“Thank you all so very much for coming to For Pete’s Sake: Celebrating Pete Seeger’s 95th Birthday at the Fitzgerald Theatre. The portals of heaven opened up for this moment of time and we were able to catch a glimpse of dreams fulfilled through the life-work of both Pete and his beloved wife, Toshi.  If the audio and film footage turned out as good as the concert, we will most certainly produce a film for those weren’t able to attend. But for now – for Pete’s Sake – I’m going to take the day off, work in the garden and give back a little thanks to this beautiful earth of ours.”    Larry Long   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvnsB_kVNYI

Saturday, April 26, 2014, 7:30 PM

Earth Day at Festival Theatre means Dan Chouinard and special guest musician Larry Long take the stage for music and stories celebrating our most constant neighbor, the St. Croix River.  Pianist, accordionist and occasional storyteller Dan Chouinard is a Minneapolis native who plays, tours and records regularly with an ever-expanding roster of musicians and writers. Larry Long is an American singer-songwriter who has made his life work the celebration of everyday heroes. Returning to direct the 35- voice Festival Singers chorus is Marty Harding. The choir will perform a selection of songs based on the river theme, including The Lone, Wild Bird; The River is Flowing and Let the River Run.  Tickets $21 in advance, $26 at the door, Flex Pass eligible http://www.festivaltheatre.org/once-upon-a-river.html

For Pete’s Sake: Celebrating Pete Seeger’s 95th Birthday 

A collection of singers, musicians, spoken word artists, social leaders, and filmmakers will honor one of the world’s most influential folksingers, Pete Seeger, May 3rd, 7:30 PM – 9:30 Pm, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. The event will celebrate the many phases of Seeger’s life in multimedia and with an abundance of music from across the cultural spectrum on what would have been Seeger’s 95th birthday. Members of Pete Seeger’s family will be in attendance. The concert will also be ASL Interpreted.

Pete Seeger was involved at crucial moments in the Civil Rights struggle in the south. In keeping with Pete Seeger’s commitment to social justice, proceeds from For Pete’s Sake will be going to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School in south Minneapolis.

 TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE FITZGERALD THEATER BOX OFFICE, ALL TICKETMASTER OUTLETS, AND ONLINE AT WWW.TICKETMASTER.COM. TO CHARGE TICKETS BY PHONE, CALL 800-982-2787.  All tickets are $30, plus service fees.

Featuring: ROBERT ROBINSON  PRUDENCE JOHNSON  JOHN GORKA  ESTAIRE GODINEZ  CHASTITY BROWN LARRY LONG  JOYFUL NOIZE  PETER OSTROUSHKO  WAUBANEWQUAY DAY  ANN REED  DAN CHOUINARD  TONIA HUGHES  CYRIL PAUL  KEVIN FUHRMAN   BRIAN BARNES  BRITTANY DELANEY  MITCH WALKING ELK  COURTNEY YASMINEH  AIMEE BRYANT PATTY KAKAC  BARB TILSEN  POP WAGNER  TONY GLOVER  CHARLIE MAGUIRE  MARC ANDERSON  JOE SAVAGE  CAMERON WRIGHT  LORNA HER MANY HORSES  TIMOTHY FRANTZICH and ASL INTERPRETED

Minneapolis filmmaker William Eigen will share footage from his critically acclaimed documentary movies about Seeger.  The event will include words and poetry of Pete Seeger recited by community leaders of the many nations of people who call Minnesota home.

“For  Pete’s Sake grew out of encouraging hometowns and communities across  the country to honor Seeger on his 95th birthday. And people responded from Israel to Norway,” says Long. “Our celebration was rooted in Pete’s concept to think  globally and act locally. When I look at the bill, I feel like we’ve really accomplished that. If our featured artists — many of whom have national reach – can fill the house, we will have also succeeded in creating  something that can be replicated by others in other communities.”

RADIO HEARTLAND RECORDING CONCERT; PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT THE CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND AND FREEDOM SCHOOL

Radio Heartland will record the concert, and in the week leading to May 3, it will feature Pete Seeger and his inspired music. The 24-hour folk, roots and Americana music stream over 89.3 The Current can is available at www.radioheartland.org. It is also on HD radio at KNOW 91.1 FM HD2 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Pete Seeger was involved at crucial moments in the Civil Rights struggle in the south.

