Saturday, December 1, 2012

New CD EP! - Terry Kitchen & Mara Levine

Back in 2008, I did a gig in New Jersey with my NJ folksinger friends Spook Handy and Arlon Bennett. They both were joined by the same harmony singer, who in addition to having a great voice had a tasteful sense of what to add to each song. After the show I made a point of telling her how much I enjoyed her performance. She said her name was Mara Levine, and offered to back me up next time I was in the area. I was smart enough to say yes, and a couple weeks later she joined me for a few songs at the Minstrel Coffeehouse in Morristown. A few weeks after that she joined me for a whole set at the People’s Voice Cafe in NYC. Since then we've performed together whenever I'm down from Boston, with me accompanying her on some songs as well as her accompanying me.

This past summer we had the chance to record a few of our favorite songs together, and the result is a new 4-song CD, Terry Kitchen & Mara Levine. It includes Mara's beautiful rendition of my song "A Perfect Rose," duet versions of my songs "One by One (Song for Trayvon Martin)" and "The Favor," and my accompanying Mara on the Gershwin classic "Summertime."

The CD was orignally intended as a promotional item for radio and the 2012 NERFA folk conference, but we have a few copies left, so if you want one (just in time for Christmas...) please visit my webpage at (and bonus points if you request us from your favorite folk rado station). We'll also be appearing together in 2013 (at the Buttonwood Tree in CT on 3/8 as well as other shows) so hope to see you then!

                                                                                                  Happy Holidays,
                                                                                                  terry k 

Friday, October 19, 2012

T Max - The Man Behind The Noise

            Many, if not most, Boston bands got their very first press in a fanzine called, appropriately enough, The Noise. First published in September 1981 - the very month my band Loose Ties hit town from Ohio - The Noise has now been in continuous publication for over 30 years. I wrote for The Noise in the '80s (and was even on The Noise's bowling team...) and remember some great anniversary parties. I recently caught up with T Max, The Noise's only-ever Editor-in-Chief, in his lair in Gloucester, and we spoke amidst guitar cases, files of back issues, and T.'s excellent hat collection.


tk: So why The Noise?

T Max: I was playing guitar in a band called The Machines, and we couldn't get any press. So we figured if we started our own monthly mag, we'd at least get one article per month. (T. pulls out the first issue, and sure enough on page 3 there's a Machines write-up.) At least we didn't put ourselves on the cover… It was a band effort, we'd write it, then one guy would make a thousand copies at his office and smuggle them out - page one on one day, page two the next day - then we'd get together and staple them.
tk: How long did the band last?

T Max: About a year from then. We did a 45, "Disposable Music," which made the cover of issue 3.

tk: By the time we met, I don't think you were playing.

T Max: After The Machines broke up, the other guys lost interest in The Noise, but I thought the scene needed it so I kept it going. It started feeling like a conflict of interest to be both playing in the scene and writing about it.

tk: I notice the very first issue has the famous bugle logo…

T Max: …which I lifted from Time Magazine. My mother-in-law worked for Time, and I asked her if she thought they'd mind. She told me no one who read Time was going to read The Noise. I occasionally played a bugle in my very first band, TCD - Mr. Timothy Charles Duane, dating back to high school on Long Island. We were very creative, used ukulele, clarinet, bugle, guitar, and three part harmonies like the Andrews Sisters. We moved to Martha's Vineyard together and got pretty popular. Then I started feeling claustrophobic on the island, and moved to Boston in '79. I joined Artyard - 

tk: I remember them!

T Max: I thought I added a lot, but I eventually got kicked out. I was trying make it my thing when it was already their thing. I guess I wasn't meant to follow.

tk: But you're playing again now.

T Max: I'm doing the solo singer-songwriter thing, though I gig with my Gretch (electric) instead of an acoustic.

tk: Go Gretch! - The main character in my book plays a lime green Country Gentleman. You have a new CD out, On British TV, that's about half your songs and half covers, including a Sonny & Cher tune (!), and a stark, Leonard Cohen-esque "No Reply," which was also on the Low Budget Beatles tribute Across Their Universe.

