A Conversation With Carl Goldstein, Champion of Bluegrass Music

A Conversation With Carl Goldstein, Champion of Bluegrass Music

By Steven Brodsky

Among those who’ve done the most to preserve bluegrass music and further its appreciation is Carl Goldstein.  Consistent with the informal yet respectful norm of the bluegrass community, I’m not using the title “The Honorable” before his name; he was a judge in Delaware for 40 years before retiring in 2013.  With two others, Carl founded the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music in 1971.  He’s provided leadership for the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival since its start in 1972. (The Festival was called the Delaware Bluegrass Festival until it moved to New Jersey in 1990.) Since 1977, Carl has hosted the Fire on the Mountain radio show on WVUD FM.  In 2011, he was inducted into the WVUD Hall of Fame.

Carl, what are your official roles at the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music and the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival?

I’m Chair of the BFOTM and Director of the Festival.

How long have you served in these capacities?

Since the organization and Festival’s inception.

How did you get introduced to bluegrass music?

I became interested in folk music during the “folk music scare” of the ’60s although I had listened to country music and blues even before that time.  I found the more earthy and honest music of early Appalachian music to be even more to my liking.

When you first got involved in bluegrass music, where did you travel to hear the music and to learn more about it?

I travelled with companions to southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and Tennessee to fiddlers’ conventions and the earliest bluegrass festivals.

What drew you to the music and how did it engage you?

The soulful, powerful and yet down to earth nature of the music drew me in.  I started collecting the music and eventually learned to play guitar.

In your early years as a fan of bluegrass music, who were some of your favorite musicians? 

The Stanley Brothers/Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, and the Country Gentlemen were among some early favorites.

What were some of your favorite songs? 

Too many to single out I’m afraid.

What memories do you have of Sunset Park (the iconic country music venue that was located in Chester County, Pennsylvania)?

I lived only a half hour or so from Sunset Park.  I went there many Sundays during the summer months and was lucky enough to hear many of the greats of bluegrass and country music.  In addition, each week musicians would jam out in the field.

What caused the Delaware Valley to become a hotbed of bluegrass music? 

During the tough economic years of the ’30s many families from the mid south relocated to the area (NE Maryland, Southeastern PA and Delaware) in search of work bringing with them their culture and music.  Among these families were the Paisleys, the Lundys, and the Campbells (Ola Belle Reed) and many others.

How were Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe responsible for the first annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival?

Ralph Stanley, whom I had known from years of following his music, came to us on behalf of himself and Bill Monroe in 1971 asking whether our organization would host a festival – the first in the northeast. They were to supply the talent (although we did have some limited input) and we were to supply the venue and publicity.  We were delighted to agree. The Festival was set for Labor Day weekend 1972.  That first year it was in a KOA campground but moved to a newly constructed music park – Gloryland Park – the second year.

After the third year Bill and Ralph decided to start their own festivals that weekend in their respective home places.  From that point on we produced the Festival ourselves and after their festivals ended in a few years we had each of them back nearly every other year.

Did you believe that the first Festival was going to become an annual event? 

We had high hopes but that first year was a muddy mess.  They (Bill and Ralph) and we persevered.

Please tell us about a few of your most valued memories associated with the Festival.

It was Lester Flatt who stepped up that 4th year at a fee we could afford so we were able to present a fine lineup our first year on our own.

Doc Watson and Bill Monroe did a rare and historic set together in 1990, our first year in New Jersey.

We had some legendary folks perform for us over the years.  In addition to nearly all of the great bluegrass musicians, we have presented Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, and a number of special tribute sets and reunions that were very memorable like, for example, Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Stanley.

I should mention that the Brandywine Friends and hence the Bluegrass Festival is run by a Board of Directors of 16 members.  They are all interesting, smart and funny human beings.  I mention it here because part of the joy of the Festival is doing it with these exceptional folks.

Congratulations on the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival winning the award for 2016 IBMA Event of the Year.  What components make the Festival a favorite of musicians and attendees year after year?

I think that because we are nonprofit and all volunteer we have the luxury of presenting a top-notch lineup of talent – top to bottom each year.  While our main focus is bluegrass, we have always presented some variety with comparable genres like old-time music, traditional country music, Cajun and French Canadian.

We also include features like a Children’s Stage and a Kids’ Academy where youngsters can gain instruction in every bluegrass instrument during the course of the weekend.  We are also known as a great jam festival.  Our campground is filled with folks playing day and night.

Please speak about the lineup for the 46th Annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival taking place on Labor Day weekend.

Once again we have a great lineup featuring some of the best acts in traditional music – Del McCoury, the Gibson Brothers, and a host of others.  We have the perennial favorites: The Grascals, Blue Highway, and IBMA 2016 Male Vocalist of the Year Danny Paisley.  All that in addition to relative newcomers like Becky Buller and Flatt Lonesome and powerful old-time music from the Foghorn Stringband and April Verch – not to mention Asleep at the Wheel who I will in a moment.

Are there performers that you are especially looking forward to seeing this year?  If so, why? 

It’s always a treat for us to surprise our audience with an act that may be unexpected but is fully within our view of traditional music.  This year it is Asleep at the Wheel – the legendary Texas Western Swing band.  That’s gonna be fun.

What do you most enjoy about hosting the Fire on the Mountain radio show?

I think it’s the audience.  Each week I get calls from interesting and informed people.  They have been very loyal over these 40 years and each year those folks lead all programs on the station for our fundraising efforts.  They’re just great.  Besides, if I weren’t playing that music on the air, I’d be home doing the same thing.

What does the future look like for bluegrass music and the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival? 

If you’d asked me that question 15 or so years ago I might not have been as optimistic as I am now.  There are a great number of younger folks playing bluegrass and old-time music these days.  That in turn bodes well for the festivals.

