Dear Friends in Music,
Happy New Year! I hope this finds you well, restored in some way from the holidays, and finding hope for good things ahead in 2022.
I am kicking off the 2022 road schedule, sharing a concert with my colleague and friend Crys Matthews this Thursday, January 6th at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY. Crys is a phenomenal writer, performer, artist, and activist. And I am pleased to help share her music with people who may not yet be familiar with her work. https://www.crysmatthews.com
Sarah Craig, the Director of Caffe Lena called me several months ago and asked if I would offer a concert there on the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection. I was honored to say yes, and equally honored that Crys was interested in sharing the evening with me so that we could sing some healing into the world from the Caffe Lena stage, together.
As with all of my shows from Caffe Lena during the Pandemic, this will be available as a real time LiveStream via YouTube Live. Tickets are also available for in person seating. All tickets and contributions will be split between the artists and Caffe Lena, and as always your generosity is deeply appreciated. www.caffelena.org
Caffe Lena TV: https://caffelena.tv/programs/live-joe-jencks-crys-mathews
YouTube Live Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGosgfRhc8k
Please also see below an essay I wrote: A Place In The Choir, honoring Bill Staines. He was a treasured colleague, mentor, friend to many, and a much beloved and gifted Folksinger and songwriter. His music and storytelling will live on and continue to be cherished.
May this be a year of healing, growth, re-connection, and peaceful prosperity for us all.
In Gratitude & Song,
~ Joe Jencks (1-4-22)
PS. My radio show, My Highway Home features an interview with renowned harpist, David Michael. A legend in the Pacific NW, David shares amazing stories from his remarkable transcontinental life as a rogue harpist and busker. Sunday January 9th at 6:00 PM ET & 11:00 PM ET (adjust for your time-zone). And rebroadcast at 12 Noon on Wednesday January 12th. (adjust for your time-zone). All on Folk Music Notebook: www.folkmusicnotebook.com.
A Place In The Choir: Remembering Bill Staines
Copyright, Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music 2022
I was about 11 years old the first time I heard Bill Staines’ music. One of my big sisters worked at the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Pennsylvania. Bill was friends with the director of the outdoor education program and played a concert there almost annually. My sister loved his performance and bought several cassettes. No small commitment on her part, if you have a sense of what young environmental educators made for a living in the early to mid-80s. He was an instant favorite, and the recordings she brought home to share with me were a joy. His songwriting and delivery were compelling to me, and the authenticity and lack of pretense were inviting. And of course the first Bill Staines song I ever learned to play on my own guitar was A Place In The Choir.
A Place In The Choir
Copyright, Bill Staines
All God's critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on the telephone wires,
And some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got now
Listen to the bass, it's the one on the bottom
Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippopotamus
Moans and groans with a big t'do
And the old cow just goes moo.
The dogs and the cats they take up the middle
While the honeybee hums and the cricket fiddles,
The donkey brays and the pony neighs
And the old coyote howls.
Listen to the top where the little birds sing
On the melodies with the high notes ringing,
The hoot owl hollers over everything
And the jaybird disagrees.
Singin' in the night time, singing in the day,
The little duck quacks, then he's on his way.
The 'possum ain't got much to say
And the porcupine talks to himself.
It's a simple song of living sung everywhere
By the ox and the fox and the grizzly gear,
The grumpy alligator the the hawk above,
The sly racoon and the turtle dove.
I am quite sure that by the tens of thousands, different fans all around North America and beyond could tell you deeply personal stories about how Bill’s music touched their lives. And I hope you share your memories with your friends, family, and community. Bill deserves remembering, and his songs deserve to be sung, again and again. They are timeless.
As a young man, I looked up to Bill as a model of how to be a Folksinger. He was by no means the only model, but a real thriving model nonetheless. Bill Staines walked to his own drummer from the get-go until he passed on December 5th, 2021. While spending much of his career having record deals – including a lengthy stint with Philo Records – he lived the lifestyle of the Indie Singer-Songwriter before that was a hip thing to do. Bill charted his course, and hit the road. He loved the road. For all of his laments about missing home in various forms and places, I think actions almost always speak louder than words. And even for a fine songwriter like Bill, his persistent relationship with the road spanning parts of seven decades suggests that he actually loved what he did. And the fact that he loved the music more than the hype is further testament to his devoted practice of being a true American Folksinger. It was a deep calling and one he manifestly inhabited.
Bill was born in Medford, MA, on February 6th, 1947. His first national release A Bag of Rainbows came out in 1966. From then until this past fall – Bill was a road dog. And he was an adventurer. He wrote fondly of the places he traveled to and the places he was from with equal grace and humor. He wrote an entire suite of music all about Alaska. And songs like River and Sweet Wyoming Home were veritable Hymns in the Church of Folk. He was a storyteller par excellence, and was also known for his children’s albums and performances. His music was used in film and television on a few occasions, and he was a guest on Mountain Stage and on A Prairie Home Companion.