T Max: I've been opening my shows with it, people seem to like it. I recorded the CD in Haverhill, out in the country, very different vibe than Kenmore Square…

tk: …which was where my band's rehearsal space was. When I moved to town it seemed The Noise always championed the underground, avant garde bands that wouldn't get played on WBCN.

T Max: BCN was such a big deal - they had a local Top 3 they'd run in the Phoenix, and those bands could pretty much count on sold out shows that week. I interviewed Oedipus (WBCN's music director) early on; he liked The Noise. But who we covered was pretty much determined by our writers. I never said, go out and write about so-and-so. The writers have never been paid, so they write about who they want to.

tk: Yeah, I did some reviews for The Noise, and seem to recall that… One thing that impressed me about the Boston scene was the accessibility. I'd lived for five years in LA, and the record companies all had security people prowling the lobby, you could barely talk to a receptionist without an appointment. But Boston had the Cars building a studio, with one of their stated goals being recording new bands.

T Max: Synchro Sound [the Cars' studio] was The Noise's first paid advertiser.

tk: That period, early-to-mid '80s, seemed like a very hot time, with the Cars' studio on Newbury St., Aimee Mann working across the street at Newbury Comics and then her band 'Til Tuesday getting signed. Publishing The Noise for 30 years now, are you aware of ebbs and flows in the Boston scene?

T Max: It's funny, whenever somebody asks me that, they always remember their time, the five or six years they were active on the scene, as when it was really hot. We had a great scene in the late '80s, then the goth scene in the '90s, and all the Boston Rock Opera shows [which T Max was one of producers of, from 1990-2000]. I've come to the conclusion that there wasn't one Boston scene - there are five to seven scenes happening at any given moment, who don't know the people outside their own scene. I only know because my writers write about them.

tk: Has the magazine changed now that you're up in Gloucester, after leaving Jamaica Plain after 28 years?

T Max: I used to be out in clubs every night. Now it's more like a few times a month. You'll notice our masthead now says "Music New England" - I want to cover artists who have had some success, who are doing creative things, across the region. Freezepop (on the cover of the current issue) did two completely different videos for their latest single, and set up their website so you can toggle back and forth between them as you listen to the song. That deserved the cover.

tk: I notice Rita and Lolita - the Rona Barretts of Boston rock -  are still at it.

T Max: They were in the very first issue. "The question of the month" was an excuse to talk to people. Even though we were a tiny little fanzine, I always thought of us as a real magazine.

tk: That sounds like a good note to end on. Can you imagine stopping?

T Max: No - I've always been attracted to creativity, and that doesn't change.

Visit to check out the latest issue of The Noise, and for a sample of T Max's latest CD. And any similarities between The Noise and any fanzine in my upcoming novel are purely coincidental and not legally actionable...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Long live the King…

