While we dedicate this day to honor all veterans, the reason we do it on this specific day should never be taken for granted. The eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month was when the First World War came to its official close, back in 1918. One hundred years ago today.
The end of a war should be commemorated, with giving thanks and celebration, both. Just as its beginning should never be forgotten, while we mourn all that was lost during the war.
Anyone who went to war will have their own personal sacrifice to live with, if they were fortunate enough to live through it in the first place. One does not have to serve in a frontline unit end up in harm’s way, but only the veterans who served in actual combat know the full measure of such service. And yet, we can all know that such events give good reason to mark the end of wars, lest we forget what happens in them.
My grandfathers leather flying helmet and U.S. Navy Air Station “flat hat.”
The Great War of 1914-1918 remains unique in our collective history. Tactics developed during the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War met and were bested by modern weaponry capable of horrors never before visited upon mankind. The results exceed what civilized humans can imagine.
In one battle alone, on the River Somme, there were over one million casualties, with 310,486 killed outright and many more dying in the coming months as a result of their wounds. On a single day in 1916 the British army lost over 57,000 men in one engagement. Such numbers make the American losses on D-Day seem like footnotes. The losses of the French and Germans during the many battles around Verdun are beyond comprehension. And they kept at it; bravely charging into the face death again and again.
On the whole, the world had never seen anything like it. Unfortunately we cannot say such things were never seen again.
Today the 11th November is referred to as Veterans Day and has been expanded to remember and honor all veterans who served their country ever since, in peacetime and in war. That is a good thing…
“Each Martinfest is different. And this one was differenter than most.” That is how I put it throughout the weekend.
For example, I didn’t get into the Inner Sanctum but once the entire weekend. The irony of this is, for once my room was directly next door to Special Ed Madonio.
I walked in on Sunday night, and listened to Ed sing a song, while playing what was probably Mike Longworth’s 12-fret 00-45.
And then I went off to make an appointment, and I just never found my way back in there to see what priceless guitars were stacked up in there like Aladdin’s cave. I heard tell of a pre-war Gibson J-200 made of mahogany no less. Actually, I had played that guitar before. But I am sure there were others I would have loved to see for the first time.
But I did finally track down Wayne Wirta (twelvestringer) and his amazing #1 of the last Laurence Juber Signature Editions, that is made with Guatemalan rosewood, high-altitude Swiss spruce, as well as hide glue and thin finish, etc. My custom is similar, but made in the short scale, with Adirondack spruce. And while I find that Juber model to be particularly awesome, I was pleased the Wayne felt my guitar was right up there with it.
After we left the hotel, we drove to Brother’s Music in Wind Gap, PA, where we were treated to a pizza lunch, and I got to check out Brother’s Music’s first build. This is the first guitar they have built from scratch, with koa back and sides they had to bend to make the sides, a righteous Adirondack spruce top, 1937 style bracing, but a post-1938 1-11/16” neck, all done up in Old Style-42!
It has much more soul and depth in the bottom end then one might associate with koa, typically speaking, and that worked so well to support those angels in the high end that koa has like no other tonewood. REALLY magnificent.
And they also had a 1927 00-45 belonging to someone who wondering around Martins on Main, and was in the song circle room when I arrived Saturday night. But she and her sideman were just leaving. A pity. Oh, and they have a 1932 OM-28, in need of a lot of work on the neck and fretboard. But I have never seen a ’32 before! A very cool way to end the day.
And for all the guitars I missed out on playing at this once in a year opportunity, or maybe even once in a lifetime, there were also the people I missed out on.
So many names and faces that came and went who belong in this journal of adventure, and are in it, even if I failed to mention them directly. But for too many of them were barely brushed as I made my way to some room or another.
I got to play some sore-hand licks in the hallway, for maybe one minute, as Craig Lambeth (Craigo) tore UP a 1943 000-18. I got to hear some of Marshall Oberholtzer tearing up some blues his own weathered D-18, at the Park open mic. But saw narrow a note during the hotel jamming. But at least I got to hear Danny Kerr nailing a Jason Isbell tune that Laura would have LOVED. And then sing a stunning tune with with his partner in music Bri Fornay, and his Aunt, Margaret Prunty (0018Vfan.)
And then there are those would couldn’t make it, like Jim and Pam Fix from Arkansas, and Fred Cummings and Jim Behnke from Arizona, and Evan Blanchard from Wisconsin, and Ira Strum from New Jersey, and Bill and Amy Kunsman from Pennsylvania who had to be in Texas for very important family reasons. All wanted to be here but more important matters kept them away. And then there are those who really should come back one of these days, like Gary Hydrick, Tom Conroy, Ed Ard, Cliff and Paula Monges, Tim Porter, Rick, Marylou, and Jack Colgan, Pete Bentley, the list really does go on and on.
But their ranks have been filled with newer folks, and some who can’t always make it but did this year, like Mike Thompson from Cambridge, England, and Rod Loomis (Rod Loomis) from Michigan, who was happily back after a year off for other important matters.
As in other years, when someone would ask, “How are you?” I would answer, “I’m at Martinfest!” And enough was said.
But while this was as bittersweet as any Martinfest has been to date, there were many, many people walking around with that smile they didn’t even realize they had, because they were at Martinfest, Len Rosenberg (Ragpicker,) Dick Boak, and Tony Phillips come to mind here, as does Rich Gerardis (Rich 28H) and Sue Probst and Sue Schier (Jamesue1.)
Tuesday, 5:30 PM. I just received a call out of the blue from Jay Keller.
He said that he and Amy just woke up from their post Martinfest stupor, in Chicago, where I guess they will visit some friends or family before heading back to California.
Jay said he was emotionally drained, beyond anything he has experienced in many years.
It occurred to me that I can say the same, and that is the primary reason I have not picked up my own torch and continued with my Martinfest Journal of Adventure.
And I know I really should.
It is just, so many of us approached this Martinfest unsure how we would or could deal with the absence of Laura Voorhis, who has been such a lynchpin of this event from the very start.
I am sure I am not the only one who must have (had) some unconscious guilt going on about having a great Martinfest with Laura not there and after what she went through. Knowing she would have wanted us to have great Martinfests doesn’t change that.
And just as UMGF Administrator Doug Truxillo (dwtrux) put it, the true and full impact of Laura’s death didn’t take hold until he arrived at Martinfest. But none of us could have been prepared for one of our most-beloved members succumbing to a massive stroke in our midst, and dyeing shortly afterwards.
Those who knew Greg Kendig even a little bit can appreciate what a sad thing it is. Those who did not know him have their own comparisons to go by from those they have known and loved.
Another UMGF administrator, Ed Madonio, said how there were no words that could voice the impact of that, the grieving that has been going on. But he also praised the attendees for not turning the event into a three-day funeral, as it might easily have become. Greg, Laura, and all of our friends who went before them could not have possibly wanted such a thing.
And at the same time, the events of the past year have made every second of Martinfest so very precious, as many of those who have come to many, or even every Martinfest were forced to see how rare and special the event is, even if they have come to take it for granted on those years we can attend. And it became clear how the man or woman next to them, playing an instrument or raising their voice in song, or eating some snack or other, may not be there next year, or ever again.
That says more than enough of the whirling currents behind every word I have typed since Thursday morning.
I will start this episode, like the last one, at the end of Martinfest. Or at least what I consider the official end, when I went to bed sometime Sunday night (Monday morning.)
At the very end, sometime before dawn, after I could no long return to the room that held the final singalongs, I entered the main socializing room to find California Jay Kellor and Texas Mark Ulrich (mulirch) alone among the empty chairs and empty cups and bottles.
After some rambling conversation of music and prior Martinfests, Jay expressed his ardent need for us to sing a song with him.
It turns out to be a round, of an old German folksong. But he didn’t know what it was until Mark looked it up (and I was mighty impressed at X:xx AM that Mark could sight read it on the spot and both sing and then pick out the notes on his guitar.)
It was the first piece of music that affected Jay as a small child, who was taught it in school.
The lyrics are:
All things must parish under the sky
Music alone shall live, music alone shall live
Music alone shall live, never to die
It has always been the music that brought us to Martinfest in the first place and that which we shared in as we started building other bonds.
