Oh man, I just had the COOLEST day!
As a Music Together teacher headquartered near a major metropolitan area, I’ve met some varied and interesting people over the years. Not like my friend Erin Lee, who’s met Hugh Jackman and Al Pacino, but still, being out in the world like that can lead to unexpected results. And of course, there’s always that dream of being “discovered.”
It didn’t happen exactly that way, but…
One of Music Together’s newest rising stars is Paul Godwin, a Center Director from San Francisco who leads a fun-lovin’ band of kiddie rockers called The Sippy Cups. I’m not sure why (and who cares?), but Paul got it into his head that when his band hit South Street Seaport in NYC, they should invite some Music Together folks to open the show with some rousing sing-along tunes.
My boss Lisa, bless her heart, knows how much I love any chance to jump on stage, so she forwarded Paul’s invitation to me back in May. Showing my usual remarkable restraint, I called Paul (well, he was foolish enough to put his number on the invitation) and pretty much booked myself a slot, right then and there. He was very agreeable and friendly, even though I’m pretty sure I woke him up–big time difference to San Francisco, oops!
Anyway, I’ll fast-forward through the e-mail barrage of the next two months and get right to today’s show. The deal was: The Sippy Cups played two sets, one at noon and one at three, and local Music Together franchises were invited to lead the crowd in some sing-alongs to open each set. I got the three o’clock set because I had to teach in the morning; Lisa was going to participate in the noon set but had to back out at the last minute because she’s got swollen vocal chords, which is pretty crappy for someone who sings for a living. Send good thoughts her way!
The moment my class ended at 12:30, I packed up as fast as I could, with the help of the redoubtable Justin. I’d asked him along to help me sell Fuzzy Lemons CDs at the gig (another cool thing about Paul and the Sippy Cups: They were totally o.k. with us bringing our own merchandise). Justin came equipped with a subway map, thank goodness, and a backpack full of cables and tuners and such because that’s the kind of guy he is. I was carrying a guitar, banjo, my own bag of cables and tuners, and our case full of CDs. It was quite a load and I was grateful to Justin for his help.
I was sharing the stage with two other area teachers, Toby Williams and Ilusha Tsinadze. After stumbling around South Street Seaport for a bit, Justin and I found Toby and her boss, Theresa, lounging outside the venue between shows, about a half-hour before soundcheck. (We’d e-mailed back and forth to pick our songs, but never met face-to-face to rehearse anything, so I was mildly surprised to suddenly be reminded that Toby is a girl and Ilusha is a guy.) We puttered around there, making goo-goo faces at Toby’s adorable 9-month-old and swapping gig stories. Toby knows some of the same East Village cabaret types that I do. (More on that in another entry someday. Maybe.)
At about 2:15 we moseyed into the SpiegelTent on Pier 17, normally home to much more risqué, after-hours burlesque-circus acts. It’s a cool room built like an old circus tent, with a trapeze hanging from the ceiling and a solid wooden floor that right away sounded to me like it would be perfect for foot-stomping. A helpful young fellow calling himself Check, with an accent, full beard, and dreds, ran a quick and efficient soundcheck for us (I was the one with the most equipment, a guitar AND a banjo).
The Sippy Cups started arriving from their lunch break while we were setting up, and introductions went around. Paul heard me warming up my banjo and said “wow, banjo man!” A moment later Sippy Alison came in and said “Hey, banjo man!” So Banjo Man I was.
Now, I’ll be totally honest here, I’d been fantasizing since May that they’d ask me up on stage with them. It’s a big part of the reason I brought my banjo and not just my guitar. I didn’t think it would happen, and I certainly didn’t feel entitled or anything… So my heart leapt when Paul said to his bandmates “Hey, is there a song we can use the banjo in?”
I held my breath. They batted a couple of song ideas around, and it didn’t seem like there was anything suitable. Oh well. Then Paul and Alison said “Elephant!” It’s an old Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd song, three chords, key of C, perfect. Paul took me quickly through the changes and that was that, I was invited to play banjo with them during their set.
