Stealing My Musical Heart

Special thanks to guest blogger Clay Eals, who will be hosting a special tribute to Steve Goodman at the Historic Admiral Theatre on October 14, kicking off our “Nights for Folklife” series of benefit events.

Unfailing warmth, gentle humor and personal resilience in the face of social and political ills undergird the legacy of Steve Goodman

By Clay Eals

For a singer/songwriter, legacy emerges and endures in two visceral forms:

1. Indelible performances that glow in the collective memory.

2. Compositions whose lyrics and melodies ring timelessly through the ages.

In both ways, Pete Seeger and Steve Goodman have carved unassailable places in musical history. I am thrilled to help connect their music once again with Seattle audiences as part of “Tribute Times Two: Anthems of Activism.” It’s a unique and extraordinary pair of concerts on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at the Historic Admiral Theater in West Seattle. It’s also the kickoff for the fall 2012 “Nights for Folklife” series, and a portion of proceeds will go to Northwest Folklife.

Presenting the Seeger tribute at 4 p.m. is Peter McKee, a singer and banjo/guitar player whom I befriended when he and his folk group Clallam County became part of Seattle’s celebration of Seeger’s 90th birthday three years ago at the Admiral. His one-man, multimedia show weaves together an impressive selection of recordings, images and live performances that reveal the breadth and depth of the legendary humanitarian who at age 93 continues to inspire and cheer us all with his commitment to peace, justice and environmental sustainability.

The evening show at 7 p.m. focuses on the music and story of Goodman, who proudly considered himself one of Seeger’s disciples. Goodman wrote and performed more than 100 songs – and hundreds of songs written by others – for audiences from the tens to the tens of thousands throughout the United States and Europe during a 15-year career before leukemia ended his life here in Seattle in 1984 at age 36.

For the evening show, I will emcee and take part in performances of a rich sampling of Goodman songs that take on a remarkably diverse array of social and political challenges – corporate greed, campaign hypocrisy, commercialism, sexual myopia, global warming, the homefront devastation of war and indifference to bedrock values – with unfailing warmth, gentle humor and personal resilience in the face of it all.

Though I saw him perform only two times, Goodman stole my musical heart, touching me like no other performer. I knew that I wasn’t alone, and a decade of research that culminated in my 800-page biography, “Steve Goodman: Facing the Music” (ECW Press, 2007) confirmed it. His songs, singing and guitar playing, not to mention hundreds of recordings, official and unofficial, combined to make him the most affecting performer I have ever experienced. This is a big part of why the book is, so far and by far, the most significant project of my life.

In 55 musical events in the past five years to promote the book (now in updated third printing), I have found musicians all over the country who know Goodman’s songs and have been eager to perform them on behalf of the book out of the goodness of their heart. In my hometown of Seattle, the stalwart of my events has been Tom Colwell, whose track record as a singer/songwriter and interpreter of others’ music spans more than 50 years. Tom will anchor the Oct. 14 Goodman show, and I am grateful beyond expression for the passion, tenderness and unrelenting life force that he brings to the quest.

Tom’s musical travels and example – including a night in 1978 when he bid Goodman to a Chicago club stage to play with him – resulted in his formation in 2009 of a nine-piece band he dubbed Tom Colwell and The Southbound Odyssey, the name stemming from a phrase in Goodman’s classic “City of New Orleans.”

Two stellar accompanists from that group who also play in other Seattle-area bands will join us on Oct. 14: Bruce Hanson, bassist and harmonica player from Bellevue, andMark Myers of Shoreline, who sings and plays dobro, steel guitar and harmonica.

The roster of musicians for the Oct. 14 show doesn’t end there, however. Reflecting the magnetism of Goodman’s legacy, the show will feature three uniquely appealing musical guests playing Goodman’s tunes:

–  Kat Eggleston, of Vashon Island, for 20 years was a fixture of the Chicago music scene that Goodman anchored and fostered. Kat, whose repertoire spans folk, Celtic and traditional music, brought an audience of 200 to a hush with her tour de force performance five years ago at one of my Goodman events at a college Goodman attended, Lake Forest College north of Chicago.

–  Dan Maher, of Pullman, for more than three decades has helmed the syndicated Inland Folk radio show and brought his encyclopedic and eclectic knowledge of music to bear in truly riveting and powerhouse stage performances. I first encountered Dan in 1991 when he took part in a panel of baseball songs at Northwest Folklife Festival. Dan, who interviewed me extensively on his radio show in 2007, covers a broad musical map, from sea shanties to pop classics.

–  Perry Barber, of New York City, who played with and befriended Goodman in the 1970s, provided invaluable contributions for the Goodman biography and has performed on behalf of the book in Manhattan, Berkeley and twice in the Seattle area. She also is a traveling professional baseball umpire, one of only a handful of women who have worked major-league games (in spring training only, because women umpires still are not allowed to work the regular season).

“Tribute Times Two” promises to be a moving and unforgettable experience, both musically and in the context of the national election three weeks hence. Icing on the cake is the venue – the Historic Admiral Theater, a 1942 art-deco moviehouse that has stood as an official Seattle landmark for 23 years. The price is right ($12 for each show, $20 combo ticket, at Brown Paper Tickets). Add in that it’s a benefit for Northwest Folklife, and it becomes a can’t-miss.

I am so fortunate to be at the core of this presentation. My heartfelt thanks go to the musicians, to Dinah Brein, who manages the Admiral, and to all of you who choose to attend. You won’t regret it. See you there!