It allowed so many different types of people from different places and points of view to find common ground. It also allowed us to set aside our differences and enjoy other people who enjoy what may be the only thing that truly separates us from other species on this planet – music. The friendship-building humor and camaraderie developed over time, to the point that first-timers are welcomed into it and catch up in a hurry.
That last group of singers, in the smaller room across the hall, began as a Beatles singalong. This is significant. The Beatles singalong was retired some years ago, by its chief perpetrator Mike Buono (Mikey517) – one of the 17 Year Club, who has an encyclopedic memory for Beatles tunes. Back in the day the singalong would go to the weeest hours, with no song being repeated. And Mikey was always accompanied by Frank Krupit, who has a good memory for the guitar solos from most of those songs.
Others came and went, to sing, play along when they could, or just listen. But after a time it broke off into other songs by other songwriters, helped along with stalwarts like Rhys Ord, Jim Adams, Mike Thompson, Jack Rickenbach (Jackenbach,) Marian Chaprnka (MarianC) and husband Tony, and singers like Brenda Miller-Riley (MusicalBrenda) whose strength as Laura’s best friend was cherished, and whose joining in our family celebrations of our past, present, and future was some of the best medicine we could have had this weekend.
Prior to an intimate jam with old pals Maury Rutch and Rhys Ord of tunes we really can’t not play and call it a Martinfest, there was an event unique thus far in Martinfest history.
The admins and moderators asked us to join them in the main room for a champagne toast, to acknowledge the unique situation and express their gratitude that we had forged ahead and had a great Martinfest after all. It was here they made the statements mentioned above, and others too.
We laughed more than we cried, frankly, as people remembered our friends kindly. And after all that, I spoke up and reminded people that our very dear friend Paul Bonnici was very ill and had been hospitalized, and unable to attend Martinfest. For those who don’t know or remember, Paul was the night manager at the hotel where we spent most of our Martinfests, and who embraced us utterly, as we did him.
So, I stood up on a chair and asked for everyone to say “Hi Paul, we miss you. Get well soon!” And, Paul being a theater man, and I being a former one, I asked to practice it, but I was told by the throng they had it down and were ready to go. And the results were a unbridled gushing forth of heart-felt exuberance and best wishes. I sent it to Paul along with the story behind it, which he enjoyed. It was more of the best kind of medicine that had been going around Martinfest all weekend.
The toast interrupted a very fun mini-session, where visiting artist Wil Maring played bass as the Paul Ukena Trio tried to remember some of the tunes we expect to play at a gig we got while at Martinfest (August 26 at Jack Rickenbach’s place, in West Chester, PA.)
It was a shock to see how much studying I have to do to relearn all those intricate arrangements Paul came up with for those Ellington and Fats Waller tunes, etc. But it was also very cool to see how good it all sounded with an upright bass player who was such a quick study herself. We were also interrupted when Robert Bowlin came in to borrow Wil’s ears as he checked out a vintage Martin, perhaps with the hope of tracking one down for himself.
I know Paul and Wil and others returned to the swing tunes after the toast, but I had other fish to fry in terms of the sessions mentioned above.
I also tried to track down a particular guitar to check out, but didn’t until Monday, so I will save that for the epilogue post.
I had expected to use groceries for all the meals this year, out of economic necessity. But as we were coming back from the afternoon in the park, my guest, Tina, saw the Outback Steakhouse and really wanted to go. As it happened, many others were expected to go there, and we went back to hotel to freshen up and head out with them.
The waiting list at the Outback was backed out the door and around the block. So we soldiered on to the Texas Roadhouse, with Maury Rutch driving his wife Lori’s brand new car, as she sat in the back happily bonding with Tina, and the ever smiling Judy Atkins, who came along for the company and the food. Her husband Bruce (Lamplighter66) chose to remain back in his realm as Prince of Song Circles. I regret that my turns in the song circle rooms seemed to during his breaks from them. Maybe next year!
There were many other Martinfesters at the restaurant, and the atmosphere was downright giddy at times.
I felt that way at the Park that day, part of the day. It was a bit of a roller coaster. And at the very end, Rosemarie Ratvasky (BigMamaJ40) sang your heart-piercing song for Laura, and my own personal floodgates burst forth, after many prior leaks in the dyke showed that it was coming eventually.