In keeping with Pete Seeger’s commitment to social justice, proceeds from For Pete’s Sake will be going to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School in south Minneapolis. ** Link to Seeger Interview: http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365165330

For Pete’s Sake: Celebration for Pete Seeger’s 95th Birthday is being produced by Larry Long’s American Roots Revue.

In the past, Seeger has fondly said, “I would be proud to be known as ‘the Larry Long of New York.'” Long has been a longtime friend since the ’70s with the legendary folk singing figure whose towering height and simple banjo-strumming tunes could move thousands of festival goers, or roomfuls of schoolchildren to all sing along. Long was also the only Minnesota performer invited to perform at Madison Square Garden in New York for Pete’s 90th birthday celebration, which included an all-star music tribute (http://tinyurl.com/l58cn9e).

For more information — or to interview Larry Long, or feature select participating musicians in studio — please contact Martin Keller, Media Savant Communications Co., 612-729-8585, mkeller@mediasavantcom.com

 

###

*MORE ABOUT PETE SEEGER, FROM HIS NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY

“Mr. Seeger was a prime mover in the folk revival that transformed popular music in the 1950s. As a member of the Weavers, he sang hits including Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” — which reached No. 1 — and “If I Had a Hammer,” which he wrote with the group’s Lee Hays. Another of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” became an antiwar standard. And in 1965, the Byrds had a No. 1 hit with a folk-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Mr. Seeger’s setting of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

A Generation’s Mentor

Mr. Seeger was a mentor to younger folk and topical singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, among them Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Decades later, Bruce Springsteen drew from Mr. Seeger’s repertory of traditional music about a turbulent America in recording his 2006 album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” and in 2009 he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Mr. Seeger at the Obama inaugural

In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.

READ MORE AT: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html?_r=0

**About the Freedom School

The “Mississippi Freedom Summer Project” of 1964 was organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), two leading Civil Rights organizations.  The Freedom Schools movement was reborn in 1992 under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund’s Black Community Crusade for Children® (BCCC®) program to advance this transforming vision of education for all children through the CDF Freedom Schools program.

 

Links to both Freedom School and Children’s Defense Fun:

 

Sponsored by:   Community Celebration of Place   www.communitycelebration.org

 

American Roots Revue Presents Larry Long, Robert Robinson, JD Steele and Tonia Hughes at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant

November 22, 2013 – 7pm and 9pm shows
Tickets: $30.

With Cory Wong (Guitar), Brian Ziemniak (keyboards), Yohannes Tona (bass), and Michael Bland (traps)

Start the holiday season with a musical feast! Join four regional powerhouses as they take you on a journey through the heart of America—bringing together gospel, reggae, Cajun, country, swing, folk, R&B and rock.  You’ll be treated to the “volcanic talent” of Robert Robinson, the “artistic range and gifted storytelling” of Larry Long,  “Midwest’s best kept secret” Tonia Hughes,  “world renowned” JD Steele, and a band of musicians second to none. Though uniquely different, these friends and artists all share the same soul and passion for music.  Join them on November 22nd at the Dakota Jazz Club for a night of love, laughter and song.

For More Information:

Buy tickets >

Facebook Event Page >

Larry & Fiddlin’ Pete Watercott will be playing at the Festival of Giving with Dean McGraw, Marc Anderson, Louis Alemayehu, and Alex Goldfarb, September 7, 2013, 11:00 – 3:00 at Common Ground Meditation Center, 2700 East 26th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406.

The event is offered free of charge though donations are appreciated ( all goes toward local non – profits).

The Festival of Giving is a community event put on by Common Ground Meditation Center: http://commongroundmeditation.org/
in Minneapolis 2700 East 26th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406

Common Ground Meditation Center

Larry Long & Fiddlin’ Pete Watercott have been playing music together for over 40 years. They have played music extensively throughout the United States—hitchhiking and hopping freights—and in the mid seventies they traveled in the much-beloved Lone Prairie Schooner and the Red Caboose down the back roads of America, passing the hat for a song. Since those early days, they’ve both become established and notable artists in their own right.

Though these friends now live thousands of miles apart, they continue to get together twice a year to play music and celebrate life with family and friends.

Thursday, September 5th, at Merlins Rest, is one of those rare occasions that shouldn’t be missed. Other musical friends and family who’ll be joining them include Prudence Johnson, Joe Savage, Larry Dalton, Melvin James, Bobby Vandell, and Melvin III.

