Voice of the People
Before I discovered musical theater as a young person, I was quite taken by folk music. It was beat-nick – hootenanny times and my favorite singers were Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel and Burl Ives. I never lost my appreciation for roots music as popular taste moved in other directions with the rock revolution. I have always liked bluegrass and folk.
But I went deeply into musical theater while I found little interest in rock music (except for rockabilly and folk rock). I had only a detached appreciation for the great rock artists. Who doesn’t like the Beatles, et.al?
Today I think of folk music as an important component of what I like to call Americana. This is a place where folk, Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook intersect. I noticed that my favorites, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, had a strong affinity for Americana behind their enthusiasm for European models. Both were tuned in to popular music of their day: Stephen Foster / George M. Cohan meet Gilbert and Sullivan. And it is the place where my Songs for the Season repertoire primarily resides.
My experiment with performing Big Rock Candy Mountain succeeded in surprising but not altogether unexpected ways. My colleagues and audience at SongShop Live’s “Take the Ride of Your Life” seemed to agree whole heartedly that I remind them of Burl Ives and can fairly channel his musical material. This is such a rich vein of opportunity that it cannot be ignored. My one big concern about Songs for the Season is how to find an audience for my retro tastes. The Burl Ives connection may be one answer.
The enthusiasm with which BRCM was received has me thinking more seriously about a Burl Ives tribute show. One saving grace for me is that his repertoire crossed so many genera. Although he started out as a real folk troubadour, his career also encompassed film and theatre music which could lend variety and will probably be more interesting for me personally.
The other re-enforcing factor is that the more I listen to his recordings, the more impressed I am with his vocal technique as an aspirational model. He had such a pure “cantabile” quality and knack for lucid phrasing. His is a sound which I admire and can aspire toward.
So stay tuned. There may soon be more Burl Ives in the works: A Poor Wayfaring Stranger, The Foggy-foggy Dew, and yes, I happily observe that Burl Ives recorded Cole Porter’s The Kling-kling Bird in the Divi-divi Tree. Are we having fun yet?