Monday, August 10, 2009

Phil Marsh and the Freight coffee house, and further ramblings

I ran into my old friend Earl Crabb on Saturday night at the Phil Marsh show at the "old" Freight, the very last Satuday night they'll be at that venue, now that they're moving into their new building downtown at the end of the month. I think about ten people in the audience were under 55, and they were probably children and grandchildren of the old regulars, and there were about a hundred of us. We sang a hymn (not "angel band" but another fine old bluegrassy song with good harmony possibilities) in memory of Mike Seeger, who died this weekend, and Phil sang a lot of great old George Jones songs, stuff from the Royal Calypso Orchestra, and a lovesong with clever, tightly-packed lyrics about a long distance call, Tokyo to Tulsa, between ichiban number one cowboy and Su Li Su. (Special thanks to Gary Salzman for the calypso, and to Laurie Cohen for sonorous cello backup which particularly pleased my cello-playing seatmate, Carla de Haas.)

Phil was part of the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, which was the first act at the Freight a zillion years ago. The band had a reunion I had to miss recently since I was out of town, so I was tickled to get a second chance this summer to see Phil.

And seeing Earl reminded me that when he and I had been dating (and he lived in Palo Alto), we used my house to host a HUGE party late one Saturday night, for the Cleanliness and Godliness band, the Mark Spoelstra band Jade Flute (now there was another man I had a crush on, Mark Spoelstra), and the visiting-from-Cambridge Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Geoff Muldaur and I compared notes and he claimed me as his "soul sister" since we get the same awful nervous rash on our hands sometimes. Tall fiddler Richard Greene was amused that I was both a singer and a seamstress. (I had started a small career, first with sunbonnets and then with men's shirts, sellling them in local boutiques.) I remember moving Maria Muldaur's fur coat into a closet since people were stepping on it, the party was so crowded; she'd taken it off and set it in a corner. The party didn't even start till about 1 am since all the bands had played gigs that night; and Country Joe and the Fish were invited but they were in Seattle, so they phoned in and said hello to everybody. But in the way of things, the bands remember Earl, and not me; and in justice, I have to say that Earl has made a serious avocation of taking photos at folk venues over the years, while I'm just a paying member of the audience. But I do pay, since I think it's important to support live music, not get by on the freebie guest list at the door even when I do know the singers.

The Freight got its name from its FIRST location, when they took over a bulding on San Pablo Avenue. Too broke to put up a new sign, they just added the words "coffee house" to the sign left there by the previous busines -- Freight and Salvage.

However, that venue held only about 78 people according to the fire marshall, and it's hard to make a go of a business that can't hold a lucrative capacity crowd when that crowd wants to show up. So they moved a few blocks away, just off San Pablo, and slowly fixed up the much-larger building they now had. (But the ladies' room still only held two stalls, leading to LONG lines during intermissions, and the green room was pretty small and there was no room for a kitchen, just a fridge and a counter for selling drinks and snacks.) The sound was okay as long as you didn't sit next to one of the walls, and the chairs were a ragtag collection, most of them not TOO uncomfortable, but that was about the best you could say about them. (Generously, you could bring in your own folding chair and use it, and people often did.)

The new venue promises to be so stunningly perfect and large, I wonder if all of us old folkies will be scared away! But opening night is sold out, a good sign. If I think I'll be in town, I'm gonna FINALLY see Rambling Jack Elliott in live performance. (He owes me; I bought a ticket to see him at the Jabberwock once, and he forgot the gig and, sometime after the show was scheduled to start, was located still in Los Angeles, 400 miles away.)

Oh, and there's a JABBERWOCK memory website now on the web, started by a friend of Earl's named Corry. Lemee see if I can post the link. I'm going to dig through old posters, scan them, and email 'em to the site. Here we go:, chicken on a unicycle dot com. Corry said that Bill Ellert has died (I did see Bill at some folk event at the big auditorium on the Berkeley High campus about five years ago, and turned down a chance to go with him to the after-party because, as I told him, I'd enjoyed the concert but was afraid that the party would be full of drunk and stoned musicians, whose behavior would probably just tarnish my memories of them), so I'm glad I did get to see him a few years back.

-- Rachel

No comments: