When the sound check with the lights still up morphs into the opening act, you know you’re in for something memorable.
Don’t know if Joe LeBlanc does this every month at the Bluebird Invitational Mic Night in Georgetown, Mass., or if he even does it consciously, but it works wonders to put a collection of ten or twelve performers in this new and unique venue at ease. The transition was so detailed–with guitar used as percussion and momentarily put on a loop–that each member of the audience could decide just when the show did, in fact, start.
His test, test, test as soundman was fascinating by itself, enabling him to jokingly hush the audience before strumming and singing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” as I’ve never heard it before, a soulful appeal to attend what comes next.
Making the familiar sound new introduced Bluebird’s co-hosts, Alyce Underhill and Lynne Deschenes, who initiated Bluebird’s monthly offerings in this second floor atop a small firehouse just north of Georgetown center.
All acts are local, and the first–John Hicks on guitar and Madeleine Downs shifting from violin to viola–got Bluebird off to a racy start with sets of Celtic jigs and reels. Hicks introduced one as “where I get to play my favorite instrument” and promptly sat in the audience where he tuned his ears to Downs’ endearing rendition of the traditional, “Down by the Salley Gardens,” named for William Butler Yeats’ love poem.
Composer Dianne Anderson followed on keyboards with “a piece from the Great American Songbook” that had the nostalgic feel of a Great Plains soundscape before playing her own “What to Wear” accompanying singer Anne Grant. The duo then torched Loren Allred’s “Never Enough,” a title that couldn’t be more American or up to date.
Underhill herself delivered a rapturous rendition of “The King of Rome,” a ballad by Dave Sudbury based on a true story about a carrier pigeon sent on an impossible journey that had us so enthralled we awaited the bird’s return through the Georgetown firehouse’s open windows.
Late in the show, Audi and Peter Souza evoked the working maritime days of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia with traditional songs that ranged from jolly-ho chanty to plaintive lamentation. Most moving was Cyril Tawney’s ballad, “The Oggy Man,” about food vendors selling oggies–something of a meat-pie shaped as a turnover–on the docks before the arrival of fast-food chains:
Well the rain’s softly falling and the oggy man’s no more
I can’t hear him calling like he used to before
As I pass through the gateway, I heard the sergeant say
The big boys are coming now, see their stand across the way
And the rain’s softly falling and the oggy man’s no more
The rain’s softly falling and the oggy man’s no more
Spaced among the musicians, two poets shared the mic, the first, Jac-Lynn Stark who ranged from wistful poems about love and aging to a blithe romp about gardening titled, “My Life as a Zucchini Sex Facilitator.” As one who never tended a garden, I found myself paying attention to the act for the first time in my life, only to wonder how long it will be before I plagiarize the line about sautéing.
Poet Lee Moss mixed an adamant resolution regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine with several ironic takes on everyday life, including his hilarious and equally stunning “Redial,” in which, out of pure curiosity, he dials–or punches in–his deceased Father’s cell-phone number. Whether you are hi-tech or neo-Luddite, you laugh at satire that cuts both ways.
Along with music and the spoken word, Bluebird features musicians playing instruments rarely seen or heard apart from period films. Filling that role were Adrienne Howard on hurdy-gurdy and Emily Peterson on concertina–both taking turns on fiddle. When they were done I tried to recruit them for King Richard’s Faire, but it’s too late for the season that opens Labor Day weekend. Keep your eye on listings of local coffee shops and perhaps an ear out at Beverly Depot where they sometimes perform.
And keep your eye and ear on all the venues for live performance throughout Essex County, from Newburyport to Lynn and from Lawrence to Gloucester. Coffee shops, bars, cafes, churches, schools, train depots, pedestrian malls are where you will find those who perform at The Bluebird Performance Venue in Georgetown.
There was one other act, but I should perhaps recuse myself from reviewing myself. So I tack this on as an optional sequel:
Had I any sense, I’d have begged off until the November show when I’d be fresh off the eight-weekend run of King Richard’s. But it was a great advantage to be scheduled next-to-last, and a patient and kind audience kept laughing at the good natured jokes I was able to poke at most everyone before me as a way to offset the rust.
Most were of the had-to-be-there variety, such as when I hinted at what the last lines of Lee Moss’ “Redial” implied about someone who never has and never will own a cell phone. That may have been the second-loudest laugh. He laughed, everyone laughed–except me.
Since I was asked to talk about my life as a street-performer–40 years ago this month I first played in downtowns Newburyport and Salem–I read a short piece from my book, Pay the Piper!, a street scene that captures both the joy and challenge of busking in America today titled, “Slip-Jig for Flute & SUV.”
I filled the back of the SUV with “zucchini awaiting sautéing.”
Bluebird’s September and October offerings are featured performances, full shows:
Sept. 10, 7pm — Unlaunch’d Voices: An Evening with Walt Whitman, a one-man play written by Michael Z. Keamy and performed by Stephen Collins.
Oct. 8, 7pm — Mark Mandeville & Raianne Richards, an eclectic duo with an eclectic assortment of instruments for songs both serious and humorous.
In November, Bluebird will resume its Invitational Mic.
Cast cast in (approximate) order of appearance: