So there I was, sliding my room card into my room’s door at 3:30 AM…
And I was still leaving a few people standing in the snacks room with guitars in their hands, or hovering about those who still had guitars in their hands.
Three of these people were Jim.
There was Jim Adams (Green River Running) pounding out the tunes on a rosewood custom dreadnought, customized enough that it would be hard categorize it, other than to say it subtle pearl accents around the top, rosette, and fretboard. Jim has been the last man standing alongside me at more than one Martinfest, although it has been more difficult for him to get here since he relocated out West to Vista, CA.
There was Jim Burke, from Colonia, NJ, as even keeled as ever with the CEO-7 that just seems like an extension of his corporal and spiritual body, and that constant expression of serenely enjoying yet another Martinfest, while humbly exhibiting how, as was described that night by someone else as, Jim is a much better guitar player than he realizes.
And there was Jim Fortmuller (Fortja) from Alexandria, VA, with someone else’s 000-28 Eric Clapton model – Jim’s own loyal D-35 still waiting for its master in the song circle room, in its baby blue Martin case. It has been over five years since he and I were working for the same company, and here he is, finally making his first Martinfest, and making the most of it. I knew he was a very good songwriter, and now so many others found that out, in the song circle room, and from his short set at Martin on Main earlier in the day.
The others in that last little group were Skye Van Saun (Skyewriter,) just enjoying the vibe with while holding her long-empty champagne glass like a scepter of high office; Tony Phillips (Tonguy,) whose scotch class was rarely empty, nor the chambers of his smoking Quip and Jestin’; and Danny Kerr, from Marysville, Ohio, who opened the Martin on Main performances in harmony with his brother Matt (Orangematt), and who was falling hard for the Madagascar and Adirondack seduction in the America’s Guitar limited edition belonging to Jay Keller (Jay Keller,) who was also there as I slipped out, still pounding out songs with Jim Adams.
Before I found my way to that hardcores sanctuary, I had been taking part in some jamming on traditional Country and Jazz and Latin tunes led by Paul Ukena (Mac Mechanic,) with one of our guest artists, Will Marin on the upright bass fiddle and lead vocal, and including stalwarts like Rick McClay (McThistile) on a Martin acoustic bass guitar, Fred Kagen with his wonderful 1943 000-18, when he wasn’t playing Bob Hamilton’s (Pickaherringbone) heavenly 1934 000-28, and Al Coppella (AlCopp) who wasn’t singing a capella, and eventually Frank Krupit (LEFTFRANK) whose arrival allowed us to pull out some of our Paul Ukena Trio tunes, albeit in much looser arrangements to accommodate the other players.
Similar loose arrangements were filling up the room next door early in the evening, as Will and her partner Robert Bowlin were at the heart of a much larger play-along with mandolins and a bunch of guitars in addition to Robert’s 1943 000-18 and his well-worn fiddle, as well as Will’s 1950’s D-28. Standouts included Don MacNeil from Celtic Spirit, on Mandolin, and Lee Cunningham on his very new custom dreadnought that appeared to be a D-18 with a large sound hole, and colorful wood marquetry ala Style 30.
Lee caught me mesmerized as my internal computer tried to download the imagery and processes what his guitar might be, and he turned to guy next to him and said, “He’s doing it again.”
And I spent the first part of the evening in the song circle room, listening to some of the people already mentioned, along with Diana Keller (Dianasaur) just knocking it out of the park with contemporary cover tunes owned by her soulful voice, and Gypsy Davey Kraut (David’s Harp) pulling out edgy traditionals and delightful originals I have never heard him play in all these years.
By the way, I got a report of a fella in that circle with “curly hair” and a pinkish shirt, who had a wonderful singing voice and sang something he had written for his wife. But I was out of the room. And I cannot figure out who it was. So if anyone remembers, please let me know!