If you’re thinking “wow, Dave, you really turned into a star-struck fanboy in a hurry!” you’d be absolutely right. If you’re thinking “Wow, you’re such an egomaniac that you just assumed the band would love you and want you to join them,” you’d be right about that, too. At about that time I realized that I REALLY wished I had a camera. Justin was loitering, having nothing to do now that he’d deposited the Lemons CDs with the merchandise people. I begged him to go find a camera. He said he wasn’t sure where to find one. “This is South Street Seaport,” I reminded him. “There’s got to be a shop with cheap disposables somewhere!” There was, and he was back in moments ready to capture my moment of glory.
Three o’clock came pretty quickly, and I was the first one up for the Music Together portion. I led off with “The Hello Song,” naturally. At least half the room had taken Music Together (and there were several more Music Together teachers in the crowd, as well, including Susan Darrow all the way from Montclair, NJ) so it didn’t take long to get them all singing along. Then I switched to the banjo for my world-famous “Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain/Workin’ on the Railroad” medley. I’d been right, the wood floor sounded great with everyone stomping their feet.
Toby was next, and after she accompanied herself on a fun version of “Kookaburra,” I got up and played slide guitar for her as she sang “City Blues.” That was a lot of fun, Toby is a Movement Person and so we did lots of motions—not easy when one is playing slide guitar, but a lot of fun to try. At one point she brought us down, down, down, until I was on my back on the floor. Very silly.
Ilusha got up and did the ever-popular “I Had a Little Frog” chant, followed by his own slide (dobro, actually) version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” He’s a fantastic musician, and very friendly. I’m sorry we didn’t get to rehearse anything in advance of the show, I think we could have put together a scorcher of a set. Maybe next time. Because, as fun as it was leading my sing-along set, I always have more fun jamming with others.
The Music Together segment ended with the beautiful lullaby “May All Children,” with Toby and I retaking the stage with Ilusha, and even Sippy Paul got up to join us. It was a lovely moment.
Then… the Sippy Cups took the stage, and they hit the ground running! Their show has juggling, costumes, confetti cannons, trapeze artists, enormous balloons bouncing in the audience… oh, and the music is fantastic too. Justin and I watched carefully, enjoying the show but also absorbing and assimilating the things that we might
steal adopt for The Fuzzy Lemons.
I was on after the trapeze artist, who preformed her routine while the band played the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” (and played it very well). I grabbed my banjo and waited backstage.
Paul introduced me as “Dave Williams,” mashing me and Toby together into one person, but he name-checked the Fuzzy Lemons so I didn’t mind so much. Then he put on an elephant mask and went out in the audience to sing “Elephant” while I followed the band. It’s a pretty straightforward song, and they gave me big cues for the stops and tempo changes, and frankly I think I nailed it. I even gave myself permission to experiment a little, roaming up the neck and throwing in some harmonics. Oh I wish I had a video of it. Justin got pics with the disposable, but it’s anyone’s guess how those will come out (because of the camera, not because of Justin).
It was over too quickly.
Not long after, they closed with “Goodbye, So Long, Farewell” and invited us all back up to join them. Ilusha had left, and Toby was outside with her 9-month-old, so there I was on stage with the Sippy Cups again. After the goodbye song the band launched into their Ramones cover, “I Wanna be Elated.” I was still up there, so I let my hair down and joined in the fun (which lead to the only bad moment of the day–I left my cowboy hat on stage and forgot to pick it up again afterwards). Paul leaned over to me and shared the mic, and we “bah bah bah-bah’d” happily together. Paul’s my hero.
After the set, everyone lingered outside for some meet-n-greet. I hung out at the merchandise table for a bit, trying to help move Fuzzy Lemons CDs before going outside to chat with the band and the fans. I posed for some pictures with Paul and even signed a couple of autographs. To the people who asked me to autograph their Fuzzy Lemons CDs: Hold on to those, they’ll be worth big bucks someday. To the people who asked me to autograph Sippy Cups merchandise: I’m sorry, I’m not really with the band and I kinda feel bad about signing. But not THAT bad.
Then Justin and I went home. I owe him a dinner. I could have gotten there and done what I did alone, but it was just better having a friend along.
I hope that a budding relationship with the Sippy Cups turns into some real connections, maybe some gig-swaps or opening-act arrangements. I think those long-term benefits will outweigh the fact that I only sold four Fuzzy Lemons CDs today. Watch this space!
-- Weather When Posted --
- Temperature: 64°F;
- Humidity: 93%;
- Heat Index: 64°F;
- Wind Chill: 64°F;
- Pressure: 30.17 in.;