          Last weekend I was at my mom's in Pennsylvania, not far from Hershey, where the Farm Aid concert was going on. I saw a snippet of the press conference, with Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and the other artists in folding director's chairs, kidding each other back and forth while talking up the cause. I had a thought - wouldn't Elvis have enjoyed that, sitting back in one of those chairs, wisecracking, being part of that rarefied group. He never got to be the elder statesman, like Willie or Johnny Cash, basking in the respect of his peers. He was gone at 42.
            I was born the year Elvis was drafted, and growing up he was just the guy in the drag race movies, shaking his hips and singing about clambakes to his latest female co-star. I was a Beatles kid. But in college I read Greil Marcus's book Mystery Train, and I was curious enough to listen to The Sun Sessions, Elvis's first rockabilly recordings. My roots only went back as far as A Hard Day's Night, but even I could recognize that Elvis had it - from day one he had both that souped up high register that cut through the band and jumped out of the speakers, and that low, sexy, intimate "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" whisper that had women tossing panties at him two decades later. And his place in history was secured when John Lennon said simply "Before Elvis there was nothing."
In August of '77 I was just back from being a camp counselor, hanging out in my best friend's basement where our band rehearsed, when I heard Elvis had died. Too bad for him, but the flowers and tearful crowds outside Graceland didn't mean anything to me. Into the '80s I was caught up in my own band's music, but every once and a while Elvis peeked through - Robert Plant covering Elvis's "Little Sister" at the Concert for Kampuchea; Warren Zevon's song "Jesus Mentioned," with its line about digging up the King, begging him to sing; Ellen Foley, when asked between songs at a Channel gig who she listened to, answering "Elvis." "Costello or Presley?" "Presley! He's much more original." (No offence, E.C.). Paul Simon calling his South African album Graceland.
In the '90s I picked up another Elvis book, Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis, and a box of his '60s recordings. There were early musical high points - his minimalist, breathy version of "Fever," the Peggy Lee hit - and late high points - "Suspicious Minds" and "Kentucky Rain," from his '69 Memphis sessions - but lots of undistinguished, and indistinguishable, stuff in between. I didn't even consider his '70s output, when he was wearing jumpsuits and playing Vegas. I pretty much put him aside, and got deeper into folk and blues, and even country, which in its primal form is just another American folk music.
Then in 2008 I was in Memphis for a folk conference. I skipped out one morning and took the tour of Sun Records, the original studio miraculously still standing where it had fifty years ago. I got to stand, and sing a few bars, in the exact spot Elvis had stood singing "That's Alright Mama" and "Good Rockin' Tonight," and see the "million dollar quartet" photo of Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins - all Sun artists - singing gospel around the studio's piano. Sam Phillips gets all the credit for discovering Elvis, but I learned it was Marion Keisker, his receptionist, who had to keep bugging him to give the kid a chance. I bought a shirt with the Sun rooster logo and encored my next few shows with "Can't Help Falling In Love."
That might have been it, but a couple years later when Borders was clearing out its racks I saw a half-price compilation called Elvis Country. By this time I considered Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard up there as songwriters with Lennon and McCartney, even if you couldn't dance to them. I blew six bucks and added it to my stack.
Here's the thing. It was good. Really good. It wasn't high energy, wasn't rock'n'roll or even honky-tonk. It was calmer, maybe the way John Lennon's Double Fantasy is calmer, more assured. In reading the minimal credits, I found it was mostly from the '70s recordings that I'd dismissed. Standards ("For the Good Times," future standards ("Always on My Mind," soon to be Willie Nelson's theme), a perfect version of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" that felt much deeper than Danny O'Keefe's original. Elvis's voice was rounder, fuller, than I'd ever heard it. I got a copy of Careless Love, the second volume of Guralnick's Presley bio, with a cover photo of a youngish Elvis looking wary, like he doesn't trust what's happening. Good call.
The book starts the year I was born, with Elvis in the service, having just lost his mother. I won't retell the book, suffice to say it's surreal and sad - the pills, the hollow Hollywood years, the domineering huckster manager - and we all know the ending. But it did help me appreciate, and differentiate, the vast body of music Elvis left. I think the bigger crime of his '60s period wasn't the countless, identically plotted movie vehicles, but his manager's insistence that Elvis only sing songs they owned the publishing on. Greed versus art, pure and simple - while the world was changing at lightning speed, and Dylan, Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and Smokey Robinson were writing their masterpieces, Elvis was given retreads by the same team who churned out his '50s hits, keeping him stuck in a time warp. And Elvis, polite, superstitious Elvis, was too meek to tell his manager to fuck off, and too passive and pill-riddled to go out and find his own songs. But again there were high points: the '68 TV special where Elvis insisted on black leather instead of the tuxedo Colonel Parker wanted him to wear, the '69 Memphis sessions, the crack touring band Elvis assembled, with the underrated James Burton on lead guitar.
By the '70s, with Elvis depressed about his divorce and ballooning weight, RCA was so happy to have him record anything that the publishing stranglehold was relaxed, and he got to make what to me stand as his best recordings. They weren't groundbreaking - he'd broken his ground in the '50s - and taken en masse they're a bit heavy on the ballads, but he tackled, and mostly mastered, an impressive array of songs and styles (collected in another box set, of course, called Walk a Mile in My Shoes). There's blues ("Merry Christmas Baby"), country/folk (Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright"), even vintage rock'n'roll ("Burnin' Love," his last true hit). His last-ever movie, the '72 documentary Elvis on Tour, captured him at his peak, with all the mythology - the scarves, jumpsuits and jeweled sunglasses - in place, but before the myth ossified into parody.
So what happened? For one thing, eighteen years of pills - uppers in the Army and on movie sets, then sleeping pills and pain killers to follow - caught up with him. He'd been to the dentist the day he died, and gotten codeine along with his daily regimen. Like all addicts, he was cagey - had doctors in Vegas and California sending him pills his Memphis doctor never knew about - and self-deceptive to the point of getting deputized to be an undercover DEA agent. He was also addicted to spending money, and unlike, say, Paul McCartney, wasn't a songwriter, so he had to keep performing to pay expenses. And all the people around him, the people who supposedly loved him, who should have said, stop, you're killing yourself, were making money off him too. His manager had million-dollar gambling debts - time for another tour. Even his doctor borrowed money off him for a new house. Elvis was smart enough to know he was buying friendship. At least Sinatra's Rat Pack were all performers in their own right, not dependent on Frank for their next meal. At least the Beatles had each other for a reality check. Elvis was alone, unequalled in sheer volume of fame until Michael Jackson, who met an eerily similar fate.
So far I've cleverly avoided the pitfalls of fame and fortune, and as I make my rounds these days as a struggling songwriter / folksinger / author, I'm likely to have an Elvis disc in my pack, maybe the one with the stunning version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on it, or the bargain cut-out with original non-remixed "Little Less Conversation." Of course I like the music, but it's more than that. I guess I just don't like the idea of him being left all alone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Checkin' in with The Atlantics' axeman Fred Pineau

