for my eyes to slam shut involuntarily. Tomorrow I’ll get my Kendall fix!

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– see you soon!!

Doug
"It's not how far you've come, it's what you've done with the miles"
Doug Spears
36 Interlaken Road
Orlando, Florida 32804
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