Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mariposa, 1991

Above is the cover of the program book for the Mariposa Festival, an annual festival that took place just outside of Toronto. We played there in September of 1991, our only appearances in "our neighbor to the north." It was a big deal, with several stages offering shows simultaneously, and a large amphitheatre for the bigger acts (we weren't one them). Those included Los Lobos, Jane Siberry, the Fairfield Four, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and an appearance by the soon-to-be-a-big-deal Barenaked Ladies. At that point, they were just a local sensation, and had only released a cassette on their own label. A few months later, their recordings were everywhere.

The weather was gorgeous, and I had a good time hearing other groups. Most memorable for me was listening to Pops Staples singing gospel songs to a handful of people on Sunday morning. It was better than being in church. I got to shake his hand afterwards, and felt fortunate to have been there for that reason alone.

In the folk music scene is a tradition of doing "workshops" at festivals, where a musician or group explains some aspect of their craft, or even just tells a few stories. This allows fans to interact with the musicians and musicians to share their experience. I had played some folk festivals with the band, but had never done one of these. When we arrived in Toronto, after considerable red tape at the border, I learned that I had been scheduled to lead one of these workshops, unbeknownst to me. They'd even coined a clever title for it without consulting me. And it was to begin in just a few minutes. I was shocked and more than a little intimidated. Occasionally, in stressful situations, I will simply freeze up, unable to do or say anything, paralyzed. This was one of those occasions. When I got to the location for the workshop, I had no idea what I might talk about, and no time to plan something out. I watched other musicians effortlessly regale the audience with musical insight and lore and funny stories and realized that I was in no way prepared to do this. I fled before anyone noticed that I was there. Later, I realized that it would have been no big deal for me to talk about various traditions and approaches to the clarinet, and how I used these in my own playing, but at that moment, I couldn't think clearly. Chuck and Phil were also scheduled to do a workshop on banjo-playing, of all things. I'm not even sure we took a banjo with us on that trip; I'll let Phil refresh my memory on that one...

I don't remember much else from the weekend, except that Chuck didn't like the Barenaked Ladies at all ("too clever") although I myself was pretty sure they were headed for a successful career. Los Lobos was a pretty great band, but struck me as a bit cold. Their bari sax player Steve Berlin was the only memorable aspect of their show for me. We shared a bill with a solo blues fellow who went by the name Dr. Blue, and backed him up on a couple numbers, quite impressively, I thought at the time. He seemed surprised that we could follow him. That weekend we played twice on showcases with John and Mary, who went on to a fairly active career of touring and recording, and with John Gorka, a guy who had covered a couple of Chuck's songs, including "A Different Bob" I think. I heard one of his sets, which included a song about New Jersey ("We're from New Jersey, we don't expect much"). At the time, we thought that the Mariposa appearance might lead to more gigs in Canada, but it didn't.


Michael said...

Appropo of nothing to do with the CbJE, I'm just going to piggyback on your thoughts about Los Lobos. I love their albums to pieces, and I've seen them absolutely tear it up live on TV (mostly Austin City Limits), but each time I've gone to see them in person for real, they've been distinctly underwhelming. Maybe they just don't like the Fillmore? One theory I have is that they've gotten tremendously unfocused as a live act since they started letting Louis Perez out from behind the drum kit to play guitar more often. They've morphed into a listless jam band, really aimless and dispirited...too bad.

Phillip Henry Marshall said...

Wow. Mariposa. Lemme see. I remember getting really drunk at the hotel bar where were staying. There was a reception for the festival and ALL the bands were there. I had to down alot of beers before I could work up the nerve to greet Los Lobos. As I recall it all happened very quickly and there was nary a smirk or a smile among them.

Until you mentioned it, Dave, I totally forgot about the "banjo workshop". Geez, maybe that's why we were never invited back! You're correct, tho', we didn't have a banjo with us. We rarely ever did. Once in awhile I'd play Chuck's tenor banjo for outdoor Death Valley Boys gigs but I was a real faker. I tuned it like a guitar and played Chuck Berry licks! Actually, that would have been a great workshop: how to utterly fake playing the banjo with speakers Phil Marshall and Charles Cuminale...

Remember having to ship our equipment by barge across the lagoon to one of the stages we played on? I was talking to a guy and a woman, all real pleasant, until I realized he was Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Suddenly I froze up and all I could say was "You'll have to excuse me. I've got a barge to catch!" and split right quick.

I also remember loving the Bare Naked Ladies during their first song. During their 2nd song I thought they were O.K. By their 3rd one I thought they were a bunch of shit. To this day there isn't much of their stuff I can tolerate.