I recently caught up with Fred Pineau, lead guitarist of the Atlantics, one of the most successful Boston bands of the late '70s and early '80s. Fred went on to produce records by local bands, including a 1985 EP by my band Loose Ties, which yielded a #1 local hit (my only #1 thus far…), a ska take on the Stones' "Last Time." Fred had just hit the stage with his band Big City Rockers at a V66 Reunion concert at the House of Blues, but he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his Atlantics days.

tk: You're probably best known as the guitarist of the Atlantics, but you'd played in some local bands before that. I recall seeing a photo of you and another Boston rock stalwart, John Horvorka, who later formed the Turbines, trading licks at a '70s outdoor concert. Do you remember the band? Any other pre-Atlantics moments stand out?

FP: The photo was taken on the Cambridge Common; they had free Sunday concerts there for several summers during the early '70s. The band was called, and I have always really, really hated this name, Ozone Shirley. I don't remember why, but I do remember that the other suggestion was Chrome Rat. The drummer was Richee Johnson, who went on to The Boize. Later John and I were in Automatic Slim, with Vampyre Mike Kassel on the other guitar. Mike moved San Francisco and became a writer, but sadly passed away a few years back. At the time there was no original scene in Boston, only cover band clubs, so we wasted away from a lack of shows. The shows we did play, though, were like the Wild West - anything could happen. In '75 I put together a band called Bonjour Aviators that included one of the drummers from the '60s hard rock band Blue Cheer.

tk: ...who at one time were listed in the Guinness Book as the World's Loudest Band...

FP: I believe it. Anyway, another Aviator was Kim Preston, who (along with Jon Butcher) was one of the few black rock performers in Boston at the time. Kim grew up in NYC, and his best friend was Richard Lloyd of Television. We were beating our heads against the wall since there was still no place to play in Boston, but then Kim told us about two NYC clubs that were showcasing original bands, CBGB's & Max's Kansas City. Richard got us a gig at CBGB's opening for Talking Heads.

tk: Wow. I saw them in '78 at UCLA, but that was two albums into their career.