Not much else to mention, except for another successful Martin on Main at the top of the street fair in downtown Nazareth, PA, where Martin had a booth set up of new guitars – including an amazing D-28 Authentic 1937 with a surprisingly comfortable neck, running into Danny Brown, manager at the Custom Shop who sought me out to thank me for the letter I wrote to them expressing my appreciation for the custom Martin I received in December; C. F. Martin IV, who was happy to have his photo taken with me and that same guitar, a whole host of talented musicians taking the main stage, along with our guest artists Robert and Will, who played a very nice set indeed thanks to Will’s charming voice and Roberts very genuine voice and his nimble fingers that have made him the only person to date to win the title of National Champion at Winfield in both flatpicking and fingerpicking.
It is too bad that the rain came back to cut the day short. But it was great fun while it lasted. I was among those whose set was cancelled. But I still got some brownie points back at the hotel by playing the Tom Waits song I had doctored a bit in dedication to my sweetie pie, who is here for her first Martinfest and having a wonderful time. And she finally got to do some singing of her own in the song circle room last night and will be making her lead singer debut at the Park open mic later today.
OK, gotta get to the free breakfast while it lasts…
What a difference a good night sleep can make.
Thursday was whirlwind. We had smooth sailing once we were through the Holland Tunnel, but ran into zero-visibility rain, just a few minutes form the hotel.
This is our second year at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Conference Center, with some overflow down the lane at the Hampton Inn.
The greeting of old friends began the moment I walked through the door to find Ken Klamert (kens d28) from down Louisiana way, sitting in one of the lobby chairs, happy to be here and happy to have brought along the old 00-18 he knows I am so fond of – which is celebrating its 70th birthday this year.
It would be a birth-year Martin for another favorite southerner who is happily in attendance. But since he don’t look his age I shan’t mention any names. But I hope he will forgive my sporadic reports.
I sent out an APB about my room location and soon heard a knocking.
There was Ed “Sweet Lips” Madonio, David Musselwhite, along with Fred Schrager. And with them was a brand new D-1 Authentic, which Ed claimed to be the best sounding brand new Martin he ever heard. I have yet to experience this instrument myself, but I hope to later this evening. [Didn’t happen. Sigh. Next year!]
And then came the many hellos and reunitings, and delightful meet ups with some various friends who haven’t been able to come to Martinfest for some time, in some cases four or five years! These included Stuart Sharp a Scotsman who lives in Homefirth, England and Mark Stalwick, from the Seattle area, who was clearly having a great time back in the ranks of us long-time Martinfest vets.
The weather had kept many from arriving for the traditional first night. So it was a more intimate event. I was quite tuckered out from the previous two weeks of 14 hour days, so we retired early, without any clue of course of the tragic events that followed soon after. And while Greg’s tragic death is a sad blow for all his Martinfest friends, I know the last thing he would want is ruin the party for everyone else. And we will bond together all the more as a result.
On Friday morning, after the somber breakfast at the hotel, my guest and Bella the wonder pooch headed off to the Martin factory for their first ever tour. We missed the turn off and ended up coming back through the countryside from the east of town, and through the hamlet of Cherry Hill, which is where C. F. Martin Sr. settled his family after they moved from New York City circa 1839.
I used to imagine Cherry Hill being way out in the countryside, from the letters and descriptions from that time. Only in recent years did I realize that it is in fact the gentle rising land directly across the street from Martin Guitar’s current location! Then I realized back in the early 1800s, Nazareth was situated on one hill, and Cherry Hill was basically the next hill over. And all that bottom land between has been swallowed up by the modern town.
I have not taken a tour in some years, so I was surprised to see so many aspects of the guitar-building process has become the work of high-tech robots, like the stamping of the center strip that goes inside the guitar, and other things once done by human hands.
As a reminder or a caution to those who don’t know, Martin starts work at 5 AM so most of the work stations are empty by 2 PM. A word to the wise is, get the earliest tour possible. And these days, you cannot get a tour before 11 AM, unless you reserve it in advance.