46th Annual Bluegrass Festival

The 46th Annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is scheduled for September 1-3, 2017.  It will be held at the Salem County Fairgrounds, US Rt. 40, 7 miles east of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  The event is run by the Brandywine Friend of Old Time Music.  Information is available at: www.delawarevalleybluegrass.org.

Information about the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music is at: www.brandywinefriends.org.

Posted 5/27/17

 

A Conversation With Dr. Daniel M. Peters, Senior Pastor of Limerick Chapel

By Steven Brodsky

Pastor Peters is a gifted Bible teacher.  People discover that about him at Limerick Chapel and through listening to his teachings on radio and on the Limerick Chapel website.  Pastor Peters is author of the book ‘SIXTEEN COUNSELING SESSIONS with the WONDERFUL COUNSELOR: God’s personal counsel to individuals as recorded in the Bible.’

When did you decide that you wanted to be a pastor?

I didn’t want to be a pastor because I saw what my father went through as a pastor.  Board meetings late at night, visiting old ladies and sick people didn’t interest me as a young man.  Preaching and singing like Billy Graham and Bev Shea looked a lot more interesting.  It was not until I was in college that the Lord showed me the joy of sharing truth through relationships.

What went into that decision?

I taught at a Children’s Bible Club in North Philadelphia for a year and that opened my heart to loving people and teaching them how to know the Lord.  Later, when a small storefront church in Kensington needed a pastor, I accepted and served that congregation and community for three years while living in North Philadelphia.  My wife, Diane, served with me at that church as well.

As a son of a pastor, did you ever go through a rebellious “preacher’s kid” (“PK”) stage?

I never openly rebelled since I had observed my older brother try that and I saw that it didn’t work.  But I had my battles with selfish desires.

How did this get resolved?

I surrendered my life to the Lord at age 16 at a youth rally.

To what extent did growing up in a parsonage give you faith by osmosis? 

My parents were genuine Christians who loved God and loved others.  They loved me and showed me how to live for others.

If you had not become a pastor, what other path might you have taken? 

My selfish desire was to race motorcycles for a living.

What bolsters your faith?

Reading the Bible and learning from the record of God’s miraculous works in the past and observing God’s miraculous work in changing people’s lives today.

If there have been challenges to your faith that you are comfortable talking about, please do so.

The death of our son, Nathan, at age 7 was the hardest thing we have gone through.  He was run over by a bus while riding his bicycle.

Over the course of a generation, many traditional Christian values have become countercultural to a large number of Americans.  Did you see this coming?

Yes, and I thought it would have become much more difficult by now.

How does the shift in their values affect you and Limerick Chapel?

People are more sophisticated in their unbelief and rejection of Christian values.

With regards to Philippians 4:8, what good things do you tend to think about?

I tend to think about how blessed I am to know that God is watching over me and mine and that we are going to Heaven when we die.

Please tell us about your book SIXTEEN COUNSELING SESSIONS with the Wonderful Counselor: God’s personal counsel to individuals as recorded in the Bible.

I wrote the book to encourage people to look to the God of the Bible for answers to perplexing questions.

Where and when can people hear your teachings on the radio? 

WPAZ 1370 AM and WEVW 103.5 FM at 8 AM and 5:30 PM seven days a week. Also on WBYN 107.5 FM at 8:00 PM, Sunday  Friday.

What does Limerick Chapel provide to people?

Godly traditional worship, encouraging Bible teaching and loving family fellowship.

Tell us about the Men’s Motorcyle Ministry and the archery program.

Motorcycle Men ride one Saturday a month for lunch and friendship. Centershot Archery is for parents and children together and is a free outreach program for the  community.

What blessings do you most enjoy in your life? 

I am blessed with a wonderful wife, six loving children and 13 amazing grandchildren.  I enjoy good health and riding my R1200RT BMW motorcycle.

What are two of your favorite hymns?

I love to sing “Blessed Assurance” and “Amazing Grace.”

Limerick Chapel is located in Limerick, PA.  The website is: www.limerickchapel.org.

56th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival – 2017

Major Announcement About Lineup of Performers August 17-20, 2017

By Steven Brodsky

The initial list of performers scheduled for the upcoming Philadelphia Folk Festival has been released.  The list is contained on the graphic that appears below.  The list and graphic were under embargo until noon today.  We honored the request to wait until the embargo expired before bringing this news to you.  It is very likely that you are reading this news here first.

Posted 4/20/17

A Conversation With Author Mark SaFranko

By Steven Brodsky

Mark SaFranko’s readers already know this: Mark is no literary wuss. There’s no evidence of authorial flinching in his novels.  The self-consciousness that swaddles lesser writers is nowhere to be seen. Mark’s writing has been compared to that of Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, as well as to some of the most highly regarded current “confessional” and mystery literature. 

Mark, your novel The Suicide has been getting deserved recognition.  Did you anticipate that the novel would be so well-received? 

Steven, I have no idea how anything will ever be received. One of my French translators once remarked that “Nothing in publishing ever makes sense,” and I think that’s certainly true. Whenever any of my work appears, I’m clueless about how it will go over.

The Suicide is recognized in Heather Duerre Humann’s book Gender Bending Detective Fiction: A Critical Analysis of Selected Works (McFarland, 2017).  There, a chapter is devoted to your book: “Detecting Gender in Mark SaFranko’s The Suicide.”  Heather Duerre Humann writes that Ellen Smith, a fictional transgender former police officer character “comes across as complex and sympathetic, and her presence therefore both challenges and represents a departure from the two-dimensional depictions of transgender individuals which were commonplace in decades past.”  Are there analogs in your life that you drew upon in creating Ellen?

Not really. I remember reading in passing a newspaper article about a policeman who showed up at headquarters for work one day in a dress. He was summarily dismissed. That planted the idea for the character in my mind. I think that it’s part of the novelist’s job to be able to immerse himself in the experience of a character — any character. Once I had at least a vague idea of what the novel would be about, I submerged myself in what I thought that character’s inner life might be and took it from there. I do believe, by the way, that Ellen Smith was actually the very first transgender police detective to make an appearance in a novel.

