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:
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  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  <>

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.



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:

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.


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

– See more at: 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

. . .
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
It’s time to rebuild our community

Change these ways

We live a life for a dream,
Tryin’ to aim for our
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.”
“Not tonight either.”
“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

Leo Kottke at NectarsI first met Leo Kottke in the fall of 1969. It was on my first night of college at St. Cloud State University, and Leo was playing at the Ratskeller Coffeehouse, located in the basement of the Atwood Student Union. It was a dark cellar with a dozen or so hardwood square tables and chairs. At the end of the evening, the Ratskeller was empty save Leo and I. Not by intention. I just got lucky.

A few months later Leo released Armadillo, a groundbreaking recording recorded live at the Scholar Coffeehouse in Minneapolis. The rest is, as they say, history.

Leo is more than a one-man band. Leo is a one-man orchestra. His guitar work on 12 and 6 string guitars is somewhere between the slow, barbiturate sound of John Fahey, the swift flat-picking of Doc Watson, and the electronic stealth of Jimi Hendrix gone acoustic. His singing voice is another unique mix—between the soft baritone of Dean Martin and (as Leo puts it) “geese farts.” But it’s Leo’s slow, drawn out humor that pulls it all together in a live performance. His storytelling is random mix between the Smothers Brothers, Garrison Keillor, and Samuel Clemens. There’s always a storyline woven throughout his shows. You don’t know where Leo’s heading until the night is over and even then you’re not entirely sure where the story went, but it was a journey worth taking.

Back in the ’80s a mutual friend of ours, bassist Billy (Williard) Peterson, produced several of my recordings for Flying Fish Records (now distributed by Rounder Records). Billy brought Leo into play a couple of my tunes: Catfish Rag (Troubadour CD) and Mad About The Way Things Are (Run For Freedom/Sweet Thunder CD). The Leo you see on stage is the same Leo you meet off stage. Vulnerable and genuine with a lonely rye wit.

Forty years after first hearing Leo that night at the Rathskellar, my wife and I are in Martha’s Vineyard at a small nightclub called Nectar’s near the airport, watching Leo perform. ( The show isn’t listed on his tour schedule, which is crammed with concerts across the country. As far as I can tell, he’s traveling alone.

When my wife and I arrived earlier at Nectar’s Leo was doing sound check. Afterward he sat down with us for a chat. I shared the story of hearing him for the first time at the Ratskeller. Leo said, “I remember that. They hired me to play two nights for fifty dollars. When I got done playing on the second night they handed me a twenty-five dollar check. I told them I was supposed to get paid fifty dollars. The guy in charge of the Ratskeller quickly replied, ‘Now you’re not.’ I guess he didn’t think I was worth it. And now 40 years later I’m still making a living at this.”

Leo Kottke at Nectars (flash not included)I asked Leo if it would be all right if I took a photograph of him during his performance. He chuckled. “As long as you don’t use a flash. I just can’t get this one guy out of my head that used a flash at one of my concerts years back. In the middle of my show I could feel the eyes of someone staring me down from the end of my guitar neck somewhere down by the tuners. I couldn’t help but look… and sure enough there he was, holding an old antique camera with foursquare cubed flash bulbs on top of it. He was smirking. I stopped and smiled, waiting for him to take the picture, but he didn’t. So I moved my guitar neck a few inches to the right and there he was doing it again. I stopped and posed for another picture, but he didn’t take it. He just went away. I thought that was sure odd. Then toward the end of my concert I heard the sound of someone talking to the right of me. I was lost in a song. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was possibly the management or something. So I stopped and looked over and there he was with that antique camera with foursquare cube flash bulbs. This time he flashed the picture and it blinded me. I didn’t think it was funny, but the audience all started laughing. Then he sat himself down in the middle of the auditorium toward the front row. Halfway through my last song he stood up and walked right out down the middle aisle. I never saw him again.”

We were concerned about the turnout for the concert, since half the folks on the island had fled in the wake of an impending hurricane that was suppose to have hit on the previous day. It never materialized, but that didn’t stop a torrential rain from poring down nonstop for over 24 hours.

This didn’t seem to bother Leo. He was in top form that night, sitting on a chair in the middle of a dark stage before an audience of a few hundred. After his first song Leo jokingly said, “I’m damp. I’ve never been so damp in my whole life.” He then went right into his second instrumental. When the song was over, Leo braced his guitar on his lap. “I’m feeling some remorse about what I said. I have been damper than I am right now. All I was trying to say is that I’m really damp.” And then off he went into the next song.

