Thirty one years and running...

Last night was the 31st year of doing Thanksgiving Eve gigs for me... and the concept still has juice:  the show is STILL running.  In a very different form in each city, to be sure, but always soulful and fun. This year was particularly chill as my motto was:  No more Bodhisattvas! (This was a reference to last year's show when I was trying to nail down Steely Dan's most excellent tune, Bodhisattva, and we just didn't have the time to practice it so that it hung together.  If we'd had 3 more days then maybe, but it had to be scrapped at the last minute.)
Last night had some HOT and rockin' moments:  the opening ska-like "Good Lovin'" with the HUGE chorus doing call and response was incredible, "End of the Line" sounded like the Wilburys had joined the band, "Candles in the Rain" was gospel at its best and "Sharp Dressed Man" was both smokin' and entertaining (guitarists donned ZZ Top beards while our young player, Ethan, strutted his stuff!) And let's not forget Andy Kelly bringing down the house with his solo take on Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke!" I would have loved to played this with him but without horns and adequate time to practice had to punt - but he nailed it with verve and good humor. Dave McDermott's nailed John Fogerty's "Born on the Bayou" too and I might add that our reworking of "Word Up" came out sultry and edgy just as I had hoped.
There were also tender and soulful moments of deep compassion: I reprised my acoustic reworking of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" and Jon Haddad added a tasteful harmonica break as we honored this rock and roll saint - Dianne and I sang our tribute to Linda Ronstadt who can no longer perform given Parkinson's and we were both moved to tears - Linda Worster brought the house down with her "Peace on Earth" a song our band performs and loves to share with her - and Bert Marshall played "You Pray for Me, I'll Pray for You" with all of its heart-breaking beauty.  Sue Kelly turned the Sanctuary into an intimate living room with her selection of poems and we had a children's sing-a-long that kept things sweet and light.
And then Brian Staubach, mild mannered insurance man by day, let out his blue-eyed soul again on his composition, "You Are a Friend of Mine" that was a true highlight.  It is a funk song with a touch of Motown that gave our vocalists a chance to "gospelize" it - and they did in spades. We brought in about $2,000 for emergency fuel assistance funds in spite of the shitty weather (the rain turned to freezing sleet at about 5:30 pm.) Still, about 100 people came out and we had a party for a good cause. (When we get the DVD ready, I'll post some clips after it airs on local public TV.)
Two more things about these shows that I have come to love:  First, as I've noted before, they are a family reunion of sorts.  Many of the musicians who join us from beyond the church community I only get to see once a year at our TGE gig.  And most of these same folk have been playing these shows with me since we first came to town. Like me, they have come to see this sharing of music as a way to strengthen the common good AND nourish our hearts in the process.  One of my friends from church said it best:  This is real grace in action - helping others and building community in a joyful celebration.
The second thing I love about these shows is that it gets to showcase different people from church who are NOT professional musicians.  In our culture the only time non-pros get a chance to make it happen in public is either karaoke competition or modern day gladiator bouts like "The Voice" or those other vote out the loser TV shows.  On our stage, bank tellers who can sing like Etta James, retail clerks who have the chops of Linda Ronstadt, insurance men who are every bit as funky as Little Steven, administrators who can do Mary Chapin-Carpenter OR Aretha Franklin, physicians who are every bit as precise as David Crosby get to put it out there with style and class - and have fun, too. It fills my heart to overflowing when creativity is kindled and honored.
So after thirty one years this show is still running - and I pray that it will until I'm too old and cranky to organize it all.  And then maybe someone else will pick up the mantle and keep the fire burning.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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