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Vance Gilbert

Monday Brain Droppings

I’m home after a whirlwind 9 days including a red-eye with no sleep. And I wouldn’t for a nanosecond trade it. Here’s why, in terrifically loose order:

First came The Iron Horse, while sporting an intimate less-than-80 people show, was a wonder for all of us, even if the wings were undercooked. The new cook is forgiven, as the sauce made up for it all. Is chicken tartare avec bone a thing?

Teaching and being at Rocky Mt Folks was as illuminating as it always is to me. Thank you head-injured and catastrophically-memory-lost young 17 year old lady. You lost your book of songs in whatever accident caused your memory loss, but when you opened your mouth and sang out came the purest, guileless voice with the most thoughtful lyrics of one of the songs you had begun to remember. Yes, the class cried, all of us cried, not out of any pity or amazement at the bravery coming out of your mouth. More out of our loss of innocence when we open ours. Thank you.

Teaching at Liv Taylor’s retreat was a wonder. In particular, thanks to David, and your crew, for making the effort. You have a row to hoe, being a 47 year old Black man holding a mic doing “Georgia", after copping Ray Charles’ version for however long you have. I’m not sorry I pushed you to get away from Brother Ray’s inflections and phrasing. You said that you were happy that I pushed you, in your resonant, thoughtful, halting, tuneful speech. But then again you seem joyful about just being here, period. I’ll bet being in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and having someone holler at you after each sung line to “Phrase differently!!” or “Stop being Ray - be you!!” was just a bit daunting, but hey, that’s my job. You saw the faces in class around you, agape at your new-found flexibility. Man, have you got “it”.

To all the Virgin Voices. Those that have never sung. You come to my class, and your stories are all different and yet all the same. You’ve never sung because you were told not to. You were instead sent to gym class early. Or a family member put the cap on you, and it, in your very house. Or you just never did, and no one encouraged you to even try. Yet at this point in your life you come to my class with everything from expensive Taylors to Yamahas to a wish to borrow any guitar and just try it, and you just try it, and without fail, your voice, every one, no matter how blaring or how tentative or how faint, is a revelation of truth to anyone who hears it. And you sit a little taller when you are done with my “critique”.

You’ll never be a pro at this. But I am certain that you go to work this Monday, still a little taller, and you make one more try at getting this person services at your Social work place, or you make that deal with that architect for supplies with a smile that says “sure I’ll happily work with you on that price”, or you do something, something, that puts that extra bit of love, forgiveness, accommodation, compromise, confidence in your day to day. Someone is your beneficiary. You bet, the world and those in it thank you for that. All of us. I say thank you and you’re welcome.

Then Aretha dies. And here I’m teaching people to sing and play. I’m all at once a charlatan, angry, fearful of getting old myself, and in profound loss. To be clear, I never knew her. Never got to meet her. Both times I opened for her, leaders of her entourage would tell me “WE don’t care that you were just there (up on the stage for 25 minutes 5 minutes ago), No one watches from back stage.” Well hell, they were watching!

Sure that hurts, even today. But I was there. I saw her rehearse her band with her left hand on the piano, right hand conducting, barking bar lines and chords to the horns and rhythm section, as “sound check”. I saw enough from backstage cracked open door (I was NOT to be denied) to see her do a monster, performance-defining whole show with a fully cast, broken foot, saying something like “…one foot has on the nicest shoe EVER, thanks to that low table and me walking across the hotel room in the dark…”. You want to know about a music lesson?

I always teach my performance class at Rocky Mountain Folks in a large tent next to the kitchen, and it was the chef, Marcus, that came out after the class with that incredible voiced head-injured teen and took me aside with, “Hey, I know this must be a rough day for you, you know, with Aretha being gone and all... Look I’ve listened to you teach back here for 15 years of summers, and you’ve never sounded more inspired than today. Maybe that’s what you take from this? Enjoyed it as usual, but today - something special”. Takes my empty plate and walks back into the kitchen.

Then Friday I put on a smoking hot set at the Wildflower Pavilion at the Rocky Mountain fest. Sure, I opened that show with Until You Come Back To Me. All are on their feet. I end the show waving with one hand, an eight-year old that adores me in my arms clinging tightly to my neck whispering “…love you, Uncle Vance”.

And just when it couldn’t get any better, as I walked to my car I heard another musician singing my praises to a nationally syndicated folk show’s producer/host that has vowed, I know, to never have “high whiney-voiced male singers the likes of Vance Gilbert” on their show as long as they were alive. I went up to them, greeted, shook hands, chatted, laughed, shook hands again, best wishes, see ya. “Not too shabby a show of class” I say to myself.

Maybe because I’m just a little taller in my day too.
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updated: 3 months ago