I spent this weekend at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. It was a weekend of perfect weather, tasty beer, my first bout of heat exhaustion (apparently one should mix a bit of water with your beer in the heat. Who knew?), and jaw droppingly good music, as always. If I wasn’t completely useless at reviewing music, I’d give one a shot. What I will say is if you ever get a chance to see Dave and Phil Alvin and the Guilty Ones, jump at it. They were nowhere near my radar and completely blew me away, along with everyone else. Old guys can still bring it….google them.
For me though, the highlight of the festival was getting a chance to see and talk a bit with Langhorne Slim. Jackie and I have followed him since we first saw him at the Edmonton Folk Festival a few years ago, and his music has been with us since. He was recommended to me by my friend Denise, who I will forever be grateful to. Again, I am not much of a music reviewer, but I will classify his music as raw, both in his songwriting and performance. Here is a cut from his Wiki page: Langhorne Slim has been celebrated by numerous press outlets. Rolling Stone praised The Way We Move as “damn near perfect,” while Laura Barton of The Guardian proclaimed the band as “one of the greatest live acts.” Additionally, Entertainment Weekly called Langhorne Slim “your next obsession,” and The New Yorker described him as having “Leadbelly’s gift for storytelling and Dylan’s ability to captivate crowds.”
As you read above, he tells a good story, so it’s pretty hard for me not to like him. By far my favorite song of his is called “Song for Sid”. I linked a YouTube version of it below. To really understand what will follow, you kinda need to watch the video.
So before we go on, if you watched that and thought “meh”, then you can pretty much stop reading. None of what follows will make any sense. Personally, I tear up a bit every time I hear this song. I actually teared up a bit (but I still might have some sunscreen in my eye) watching the first few seconds of that link just to make sure the quality was good.
One of the great thing about these festivals is that if you want to meet the artists, it’s pretty simple to do. The procedure is you walk up to them and if they are not talking to someone else say “Hi, I’m Rick, it’s nice to meet you,. I really like your music.” You can probably come up with something a little less inane than that if you like, but if you have as little creativity as I do, or get slightly tongue tied when speaking to someone you admire, I find simple tends to work best.
On Sunday morning, after a run through the merch tent, I found myself with a Langhorne Slim t-shirt (support your local artists folks) looking at him on stage tuning his guitar about a half hour before his show.
Ok a very, very quick aside here. The day before we saw him in a different workshop. In these workshops, several artists are put together on stage and encouraged to join in on each other’s songs. Often before the song, the band playing will say something music-y like “This is in e-flat, there will be some c, a, f sharp. It’s in 1-4-5. You’ll all figure it out” I just made that shit up actually, because those of us who don’t really play have absolutely no clue what all that means. I would say it might as well be calculus, but I understand a bit of calculus. Anyway, during one of someone else’s song there is this girl talking to Langhorne. When his turn comes up, he says something like “during the last song this very nice lady told me that before I play I should tell the other musicians what key I’m in. But I have no idea what key I’m in. I just put this thing (capo) where it makes the guitar sound good with my voice. For this song I’m putting it here (and shows the other musicians, who shook their heads knowingly and gladly joined in). Honestly, this little workshop idea is really why I go to these things. They can be magic. Most of them this weekend were. Anyway……
I take advantage of the situation and walk up to him with my shirt (hey, this sounds like a sad fanboy story all the sudden) and say “Hello Langhorne, if I had a pen I would get you to sign this.” How weak was that? Maybe I should have asked for a selfie for God’s sake. See, should have said “Hi Langhorne, my name is Rick…” He says “I think I have a pen backstage I can go get.” “No, that’s ok. What I wanted to say was you know how some movies make you cry pretty much every time you watch them?” “I do know that.” “Well, Song for Sid is like that for me. I tear up pretty much every time I hear it.” He smiles and says “Me too.” We exchange a couple of pleasantries, I go and set up our chairs to watch the show, then rush back to where all our stuff is on main stage to drop off my merch haul, including my new unsigned shirt. 10 minutes later I’m back armed with coffee and a fresh coat of sunscreen and more musicians are setting up on stage. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t say more about the song and why it has such a strong connection to me. As I’m getting ready to sit down, I see Langhorne walking up to me and he says “I have a pen.” “Shit man, I put the shirt with my stuff on main stage, sorry.” “That’s ok, I’m around all day.” Seizing the opportunity….