I did get a quick handshake from Tim Teel, Director of Instrument Design, and a quick wave to Jeff Allen busy in a meeting, as one can expect the Vice President of Global Manufacturing to be. And there, putting some extra hours in, was Emily of the Custom Shop, who is focusing on the ornate cosmetic appointments these days.
They have moved the Custom Shop to the front door where the tours enter, rather than having it hidden deep inside. A very smart move I feel.
Despite getting there later in the day, we did get to go up to the desk of Michael Dickinson, where he showed us an 0-28 from the early 1890s in immaculate condition, with its original coffin case, and the period shipping crate! It had hand written addresses on it, in flowing script, and there was even a photograph of the guitar’s original owner, sitting on a lawn as a teenager, playing a banjo among older family members. After a little work the old ivory friction peg tuners should allow it to be tuned up and played. Hmmmm. Another Authentic Series model in the works?
Speaking of new guitars in the works, one of lucky members has purchased a very special prototype – of the CEO-7 TWELVE-STRING! I have yet to see this guitar. But it was making the rounds Friday night after I was tucked up under the covers to get a march on the world. (More about this special instrument later.)
That reminds me The first guitar I played at this year’s Martinfest was an AMAZING 1932 00-40H that has been converted to a 00-45 by T J Thompson. He even managed to preserve all the original pearl and binding while inlaying the extra pearl. The guitar was purchased without a fingerboard, so he had to make a new one, as well as a new bridge. But as expected, they were both emasculate reproductions.
But I am getting ahead and behind of myself. After our tour and checking out the Summer NAMM Martins, which I unable to come see in July do to my recording project schedule, we headed off the Nazareth Boro Park for the first official UMGF Martinfest day.
Again the weather and work schedules kept many way on Friday this year. So it was a small but content group listening to the open mic performances, playing some the guitars set out, etc. I most enjoyed a MINT 1902 00-30, with extra light steel strings on it. I remain amazed how the vintage 00s can project so much beautiful tone when played with even a light hand.
And then the rains returned with a vengeance. And I mean biblical proportions as the light struck repeatedly near by, and the downpours when from heavy, to extremely heavy, to this is ridiculous heavy, and the creek running along the Long Pavilion took on the looks of the raging Colorado River.
After it broke we all scattered for the hotel, but another even harder rain hit and the highway came to a halt, so we did a U Turn on the entrance ramp and took the back rounds, which paid off well.
There was a cheese and wine sort of reception at 7 PM and by that time many more regulars and first-timers had arrived and things were getting well under way. Both of the main music rooms were full, but as I was still running on fumes from the past month, I was back to another early bed (by Martinfest standards) and my overworked hands were given another day off, except for the short rehearsal I had with Paul Ukena and Frank Krupit for our Martin on Main performance.
I am happy the good night’s sleep and hand rest have paid off.
The rains have stopped, the sun is supposed to be out by noon, and it looks to be a right fine day ahead, if a swampy one after the week’s monsoon.
to be continued…
Each year, I am expected to write and post my Martinfest Journal of Adventure
And I must do it whilst trying to play guitar, catch up with old friends, get to know new ones, and maybe find time to sleep. OK, maybe not sleep.
Here is the first installment, just now posted at the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum, the organization responsible for this amazing event.
I pulled into Nazareth, just about a year ago, not having a clue as to what would transpire across the coming twelve months. And now I can reflect a bit as I await my ride to take me to the Shangri-La that is Martinfest – the 17th Annual Martinfest no less.
And as the years have accumulated, this event has started to eclipse birthdays and Christmases as the major milestone marker in my life, and turned into a family reunion of sorts as much or more than a wonderful opportunity to see and play some of the most exquisite acoustic guitars ever created, and hear so much wonderful music, in a setting of all-day, all-night celebration and frivolity.
This Martinfest comes with some significant firsts.
I always enjoy meeting people for the first time, at their first Martinfest. So, if you are a Green Dot newbie, please feel free to seek me out and say hello. And pass that along to anyone you veterans might be bringing as a guest.