Where: Merlins Rest Pub, 3601 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55406   (612) 216-2419  www.merlinsrest.com  When:   Thursday, September 5, 8:00-11:00 PM

Larry Long

On Saturday, September 7th,  Larry Long and Fiddlin’ Pete Watercott will be playing for the Festival of Giving, from 11am-3pm, at Common Ground Meditation Center, 2700 E 26th St  Minneapolis, MN 55406.       Contact:  651-528-2937  <commongroundmeditation.org>

The Festival of Giving is a day of music, food, and community. Other acts include Dean Magraw, Marc Anderson, and Louis Alemayehu. It’s a free event with donations gratefully accepted in support of 6 wonderful non-profits doing good work in our neighborhood and the world: Buddhist Global Relief, Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, Juxtaposition Arts, St. Stephen’s Human Services, Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice Partnership, and Wellshare International.

 

1

We Fest 2013:  Larry will be showcasing his new song, Welcome Home, in honor of deployed veterans and their families, at We Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, this Saturday evening, August 3rd.   Long will be performing from main stage with a Color Guard before Carrie Underwood’s performance.   Rod Volker, a Marine Vietnam War Veteran, is the inspiration behind ‘Welcome Home’.

Welcome Home

Serving those who serve us
Welcome home! Welcome home!
Serving those who serve us
Welcome home! Welcome home!
Serving those who serve us
In times of need can’t give enough
Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

From the Army, the Marines
Welcome home! Welcome home!
From the Air Force, the Navy
Welcome home! Welcome home!
From the National Guard
Who serve us when times get hard
Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

From Iraq, Afghanistan
Welcome home! Welcome home!
From Korea, Vietnam
Welcome home! Welcome home!
From across the seven seas
From Japan to Germany
Welcome home! Welcome home!  Welcome home!

Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

Time to study war no more
Welcome Home!  Welcome Home!
That’s what we’ve been fighting for
Welcome Home!  Welcome Home
To our mother’s and our dad’s
Time to lend a helping hand
Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

With a job for honest pay
Welcome home! Welcome home!
In the good ‘ole U.S.A.
Welcome home! Welcome home!
To our daughter’s and our son’s
Always know you are loved
Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home!

Yellow, black, white, red, and tan

From every nation of this great land

Welcome home! Welcome home! Welcome home! (3x)
Words & music by Larry Long
Copyright Larry Long Publ. 2013/BMI

 

On Friday, July 27th, I performed with Soul Asylum on their finale song, Stand Up & Be Strong, as part of Skyline Music Festival.  Michael Bland  and Dave Pirner asked that I bring other singers with me to join them, center stage, on the 3rd base line of Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins!  The other singers included my son, Jake Long; Adara Thomas and Rachael Okerlund from remarkable faith based vocal group, Joyful Noize; and traditional Anishinaabe songwriter and vocalist, Dorene Waubanewquay Day.

I love Target Field.  I love baseball and I love Soul Asylum.  10,000 people were on their feet in the bleachers singing “Stand up and be strong!”   It was a power surge that hasn’t stopped.

Maybe it’s the endorphins kicking in.   Maybe it’s just the pure joy that music brings – the bliss of happiness that promotes the healing.

In late June I had laser surgery to remove a polyp on my vocals cords.  It’s been quite the healing process, both physically and emotionally.  Long periods of silence, unable to answer the phone, minimizing laughter, and communicating one on one through writing on clipboards and computer screens.  Fearful that the polyp might return, after momentary lapses of laughter, screams, and moans.

One thing I’ve found through this journey is the more I keep my mouth shut, the more my heart keeps singing.  I’m still not supposed to talk on the phone, in a room with television on, or in the car.  I’m still not supposed to force my voice beyond the breath, nor whisper, but allow it to glide out with ease. Talking is actually harder on the voice than singing.

My vocal coach has me doing vocal slides three times a day with ascending and descending scales.  She has given me permission to sing publicly, but only with a microphone and no more than one or two songs.

Since this permission was granted, I’ve sung at a dear friends memorial service, Steve O’Neil, in Duluth, but had to flee as soon as it was over, so I wouldn’t be in a crowded situation talking.