“I wanted to tell you why the song gets me so much. Like you, I had a couple of bad ass grandpa’s that I got to spend a lot of time with, not as much as you did because we lived too far away from them for awhile, but I did see them pretty regularly. They were really great guys and meant the world me. But it’s not just that. It also makes me feel sad for anyone who listens to that song and doesn’t connect because they weren’t lucky enough to have that relationship.” I didn’t tell him that some dad stuff sneaks in there as well when he sings the part about being so glad he got to say goodbye, because I didn’t want to start blubbering. Dad stuff is still hard for me.
He tells me about why his grandparents were so important to him, how they really stepped up in some pretty tough times in his life and how blessed he was that all 4 of his grandparents were with him into his 30s. I tell him about my daughter and wife also loving his music and how he played Edmonton the year Mackenzie was really getting in to this whole folk music thing, and how she has a picture with him (the cover shot). He tells me to tell her to come see him in Edmonton, which she will do if she is in town. (And I’m starting to question my reasoning in sending my 20 year old daughter to meet a young good looking musician!) He was really engaging and it was a great conversation, but I knew he kinda had a job to do. My final comment was:
“I think that each of us only gets to do a few truly great things in our lives. That song is a truly great thing and I thank you for it” He thanked me, tells me “I can’t really take credit for that song as it didn’t really come from me as much as came to me” or something very similar. He shook my hand and then went up on stage to make some music. On his second turn through he says “I’ve been trying not to repeat my songs in these workshops (he probably played 4 or 5 workshops over the weekend, doing around 3 songs each time), but I met a guy here who has a particular connection to this song and I wanted to play this for him (sunscreen in my eyes, sunscreen in my eyes!).” Points at me, I wave and he plays. I know how sentimental all this is sounding, but it was a pretty special few minutes for me. I hope for him too.
Other than thanking him a final time right after the show, I didn’t see him again that day to get my shirt signed (which I don’t really need I promise, its just he got me a pen and everything!). I meant to catch his last session, but there were other people I wanted to see and time got away from me. I’ll see him again though, he’ll play Song for Sid and I’ll get a bit teary. The pattern is pretty well set at this point.
Normally, that would be all, but this got me thinking about my grandpa’s and in honor of Song for Sid, I have a couple of grandpa stories. As I’ve said before, I’ve been told by a good friend and my oldest son (and if my kids didn’t cry a little over that song I’m disowning the lot them) that I tend to get a bit wordy on these, should stick to the point and not wander off so much. In this case, sue me. If the above was enough for you for one day, that’s cool. If not, read on and let me tell you about Al and Slick (Lloyd).
My dad’s dad, Lloyd was nicknamed Slick. Made sense to me, he was bald like my dad and like I am now. I remember him growing peppers, a big stone smoker in the back yard, sticking his fake teeth out at us, chasing us around and tickling us till we cried, playing dominoes, me drinking from his spit can (come on people, do NOT spit in a Dr. Pepper can!) telling stories (like my dad, and now me, and hopefully my kids), lots of stories. Sometime before he died I was at my aunt Lloydell’s house I think and found an old newspaper article about him from when he played football in college. The story talked about Lloyd “Slick” Reeves tearing through the defence. I asked my dad “when did papa go bald?” He said “in his 30s.” “So why does the newspaper article call him Slick?” “Son, daddy’s nickname has nothing to do with his hairline. They called him Slick cuz he was Slick. Have I ever told you about him shooting dice?” “I don’t think so” I replied. Well…..