The moment I arrived that morning I was expected out at the trees for the memorial service and before I could finish tuning my guitar the first song was underway. So with shaky hands I embarked on the introduction to the Beatles’ “In My Life” with Paul Ukena singing, and Frank Krupit providing the George Martin solo bits, which we used as both the introduction and the break.
Words were said, by Ed Madonio and Rhys Ord, and others. Although that was the end of the official memorial event, everyone stayed right there, to join us Old Guard in singing the songs chosen for some of our early losses from previous years. These included “Margaritaville,” “As Tears Go By,” “Edelweiss,” and “Ripple.”
The group photo, directed by Jay Keller (aka head of the Lollypop Guild) was as hilarious as ever, despite the swampy humidity, and there was an extra-large group of the Women of Martinfest photo, it seemed to me. And a good thing it was too.
The spontaneous announcement that there was to be a photo of the Green Dot newbies, not so much, as only three people answering that description were still on hand to pose. There were twenty-seven registered. I am truly sorry I got to meet so few of them this year.
I realize that the administrators decided Laura was irreplaceable, so there was nothing like an official opening night party. The Friday night reception idea didn’t quite fill the same niche, as many people went out to dinner instead. So I urge them to consider such a future event being billed specifically as a welcoming party for the Green Dots where people can make an effort to meet and greet them, when they are all in the same barrel, as it were.
After the 17 Year Club photo at the trees, Jay decided to place us on the concrete bridge that spans the creek – which has been particularly fast and high due to the rains of the previous days. And he took off his munchkin socks and stood in the middle of the stream, tripod sunk into the rocks.
Here is the result
Unfortunately John Hall (tippie53) missed these photos, as he had business to attend to elsewhere. But he was otherwise all over the place, singing songs, playing along, giving guitar checkups, probably installing a pickup or two, never seeming to be in a hurry, but never seeming to stop moving.
The open mike at the Park that day was exceptionally good. And I was happy to see my old friend Jim Fortmuller reprising a song he sang at the hotel, which he wrote for his sister after the death of her husband. I was also proud as punch to be able to accompany my friend “Tina” (Christine) on her official Martinfest debut, where she sang Carol King’s “It’s Too Late” after singing harmony on one of my own compositions.
I am pleased that I was able to sell nearly half the CDs I had delivered to the hotel from the manufacturer, and half of those sales happened at the Park that day. Unfortunately, we had left them at the hotel and scurried back there after the photos. So I had to miss the debut of a new song by Matt Carroll (D. Forty). I was surprised that he had not dived into the songwriter’s pool before now, given his prowess as a guitarist and a singer, and having worked professionally as the S in a CSNY tribute act. Here’s to hoping the bug has bite and we will be hearing more Matt Carroll songs this time next year.
Matt and brother Jeff (Cardinal2B) skedaddled early on Sunday. And thus began the exodus I always try to pretend isn’t happening. And since Monday was not an official Martinfest day this year, it started happening way earlier than I expected. It is like a parade that makes clear just how many people I didn’t get to pick with or sing with or even hang out with at a particular Maritnfest.
But as Mikey Buono put it long ago, “It’s OK. We don’t need to do that anymore. We’re family. Just seeing each other and having that hug is what it is really all about.”
Mike had to arrive later than usual this year, but made the most of his time, at the Sunday night singalongs, and on Sunday day at the Park, where he and Mark Stawlwick and Jim Celica were seen standing barefoot in the middle of the stream, until they talked me into joining them. The mercury was over 90 and probably over 95% humidity. So that water was nice and cold and some of those fellas just never came out, as various people joined them from time to time. After a while, I looked over to find Mike and Mark sitting in lawn chairs, still in the middle of creek! Every Martinfest one will see something new that no one had thought of before.
For some people it is the new Colorado Capo, which Matt Carroll helped invent. He had sent a prototype up here a year ago for me and some others to try out. And the branded first model was in tow this year, although I never got a chance to use it. It has a very successful design in terms of keeping things in tune, and is a U-shape capo with the screw at the back, and a gate-style piece that frets the strings, with a wild shallow plate that can be interchanged with other plates. Hard to describe on the fly. But keep your eyes peeled for it becoming available for sale!
