Archives for posts with tag: performances

When I finished the last line of “Ingenue,” the pianist Ben stood to applaud and I gestured awkwardly to him with my left arm as I left the stage. I went to the green room to return my guitar to its case and settled down for a few minutes to drink some water. Through the green room speaker I heard Deborah Blackburn singing harmony to a pre-recorded track of herself and Johnny singing “I Walk the Line.”

I was back in the house to hear the end of John McCord’s “House of Love,” Edie O’Hara’s “Don’t Keep Her Waiting,” Mance Lipscomb’s “Shake, Shake Mama,” Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and Seán Lightholder leading everyone in the first singalong of the evening, Warren Zevon’s tender “Keep Me In Your Heart.” That one always makes me tear up, but I sang along on the sha-la-las, mostly droning on a high B-flat at the top of the chord. I made a note to myself to listen to the song on the archived live stream: Johnny had wanted it sung at his memorial.

Back in the green room to finish my sandwich before I was due back onstage, I listened to Patrick McKenna sing “Go to the Mardi Gras” and heard some kind of confusion over the intro to “Guitar Rhumbo.” I was in my front row seat to hear Jerry White sing “Blue Angel” simply and sweetly after musing on what Johnny sang about (drinking, love, sex, escape and connection) and inviting us to let the music set us free.

We heard remote, absent Johnny telling us a long story — as he often did — about running away at the age of ten, hoping to float down the Mississippi River like Huck Finn. He didn’t get that far, but he caught the drifting dream in his song “Loafin’ on the Water,” sung ably by Abby Dees.

Abby fronted the next two Johnny Harper classics, “Nothin’ But A Party” and “Light of a New Day,” backed by Maureen Smith and Shirley Davis and then it was time to take the stage for the final numbers. Once again I threaded my way past horns, guitar, bass and drums to the clump of vocal mics, trying to figure out where to squeeze myself in to the short girl mic between Maureen and Shirley.

Jennifer Jolly announced the tune and the band launched into the familiar opening run of “The Weight.” Deborah lead off with a descanted line of “I pulled into Nazareth.” Everyone was in by the chorus, “Take a load off Fanny.” Jenny had printed the words in the program and warned us that Johnny would surely cut the power to the house if he heard anyone sing “Annie.” From where I stood there were plenty of effs — I hit them hard.

Shirley stepped into the mic to sing about Carmen and the Devil in her rich alto. I stepped back as far as I could to give her room. Then Dale Geist took a mic for “Go down, Miss Moses,” ideal for his tenor voice.

I heard the walk down, stepped to the mic and hoped for the best, bringing forth Crazy Chester from deep in my chest. It was a little crazy — my third line went wild, leaving the melody behind, but regaining it for the last line and the chorus.

Freed to sing anything I liked on the last verse and chorus I started to enjoy myself, tapping my foot and swaying, ending the chorus on a high hum. The fun continued as we swung into “They All Ax’d For You,” a good-time tune if there ever was one and a signature tune for Johnny.

Abby gave us the verses about the Audubon Zoo and the deep blue sea, interspersed with scintillating piano from Mark Griffith and followed by a plethora of horn solos. Then Jennifer Jolly asked the band to vamp on the one chord, quieting them down so that I could be heard, and counting me in for my last solo: “Went on over to the other side…”

Jerry picked it up again, singing “Went on down to the Carnival gig.” Then, while Jeremy Steinkoler kept the rhythm on drums, Jenny took the mic to thank the venue, the sound techs, the live stream provider, the online viewers, our absent friends, our donors, the M.C.’s, the planning committee and the musicians. Abby sang the iconic Johnny Harper verse “Went on down to the federal pen,” everybody sang the chorus and the saxophones closed out the final line.

I went backstage again to gather my gear, the backpack full of shoes, extra masks and tissues that I never used. I went out to the lobby for a couple of group photos that I haven’t seen yet. Then I got a chance to mingle and see people I hadn’t seen, to chat with one of Johnny’s drummers and some old friends. I checked at the favor table to pick up a gator from Johnny’s collection, but they had all been packed away for the night — I figure my shrine to him will be a plastic gator decked with Mardi Gras beads: like the gator, he had sharp teeth, a big wide smile and a wicked sense of fun. I will never forget him, his last big party, the music he made, or the people I met through him. I hope we all meet again before too long.

P.S. If you want to see the entire list of personnel and songs for Johnny’s Big Party, here is a link to a PDF program: Event Program

https://tinyurl.com/JHMemorialProgram

Original watercolor painting of tea service.

Rose Teapot. 5.75″ x 9″ Watercolor on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Recently I happened to read a recipe for sweet tea that raised my Irish hackles to a fare-thee-well. Those of you who know me well can raise your eyebrows and chuckle because you know what is coming. The rest of you might want to duck and cover for the duration of the tea rant unless you, too, are a fanatic about properly brewed tea. We’ll get to what that is in a moment.

What was it, you may ask, that occasioned this rant? On a perfectly lovely blog by a polite Canadian writer who makes beautiful cakes decorated with white roses, festoons her posts with poetry and takes professional photographs, I read a recipe for sweetened ice tea (aka “sweet tea”) that called for a pinch of baking soda. Baking soda! I started screaming. I even began my comment with Aieeee! Because, my friends, baking soda does not belong in iced tea: nothing belongs in iced tea but tea leaves steeped in boiling water (and then strained out), cold water and ice. Sugar is optional — I will get to that later.

Properly made tea is part of my cultural inheritance, the one thing that has survived generations in the United States (Well, we bake bread, too, so perhaps there are two things left). I have terrified my best friend by talking about the minimal requirements for a proper cup of tea, which are:

1) a tea kettle

2) a tea pot

3) boiling water — full, rolling boil, if you please, but started from cold water from the tap.

4) loose black tea leaves

and

5) a teaspoon with which to measure the tea leaves

This is how we begin. If you are not familiar with your tea pot (or have just acquired it to meet my requirements), measure cold tap water into your tea pot until it is nearly full, perhaps seven-eighths. Experienced tea drinkers may skip this step since you will already know how many proper cups of tea your teapot makes. Then pour the water, cupful by cupful into your cold tea kettle, counting as you go to see how many cups of tea your pot is meant to hold, allowing a little head room so that the brewed tea does not slop out of the spout when you lift the tea pot. Once you know how many cups of tea fit in your pot you can memorize the amount of water to put in your kettle. You need to add a little extra to allow for water loss from steam and to provide extra water for scalding the pot. If you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry: all will be revealed.

Put your cold kettle onto a hot burner at highest heat. While you wait for it to boil you may prepare a tea tray with a cup and saucer (extra points for fine china), or a mug if you must, along with anything you take in your tea. The classic accompaniments are lemon slices, a pitcher of milk, sugar lumps (kudos if you have sugar tongs), or loose sugar. Some people use honey and many people like to include an extra pitcher of hot water to dilute tea that gets too strong or warm up the pot — we will not be bothering with the water. If your tea tray is large enough and you are strong from consuming proper black tea all your life you may want to include acceptable tea snacks such as a plate of biscuits, scones, or buttered toast, crumpets or tea sandwiches.

Original pen, ink and acquarelle sketch shows glass teapot with peach and delphineums.

Glass teapot. 5″x 7″ Ink and acquarelle on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

When your kettle comes to a full rolling boil (large bubbles rolling across the surface of the water), you bring your tea pot alongside the kettle and pour a few inches of water into the pot. This is called “scalding the pot.” Cover the pot with its lid while you reach down the loose tea, properly stored in tin or glass canisters within easy reach. Before adding tea leaves to your tea pot, be sure to dump out the scalding water. In the interest of ecology I have been known to return this water to the kettle, but you can dump it into your dishpan or utility bowl if you’d rather, or pour it down the sink to clear the drain — don’t say I never give you any choices,  With your teaspoon, carefully measure one teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of tea your tea pot holds. Some people add one additional teaspoon “for the pot.” We find that our tea is strong enough to walk on its own without this tradition. Pour boiling water over the tea leaves until the pot is nearly full and put the lid on pronto. Now you let it sit for awhile, otherwise known as steeping.

Now, what kind of tea should you use? I specified black tea because that is the tea I know best and it is actual tea made from tea plants. There are many kinds of black tea grown in different places in the world. There are pure teas of one type, such as “Ceylon” or “Assam” and there are tea blends, such as “English Breakfast” and “Irish Breakfast.” Assam happens to be my favorite. A certain species of mutants (surely it is part of their gene pool) like Earl Grey Tea. a black tea scented with oil of bergamot — to my ilk this tea tastes like tea cut with perfumed bath water, but I will not chastise them for their choice as long as they don’t serve it when I am coming over. There are other flavored black teas as well, featuring black currant or lemon. I say stick with the basics until you learn what you like: if you were born an American, you may never have had a proper cup of tea in your entire life.

If you have bought your tea leaves in a tin, the tin will likely include guidelines for how long to steep your tea. If you have bought it from a bulk bin or a jar at Country Cheese you will be on your own for the timing. We let our tea steep for about seven minutes before pouring the first cup. If it looks too light, we pour it back and let it steep some more.

Strictly speaking, what you are supposed to do is decant the steeped tea into another clean scalded pot once it reaches the intensity you want. Decanting your tea rids you of the leaves, making it impossible for your perfect tea to acquire bitterness from the sitting leaves. This is entirely proper, but we have a few lazy Philistine habits and one of them is not decanting our tea. During the steeping process, the tea leaves will sink to the bottom of the pot and during the sipping process any that got in there will sink to the bottom of your cup where you can avoid them or read your fortunes if you are good at that sort of thing. In any case, we generally drink our tea so fast and brew it so perfectly that it does not get bitter in the pot. All of us drink our tea with milk (never cream). My brother Bryan drinks his with milk and sugar. We put the tea in the cup before the additions so that we can check the tea’s color.

To make iced tea, all you do is make your largest pot of black tea as described above. After steeping, this time you decant it immediately into a serving pitcher and dilute it with cool water. If you are going to drink it immediately you will want to add ice — if not, it can now sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it — since you have decanted it, it cannot get bitter and you will not need to add any baking soda. Sheesh.

If you want sweet tea, I recommend making a pitcher of simple syrup. Take a saucepan and add equal amounts of sugar and water, 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water. Boil this, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Decant syrup into a nice pitcher and provide guests with spoons. Simple syrup combines with tea better than grainy, granulated sugar, which sinks to the bottom repeatedly, leaving your last swallow of tea much sweeter than your first. You will have to stir your tea a few times to diffuse the syrup evenly even so. Each guest can sweeten her tea to her liking and your mother can have hers unsweetened as she prefers.

Original watercolor painting shows long and short red dresses.

Red Dresses. 8 and 1/2″ by 12″. Watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

While you are practicing making proper tea or rejoicing in the fact that you already know how to make it, I will be putting on my red dress and my back-up singer hat to sing with Johnny Harper and the Hard Times Choir at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. If you read this early enough in the morning, come on out and look for us at The Grand Coulee Stage at 12:50. We’ll be singing Woody Guthrie songs to celebrate his hundredth birthday.