Slick played dice. He also cheated at dice. He had one of those thing up his sleeve that he could change to loaded dice. Dad said every roll would be a different pair. So being a man with the moral ambiguity to be able to cheat at dice, he also knew when he was being cheated and how to take advantage of that. There was an old gambling house in Galveston called the Balinese (any of my Texan friends reading this, that being the small subset of Texas friends who haven’t blocked me due to my liberal leanings, will remember the old Balinese Room) run by the mob. Yeah, that mob. Slick would go there sometimes and bet with the house because he knew the games were crooked. He was also more than a bit of a charmer, and really fun to have around so the Italian boys would let it slide for a bit. Then one of the boys would whisper in his ear that it was time to go, and usually he would. Except one night he is a bit too many Pearl’s into the night (It might have been Lone Star, but I seem to remember both my grandfather’s drinking Pearl beer) and decides he can stay if he damn well wants to. Dad’s version of the story: “I woke up to the sound of tires screeching, then a car doors opening and slamming, then the sound of tires screeching again. I ran outside and there is daddy on the front lawn beat to shit.” Guess the Italian boys disagreed with his read on the situation. I asked him the next time I saw him about it “Paw-Paw, did you go back?” “Hell yes son, I just always left when they told me to after that!”
I could do a whole post, actually several, on Slick stories. Both my father and uncle gambled. Billy (uncle) was pool. Dad was cards and bowling. Dad always stuck pretty close to home but Billy traveled much more. He said he was as far away as California once and someone asked him where he was from. He said “Texas City,” and the guy said “I know a Reeves from Texas City, name is Slick. You know him?” Billy said that happened quite a lot.
Grandpa Al was not quite as flamboyant, but a tough guy also. He was a boxer when he was young and always wanted to play box, which meant getting punched playfully by you Paw-Paw. Fireworks at his house most holidays. Me having a roman candle blow up in my arm at his house. Duck hunting with him and my uncle Mike. He taught me to play golf, which was one of the greatest single gifts I’ve ever been given. One of my fondest memories of my teenage years were going to my grandparents house at a place called Hilltop Lakes and hanging out playing golf, visiting my aunts who were living there, sneaking off to 11 mile store to buy beer because it was 11 miles to the county line and Hilltop was in a dry county. I loved it there. I really loved playing golf with him and wish I had paid more attention. I could always hit it pretty far, and was out hitting him I would say by the time I was 14, he wasn’t that big of a guy. However, his 150 yds in game was awesome. Now that I’m pretty close to the age he was in those days I recognize the value in that 150 yard in game. I’m getting better, but will never be at his level in that part of the game. I’m trying to remember if I ever beat him. I do remember beating my dad, but I don’t know if I ever beat Al. I kinda hope I didn’t.
I can’t come up with a story like Slick’s, but hell, I don’t have any stories like Slick’s for anyone. I do have a couple of shorty’s though.
When I was probably 15 years old, my uncle Mike (who was like 28-30 maybe?) and I woke up one morning at around 3 am and went to the pond on #14. The hole was called Bear Claw. 90 degree dogleg left with water shaped like a U around the green. I could write 1000 words on strategies to play Bear Claw, but you would be bored and just lose a ball in the end anyway. Uncle Mike and I decided we needed more golf balls and since I had no money and Mike was world class cheap, the quickest and most cost effective way to get them was to take them from the pond. Pretty simple really, dive down in the muddy lake to the bottom in the pitch black night (really simple if you are not afraid of the dark or the mud and feeling all squishy), rake your hands across the ooshy gooshy bottom, swim to surface, and kick to shore depositing your catch, which was typically as many balls as you could hold in your hands (stop it). Oh, and hope you don’t get caught. After an hour or so we had filled the bag. I don’t mean the pockets, I mean the entire bag with the clubs removed. We take them back to Paw-Paw’s and start dividing. We divided the balls into shag balls and balls we would actually play, and subdivided that into Titleists and everything else. He would take 10 and I would take 10. Specifically designed for no one to have an advantage. At about 6 or so Paw-Paw Al comes out and says something to the effect of “where did all the golf balls come from?” Then he sees the muddy balls and his muddy son and grandson puts two and a couple hundred together and exclaims “did you two idiots steal those balls from Bear Claw?” I let Mike answer. Grandparents still spanked kids in those days and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t spank Uncle Mike cuz he was like 30. He had never spanked me before, but he seemed pretty mad so I decided not to take any chances. He yells at Mike some (I’d like to say I took advantage and pocketed a few more golf balls in the commotion, but I wasn’t sneaky enough). He is all “you morons are going to get me kicked out of here,” which is pretty funny, the thought that the golf course is going to kick out a homeowner (and he was their sales guy) over several hundred soggy golf balls! Anyway, he eventually calmed down, until of course he saw his golf bag. Mike and I weren’t going to use our bags! I really think that is the only time I ever saw him yell. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Free golf balls!
Last one. My dad was a shrimper. Al loved the water, hunting, all things outdoors but honestly, if he would have had to fend for himself in the outdoors I don’t think his life expectancy would have been all that high. He wasn’t the guy who was going to scout and find the locations, more the guy you brought to the locations. Dad had him on the shrimp boat one day, and looks back and Al is staring intently at the tanks that are loaded with live shrimp. He says “Richard, I think something is wrong with these shrimp.” “What do you think is wrong with them Al?” “I’ve been watching this tank for awhile and I haven’t seen one come up yet to breath.” “Shrimp have gills, Al.” My university educated grandfather says “Oh yeah, I knew that.” Ladies and gentlemen, that ability to grasp the natural world is what an education at Texas A&M University will get ya (cheap shot but I had to take it). My Uncle Mike, the cheap pond diver and corrupter of impressionable teenagers, is an A&M grad also. Just sayin.
I loved those old men. Who hopefully are hanging with Sid and Jacksony where the great one’s go. Slick is the one cheating at dice and Al is hustling them on the golf course.
And now that I think of it, I don’t remember thinking of them as old. They were my Paw-Paws. Paw-Paws are ageless
So Sean (what Langhorne’s mom calls him), thanks again man. I sincerely doubt you read this, but if so hope you enjoyed it and seeing the impact your songs can have on others inspires you to keep at the tough game you are in. One of my favorite lines about your type of work is from Hayes Carll who says “In this line of work no one retires.” Have fun the rest of your tour, you killed it in Calgary, your solo performance was fantastic. My daughter hopes she can get back to Edmonton for your show tomorrow. And bad ass grandpa’s are the best!
And on a final, final note. I have too many friends who are stuck listening to the same music we listened to as kids and young adults. Man, I love that music. Nothing ever tops the music that was important to you when you were young. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and all my playlists are littered with songs from the 60s to the 80s to go with the newer stuff. The issue is that now we can easily find any of our old music on line in some form and just listen to that. For the most part those songs were written for our younger selves and mostly written with one particular set of body parts in mind (I know that while that isn’t exclusively true, you have to admit it’s mostly true). We had not yet experienced all that much of what life has to offer. I hear people say that there is no good music anymore. I wish I could adequately explain to people just how untrue that really is. There are so many fantastic singer-songwriters out there that will get you thinking about all aspects of your life, and sometimes you’ll get lucky and one will hit you right where you live. You will feel this very strong connection to the songwriter, and if you are very fortunate you’ll have the opportunity to meet them and tell them about it. I’ve had a few now and I wouldn’t trade them for any song of my youth. Song for Sid is certainly one of them. Waves, by Sam Baker is another. I’m going to link myself here. While Song for Sid makes me tear up. Waves by Sam Baker turns me into a blubbering heap: They Turn in Circles. And if you want some grindy ass rock and roll or syrup dripping country but with some intelligence behind it, that’s out there too. In fact, grindy ass rock and roll and country with attitude are kinda my go to’s, but as you can see, I do like my slow sad one’s a bit also. So please, don’t restrict yourself to pop, you owe yourself more.
And buy some Langhorne Slim. Seriously.