FP: No one had been signed yet in '75-'76, the scene was still pretty underground. Then we went back to open for Television.

tk: Again, wow - the characters in my book are big Television fans.

FP: We began playing a lot at both NY clubs, staying at either The Chelsea Hotel or Terry Orks' loft, he was Television's manager. One night in February we were at Terry's loft and his heat had been turned off. We burned everything that we could find in the fireplace, and when we ran out of chairs and such, we tore the wooden mantle surrounding the fireplace off the wall and burned that! Ah, the life of a suffering artist! In the end we got to hang out and play with a lot of the great bands who would shortly define music moving forward. It was at Max's that I met John Cale - I'd been a huge Velvet Underground fan from 1967 when I purchased their first album. It was not a good interaction, he was a real dick and I told him so, but it was still cool on some level to have met him.
            When The Rat opened to original bands I was down there talking to Jimmy Harold (the owner) the first week. He booked us to play a Saturday night - we were the only act and had to do three 50 minute sets, but he paid us $75.00! We released one 45, "The Fury In Your Eyes," and our highlight was unquestionably a weekend bill with Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, also at the Rat. It was a wild and wooly ride, but both nights were an insane success. We lasted a year longer and then I joined Third Rail (with Richard Nolan) for about a year.

tk: This is like a lifetime's worth of music, and you haven't even joined the Atlantics yet...

FP: Getting there. I was playing a cancer benefit at The Club in Cambridge (later Nightstage) with Johnny Barnes, and that's where Tom Hauk & B. Wilkinson from The Atlantics saw me. I knew that they were looking for a new guitarist, but their current player was kind of a Berklee guy, he ran scales and such, and I'm a meat and potatoes rocker, influenced by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. so I never thought they'd be interested. But they asked me to audition, and after three auditions they brought their manager up from NYC to see me, and then offered me the gig.

tk: Must have been the hair! You had kind of a Nu Wave Rod Stewart rooster thing happening (see above photo…)

FP: In any case I was psyched - they were the biggest unsigned band in town! Within two or three months we got a deal with ABC Records and I was recording at The Hit Factory in NYC - it was like falling down the rabbit hole, for better and for worse...

tk: By the time I hit town in late '81, your ABC deal had run its course, but you had some very successful singles you produced yourselves - "Lonelyhearts" and "Pop Shivers." Did you record those locally in Boston? Did doing it yourselves help make the final product more reflective of what you wanted? "Pop Shivers" especially seems like a great piece of Nu Wave pop. Any other faves? Can people still find those songs?

FP: After the Big City Rock album was released in '79 we went on tour opening for Roxy Music all across the US to promote it, and then went out with Cheap Trick and also did opening gigs for David Johanson, The Ramones and others. Then ABC got bought by MCA, and MCA released a 12" single of "One Last Night" b/w a live recording of "When You're Young." None of the records charted, so we were dropped and not re-signed after we refused to record the song "Pop Muzik" by German artist M, which wasn't out yet in the US.

tk: "Pop…pop…pop muzik…"

FP: That's it. We had "Lonelyhearts" already in the pipeline and we disagreed amongst ourselves on doing a novelty song. Then M's version was released here and went to #1, but you can't carry that stuff with you. We recorded "Lonelyhearts" at The Hit Factory in NYC and released it ourselves. We worked harder on "Lonelyhearts" than any other song we ever did - at one point there were three different choruses to it. With the support of WBCN and college radio the song took off in a way that startled even us. For roughly six months we were in the top three songs on WBCN's local countdown, and it was played so much that it jumped into the national top 20 they listed in the Phoenix every week. After that we recorded almost exclusively in Boston, mostly at Downtown Recorders. We were hoping to score another major label deal but c'est la vie. We followed "Lonleyhearts" with "Pop Shivers," another big hit for us, then "Weekend." We went into Syncro Sound, The Cars' studio on Newbury Street, and did more four tracks, then finally recorded right in our rehearsal space - we set up the board in the men's room! Those songs were in my opinion the best sounding recordings we ever did. It was great to have total control of the process, especially after the disaster we had with the guy who was foisted on us to produce Big City Rock.... None of the songs from "Lonleyhearts" on were available to the public until 2006, when we released a CD simply titled "Atlantics". It's the very best recordings of all those songs that fans would remember from our shows. It's available on line at

