More Thoughts on Scott Alarik and Others

I’m sitting here listening to The Hudson River Sampler on WAMC a local Public Radio station, hosted by Wanda Fischer and reflecting more on Bill Staines and Scott Alarik. There’s a lot to reflect upon, but I’m going to comment on just a bit.

First is a quote from Scott Alarik talking about folk music and how memory is how a person remembers, but tradition is how a society remembers. He then talked about how we can tell what was important to a society by what is preserved and what we hear years later and how we can be drawn back in history by tradition.

But the other thought is a basic tautology: every performer has their own style of performing. This reminded me first of the two “worst” folk performers I’ve heard over the years. Now, worst is relative. Neither technically were bad performers. Technically they were competent and their performance enjoyable, but…

In the first case, it was a performer who performed at Mother’s Wine Emporium at RPI. I honestly don’t remember who it was, but they did their two sets, and at the end of the evening asked for their check, which I promptly handed to them. Now, let me point out here, that as much as many performers loved performing, performing was the way they put bread on the table. Performers who appeared at Mother’s were professionals and we paid them as such. But… In all my years of interacting with performers this was the first, and only, that treated it simply as a job. There was nothing more there. I think they would have put in the same effort with no crowd, or with the largest crowd ever. I’d say their heart simply wasn’t in it or something. That’s fine, but not what we wanted.

The second performer was one my wife and I caught at a lodge on the Skyline Drive in Virginia. We were staying there for the night and during dinner, there was live music. The performer setup, and segued from a warm-up into the performance. He was quite good, and he had some good monologue to go with it, but unfortunately he failed to make any attempt to connect with the audience. It was a shame because there was another family there with young kids and I suspect they walked away without any sense of the specialness of the music. From his demeanor and comments, I suspect this was a regular gig he did every week and was simply a bit jaded. Which is a shame.

This is not to disparage either performer, but more to offer a contrast to other performers such as Scott and Bill.

Bill loved to perform, as the mileage on his car, and the name of 2 of his albums suggested. I don’t think he’d pass up a chance to perform. And despite how many performances he did, I always felt like he was there for the audience. He’d give his all and the audience always enjoyed it. I think the bigger the crowd, the more energy he’d give and make the room feel all that much larger. He could make a small room feel like a concert hall.

But listening tonight, I realized Scott had a very different style, one that worked for him. I’m not sure Scott ever was performing for the audience per se. He was performing for himself, but inviting the audience to come along for the ride. As he’d sing, you could tell he was enjoying the songs and if you joined him and enjoyed the show, great, but if not, he was going to enjoy it anyway. It was almost like being invited into the inner sanctum of his mind. In his case, no matter how large the room, he could make it feel like an intimate, small space where it was just you and him.

Both had their styles and I enjoyed both and will miss them.

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