Did you intend for The Suicide to be as strongly character-driven as it is?

For better or worse, all of my work is very largely character-driven. In my estimation, literature of any value must be deeply rooted in character. It’s what I love about the best French films: you watch the characters develop and unfold without concern for pace as if they were in a novel. I say “for worse” because I’m not certain that character-driven work is the royal road to commercial success.

The book is mainly set in Hoboken, NJ, a year after 9/11.  When did you write it?  The place and time add to the tension experienced by the protagonist, Detective Brian Vincenti, do you agree?

Absolutely, though the events of 9/11 aren’t absolutely necessary to the story. I happened to be living in Hoboken around that time, so I had a feel for the atmosphere of the city. My windows looked directly out on the World Trade Center – I could throw a rock across the Hudson and hit it. And in fact my wife worked on the 55th floor of Tower One until just a year before 9/11. My son when he was very small played in the shadow of that building for years. I started writing the novel shortly after moving out of Hoboken in 2000 and the events of 9/11 wormed their way into later drafts.

How long did Detective Vincenti live within you prior to writing the book?

That’s a very good question, Steven, and one I haven’t given much thought to. I can’t say I thought about him – consciously — as a character until I laid out the plan for the book. And yet he unfolded quite naturally during the writing, so he must have been lurking just below the level of consciousness.

Does he still inhabit your inner world?

I’ve been planning a sequel for years and haven’t gotten around to it yet. This is a matter of allotting time to it, as I’m always in the process of writing several novels and stories at the same time. So I guess the answer is yes, Vincenti – and Ellen Smith  — are both still there.

Detective Vincenti exhibited extreme tenacity in working the case of a woman who died after exiting from an eleventh-floor window. Does tenacity enter into your writing life?  If so, how?

At this point I’ve travelled far beyond tenacity. I just wake up every day of the week, Sunday through Saturday, and go to it. I’ve been doing it for so many years now that it’s reflexive and don’t even give the process any thought. But I suppose the rigorous schedule speaks to a tenacity that was established a long time ago. And yes, tenacity still figures into the process in that I stick with a novel or story, draft after draft, until I come to some point of near-satisfaction with it. I’m never altogether satisfied, but yes, it takes a great deal of tenacity to persevere with something if you’re unsure of whether or not it’s working. Often you never know.

What gives you the ability to not flinch in your writing?

Another good question. There’s an old adage that if whatever you’re writing about makes you uncomfortable, you’re onto something good. I try to stick with whatever that might be.

How disciplined is your writing life?

Very, as I explained earlier. But there’s a looseness built into the discipline that comes from having to deal with real life. You have to walk the dog. You have to take the kid to soccer practice. You have to go to the dentist. But you always come back to what you’re doing. You can’t be too rigid or you won’t have a life at all.

How difficult is it for you to get into a state of creative flow?

Not at all. I can’t seem to get to all the ideas swirling around in my mind. But an ease with overall concepts and ideas doesn’t mean that you don’t stumble around over specifics, like the development of a character who suddenly appears out of nowhere. That’s when it’s more stop and go. Sometimes it’s a little tricky getting from point A to B, or B to C. You might have to stop here and there, but eventually you find the flow again.

What keeps your creative edge sharp?

Work, really. There is no substitute for work. When you sit with your story or novel or song or whatever, going back to it again and again to discover more of its possibilities, your edge stays sharp and more and more ideas occur to you.

How do you keep distractions at bay when working?

I don’t. I allow some of them in. Sometimes I write with the TV on in the background. Sometimes I listen to certain types of music. The dog bugs me to play with him. The telephone rings and I answer it.  I’ve conditioned myself over the years to not seal myself off completely.

Are you ever adversely affected by immersion into the lives and circumstances of your characters?  If so, how do you deal with this?

I try to keep my life and my characters’ lives separate if at all possible, but I suppose there is some seepage, that’s inevitable. But if that’s the case, I’m not conscious of it. My more autobiographical work – the Zajack novels for instance – are more likely to affect me. Then again, all of a writer’s work is autobiographical.

 Do you take vacations from writing?

Uh, no.

When did you know you were a writer?

Originally I wanted to be a writer of music – something I still do. But it began to seriously dawn on me halfway through college.  I was applying to law school when I realized that I had to change directions. The notion had been roiling beneath the surface for some time until it completely took over. By the age of 21, my course was set.

How important was the possibility of publication to you when you started out? 

Well, I wondered whether I could actually complete something decent first.  I don’t know that I thought much about being published in the early days. “Being a writer” was something that seemed very distant, like a star way out there in the firmaments. I’d written a lot before I actually submitted my creative work for publication. For a long time I knew I wasn’t ready, but I kept writing. When I thought I was ready, I wasn’t. The odd thing was that when I wrote for newspapers, I was published on a daily basis, but my creative work I regarded as something else altogether.

Our friend, the late Dan Fante, was encouraged early in his writing career by supportive words of Hubert Selby Jr.  Was there anyone who significantly did the same for you? 

It’s still hard to believe that Dan is gone. I miss hearing his voice. To answer your question, there was my wife. She believed in me and was supportive from the beginning. One writer who was supportive was the late mystery writer Mark McGarrity, aka Bartholomew Gill. But on the whole I had to rely on myself. And it wasn’t easy much of the time, especially in the early days when I had no belief whatsoever in myself.

Did you have a writing mentor?

Only on paper in the form of the writers I idolized. Dickens. Dostoyevsky. Celine. Henry Miller. Isaac Singer. Playwrights like Eugene O’Neill. Sophocles. Euripides. Simenon, maybe above all. Later, guys like Carver and Bukowski and Richard Yates. Paul Bowles. Women like Patricia Highsmith. And too many others to recount.

Can you tell us about your current writing project?

