Originally appeared in Lumpen (not very friendly to text-based browsers, sadly)
A Tribute to Phil Ochs Benefit for the Autonomous Zone 2-14-97 @The Gallery Cabaret... A Hootenanny!
This event was so much fun that I want to share a few words about it with ya'll.
A couple of weeks ago LeRoy Bach called and asked if I would help MC this benefit with him. Of course I agreed to do the show (due to the fact that I'm a flaming ham sandwich and jump at the chance to get on stage). Later LeRoy and I got together and discussed the purpose of the tribute. LeRoy wanted to be sure that in the end of the night everybody there would feel good inside. And not because it was the corporate Hallmark night of material love. We wanted to offer better reasons for a person to feel good. We were challenged because, unfortunately Phil committed suicide and at times his songs were so damn heavy. LeRoy didn't want this to be a depressing event, but INSPIRING! Like so many things in REAL life (and especially with extremes) there is polarity, many Phil Ochs songs are funny and ironic, while others are serious and sad. The main idea that we agreed needed to be expressed was that Phil Ochs wasn't just a war protest songwriter or just a product of the 60's rather that he carried on a tradition of songs as old and timeless as any struggle by humanity. And most importantly to not forget the struggle as well as these new or old traditional songs continue to touch your lives everyday. I guess I want to believe our words are not written in water.
OK OK enough preachy stuff...
A few highlights of the show:
I got the chills when Ed Burch opened the show with "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night" by Billy Bragg. He then told the tale of actually dreaming he saw Phil Ochs and in this dreamland in Champaign he told Phil about the tribute show and invited him to join us. It still gives me the chills when I think of it (do you think he came?). A sweet man named Howie, got on stage and reminisced about the times of Vietnam....how he listened to "I Ain't Marchin Anymore" over and over and over as he went to protests. He didn't sound corny he just told it like it was. He then broke into "The Ballad of Medgar Evers".
LeRoy and Lea Tshilds sang "Hickory Wind" (Grand Parsons) and "Bells" (an Edgar Allen Poe poem that Phil Ochs and Bob Gibson put to music). At this point I had a "strobe moment", which is a term I use for a moment in time that is so vivid and intense it gets burned into my soul and I will never forget it (Whoa heavy man). Lea's voice strikes me as being clear and strong. I mean the girl's got lungs! It's rare to hear such a voice that is so pleasing to the ear. Hear this ALL EARS HAVE BEEN PLEASED! And then no decent hootenanny would be complete without a good sing along to "Well May the World Go" (by Pete Seeger). I'm such a sucker for a sing along. I think the men sang louder, but the women sang better. Bill Dolan on bass and Jim Becker on mandolin and/or tap steel along with LeRoy on guitar played "Arkansas Traveler" and a few other songs I can't name but they practically filled the room with clean country air and a square dance vibe. Let me tell you that Jim Becker's musicianship is so diverse and talented that I practically idolize the guy... he's a musical phenomena, a freak!!! Not to mention he plays my two favorite instruments. He won my heart.
Joaquin De La Puente (of D.O.G. and the coverboy of the latest Lumpen Sex Issue) just off the plane from El Salvador looking tan and tough in his fatigues, belting out an original song getting the verses mixed up (I imagine he was suffering from "Civilization Re-Entry Syndrome"). But Joaquin is such a dynamic character it did not matter that he could not remember the words, it sort of added charisma. He's got something special... call it pheromone, call it whatever you want. He's worth watching.
That's a fact.
I have to say it ALL was so wonderful, but the best part of the show was when Dwain Story, Chloris Noelke and Jim Becker on the lap steel got up there and showed us the true sense of traditional folk music. Dwain used to live with Phil in New York and has been part of the folk music for (gosh) over 25 years. He did a few of his own songs along with Chloris harmonizing in that old time style that you never hear live anymore, but wish you did. They also did a few of Phil's tunes. The last song was a gory car crash ballad dedicated to all the friends that died before their time due to drugs and alcohol. It was actually very beautiful. I'm thankful to have seen Dwain. It felt like I was given a door prize. Well so much happened this night, I can't begin to tell you (although I have). There were many many performers and they were all great. Finally, LeRoy closed the show with a thanks and a song for parting. At this point I truly felt that we were all walking away with warmth inside that perhaps would kindle a fire of fascination and maybe even.. MAYBE... inspiration.