Now three days after singing with Soul Asylum,  I woke and sat in the sun with my guitar on the front steps of my home and worked on two new songs I’ve been writing.  I discovered that my range has increased by at least one full octave since this operation on my vocal cords.

Last night I received a call about possibly singing a new song, Welcome Home, in honor of returning Veterans from overseas at We Fest  in Detroit Lakes with a Color Guard before Carrie Underwood takes the stage.

I feel nothing but gratitude.

 

Steve O’Neil was called the “Mother Teresa of Duluth” for his work with the homeless and poor. His wife Angie and he lived their life in the proud Catholic Worker tradition of Dorothy Day.

Steve and I have been friends for over thirty years. When I heard that he had terminal cancer I drove immediately up to his home in Duluth from Minneapolis to see him.

I expected… the worse, but he was in great spirits. All of his children had come back home to be with him. We sat around the kitchen table with his wife Angie, shared stories, and broke bread together.

When I asked Steve what song was in his heart that had yet to be sung, He replied, “The song that should be sung is from Micah 6, Verse 8, which I have to say, (is) my foundation of life. Micah is a little known Prophet, one of the lay Prophets. Says basically, “What does God want from us? When is God pleased? God is pleased and loved when we as human beings, his creation, work for justice, love mercy and compassion, and walk humbly. If we can work for justice, love people and creation and do it humbly we are on the right path.

On Tuesday at 6:49 PM I received word from Angie that Steve had passed. His memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Yesterday at three in the morning I completed writing the song that Steve wanted to be sung. From Steve O’Neil with love:

Song of Micah
(Honoring Steve O’Neil)

When I heard the news
Afraid to go inside
With no time to lose
This old friend and I
Broke bread and shared a glass
From a song yet to be sung
From his heart to each of you
From Micah with love

To do justice
To love kindness
To walk lightly
With your God

To fall in love
To not let go
To not stand above
To not stand below

“This the foundation of my life.”
Steve said.
“Upon these words of Micah
I lay my head.”
“What does God want from us?
When is God pleased?
When we fight for justice,
Love, compassion, mercy.”

To do justice
To love kindness
To walk lightly
With your God

To fall in love
To not let go
To not stand above
To not stand below

To do justice
To love kindness
To walk lightly
With your God

Words & music: Larry Long
(Inspired by Micah 7:6-8)
Copyright Larry Long Publishing 2013 / BMI

Larry Long will be featured on the Mary Hanson Show July 1st, Monday, on Channel 6 at 9 PM,
Metro Cable Network (MCN).   For more information: www.maryhansonshow.com

Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School students from Minneapolis Public Schools, under the direction of music teacher Rebecca Totzke, recorded three original songs written with Larry Long at the Minneapolis Media Institute.  This was a wonderful opportunity for young people to work in a historic studio, formerly known as Flyte Tyme Studios, owned by Grammy Award Winning producers Jimmy Jam Harris & Terry Lewis.

Paul Peterson, Program Chair for Recording and Music Technology at Minneapolis Media Institute, oversaw the arranging, recording, and production of these three original songs with assistance from Anthony Galloway and Caleb James (a.k.a. K.B.), who programmed & created beats for each of the tunes!

These original works will be released at the first annual Youth & Elders’ Circle, April 30, 2013, North Community YMCA Youth and Teen Enrichment Center.

Elizabeth Hall students at MMI

 

 

 

 

 

 

100% of the proceeds from these recorded works will go to support arts in education at Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School.

 

 

Larry Long and Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song are featured on the front page of The Circle, March 2013.  The article talks about honoring Anishinabe Ojibwe elder Pat Bellanger on February 12th at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis.

Read the article: EWCS HONORS PAT BELLANGER WITH SONG

For more information on the upcoming celebrations, visit the Community Celebration of Place website.

– See more at: http://www.thecirclenews.org/Sanford Middle School, 2/13

On the back stoop

Music has great healing power. It makes grown people cry. It brings laughter to the faces of those in pain. It unites thousands of people to withstand the force of Bull Connor’s fire hoses in those times of Civil Rights in Alabama. It soothes a teething baby to sleep. It opens up the heart of a 10 year old boy, incarcerated in a 12×12 foot cell in a Gulf Coast county still recovering from the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The boy’s name is Michael. He’s one of the children whose rights are being championed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi and New Orleans’ offices.