I’m always in the process of writing stories and novels, poems and songs and other things. I go from one draft to the next until I think they’re in some form of completion – and often I’m wrong. I’m working on two new Max Zajack novels that are quite close to being ready. A novel about a child prodigy violinist who happens to be a lesbian. A psychological mystery about a wheelchair-bound philanderer and his long-suffering wife. Etc. One of these days I’ll get to that sequel to The Suicide.

What’s most frustrating about your writing life?

It’s always the business end of it. Finding publishers and markets for my work. I like to say that the writing part is easy. You shouldn’t be doing it if you’re not champing at the bit every morning to get to it. But the reality of the shrinking marketplace? That’s an altogether different beast. That’s the really hard part.

What’s most satisfying?

Not having a boss. Being master of my fate for the hours every day that I’m at the keyboard. Being the Creator for at least a little while.

Mark SaFranko’s website address is: www.marksafranko.com.

Posted 4/10/17

A Conversation With Katie Fallon, Author of ‘Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird

By Steven Brodsky

Katie Fallon is a co-founder of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia.  She’s worked with many species of raptors and other kinds of birds.  Katie’s books include Cerulean Blues (2011) and the recently released Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird.  Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.  She has a lifelong love of nature.  I’ve heard that the first word she ever spoke was “bird.”

Your new book gives vultures, particularly turkey vultures, the positive attention these non-predator raptors deserve.  What brought about your interest in these maligned birds?

I’ve been fascinated by vultures for at least fifteen years. There was a roost near where I lived in West Virginia; every day I’d drive by this big, old dead tree with ten or so turkey vultures hunched in it. They became a familiar sight, and I looked forward to seeing them. Vultures are big and kind of dramatic, and in flight, there’s nothing more beautiful. In addition, they’re the ultimate recyclers—they turn death into life.

Many people in the U.S. have an aversion to vultures.  Speak about this.

I think vultures remind people of their own mortality. It can be a little creepy to think about a large, dark bird waiting to consume your body when you die. In general, I don’t think people in the US are comfortable with thinking of our bodies as food. Vultures remind us that life will continue after we die, and that some life will continue because we die. They remind us of our animal bodies. Which can be unnerving!

In the absence of vultures, we’d have major health issues to contend with.  Tell us why.

Vultures clean up our ecosystems by removing animal carcasses that could potentially contaminate soil and water. They can eat animals that have died of anthrax and botulism. In the absence of vultures, mammalian scavengers could increase in number, and many mammalian scavengers such as raccoons, skunks, feral dogs and cats can spread rabies; vultures do not. Several vulture species in India have suffered catastrophic population crashes in the last twenty years, and public health has suffered. India leads the world in human rabies cases, and the number of cases has increased as the number of feral dogs increased in the absence of vultures.

People get close to vultures by attending your presentations that feature non-releasable birds.  How are these birds acquired?  How are they trained?

The nonprofit I co-founded, the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, keeps eight non-releasable raptors for educational purposes (you need permits from the US Fish & Wildlife Service to do this, of course – the birds aren’t pets or personal property). All of our birds were injured wild birds that cannot return to the wild. We have three vultures. Lew the turkey vulture was hit by a car and suffered an injury to his shoulder that prevents flight. His “girlfriend,” Boris, was shot in the wing, and by the time she reached us the bone had already healed incorrectly. Our black vulture is Maverick, and he was hit by a car, which resulted in a shoulder injury that prevents adequate flight.

Our birds are all trained using positive reinforcement. We avoid negative reinforcement and punishment, and we try to empower the birds to have some control over their environments. We condition behaviors by offering food rewards when the birds perform the behaviors. Vultures (especially our black vulture!) learn quickly, and they are a lot of fun to work with.

What myths and misunderstandings about vultures do these presentations help to dispel?

People are surprised at how clean and charismatic the vultures are – and how beautiful they are up close, despite their featherless heads.

What vulture behaviors do people find to be most interesting?

People often ask if vultures throw up on us; our education vultures usually don’t (unless they get scared). Vultures also expel liquid waste on their legs and feet, probably to clean them as well as to keep cool. This often fascinates people as well.

Which species of vulture are found in Pennsylvania and neighboring states?

We have turkey vultures and black vultures. During the last Ice Age we may have had California condors, too, and possibly some other now-extinct vultures.

What has been learned about migration of these species?

Hawk Mountain has taken the lead on turkey vulture migration research. Dr. Keith Bildstein and his team have placed transmitters and wing tags on turkey vultures all over the Americas. They’ve learned that our eastern turkey vultures are partial migrants—some spend the winters in Florida, some on the New Jersey shore, some in Virginia, and in many places in between. Many western turkey vultures are complete migrants, leaving their breeding ranges in Canada and heading all the way to South America. And still others in the American southwest migrate into Central America and return. It’s fascinating how the different subspecies have different migratory strategies. Dr. Bildstein and his colleagues have ongoing research projects about turkey vulture migration, and are discovering more all the time.

Vultures have spectacular flying ability.  What makes this possible?

Turkey vultures are very light – they have almost the same wingspan as a bald eagle but weigh less than half what an eagle weighs. Their wings are long and broad, and are made for soaring.

How high can they fly?

The Ruppell’s vulture holds the record for the highest-flying bird. Unfortunately for that individual, it was hit and killed by a jet flying over Africa at 37,000 feet.

Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird informs readers about lead toxicity in vultures. How do vultures ingest lead?

Vultures (and eagles, hawks, crows, ravens, and owls) can ingest small pieces of spent lead ammunition in animal carcasses or “gut piles” left by hunters. When someone shoots a white-tailed deer, for example, the deer is usually field-dressed, and many of the organs are left. This can be a delight for vultures and other scavengers! In ecosystems, scavengers often follow the big predators to clean up the leftovers; here, the same thing is happening—a human is the big predator, a gut pile is the leftover, and a vulture or eagle is the scavenger. However, if small lead fragments are still in the gut piles, avian scavengers can inadvertently ingest the lead and become sick. Lead toxicity from spent ammunition is the biggest obstacle in the way of California condor recovery.

The Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia provides rehabilitation for injured birds.  What kind of care do vultures receive?

We’ve treated vultures with a wide variety of injuries and ailments—broken bones, head trauma, lead toxicity, soft tissue injuries. Every bird we admit receives an immediate comprehensive examination by an avian veterinarian, and is then treated as necessary with antibiotics, antifungals, anti-inflammatories, fluid therapy, or chelation therapy. They also receive orthopedic surgery if necessary. We do our best to get the birds back out in the wild if possible.

It must be very joyful to enable an injured bird to regain flight ability.  Please tell us about a memorable release.

Two and a half years ago we released a female turkey vulture that had been shot with a shotgun—she had three pellets embedded in soft tissue. We had to leave the pellets in her body because removing them would cause damage. Once she was nursed back to health, we released her wearing a transmitter to track her movements. We learned that she travels to northern Georgia in the winters and comes back to West Virginia in the breeding season. We are thrilled that this vulture was able to return to the wild—and thrive!

Vulture watching is growing in popularity.  Turkey vultures are very widespread.  Where are some of the best places and times to observe them?

In many parts of the southeastern United States, you can see turkey vultures any day of the year in a variety of habitats. In the winter, vultures can be observed roosting together in and near many cities: in Virginia, check out Leesburg, Staunton, Radford, Pulaski, and Charlottesville; in West Virginia, many vultures can be observed migrating in the fall over Hanging Rock Tower in Monroe County and over Harper’s Ferry in the eastern panhandle. During the summer and fall, the overlook at Cooper’s Rock State Forest near Morgantown, WV, is a sure place to see turkey vultures. Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, of course, is an excellent place to watch turkey vultures and birds of prey during migration, especially in September and October.

What stimulated your interest in nature?

I’ve always been an outdoors person. I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, and I had horses as a kid. I spent a great deal of time with my horses, trail riding and competing, and when I got a bit older I often went hiking and camping with friends and family. One of my favorite childhood hiking spots was Ricketts Glen State Park—it’s filled with hemlock trees and many gorgeous waterfalls. It’s definitely worth checking out if you visit northeastern PA.

Was “bird” your first word? 

Yes! My parents had bird feeders in their yard when I was a baby (well, they still do) and my mother says she used to hold me in front of the window to show me the birds at the feeder. One day, she said, “Look at the birds! Look at the birds outside.” And I nodded and said, “Bird.” I haven’t stopped talking about them since.

Katie Fallon will be at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for a lecture and book signing on Saturday, April 8, 2017.  She’ll return the following day for a Hawk Mountain members-only event.

Information about Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is available at: www.hawkmountain.org.

Katie Fallon’s website is: www.katiefallon.com.

Posted 4/5/17

55th Philadelphia Folk Festival – 2016

By Steven Brodsky

August 18, 2016 – August 21, 2016
The volunteers, the bucolic Festival grounds in Upper Salford Township near Schwenksville, PA, friendly attendees, the finest heritage and up-and-coming performers, all combine to make the Philadelphia Folk Festival one of the world’s preeminent annual music events.

In a 2010 radio interview I asked Gene Shay to share some of his fondest memories of the Philadelphia Folk Festival. He spoke of the many impromptu jam sessions over the years with David Bromberg and others. Gene recalled Phil Ochs singing “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” Asked to describe an especially vivid Festival memory, Gene said: “I remember one night when it was a very cold night and Richie Havens was doing an excellent show and he was in the spotlight and you could see the steam rising from his head and from his body, because he was so into the music and he was getting towards the end of his performance. I wish I had a picture of that because it looked almost like a spiritual aura.” “And he does have that spiritual aura,” I said. Gene continued: “He does have it in his natural, even during bright daylight, but to see him at night with this aura of steam around him you didn’t know whether it was steam or what it was. It could be some kind of spiritual thing just emanating. Well, whatever, that was very exciting and, of course, he was perspiring heavily and he was so much into the music, and everybody in the crowd was upon on their feet and swaying back and forth with him.”

The other day, I asked Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment about some of his Festival memories. Point Entertainment has booked the Philadelphia Folk Festival talent since 2008. This will be the eleventh year that he will be attending. Here’s what Jesse said: “A few performances that blew my mind: Sturgill Simpson on the Camp Stage for the World Cafe radio program taping at the 53rd Festival. Erin McKeown at the 50th (I think…2010 anyway) joined onstage by Susan Werner, Natalia Zukerman, Trina Hamlin and Treasa Levasseur… an artist had dropped out and these women threw together a set of music to fill the time… it was amazing. Every year on Friday afternoon, we do a local showcase on the Martin Stage… seeing acts like John Francis, the Spinning Leaves and Ben Arnold get to play on the big stage has been fun and emotional for everyone.”

Jesse also mentioned Janis Ian being joined on stage by Tommy Emmanuel. Jesse finished his email response to me with, “The best, though, was at the 50th Festival, seeing David Bromberg bring Gene Shay out onstage and having he and the entire audience sing ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ to him.”

The 2016 Philadelphia Folk Festival schedule is available online at the Philadelphia Folksong Society website: www.pfs.org. Among the many performers listed are: Iris Dement, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Peter Yarrow, C.J. Chenier with the Buckwheat Zydeco Band, Los Lobos, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, The Pine Leaf Boys.
Posted 8/9/2016

Gene Shay invited Bob Dylan to Philadelphia, PA for his debut performance in the city. The concert took place on Saturday, May 3, 1963 at the Philadelplhia Ethical Society building on Rittenhouse Square. Bob Dylan was relatively unknown at the time in the Delaware Valley; “Blowin’ In The Wind” was yet to be released.
About forty-five people were in attendance. Tickets sold for $1.50.