I am actually bringing along a guest for the first time ever, myself. And she is quite excited about meeting everyone and joining in the singing of songs and the making of merry. So, in the Martinfest sense, I am a bachelor no longer.
That makes me very happy. But I am also quite sad that she never got to meet Laura Voorhis, as I am certain they would have made fast friends and enjoyed each other’s company and humor immensely.
Laura, who had been to every Martinfest, and who was the hostess supreme of the informal Thursday Night Welcoming Party, had to leave this greater cosmic party early. And as far as I am concerned, this entire Martinfest will be played-out and made the most of in her honor.
No one was more supportive and encouraging of my own music than Laura, from the moment she handed me her first Martin at the first Martinfest and asked me to play it for her, because she was too shy about playing in front of other people. So, I am selfishly sorry she didn’t get a chance to see and her my first commercially available album of original solo guitar compositions.
It will be officially released on August 9, 2018. But until then, it will be exclusively available to anyone attending Martinfest who might be interested in owning a copy. And you can learn more about that at tspguitar.com and One Man’s Guitar.
A copy o f the CD will be auctioned off at the Park on Sunday, to benefit the UMGF Martinfest coffers.
And so I am seriously ready to wind down and unwind after the four months of recording and production, and mourning far too many losses, and to get down to playing guitars just for the fun of it, and the love of it, and for the love of music that we all share at Martinfest, while we can.
May there be much rejoicing and delightful voicing.
More to come…
For those wishing to better understand what Martinfest is all about, please see this article from 2013.
Today is the last day of Christmas. Make the most of your Twelfth Night by partaking in some of these tried and true traditions:
nibbling favorite dainties, sipping something scintillating, explaining to the local constabulary that you were simply wassailing a few apple trees to insure a productive harvest.
Or enjoy a little Twelfth Night or what you will.
“I’m not a fan of the new Pound coin. But then again, I hate all change”
That just won Best Joke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
I did not even know about the new Pound coin, or that my small hoard of Pound coins will no longer be legal tender come October. But tis true.
Humor has been hard to find in modern times
But Tina Fey allowed me to laugh again
Debuting Fat’s Waller’s Brand New Suit at the 16th Martinfest
It was great fun to be back on stage with the Paul Ukena Trio in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, trying out new (for us) tunes
And I am looking forward to our returning to rehearsing and gigging in New York City this coming Autumn.
It was a new official hotel for the five nights that the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum gather in Eastern PA to celebrate Martin guitars, made in Nazareth by one of America’s oldest family businesses, with new guest artists and many first time attendees. But there many of the old guard there to keep up traditions, even as they forged new ones.
You can read more about this very special event HERE in the article that I wrote after a previous Martinfest.
Many others will better say what Sam Shepard meant to the American Theater of his youth, and to films he later appeared in as a centered and unhurried actor. I can only speak to what he was to the theater of my youth, by quoting a friend who accompanied the news of Shepard’s death with the words, “In drama school we all wanted to be Sam.”
The only Shepard piece I directed was Action, in 1992, the one-act play that can find it focal point easily enough in its title. Perhaps his most Beckett-like work, it is always worth seeking out to see how various casts or individual actors explore its compact yet expansive possibilities.
On the Fourth of July in 1996, I was walking down a sun-scorched Avenue of the Americas, around 45th Street, when I was stopped by a traffic light, when I had my only in-person encounter with Shepard.
Having forgotten my sunglasses, I was looking down to keep the rays out of my eyes, as I rummaged my pockets for a light for my cigarette, when a glowing butt dropped right next to my foot, which was then squashed by an old but well-cared-for cowboy boot.
“Gotta light?” I said, before looking up into the creased, scrutinous squint of those solid, penetrating eyes.
He paused for a moment, and when I did not make anything of him other than wanting his help, he produced a Zippo lighter, and flipped it open while igniting the wick in one fluid motion.