One year ago the detention center he’s being held in housed over 60 juveniles. Some four to a cell. Two in a bunk, two the floor, wrapped in a World War II woolen gray Salvation Army blanket beside an open toilet. The metal cells resemble the inside of a boxcar decorated with toothpaste-smudged grafitti. The youth were denied educational, medical and mental health services. They were in lockdown 23 hours a day.

Through their successful advocacy the Southern Poverty Law Center uncovered these unspeakable abuses, which included the sexual exploitation and assault of teenage girls by male staff. The SPLC secured reforms inside the detention center. The most important reform is a hard population cap that reduces by more than half the number of youths exposed to the horrors of imprisonment. In order to achieve these reforms and to ensure their sustainability, SPLC works hand in hand with the youth detained in the facility, and impresses upon the staff the kids’ incredible strength and potential.

SPLC contacted me to work with Shakti Belway, Director of Community Engagement and staff attorney, to begin giving a voice to these children through narrative, photography and song.

Shakti also brought in hip-hop artists from the Gulf Coast to collaborate: Skipp Coon, Truth Universal and Chuck “Lyrikill” Jones. Not only at the Detention Center, but with youth and elders in the New Orleans community.

Over four days we created ten hours of digitally recorded interviews, several hundred photographs, and five collectively written songs recorded live on my digital recorder! All bearing witness to the failing education system and endless cycle of incarcerated youth, often for minor offenses such as truancy or running away from home.

Ten year old Michael* wrote about being suddenly woken by prison guards from his dream where he was the superhero, Wolverine, with metal claws that could rip its way “out of here to go home.” Michael, in his own words, sang, “I want to go home!”, a call and response version of Chicky-Chicky Boom.

Three young incarcerated women each created interview questions and then took turns interviewing each other, playing the role of Oprah Winfrey. These questions became the first verse of their song “Freedom:”

Why do we make
the choices that we make
why do we do
the things we do
Why is it so hard
To get a second chance
In this life one should live
To sing and dance
In this world of freedom, freedom, freedom!

They also addressed their biggest fears—being incarcerated in a predominantly male facility with male guards:

My greatest fear
To not go home
To be stuck here
To be left alone
To be raped
By prison guards
When looking back
On the past
Life’s been hard
In this world of freedom, freedom, freedom!

Lastly, they addressed the injustices of the system, including the court process which seems to ignore the perspectives of youth:

Because I’m a kid
They feel I don’t know
Right from wrong
But I know so
It takes more than one
To prove someone wrong
At least two sides
And this is mine
In this song
In this world of freedom, freedom, freedom!

While I was working with the young women, Skipp Coon worked with three young incarcerated men. One of them created a polyrythmnic beat track using two toothbrushes against the jailhouse wall that we recorded in GarageBand. We then tracked all of their layered choruses and verses to their rap “Diz Here”. Here’s a few of their words:

[Diz here] Ya worst nightmare. 
Don’t stay here
Stay outside wit ya family
And ain’t no girls here

HCJDC fear don’t stay here
[Diz here] JDC fear
Ain’t nice here

. . .
Darkness up in the cell
It feel like hell
Hearing voices and seeing shit
Shit I was scared

Stay in school
Go by the rules
And keep it cool
And keep it smoove
You know wat to do
Don’t play hooky dude

Cuz dis drama is really cruel
They’ll thrash you
In a minute
Or maybe two

Permissible allowed to do
what you achieve
and be the best that you can do
anything is true
since my grandma done lost her life
I wanna get right
HCJDC bruh dis shit ain’t the life

. . .
visualize
da better time
instead of being
in a cell
enclosed in mind
takin orders now

you got the officers that treat you wrong [stupid lil bustaz] the judge who won’t send you home

. . . .
Ya mama want you home bruh
Don’t push away from her

You, on the streets you doin wrong
Some popel spare ya life
Some people lenienit but some
Other folks they take ya life [lord]

The following Monday two community elders from New Orleans, DJ Markey and Yvette Thierry, spoke to and were interviewed by over twenty youth between the 7th and 12th grade.

DJ spoke of his and their shared fight to further integrate our public schools for all children of disability, including autistic children like their son. He also spoke about his love of New Orleans with these amazing words:

New Orleans. Jazz was born here and the heart of life is improvisation. You have to make it happen when it’s happening. You can’t run to the closet and try to hide. Always thought jazz was a grand lesson for everyone. All have to learn to improvise. Like I said I have no regrets in that regard. We were doing the work as we were supposed to be doing it. It’s what chooses you, not what you always choose.

