Wednesday, February 08, 2006
People I'm thanking my stars for tonight
It was during college. I believe I was driving the time, listening to Simply Folk on the radio, back when Judy Rose was still the host. She played For All the Good People. I hadn't heard the song in likely a decade, but it was recognizable and familiar.

As a kid, my parents had me listening to Tom Pease and Robbie Clement. They were local folksy children's artists that played in the area. We would go to concerts. I had all of Tom Pease's tapes.

Tom Pease used to play For All the Good People, so when I heard it again, it struck an emotional chord. The song was written by Ken Hicks, but was popularized by a folk singer from Chicago named Fred Holstein, who played in a folk club owned by him and his brother in Chicago.

The version played on Simply Folk was Holstein's. I remembered the name, looked it up, and was intrigued. I planned on eventually making it down to Chicago to see him play--take the Van Galder bus.

I went back to the website sometime during the spring of 2004, looking to see if there were any dates I could attend that spring. I was saddened to find that Fred passed away in January. I've regretted not going earlier ever since.

During my last year in Madison, I had built up a desire to get on a stage again. Ben and I made a pact to start attending open mics. We started with the Union, in the Rathskellar, playing occasionally to crowds that were largely disinterested in anything we played that wasn't flashy or familiar. We eventually lost interest ourselves and quit going.

But on a fateful night at the Mickey's, Ben and I found a newspaper with a listing of open mics in the city. Ben picked out the open mic with Stephen Lee Rich (which used to be in a little market near Tenney Park called the Urban Market and Coffeehouse. I wrote an entry about it before).

We attended regularly until I moved away. I decided to play For All The Good People the last time I went. The chorus is very simple, and the other folks in the audience sang along for each one:

This is the song for all the good people,
All the good people that touched up my life.
This is the song for all the good people,
People I'm thanking my stars for tonight.

It was really touching. Stephen Lee Rich was very happy to have heard it played and talked about seeing Fred perform it. Fred traditionally played it as his closing song.

I haven't really performed (excepting the opera story) again since I've moved, at least until last night. Ali's in town, and his cousin lives in Oakland near Justin, so we made plans to all meet the open mic at the Starry Plough (the same place I saw Robbie Fulks last August). I played a very slow and emotive version of Good Year for the Roses and a very fast and playful Rocky Raccoon. I was particularly impressed by the audience's attention during the slow ballad. The room was almost quiet, and I tried to focus all my emotional strength into delivering the lyrics.

It comes full circle, somehow. Serendipity determines who we meet along the way. Justin and Ali only became friends of mine by chance in college--I was fairly sure I'd never see Justin again after he moved out, nor did I expect to see Ali again after I moved. Ali used to come with to see me play at open mics in Madison.

On Monday, a CD arrived at my desk. It was Fred Holstein: A Collection. I listened to the whole thing through. The last track, appropriately, was his closer, For All the Good People. Fortunately, I sit behind a divider, so nobody could see my eyes water up when I heard it.

Anyway, Ali, Justin, Fred Holstein, and everyone else I've mentioned are just some of the people I'm thanking my stars for tonight.
Rock on Nathan! When you visiting Madtown again?
I remember that night that you sang "For All The Good People", Nathan. It was quite an experience.
I recently had something happen to me that you'll appreciate. Sandy Andina and I were doing a CD Release party for our new disc. As we got to the last song of the first set, You Can't Do It All On Your Own (a rousing sing-along) I felt (and I mean this literally) Fred Holstein looking over my shoulder. I feel like he approves.

Keep the music going. Be well.

Stephen Lee Rich
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