Another last-day attendee was Scooter Ferguson (ScooterD35) who wouldn’t have missed the memorial service and 17 Year Club bonding for a pile of gold. I have only had to miss a day or two of Martinfest once in all seventeen years. But I do know what it is like when life outside Shangri La puts up those roadblocks.
Fran Kriston (custardsdad) is another 17 Year Club member I hardly got to hug before he had come and gone, back on the road to Maryland. Sorry, Fran, that I didn’t get a CD to you as requested. I’ll get your mailing address via PM.
Sunday morning started for me the usual way, having a mighty large (free) buffet breakfast at the hotel, and a chance to chat with people about what they have been up to during Martinfest and since the last one. And others gathered at the Park early enough to take part in the Worship Service of song and prayer, which led up to the memorial service at the trees.
And so another Martinfest is in the books. I am particularly grateful for my extended family for showing such a fine welcome to my friend Tina and her adorable companion Bella the wonder pooch. Being a city girl, Bella had a spectacular adventure and clearly loves you all.
Here she is, contemplating the deeper things that make Martinfest indescribable to those who’ve never been.
Having a heart the size of Ohio, Tina took the events of Thursday night about as hard as anyone could who never got to know Greg, and she had immediately bonded with Leanne earlier that evening. But the warmth and genuine friendship offered to her and seen expressed all around her helped us both make this a most memorable Martinfest never to be forgotten.
I am sure I will be editing this Journal of Adventure and adding bits I forgot to mention, and photos as they become available, from our cameras and those of others.
And the epilogue about the annual trip to Brothers and the Monday goodbyes will follow sometime later today.
Great thanks to the Admins and their many helpers (great job, Nikki and Madge, and Craig “MakenSawdust” Mayhan!) and continued best wishes to you all.
My first thought this morning was wondering if mathematician Stephen Hawking was aware of the day, given that it was his last day. R.I.P.
I would like to say, in reflection upon my lovely early morning fitness march I had yesterday in Prospect Park, when so many of my neighbors were out walking their dogs, who gleefully frolicked while catching up with their canine friends, whomever failed clean up the poop caked into the tread of my New Balance shoe, I hope your dog turns on you and shits on your pillow.
Inspired by Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake Bible, “Wax Wolf” by Henry Tenney and your humble Spoon
Hank showed up with some lyrics and they fit surprisingly well with the music I had been flirting with just before he arrived
Video by Dame Darcy
Literature Inspiring Artists
Bushwick Book Club, the brainchild of the amazing Susan Hwang, features artists who create works after reading various pieces of literature.
Now taking place in cities from Seattle to Sweden, the local host chooses a different book for each show, and invites a select group of artists to read it and create music, or dance, or visual art inspired by it.
Normally it is a novel, or play. But in this case it was the collective issues of Meat Cake, the macabre world created by post-feminist visionary cartoonist Dame Darcy.
A renaissance woman of many talents, Darcy’s 2016 tome Meat Cake Bible includes all 17 issues of Meat Cake (published by Fantagraphics from 1993 to 2008), and includes stories from the unpublished 18th issue.
An Idaho native and bi-coastal bi-continent performer, the author was in town for the Brooklyn Book Fair, and I was quite excited to find her waiting for us at Barbes, on 9th Street in Park Slope, where Bushwick Book Club was convening.
She performed some eerily beautiful music to close the evening. And she told me she recently had a screenplay based on Meat Cake optioned, and she was soon to leave for the Coast to begin the process of having it made into a movie.
The Return of Hanknspoon
TV writer Henry Tenney and I have worked together since our college days. He was one of my original roommates in this apartment building, back before the flood, a member of the Soho theater company I ran in the 1990s, and has been the front man for two bands I started, the Cheese Beads and the Highland Shatners.
And it was Hank who first started calling me Spoon, the name that eventually stuck when it comes to my musical persona.
This was our second collaboration writing a song for Bushwick Book Club, the previous song being created from Galápagosby Kurt Vonnegut. He also sang backing vocals on the tune I composed for the Book Club show based around Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
The next Bushwick Book Club performance will also take place at Barbes, October 10th. The book will be Light on Life, by B. K. S. Iyengar, the so-called Michelangelo of Yoga.