Yvette talked about getting their voices heard. As she said, “I’m not asking for a hand out but a hand up!”

They both addressed the disastrous affects of Katrina, not only on the physical and emotion level, and how when they came back to rebuild their community the powers that be began to destroy everything that they had worked for, including shutting down existing schools and replacing them with charter schools that fail far too many students and don’t provide full inclusion.

DJ shared these thoughts about his first return to the city:

I drove back where my mother and father were and back there on Desire and Florida Streets; and there wasn’t a car there. Everything was deserted. There in the middle of the street was a buzzard. It was only me and that buzzard in the intersection. I never seen a bird like this in the city before. They show up when there’s something dead. It was a transcending experience. The buzzard was just looking at me and saying , “Why are you here? Everything is dead!” For which I said, “If you’re not into rebuilding here this is not a place to be.”

The participating youth were asked to go home and write down their thoughts for lyrics the next day. They not only came back with their written thoughts, but some had written complete songs. Here’s an incredible set of lyrics by a 15 year old boy. The name of his song is Dreams:

Wake up every morning, seeing other people dead,
We don’t try to help them out we just laugh at them instead
We try to fight the law, but we end up in jail
There is only two ways to make it, that’s either heaven or hell

So reach for the stars and don’t you ever look back
Haters are there to try and knock you off track
Just keep dreaming, and don’t let it go to waste
Be ready for the challenges that you may face

Dreaming is our life, we are living in this white world
Kids are going to jail, and men are raping little girls
How can you complain when you haven’t tried to change
Times are very different and it’s feeling kind of strange.

So believe in yourself, take care of your own
Don’t let no one tell you, you are not strong
Perform for yourself and don’t stand in the crowed
Cause the more you stand out, you’ll make New Orleans proud

I sit here

We broke into two groups again; one group joining me to write melody and song,  the other working with Truth Universal and Chuck “Lyrikill” Jones to write spoken word.

In my group Cassandra Tran, a young biracial Vietnamese and Northern European girl, came with a spoken word poem. She asked me to play a blues pattern which concluded with a line “change these ways”, which immediately turned into the chorus and name for our song. The song concludes with Cassandra reciting her poem:

No more prisons
No more drugs
No more pain
I’m in need of love
From somebody
Who really cares
Someone who understands
Who’s always there
Justice, freedom, equality
Time to rebuild
Our Community

Change these ways

No more corruption
No more fear
No more situations
Where good folks disappear
Into their bedrooms
Into the night
No more cover up
It just ain’t right
Time to build-up unity
Time to rebuild our community

Change these ways

Time to be heard
To create good jobs
I’m sick & tired
Of my kids being robbed
Without an education
Opportunity
It’s time to rebuild our community

Change these ways

We live a life for a dream,
Tryin’ to aim for our
Goals
Along the way we plant
The seeds,
Our story starts to take hold
Mama said build your ambitions
Daddy fought for a new revolution
Not gonna live in the old days,
We’re gonna change these ways.

Change these ways

After we recorded Change These Ways in the backyard of where we were gathered, we quickly broke down the recording equipment to record the beat track and then layered spoken verses and chorus to their Hip-Hop song called This Is Life.

The plan now is for all of us to get back together in the recording studio and re-record our shared works with support from New Orleans musicians, with the focus always on the youth. By June we hope that many of the incarcerated youth will be out of the detention center.

The recording will then be shared with the world!

A few weeks ago, my wife Jacqueline and I traveled on the California Zephyr—an Amtrak Train running from Chicago to Reno–with three other couples: Fiddlin’ Pete & Kathryn, Scott & Pam, and Kris & Karen. We called this journey the Liberty Train, with the goal of playing music across the western states.

Amtrak didn’t know we were coming.

Most all of us on this journey had been friends for nearly 40 years. We met in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where we either grew up and went to college, or married someone who did.

Fiddlin’ Pete and I have played music together through most of these years. When we were in our twenties, he and I hopped freight trains together. The most memorable was the ride we took across the Great Divide from Missoula, Montana to Washington State. En route we would stage fake fistfights in our open boxcar for the waiting cars we would pass at intersections.