I first met Bill when I opened for him in 2002, at a performance in the big room at Swallow Hill in Denver. Swallow Hill is much like the Oldtown School of Folk Music in Chicago. It is an epicenter and mecca of Folk culture, music, performance, and educational instruction. Swallow Hill is one of the premier Folk venues in all of the western US. Playing there at all on the mainstage was a thrill for me. But sharing a night with Bill Staines, that was a shot in the arm for my blossoming international touring career. It filled my heart and soul in ways I can neither forget nor adequately share. But suffice to say that it was a moment of deep personal satisfaction for me. I had travelled in my own life along some of those highways and byways that Bill wrote and sang about. And I now understood differently his love of the road and the side of humanity he was privileged to see in each of the towns and cities and communities in which he played.
Bill was always kind to me. And he was always a little distant too. A little self-isolating in crowds, seeking solitude and a few close colleagues over throngs of folks at a festival. He was humble in all the right ways, and he understood at some point in his life that the reason people came to see him play was because they wanted to hear specific songs that were as mentioned – Hymns in the Church of Folk. It wasn’t that he didn’t have anything new to say. 26 + albums prove to me that he had plenty to say and write. But he also understood that certain songs of his were balm for the soul, for others. And whatever he was on about in a given phase of creativity, he also knew that people yearned for the gentle tones of his voice and the comfort of being together and singing together in a Bill Staines concert. To those who said critically of Bill, “Every time I see Bill, it’s the same show…” I say kindly, you are wrong. I opened for Bill on several occasions, and shared stages with him at festivals spanning 2 decades. Even when the songs were the same, the singer had changed. And with each passing year, with each new growth-ring on the tree, Bill made the songs feel fresh. It was as if he was speaking a truth that a younger self had written but an older self was just beginning to understand.
Sweet Wyoming Home
Copyright, Bill Staines
There's a silence on the prairie
That a man can't help but feel;
There a shadow growing longer now,
And nipping at my heels.
For I know that soon that old four-lane
That runs beneath my wheels
Will take me home to my sweet Wyoming home.
I headed down the road last summer
With a few old friends of mine.
They all hit the money, Lord,
I didn't make a time.
The entrance fees they took my dough,
And the travelin' took my time,
And now I'm headed home to my sweet Wyoming home.
Watch the moon smiling in the sky
And hum a tune, a prairie lullaby.
A peaceful wind, an old coyote’s cry
A song of home, my sweet Wyoming home.
Well, the rounders they all wish you luck
When they know you're in a jam.
But your money's ridin' on the bull,
And he don't give a damn.
Well there's shows in all the cities,
The cities turn your heart to clay;
It takes all a man can muster
Just to try and get away.
And the songs I'm used to hearin'
Ain't the kind the jukebox plays,
And now I'm headed home to my sweet Wyoming home.
You know I've always loved the ridin',
There ain't nothin' quite the same,
And another year may bring the luck
Of winning all the game.
There's a magpie on the fence-rail,
And he's callin' out my name,
And he calls me home to my sweet Wyoming home.
As a songwriter and storyteller, Bill Staines was capable of inhabiting a character with such remarkable authenticity that one would believe that he had been a Hobo, a Cowboy, a Rodeo Circuit Rider, an Alaskan Bush Pilot, and so much more. But it was his capacity for empathy, I believe, that made him both incredibly entertaining and beloved by many; and I expect a bit lonely even in good company. I would submit that one cannot easily turn off that much empathy. One cannot choose to see less humanity in others once it has been seen. Sometimes being alone is easier than trying to tune out so much awareness and perception. And so his long road trips, solitary camping trips, and quiet demeanor when out of the public eye were, I suspect, part of Bill’s efforts to consolidate his thoughts and conserve his focus for when he needed it most. But I think he was no less happy alone in any mountain range than he was on any good stage in a room full of people. Bill was a man squarely in his own skin. For that alone he has my respect.
Copyright, Bill Staines
I was born in the path of the winter wind
And raised where the mountains are old
The springtime waters came dancing down
And I remember the tales they told
The whistling ways of my younger days
Too quickly have faded on by
But all of their memories linger on
Like the light of a fading sky.
River, take me along
In your sunshine, sing me your song
Ever moving and winding and free
You rolling old river, you changing old river
Let's you and me river run down to the sea!
I've been to the city and back again
I've been moved by some things that I've learned
Met a lot of good people and I called them friends
Felt the change when the seasons turned
I heard all the songs that the children sing
And listened to love's melodies
I've felt my own music within me rise
Like the wind in the autumn trees.
Someday when the flowers are blooming still
Someday when the grass is still green
My rolling waters will round me bend
And flow into the open sea
So here's to the rainbow that followed me here
And here's to the friends that I know
And here's to the song that's within me now
I will sing it wherever I go.
For Bill Staines, there is a global garden of flowers still blooming and the grass is still green in the hearts of those who know and love his music, sing his songs, and cherish his memory. He was a man who gave himself to the muse with dedication. His spirit lives on in every camp counselor and camper who sings about, “...the Ox and the Fox and the Grizzly Bear.” And for each of us traveling on our own River, we too will and must travel that river until it carries us back to the great sea. Gratefully, we will have Bill’s music as our companion on the trip. So, here’s to the song that’s within us now, Bill. We will sing it wherever we go, and bring a part of you with us on the journey. Thanks for the songs, brother. Thanks for the memories and the kindness, the laughs and the tears, the spirit of hospitality and the creative spark that set so many others on their own path of discovery. Thanks for making a place in your choir for all of us.
~ Joe Jencks (12-27-21)
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