tk: We should warn people that there's also an Australian surf band called The Atlantics, so if you don't want a twanging "Hawaii Five-O," be careful what you click on… The (Boston) Atlantics also had a reputation as a high-energy live band. Rumor has it it was your suggestion you cover Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll"... We think of the Atlantics, or my band Loose Ties, as '80s bands, but of course we were influenced by the music we listened to growing up. Were you a British Invasion kid? Any favorite bands growing up?

FP: Well, we did try to be a fun band, and that is a good way to be remembered! I really don't remember who suggested covering "Rock and Roll," but I suspect that it was B. Wilkinson. I'd love to take credit, but at the end of the day I think that it was B who made the suggestion. This was before it became a sports arena sing along, so it was kind of an obscure cover at the time we did it. My first decade was the '50s with Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc., and then I got into bands like The Beach Boys, Link Wray, Dick Dale & The Del Tones - I began playing in '62 after hearing Link Wray's "Rumble." But when the British Invasion hit, all bets were off! From that point forward I lived for music, from the Beatles, Stones and Kinks to the Nashville Teens, Honeycombs, Searchers, and so on. The Beatles are still my #1 band - if you look at how long they were putting out recordings - 9 years - and how they evolved during that time, they were a once in a generation occurrence. I mean, they began with "Love Me Do" and ended up with Abbey Road. Other than that I love and was influenced by a wide assortment of artists, from Bowie to the Stooges to MC5 to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. I also love folk artists such as David Wilcox, James Taylor, Paul Simon, etc.

tk: You're just saying since I'm a folkie these days…

FP: I listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage on the radio because he plays a lot of unknown new bands as well as the classics. As far as newer artists, I like The Black Keys, Butch Walker & The Black Widows, and even Adele. I try to never limit myself stylistically.

tk: After the Atlantics broke up, a couple of the guys went on to form Ball and Pivot, but you got more into producing. Aside from Loose Ties, who are some of the other acts you worked with? Did you enjoy being a Svengali for young bands?

FP: My only regret regarding that post Atlantics period is that I was not able to do more for the artists that I worked with. I worked with you in Loose Ties, and it broke my heart that we didn't get more action off of the EP we recorded together as it was really worthy of national attention. I also worked with The Lowgistics, Ball & Chain, and produced a concept album for a label that I was a partner in, Condor Records. We brought in a singer by the name of John Warren to sing on it, and one of the real highlights that I had as a producer is that the single from that album, Advance Warning, was a pick of the week in Billboard magazine! The next time that I played in a band was Third Person, along with Steve and Tom Greeley. We released an album in 1988, but I left the band soon after that. I was in a band called The Syphlloids in the late '90s that got a deal with an independent label, released an album, and got to open for bands such as Rancid.

tk: And now here we are, amazingly, in 2012. Your V66 set was a blast. Are you playing out much? Recording any?

FP: Oddly enough, since 2001 I have been at it constantly! I played in a band called The Kenmores in 2001-2002, and we opened for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in one of their Home Town Throw Downs. From there I formed a band that became 5-Point, which lasted for over 6 years. We actually have an album of material that is going to be released at some point soon. I am currently working on a new band that does not have a name yet. I'm writing with a very talented singer by the name of Julie Dubela, who is 21 years old, and am once again working with Joe Darko, who was the drummer for Godsmack. It's still in the formative stages, but it should be interesting once we roll it out!
            Because of the success of the Atlantics CDs, Tom Hauck and I decided to put together a band to play Atlantics material one last time. The Atlantics' singer, Bobby Marron, has retired from show biz, and we didn't feel right calling it the Atlantics without him, so instead we dubbed it Big City Rockers. We did The International Pop Overthrow and then The House Of Blues. It was great fun, and wonderful to play an entire set of Atlantics material again. And good to see that you're still at it as well - I call myself a lifer, and I guess that puts you in the same category!