During this journey Pete reminded me of crossing an area called “Moon Canyon”, so-called because of the river rafters who would drop their pants and moon the passing freight trains. We had that affection bestowed upon us as the train roared above canyons that dropped thousands of feet below the trestle before heading into a mile long cavernous tunnel to get to the other side.

Also on board with us on that ride was Dubious, a beautiful dog with golden hair and black markings on the tips of her ears, tail and all four paws.

I got Dubious in a dream. One night I dreamt that I was going to get a dog. The next day I walked down to the local bookstore and shared the dream with a friend who ran the place. A young couple overheard my conversation and said they said they just gotten a puppy. They also mentioned that they were about to leave for Los Angeles. The next day I got a call from my friend at the bookstore, telling me to come on down and get my dog. Sure enough, the young couple had realized they weren’t able to take a puppy with them on their trip, so they passed her onto me. They had named her Doobie after the Doobie Brothers or the slang word for a joint. I called her Dubious as in doubtful. It stuck.

——–

Fiddlin’ Pete can calm a raging storm with his bow! When we walked the tracks to hop a boxcar in the freight-yards of Missoula, Montana, a Yard Bull or railroad cop came running up and told us to get out of the yard. Pete asked him if he would like to hear a fiddle tune before we left. To our amazement the yard bull said yes. After listening to a 10-minute version of Cumberland Gap and the Orange Blossom Special, he pointed towards one of the trains and said, “That’s the train you want to ride. Get in the third card over. Make sure you hammer a wooden wedge into the side of the open door so it doesn’t slam shut when the train starts to roll. And whatever you do–don’t tell anyone I gave you permission to ride.”

That trip was the start of our lifelong fascination with trains. And the Liberty Train trip was a way of going back to our train-hopping roots. (Albeit in a more comfortable fashion. This time, we bought tickets for a sleeper room).

The sleeper room (so-called, I assume, because that’s about all you can do in there) is roughly four feet by eight feet. There are two sofas facing each other with left about a foot to spare for personal belongings. Lastly, there were two large windows to look out onto the world.

At bedtime the two sofas folded together into one bed. An upper bunk dropped from above with a foot and half between you and the ceiling.

To pull your pants off took a fair amount of work. Trying to pull them back on when you had to go the bathroom in the middle of night was near impossible. In the old days of open boxcars, you’d just hang out the open door and let it rip.

Our car was number 531. It was under the charge of Willy the Porter. He made it very clear that he didn’t want anyone but him opening and closing the beds. No explanation why. It was just one of Willy’s rules. Willy ran a tight ship–or in this case, a tight sleeper car. It was his little fiefdom.

It was Willy who first informed us of another rule: it is “against the protocols” of Amtrak to allow live music on the train because it might offend somebody. Who that “somebody” was, he couldn’t say. All we knew was that somebody was going to get pissed off and that somebody was Willy, so we did our best to humor him.

It’s important to note that when we first boarded the train Jacqueline and I discovered that all of our friends had sleepers on the upper level. Our room was the only one on the lower lever, which meant that our dream of sharing this train ride with our friends was in danger.

I talked to Willy about changing, but all of the sleepers on the second level were booked. So I approached an elderly couple in the sleeper across from Chris and Karen, and once I explained our predicament they graciously agreed to change rooms with us.

Willy told us we could stay in their room until Denver. At that point somebody else would be boarding the train and would be given the room. Somewhere between Chicago and Denver, though, Willy decided he liked us. He either negotiated with or simply told the other folks who had reserved our room that they would be sleeping in our old room on the lower level. Fiefdom indeed.

——–

One of the many benefits of a sleeper car is that you get three square meals a day.

Our waiter during mealtime was an elderly African American man who had worked for Amtrak for as long as Fiddlin’ Pete and I had been playing together. He had the most amazing ability to walk down the aisle of a moving train, carrying plates of food and drinks without spilling a drop. His flat footed feet shuffled outward, while his knees served as a shock absorber to prevent his body from tumbling.

Since he was doing all the work I assumed that he was the “Willy the Porter” version of the dining car. He laughed at the suggestion and turned his head toward a younger man counting a wad of money in his left hand. “He’s the boss.”

——

It’s important to note that if you disobey the orders of any of the Willy the Porters it can be quite serious. The first time they give you a warning. The second time it’s more like a scolding. The third time you’re booted off the train.