A Conversation With Blues Master Toby Walker

By Steven Brodsky

At what age did you first pick up a guitar?
I was nine, but baseball got in the way. I picked it up again when I was 14 and was off and running.

Toby Walker Photo by Larry Sribnick

You started learning with an instructional book, yes?
I just learned chords from a chord chart and started to write my own songs with them.
Were there people locally who also taught you?
Many of my friends also played guitar and we all wound up constantly learning from each other. One of my early influences was a local guy named Mike Zuchlich, who was several years older than me. He played some wonderful blues and turned me on to some artists that, as a kid, I had never heard of. That would be John Mayall, among others.
When did you start to develop an interest in performance?
When I realized that the girls in my neighborhood liked guitar players!! We, meaning the guys I hung out with that played guitar, would try and out-write and play each other in order to impress those girls.
Which musicians did you most want to model, at first?
Jerry Garcia, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, David Bromberg, Robert Johnson, Johnny Winter, Jorma Kaukonen, Michael Bloomfield, Jimmy Reed, Keith Richards, John Hammond, Merle Travis,… the list goes on and on.
What fueled the intensity of your desire to master the guitar?
It was a way out of my neighborhood and a neat way to earn a living.
What sacrifices did you make in your pursuit of blues excellence?
The kind that any artist has to make in order to master their craft. While other folks were going to college, getting married, having kids, getting the mortgage… starting “real” jobs, blah, blah, blah , I honed my craft.
Did you ever question whether the personal costs were too high?
Not once. Ever. What was too high was NOT going after my passion.
Some of your training took place on the porches of blues masters in the Deep South. Share a few of your memories about those times and tell us about some of what you learned.
The most important thing I learned was to develop your own sound. Every one of the folks that I visited and learned from put their own, unique stamp on any song that they played. The stories are numerous. Check out this link on my site: http://www.littletobywalker.com/learning-from-the-masters1.html.
You have won international acclaim for your skills in a variety of music genres. Where did the diversity of your expertise come from?
From following my heart. If there was an artist, a song, or a particular genre that turned my head around, I did everything I could to find a way to bring that into my playing.
Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna and the Jefferson Airplane is quoted as saying about you, “Flat out… you have to hear this great musician…I’m blown away.” (Toby is a down-to-earth guy.) How do you maintain humbleness after receiving that kind of praise?
I try not to think about that, or at least not let something like that go to my head. Jorma was one of my main influences and I have to keep pinching myself knowing that I get to teach at his guitar camp and actually hang with the guy while I’m there. That’s pretty heady stuff.
You’ve taught for years at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp. Do you love teaching there?
I love teaching anywhere, but that place has its own mojo. I can’t explain it, other than everyone that goes there comes away with something special, students and instructors alike.
You are highly in demand as a music teacher. How and where do students learn from you?
Well, in camps like Fur Peace, private lessons in my studio and digital lessons. I’ve put out 8 DVDs with Homespun Instructional Music, as well as dozens of my own downloadable lessons that folks can find on my web site.
When teaching, do memories from those front porch years sometimes arise?
You bet, especially when I’m teaching the songs I learned from the folks that I studied from like James “Son” Thomas, Eugene Powell, Jack Owens, Etta Baker and R.L. Burnside.
Of the awards that you’ve received, which ones are particularly meaningful to you?
I’d have to say the very first one, that I won back in 2002. That was the International Blues Challenge award. It was real nice to be recognized nationally like that. But… equally saying, the one I was awarded from my stomping grounds of Long Island… the Long Island Sound Award from the Long Island Music Hall of Fame was just as rewarding. It’s nice to be recognized by your “homies” as well.
If it were it possible to bring to life, for a couple of hours, any of the now deceased blues masters who you never had the opportunity to meet, who would you most like to bring back and why?
I think I would’ve liked to have met and studied with Gary Davis. I missed that opportunity because when he was around I was too young. Everyone that studied from him said that besides being such a great player, he was a wonderful teacher as well.
What primes your own music creation pump? Do lyrics and tunes generally come easily to you?
Lyrics never come easy, but music always has. I usually start listening to whatever happens to catch my ear at the time and take if from there. Inspiration usually happens when you open yourself up to it.
How do you protect your singing voice?
I never thought about that. I suppose I don’t.
Do you sing in the shower?
I’d get too much shampoo in my mouth.
Do you sing in your vehicle while en route to performance venues?
Sometimes.
You’ll be leaving shortly for an overseas tour. When does the tour begin and end?
I leave the day after Labor Day and come home October 7, 2016.
What countries will you be performing in?
Germany, Austria and Cyprus.
Of all the concerts you’ve given, which one is most memorable to you and why?
I think it was a club in Wales many years ago. Those folks go nuts for any type of music and their energy is incredible. They’re already primed long before I show up at the venues. After this one particular gig, I was invited to join everyone at the local pub across from my hotel. When I showed up the whole place cheered. One of the folks came up to me and asked me to walk over to a wall where there was this stuffed bird on a shelf. I had never seen anything like it. The thing was part pheasant and part duck. Then I noticed the little sign underneath it, which read ‘This is a Phuck.’ When I turned around the whole room exploded into laughter.
What’s most gratifying to you about your life in the blues?
It keeps me off the ledge.
Posted 8/26/2016

‘All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records’ DVD Release

By Steven Brodsky

This feature documentary chronicles the phenomenal rise and fall of what was the world’s largest record store chain. Directed by Colin Hanks, interviews with founder Russ Solomon, former employees and celebrity musician customers give voice to the story of Tower Records. Archival photos and film footage help viewers connect with the times and places of Tower Records.
In 1960, a Sacramento, California drugstore owner added used jukebox 45 RPM records to his already diverse store inventory. The records sold well at ten cents each. He decided to switch to new record sales and to break through a wall of his store to expand into a vacant space next door. The original sign read “Tower Record Mart”. The record business was soon sold to his son, Russ Solomon.

