PorchFest and Fred

This Saturday, May 21st, from noon-6pm, the Somerville Arts Council is kicking off what I hope will be an annual celebration of live music with PorchFest.  Across the city, people are offering up their porches to musicians representing genres from "brooding pop and rock-folk" to "killer blues/roots rock guitar" to "cosmic americana, experimental, shapeshifting, psychedelic" and the more recognizable 'bluegrass' and 'jazz.'  To sample what is certain to be some memorable live music, all you need is a favorite mode of transportation and the handy map and schedule available here. It is a happy coincidence that Fred Griffeth, who stopped by the library earlier this week to share a copy of the just-released Fandango Live: Featuring Fred Bajie Griffeth is also participating in Porchfest, as a porch lender and musician.  "Write something about my CD," he commanded.  An easy request to accommodate when the featured artist asking is force of nature. The first time I saw Fred perform was several years ago, when he approached me about the possibility of working on his storytelling craft by offering some programs for the kids.  A few months later I watched as a handful of pajama-clad boys and girls, mesmerized by his rendition of "Going on a Bear Hunt," became his new fan base.  His playful, boisterous, booming voice made tromping through the woods a palpable adventure for these young urban dwellers, who would return in following years in bigger pajamas. As it goes when librarians and patrons talk at length about good books, music and things beyond library fines, Fred encouraged me to see him perform with one of his bands at a weekly residency.  He would do this a few times until, finally, I ventured into Toad one night to see his band The Family Jewels and that's where I first encountered Fred in his element.  Perched alongside a flock of birds at the bar I watched Fred and a band consisting of the most accomplished of Boston-area musicians put their hearts, souls and musicianship  into classic doo-wop, R&B and soul songs.  Often Fred, seeking a connection, a dance partner, a wink, would amble out into the crowd, which was no small feat in this tightly packed club, but he moved like an undulating wave.  Several women applied lipstick and began kissing Fred as he walked by them; his cheeks, head, lips covered in different shades of red.  The room contained too much love: Fred loving his audience, the musicians loving the music, the audience loving Fred loving them.  How could anyone not be smitten? I would return, or at least attempt to.  There was a show last summer, when Fred told everyone he was celebrating his 70th birthday at Fandango's Wednesday night Toad residency.  I raced home after work, quickly changed into a cool, okay, cute summer frock, patted down a few frizzy locks, stuffed a few scratch tickets in a birthday card for Fred (his favorite birthday gift) and made plans to meet a few lady friends I had been gushing about Fred to.  After racing to Toad, enduring the interminable hunt for a parking space, I discovered a line at least a dozen deep at the door and no possibility of squeezing in with the ladies.  I also discovered after the fact the sixtysomething Fred was fibbing about turning 70.  I'm pretty certain the white lie only meant that the line out the door was 12 people deep instead of seven. Over the years I would be struck weak-kneed and in need of a fainting couch from moments like these: Fred, stopping by the library after his trip to Africa... Me: How was your trip? Fred: I brought you back water from the Nile and sand from the Sahara. Fred, performing with the Family Jewels at a very packed, very sweaty Precinct the night of Obama's inauguration... Me: [Front and center, watching as Fred dances with one of the many women waiting their turn for a spin.] Fred: [Catching my eye] You're just jealous! Like I said: someone, a fainting couch, please! The best way to enjoy Fred, if he's not biking up to you on his vintage yellow Schwinn, is to see him live with Fandango.  Hopefully you're at a Toad, and you're working your way through your second pint.  As you watch Fred work his magic as he works the room, Fandango will offer you plenty of reminders of the importance of closing your eyes for a moment to let the music sink in.  This live recording Fred thrust into my hands a few nights ago will serve nicely until the next time I see them live and in person.  With heartfelt renditions of songs like Dylan's The Man In Me and Tom T. Hall's That's How I Got to Memphis, the record serves a warm embrace, an arm over the shoulder, a nudge to remind you to come again. Fred's other band, the Natural Wonders, will be playing PorchFest, Saturday May 21st, from 2-3:30pm at 71 Thurston Street. Cathy Piantigini

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