I had a very musical and enlightening weekend: Saturday, I went with two of my sons and my brother's family to the Clearwater Festival in Croton-On-Hudson. A celebration of the environment, left-leaning politics, peace, love, understanding and music of all shapes and forms, I got to hear gospel, Malian trance rock, New Orleans jazz, modern jazz, Cajun music and so much more. With five stages, a family-friendly vibe, carnival food on one side of the park and "artisanal" organic food on the other and an acre of polemic from anti-fracking and anti-nuclear to veterans against the war to veganism, it's an impressive mix of people and causes. There was even a place to try out pretty nearly any instrument you could think of -- everything from an electric keyboard to an ibex horn shofar to the Appalachian dulcimer/balalaika hybrid (I fell and in love with so much that I went to one of the craftsmen and bought an inexpensive dulcimer neck to create my own). It is a fascinating, refreshing way to spend a late spring day (or weekend, as it is a two-day affair). The event began a year-long celebration of Woody Guthrie's centenary. Some one should run for office on the "This Land Is Your Land" platform.
On Sunday, I spent Father's Day with the self-same two sons in the Northeast Village, dropping off books for the New Music Seminar, wandering around Astor Place (it loses something without the plaza and cube -- what are they doing in there?) and finally, going back for the opening session of the Seminar, the songwriter's round-table. Here, we heard Desmond Child describe working on several of his big hits like "Living On A Prayer," playing a ballad-like version of it that was so much more affecting than Bon Jovi's hit version. Jodi Marr playing "Grace Kelly," (Child -- "Is that how the lyrics go?") and Claude Kelly explaining Bruno Marr's "Grenade."
These two events had some strange nexuses. One was the demographic. Both seemed to skip twenty years between audience members. There was the 50+ crowd. At NM, us elder statesmen recognized that the times they were a changin' and wanted to be part of it. At Clearwater, they were the old lefties who could sing along with all of the Woody Guthrie songs except for some of the tunes from Mermaid Avenue. Then there was the 20-30 crowd, happily a majority at both events, though more so at NMS. There, they were mostly musicians, managers or songwriters wanting to exacerbate the change, or, like their elders, to figure it out. At Clearwater, they were there either to groove to the music and catch some rays, or to become genuinely involved in changing the world. Then there were the kids. In both cases, they had been dragged by parents and grandparents. At NMS, there were only a few, who -- like mine -- were there because it was what dad wanted to do. At Clearwater, there were more, out for a day of learning something about their culture and their world.
The other nexus (at least the one that I experienced) had to do with a song. At Clearwater, Joan Osborne played a set with the amazing Holmes Brothers, a group that was able to turn Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me" from a slice of teen angst to a testament of adult yearning. Their last song was Osborne's big hit, "(What if God Was) One Of Us," her controversial song that asked what if God was the guy with his tie loosened and shirt untucked sitting next to you on the bus? With the Holmes Brothers, it became a slab of churning gospel music, celebrating the fact that God was within all of us, that God is one of us. A perfect note for Clearwater, a message about unity even the atheists in the crowd could get behind.
At NMS, the final member of the songwriting panel was Eric Bazilian, former Hooter and songwriter extraordinaire. He played two songs that showed his deep, catholic Catholic roots -- "All You Zombies" and the panel-ending version of "(What if God Was) One of Us." His solo guitar version -- with everyone singing along on the chorus -- was a testimony to the divine workings of the creative process. It was a five minute song that he claims to have written in eight minutes.
I don't want to make too much of the juxtaposition of these two events -- as with most of us, I walk in many worlds. And in both worlds, I am moved.
PHOTOS: My Weekend of Music