Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Joy of Being a "Local"



“The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.” Wendy Wunder” 



    It is mid-August and the heat of a Philadelphia summer is making itself felt. I grew up in Philadelphia, so I am well acquainted with the way August in Philly can feel. As a young kid I liked it; running around the neighborhood playing ball, getting good and sweaty, swigging root beers and iced teas and feeling that all that heat and sweat meant I was enjoying all of life and being a hard-working little man. As I got older, of course, the heat and sweat started to wear on me more and more, and I eventually came to not like it. Getting out of the city during parts of August became an important part of my plans. When I married Penny, who also liked to camp and hike and birdwatch, we were both into spending a few weeks from the middle-to the end of August in upstate New York or New England and eventually Canada. We did this for most of our married life, and it was wonderful. 

    While I have always loved traveling, I am very fortunate in that I have also always loved being from and living in Philadelphia. Returning home from our trips was never a sad thing. I love Philly. I love the green of the city, the different neighborhoods that each have their own feel, looks, vibes and smells, and I love the walkability of this place. So coming back home after a vacation trip was not a “loss” or a “letdown” in any real way. Yes, returning home meant less hiking and birding, no tent camping and less hearing new music. But it also meant that I was in a place I am glad to call “home."

   I am thinking about because I have been feeling reflective of late, and I am realizing in a deeper way how grateful I am to be a “local” musician. I have done some traveling playing music, although not as much as I would have liked, and I always enjoy it. Through music I have gotten to see some places I probably never would have seen otherwise:Missouri and Oklahoma. Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo NY. Winchester, KC and Wichita, Kansas. Lancaster, Harrisburg, Penn State, and Pittsburgh, PA. And more. But this past month of playing has made me really appreciate being a part of the local Philly music scene and having all of the connections and roots that I have established here. It is people and places that matter the most to me, especially as I am older, and the gigs of the last three months have made that abundantly clear.

   The Dukes’ first two gigs this year were at Drexel Lodge in Delaware County and Kahn Park in Center City. They were both wonderful experiences. At Drexel Lodge people who hear us regularly at the Mermaid Inn came out, and it was so good to see them and to talk after 18 months of being away from them. The Mermaid is a place we have played at for decades; it is our “home away from home.”  And these are folks who I have come to know and dance with and share stories with and laugh with over all those years. Seeing them at our first gig after such a long layoff was a great surprise,and it filled me with joy. 

     Likewise, the Kahn Park gig was also a homecoming of sorts. I lived near Kahn Park for 9 years during the late 70’s and early 80’s. And at that gig there were a couple of folks with whom I used to hang out with way back then. There were also Mermaid folks, a former colleague, spouses of colleagues, and ex-students from my long teaching career in the area. Our soundman at that gig was Mike Blair, someone I have known since the late 1960’s when he was part of a coffeehouse I played at when I was just starting out. So there were aspects of my whole 50+ year musical career and my 40-year teaching career right in front of me. It hit me not just how long I had been playing and working in Philly, but also how many wonderful people and places I have known and how many meaningful and amazing experiences I have had during that stretch of time. Casn you say, "grateful'??

  This was also apparent with the Two John’s gigs over the last month or so. We played a couple of places we had never played before, and old friends showed up to make those gigs special as well. At the Stone House in Kimberton, PA Marc Grossman, an original Duke, and his wife, Amy, came out, and they brought some longtime friends of theirs.  The atmosphere and vibe was immediately set, and it was great playing and great fun. At the Attic Brewery, a great space in a re-purposed big Germantown factory and warehouse, Dave, a Dukes’ newsletter follower, and some of his friends and family showed up. As did a friend who had been part of a harmonica player’s group I used to be a part of over a decade ago. And he presented me with an original Hohner Marine Band harmonica from the 1930’s! Again, the playing itself was wonderful, but the presence and warmth of those folks made it extra-special. 

  So I, indeed, love being a local musician. There is tremendous joy playing anywhere and at any time, but playing in front of friends and people who I know from different contexts and who have known me for a long time brings a special feel-a magic of connection. I am grateful to have been here in Philly for all of these years; to have had so many fulfilling experiences and to have met so many outstanding people is a blessing indeed. Thanks so much to all of you for being fans, friends, colleagues, and more. And for bringing all of your spirit and energy to the gigs. It truly makes being a musician here an incredible experience. Thank you!!

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