tk: It's been great catching up and hearing what you're up to. And thanks for twirling those dials for us back in '85! (And BTW, any similarities between The Atlantics and any bands in my upcoming novel are purely coincidental, and not legally actionable…)

To hear Fred Pineau with The Atlantics visit

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Up All Night

Back in my rock'n'roller days it wasn't that unusual to watch the sun rise. Play til 2 AM,
load out, drive back from wherever, unload, go to IHOP or the Deli Haus to unwind and stuff our
collective face, stumble home. At least in summer, it was often dawn before my head hit the

These days it only happens one weekend a year. Last weekend, in fact. Early in my folk
career (when I was too green to know better), I accepted an invitation to co-host a late night
campfire/song swap at the Falcon Ridge folk festival, across the border in New York state. The
campfire wouldn't start until midnight, after the mainstage performances were over, and go (at
least officially) until 3 AM. This was the early '90s and I was years away from playing onstage at
the festival. Like about half the audience, I had a guitar stashed back in my tent, so why not?
And if nobody came I could trade songs all night with Jeff Tareila, the other host.
We ducked out of the concert early, and built the fire in a pasture next to the horse pen,
the horses watching us warily from behind the fence. Let's get a crowd, Jeff said, so we built a
pep-rally-sized bonfire, doused it with lighter fluid, and struck a match. We each played our
loudest songs so the music would carry.

As the mainstage concert ended, people heading to the parking lot stopped by and
listened to a song or two, and people camping over started appearing, guitars in hand. We made a
circle and did our best to make sure everyone got a turn to do a song, be it a deep, dark original,
or a sing-along cover (or something in between - Keith Kelly memorably played
America's "Horse with No Name" while singing the lyrics to the Mr. Ed theme). It took us two
hours just to go around the circle once. Three o'clock came and went, and more people stuck
around than left. Jeff finally called it a night, but I said I'd wait to douse the fire. It got down to a
handful of hardcores, mostly NY/NJ songwriters, Jack Hardy, Dave Elder, Joe Giacoio, Gregg
Cagno, with me there to represent Boston, trading song after song, sometimes in direct response
to the last song (hmm, songs about cab drivers for 200, Alex). Dawn came, the fire was down to
embers, the horses started snorting for their breakfast. When morning joggers started going by
we finally called it a night.

The next year we did it both nights of the festival, and had even bigger crowds. Sleep
was out of the question, so I made sure to pitch my tent to catch the morning shade. After the
Saturday fire we decided to go out for breakfast, and ended up at a diner down the road full of early

We kept it going each year, and occasionally had mainstage performers drop by after
their sets - one memorable evening had Catie Curtis, David Massengill and Jack Hardy all
borrow my guitar for a song. I started bringing chocolate chip cookies to pass around to keep up
our energy.
As the festival matured in the 2000's, people started hosting their own campfires, so we
weren't the only game in town anymore. Jeff T., Dave E. and even Joe "Superman" Giacoio
eventually decided they'd rather sleep.

But last weekend, I was still at it - making the fire (one match, even without lighter
fluid), setting up the circle of chairs (or rather, watching my current co-host Deede Bergeron set
them up), breaking out my axe and seeing what happens. The best part is still the feeling of
community that develops over the course of a few hours, as you learn about people from their
songs, intros and comments, and listen as people who have never met before end up harmonizing
on a song they both love, or watch as the woman who has just sat listening for round after round
suddenly feels comfortable enough to come out of her shell and sing. By the time first light
arrives and the fire's down to charcoal, we feel somewhere between old friends and shipwreck
survivors - dawn! We made it! Land ho!

So if you make it to Falcon Ridge next year, grab your guitar and stop by. We'll be there.