It wasn’t long before the business was renamed Tower Records.
Russ Solomon is a visionary; Tower Records cut its own mold. There was nothing for Solomon to model when he set about expanding to other locations and offering customers a unique buying experience. The stores were incredibly well-stocked and the people who worked in them were knowledgeable about the recordings that were sold. Employees and local store managers enjoyed great latitude and a rich party culture.
Tower Records established itself in 30 nations on five continents. The chain had 200 stores. In 1999, Tower Records had profits of one billion dollars. It filed for bankruptcy seven years later. Watch the DVD of All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records and you’ll learn about the reasons for its fall. Among those reasons: corporate debt due in part to expansion into some unprofitable overseas markets, the advent of streaming music, and competition from other retailers.
Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Dave Grohl and David Geffen all appear in the film as interviewees. They share their memories of Tower Records.
It seems that most adult music lovers have memories of Tower Records. The DVD release of this documentary has stimulated people to talk about them.
Watch it and you’ll probably do the same. It has for me. I asked radio DJ Michael Tearson if he had been a customer of Tower Records. He said: “Yes, I was a customer of Tower Records, and I miss that chain tremendously. It was the one place where one could go and find ANYTHING one wanted or needed. I specifically remember when I needed a new copy of Terry Riley’s electronic classic ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air.’ I went to Cherry Hill Tower and bought if off the shelf. That cannot happen today.”
Posted 9/26/2016

A Conversation With Radio DJ Michael Tearson

By Steven Brodsky

Michael Tearson is one of the most admired radio DJs of all time. Many readers know him from his years at WMMR, WMGK, and Sirius XM. About his time at each broadcasting venue, Michael told me: “I liked best what I could do on my own to create the content, when I could create shows entirely out of my imagination and without the station telling me what the content would be.”

You started on FM radio when there was a golden age of freedom for disc jockeys; they had far greater latitude in choosing the music that was aired. Where were you working and what did that freedom mean to you and to your listeners?
I started at WXPN where my very first show in October 1967 was the first album rock show at WXPN. Then in January 1968 I was first to do album rock on their FM. At the time the form was brand new and without history or rules, so I was making it up as I went along. It was entirely new and uncharted territory.

What caused the erosion of freedom?
The success of the format in drawing an audience led to the establishment of the Superstars format which skimmed off the album rock hits and boiled it down to a more predictable and even format–all hits all the time–and frankly that cleaned WMMR’s clocks for a while and caused management there to reel in their own format.

What did you most enjoy about your work at WMMR?
I most loved the idea that every night I would take listeners for a ride and that it was never the same twice. I loved that I could tell stories whether obvious or subliminal by selecting, sequencing and segueing. I loved the trust that was placed in me to do this, to not be unnecessarily self-serving, to deliver a balance of all the threads that made up the big picture of what the format was. These days DJs have not selected their own music since 1984 when the computer program Selector came on the market and made it simple for PDs and MDs to program a full day’s content with the push of a button. In an instant an entire generation of DJs skilled at creating shows had that forcibly removed from what we did. I submit radio has gotten nothing but worse and ever less imaginative and engaging/involving ever since.

At WMGK?
The Saturday Morning 60s show was entirely my baby. I did it on my own and delivered the complete self-contained show. On the other hand I came to loathe executing the format when doing fill-in shows. At the end of 5 hours I’d feel my soul had been forcibly sucked out of me.

What are you currently involved with?
Currently I do two weekly webcasts Michael Tearson’s Marconi Experiment and The ATTIC which are both available free and on demand Monday to Monday at www.iradiophilly.com/podcasts.php. Here I am granted total artistic freedom to create shows as I see fit and possible. It is likely the last work I will do as the fences have been set up to rein in the Internet. In 2010 through 2015 I did nearly 300 shows at www.radiothatdoesntsuck.com, the best platform I ever had as I was NOT held to a 60 minute length and was free to allow the shows to find their own lengths. RTDS went dark along with thousands of other small webcasters when at the beginning of 2016 the royalty rates for such as we were hiked 517% essentially to drive as many of us as possible away and off the web. It worked.
I also have returned to being a performing folk performer, something I did back in the 1960s before I did radio, and this has been wonderfully satisfying.
I do not miss broadcast or satellite radio in the slightest. And they don’t seem to miss me either. They do NOT want DJs who care at all about the content of their shows. They want people who will go in say what they must and leave without creating ripples.

Posted 9/27/2016

A Conversation With Tamara Saviano, Author of ‘Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark’

By Steven Brodsky
Congratulations on your new book, Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark. It was years in the making. What surprised you most about the journey of getting the book written?
The biggest surprise to me is that I actually finished it. I didn’t believe I would until the day I turned it in to the publisher. If I hadn’t told so many people I was writing this book, I would have quit. It was a massive undertaking and I felt overwhelmed during the writing process.

You first heard a Guy Clark album, Old No. 1, when you were fourteen. How did that listening experience affect you?
It started my love affair with Texas songwriters and of Texas in general. I grew up in Wisconsin, in an industrial town where my family and most of my friends’ parents worked at factories. Guy made Texas sound romantic to me. “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” immediately became the theme song for my teenage angst. “She ain’t goin’ nowhere, she’s just leavin’.” Man. That’s what I wanted to do. Just leave.
Was exposure to Guy Clark’s records a factor in your choosing music journalism, production, and publicity as your profession?
Maybe. I loved music from an early age and I believe that music overall had a big hand in it. When I was a kid I wanted to write for Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Playboy.

Guy Clark supported the biography. He did not want a hagiography. You did not write one. Tell us about his support.
No one was more surprised than me that Guy agreed to my terms. I asked him to cooperate fully and introduce me to all his family, friends and colleagues and ask them to cooperate without Guy having approval on the final manuscript. When we started, I didn’t believe he’d give me anything but our first interview he told me about his girlfriend Bunny’s suicide and how he then married Bunny’s sister Susanna. He was not afraid to talk about the hard stuff and we talked about it over and over and over again.
Did Guy indicate discomfort about any of your research?
No. He was surprised at some of the things I discovered but seemed happy when I brought him new treasures that I found at his family’s home in Rockport or from research libraries.