The first day we behaved ourselves. When nightfall came, though, Fiddlin’ Pete and I went into the lounge car separately with our instruments to play some music.

Pete scouted it out first and it looked good. I followed. We asked some folks if they wanted to hear some music. Everyone wanted us to play. So we straddled our legs over the top of a couple of chairs.

Just like in that freight yard we played a couple quick fiddle tunes that got everybody in the mood. We began to mix it up with some old sing-a-long train songs like the Wabash Cannonball, Rock Island Line, and—appropriately enough—the California Zephyr. People gathered around and sang along with us. An elderly man there with his wife knew a lot of songs by Johnny Cash and Tennessee Ernie Ford and soon began to lead us all. Later he told us that singing on the California Zephyr made their trip.

Within our growing circle in the lounge car were folks traveling from Japan, Australia, Germany, and all parts of the United States. A young Australian man even joined in with a hand drum. Folks from other countries seemed very enchanted hearing live music. From their comments and looks in their eyes this was the America they were looking for—raw and rebellious.

But it wasn’t long until we saw Willy the Porter’s head pop up from the stairway coming up from the lower level. I was waiting for him to say something, but he just stood and listened with a big smile.

Around that time another crewman on the train by the name of Brian came weaving down the aisle through the lounge car with a great big grin on his face. He quickly came back with a digital movie camera and filmed us as we played the Orange Blossom Special. (You can see his butt blocking our camera:

We called it a night around 11 o’clock.

After breakfast the next day we sat in the lower level of the lounge car. We were outside of Denver and heading up the grade into the Rocky Mountains. We were beginning to see hillsides of dying timber, devastated by the pine beetle.

Brother Scott’s birthday was in a couple of days, and his wife Pam wanted to celebrate early by giving Scott a few gifts. It soon became apparent why. There were a clacker, wooden block, jaws harp, and a triangle.

Scott, who owns and runs a small manufacturing firm called Cords Set, has always wanted to play music. The Liberty Train was his chance.

When Fiddlin’ Pete and I pulled out our instruments, though, the Willy the Porter of the lounge car came right up and said, “I heard that you guys were playing music on the upper deck last night. It is the general policy of Amtrak to not allow people to play music on the train. I’m sorry but you can not play music on the train today.”
“Tonight?”
“Not tonight either.”
“Tomorrow?”
“Not tomorrow either.”
“Is this rule written down somewhere, so we can read it?”
“Yes. It’s in the book.”
“Where’s the book?”
“I don’t have the book.”
“Can you go get the book?”
“It’s final. You can’t play music on the train today unless the conductor says otherwise.”

The Liberty Train had just been derailed.

Scott was left standing there with a handful of percussion instruments he wasn’t allowed to play. Not one to be deterred, Scott came up with a plan. We’d get off the train when it made a ten minute stop at Grand Junction, CO, and play music at the station. And that is what we did.

Soon Fiddlin’ Pete and I were serenading a father with his baby daughter outside of car number 532. Scott danced around like Bojangles with that triangle in his hand.

Later that day a young kid came running up to us and looked at Scott, as if he’d seen a rock star, and said, “Aren’t you the guy who played the triangle?”

Our journey ended in Millpond, CA, at the music festival there. You can watch a clip of us playing here:

On this journey I wrote a song to not only honor the California Zephyr, but more specifically to honor the man who gave me the boots I was wearing on this trip. His name is Olen Edwards. The verses to his song, My Old Friend, tell the story.

Listen to the song

My Old Friend

I’ve walked the world over
In these boots of my old friend
From Boston, Massachusetts
Back on home again
From the State of Oklahoma
To Chicago on a plane
On the California Zephyr
To Reno on the train

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

In these boots of Ostrich leather
On Sunday he would preach
In small country churches
From the pulphit he would teach
The road to salvation
With a guitar on his back
On the California Zephyr
Heading down the railroad tracks

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

These boots are anointed
That’s what his wife said
When she gave them to me
While he lay in bed
In a veterans home
Where old warriors go
On the California Zephyr
Taking me back home

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

Size 11B
The same size I wear
When I put them on
Felt like they were always there
In moments of decision
Looking down I hear him say
On the California Zephyr
On this guitar I play

My old friend. My old friend.
It won’t be long until I’m with you again

On the California Zephyr
In these boots of my old friend

Words & music by Larry Long