He lit my cigarette as the walk light lit, and I said, “You’re taller than I thought you’d be.”
His creases deepened a bit and I thanked him for the light as we went our separate ways. And now he has gone the way of us all in the end.
I still think fondly of the monologue he wrote for Cowboys #2 extolling the many virtues of breakfast, almost every time I slice into some glistening sunny side up eggs. And I guess I always shall.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is about people navigating their way through a cataclysmic event as best they can, or as best as their conscience will allow them to.
Seen from a large 70 mm screen it turned out to be a surprisingly small film.
But then, the enormity of what took place during that particular week in the spring of 1940, along the English Channel near the border of France and Belgium, could have made for a sweeping epic, costing many millions, and still it would have fallen far short of the reality.
Instead of taking that on, the director smartly made an artistic film that used the idea of Dunkirk to focus on a couple of fundamental themes defining the human condition, with stakes sent sky-high by a faceless menace providing sudden death from that sky at any moment, as well as from land or sea.
I won’t spoil things by discussing those themes. But I will say, I enjoyed how the director chose to enhance them through non-linear storytelling, where we see certain events replayed at different times, from new perspectives.
The basic plot is that the good guys, or blokes in this case, are surrounded and nearing possible annihilation, which a history book will show was avoided by most of them. However, those living and dying through it could not know what lay in store from one moment to the next. Hence the drama.
Not that the film doesn’t pay appropriate homage to those who made Dunkirk synonymous with personal sacrifice and stoic British heroism. It does that quite well, mainly through the guise of the various big stars, like Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy, as well as the voice that seemed to be impersonating Michael Cain’s R.A.F. squadron leader from 1969’s The Battle of Britain – which turned out to be an uncredited Sir Michael Cain.
But their altruism, focused on getting as many of their besieged countrymen home as possible, is offset by the main characters, all members of the common soldiery dedicated to getting themselves home by any means necessary.
For all the dire circumstances, there is some nicely underplayed comic relief. I had to chuckle at the affectionate display of inherent Britishness sprinkled across the film.
An old saying declares, “An Englishman standing alone is an orderly queue of one.” And our first glimpse of Nolan’s Dunkirk beach is seen through the eyes of just such an Englishman, as he looks out at queue upon queue of British warriors, all lined up and neatly waiting their turn for whatever fate lies ahead. And then he politely helps a stranger finish burying a dead body before he takes his place at the back the nearest queue.
I highly recommend seeing Dunkirk on the largest screen possible – not for the epic action movie carnage, which does not make an appearance, but for the full impact of the environmental effects that isolate most every shot in the film. Isolation being the key concept here.
Oh there I’ve gone and said one of those themes. But it still isn’t the central one.
A FEW MORE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Nolan’s movie does explain what happened at Dunkirk well enough, in an almost stage-worthy condensed form.
The film opens with a decimated British infantry unit arriving at the beach of legend – setting up how this movie was going to use as few actors, extras, boats, and period aircraft as possible to tell its story.
For example, early on, a half dozen plucky French soldiers are seen standing their ground behind a fortified position, guarding the entrance to the seaside a few yards away. That is all that represents the 40,000 French soldiers miles inland at Lille, suffering genuine annihilation as they bravely held off the full might of seven Nazi divisions, so the British and other French forces could escape to England.
From that moment on, every person we encounter below the rank of admiral is a fictional character on a greatly reduced stage, standing for the great many that did what they did at Dunkirk, ultimately saving Western Civilization for at least another 75 years.
That’s a time period that expired two years ago, by the way.
Despite using the actual beach depicted in the film, along with some dozen historic vessels in the water that were there in 1940, the movie really isn’t about Dunkirk. All in all, it isn’t a war film. It’s a disaster movie.
Like The Poseidon Adventure and This is the End, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is about how various people behave in a catastrophe. And that may say something about the prevailing subconscious concerns of what stands for Western Civilization these days.
And that is one man’s word on…