You wrote: “Guy Clark was never one to wear his heart on his sleeve. He was taught from a young age to be stoic; to observe the West Texas credo,‘stand up and be a man.’ He learned one should put up a strong façade no matter what he is feeling inside.” Was this reflected in his responses to your interview questions?
No, and that was the most surprising thing about working on the book. Guy and I had intimate conversations. At first it threw me because that was not the Guy I knew. We started working on the book after he was diagnosed with lymphoma and I believe he was feeling mortal. He told me it was time to set the record straight.
You included some very tender diary entries of Susanna Clark, Guy’s wife. Tell us about those.
Guy handed me a box of Susanna’s journals after she died. I asked him if he had read them and he said no. I asked if he was sure he wanted me to have them and use them. He said: “Yes. I’m not out to rewrite the truth, Tamara.”

Was Guy jealous of Susanna’s love for Townes Van Zandt?
He may have been jealous at times but for the most part I believe he just accepted it as part of Susanna’s and Townes’s personalities and he loved them both. They annoyed him sometimes and he didn’t understand their collective sensitivities but he loved both of them more than he loved anyone else.

Were you always comfortable being privy to highly personal information about Guy, Susanna, and Townes?
No, I was often uncomfortable. I tried to comprehend it but never got to that place. I think about my own marriage and how tight my husband and I are…no one else is getting into our marriage, you know? Yet, Guy confessed that Townes took some of the pressure off of him to have to be the husband Susanna wanted. Guy’s stoicism was difficult for Susanna. And, of course, they all drank and took many drugs. I’m sure that shit didn’t make things any easier.

How difficult was it for you to decide what is appropriate to include in the book?
Difficult. A reviewer already called me out for not explicitly saying whether or not Townes and Susanna were involved sexually. I decided that the story is compelling enough without sensationalizing it. People can read between the lines. In the end, I just remembered that it was my book and my story to tell in the way I wanted to tell it. And I knew I was doing it with Guy’s full consent and that’s what mattered most to me.
Susannna famously served as muse for some Guy Clark songs. For those not familiar with Guy’s music, speak about one or two of those songs and how they came about.
Susanna was a muse for Guy, Townes and many others including Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle. I came to the conclusion that half the writers in Nashville and Austin were in love with Susanna. Guy wrote about her often, the most recent being “My Favorite Picture of You,” the title track to his last album, which won a Grammy. Guy’s co-writer Gordy Sampson came to Guy’s house with the title and the minute Guy heard the title he turned around and pulled a Polaroid picture of Susanna from the wall and they wrote about that picture.
An early song Guy wrote about Susanna is “Coat From the Cold.” Guy stopped singing that song long ago because he said it was paternalistic and he couldn’t believe he actually wrote it. “The lady beside me is the one I have chosen to walk through my life like a coat from the cold.” Guy said: “What the fuck was I thinking? Like Susanna didn’t have any choice in the matter.”
A photo of a strikingly beautiful Susanna taken around 1957 appears in the book, courtesy of Guy. If the lyrics of “My Favorite Picture of You” are fully true to life, this photo wasn’t Guy’s favorite of Susanna. What photos (whether of Susanna or others) in the book are most significant to you?
I love the photo of Susanna in the yellow turtleneck and the debutante black and white photo the best. I think it’s because I’ve sort of romanticized the young Susanna. I try to imagine what she would have done had she not gotten involved with Guy and Townes. In some ways, I think they ruined her. Not that it wasn’t her choice, it was, but, she may have reached greater heights personally and professionally without them. Even with them, she was a successful songwriter and painter but I do believe Susanna’s love for these two men held her back. She jumped into a relationship with Guy when she was grieving her sister’s suicide. Maybe with a little time and distance before doing that, she would have made different choices. Of course, we’ll never know and that’s just me romanticizing what might have been.

Guy had the highest regard for quality of artistic expression. What instilled this in him?
His young life in Rockport, Texas was the start of it. Guy and his family read poetry around the kitchen table after dinner. He participated in poetry invitationals, read monologues, wrote essays and fell in love with the written word as a young man. As he matured he read beat poets and literature and dictionaries and thesauruses. Seriously, Guy would pick up the Dictionary of American Slang and just start reading from page one. When he went to Houston and met Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury, that inspired him to start writing songs and his quest to write, read and hear quality literature and songs stayed with him until the day he died. Guy is famous for saying to young songwriters “Do you want to be an artist or do you want to be a star?” He didn’t think there was anything wrong with wanting to be a star but it’s a different approach. Artists are not willing to compromise in the way stars have to compromise with their material and their images.
Guy was very helpful to other songwriters. Cite an example of this that appears in your book.
Lyle Lovett is probably the most famous example. Someone slipped Guy a demo tape of Lyle’s and Guy copied that tape and handed it out to everyone he knew in Nashville. And he had never met Lyle. He thought it was that good and that someone needed to pay attention and give Lyle a publishing and record deal. And that’s exactly what happened. Guy gave Tony Brown at MCA the tape and Tony signed Lyle.
What song written or co-written by Guy, was Guy most proud of?
Guy’s favorite song he ever wrote was “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” He said it just came out easily and he loves the message of it.
Of his songs covered by others, which were his favorites?
Slim Pickens’s spoken word version of “Desperados Waiting for a Train” was Guy’s favorite cover of one of his songs. He also loved Terri Hendrix’s cover of “The Dark.” Those are two that stuck with him.

Which song most meaningfully reflects the person you came to know as a result of writing Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark?
“Stuff That Works.” It fits Guy perfectly.
Posted Oct. 12, 2016