Leo played a two-hour set with no breaks held together by a meandering storyline and accentuated by rapid fire guitar playing that occasionally edged towards the gypsy sounds of Django Reinhart and the melancholy of sultry torch songs with an eastern European feel.

It was as if I blinked and the night was over. Leo simply stood up, a guitar in both hands, took a bow, and walked off stage. The audience gave him an immediate standing ovation. He walked back out with one guitar, sat down, and said, “I’ve never been so damp.” Then he launched into the encore.

Like well-aged wine stored in an oaken barrel Leo Kottke just keeps getting better. Thank you Leo.

Reverend Denniston speaking at dedicationHalf of Martha’s Vineyard fled to the mainland yesterday to avoid the oncoming storm that arrived this morning. We were ferrying over as they were leaving.
We started our trek from South Station, Boston, to catch the ferry at Woods Hole. Along the way I met Reverend Dean Denniston, who was sitting across the aisle from us on the South Station bus. Looking rather dapper in a black suit coat and tie with a folded red striped cane on his lap, he was reading Braille during the two-hour trip. He looked a bit like Ray Charles with his black sunglasses.
Once we arrived I waited to exit last, as I had my guitar with me. The Reverend was waiting as well and after a bit we were the only ones left on the bus. Hearing that I was carrying a guitar case, the Reverend mentioned that he played the blues slide guitar and was just learning “Little Red Rooster”.
He asked if I could help guide him off the bus and onto the ferry, so we chatted all the way to Martha’s Vineyard. Reverend Denniston had grown up in Oak Bluffs, a town with a large African American community.
His father was Rev. Oscar E. Denniston. He presided over Bradley Memorial Church, the first African-American Church on the island. The senior Reverend Denniston had founded the church and remained pastor until his death in 1942. The family lived in the church’s sanctuary.
The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, in partnership with the NAACP, acquired the building earlier this year, and is turning it into a museum honoring the African-American history of the island. The second floor where Rev. Denniston was raised will be converted into two affordable housing units.
Reverend Denniston was asked to give a family blessing at the groundbreaking ceremony, where the Governor of Massachusetts and other local dignitaries were scheduled to speak.
The Reverend confided that he had mixed emotions about returning to his family home. “But as in most times when one is truly called,” the Reverend said, “the calling seldom comes at convenient times.”
It felt to me like he had been called to this event for a reason. He agreed. I said, “There are miracles that happen each day if we find the time to take notice.” The Reverend quickly responded, “No, it’s not a miracle, it’s simply grace.”
As we continued to talk, we found a shared friend in Guy Davis, musician, actor and son of Ozzie. (Guy and I both performed at Madison Square Gardens for Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday celebration.)
The Reverend invited my wife and I to the dedication, which we accepted. Half of the attendees were African-American, most of whom have lived in Oak Bluffs for decades.
Church HistoryLindsey Lee, oral historian for the historical society, said there was a treasure trove of history inside Reverend Denniston’s home — photographs of parishioners and family members, church letters and documents, and well-worn pews. She and her staff had cataloged almost 80 boxes to be added to their permanent collection.
Mass. GovernorAfter the Governor and local politicians spoke, the Reverend gave a simple blessing for the memories his father’s home, the blessed Bradley Memorial Church, with the wish that a new vision will be created for generations to come.
After the dedication the Governor left for the JFK Library, where he was speaking at the family service for Senator Edward Kennedy along with Vice President Biden, Senator Hatch and McCain and others.
This morning Senator Edward Kennedy’s public memorial service was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Mission Hill. President Obama gave a beautiful eulogy.
The last of the Kennedy brothers. A man who spent his life in service to others. A man who never gave up, weathering great storms of both family and personal tragedies. The last of a political dynasty.
The impending hurricane that sent locals scattering never materialized. Instead it was a rainy and windy day as my wife and I walked the quiet streets of Oak Bluffs…

Waiting in Line Outside the Kennedy LibraryMy wife and I waited three hours in line last evening to show our respect for Senator Kennedy with thousands of others at the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts. The stories of those in line were rich with affection for the Senator and his family.

In Memorial: Edward Moore KennedyOne gentleman behind us talked of when he was young and being Irish Catholic reduced him to second class citizenship. Let alone being a gay Irish Catholic. “The Kennedy family changes all of that for me.” he said. “Senator Kennedy not only lifted up the Irish, but all dispossessed people. He was the first in the Senate to speak up and secure funding for those with HIV and AIDS during the era of President Reagan. He opened the doors for immigrants from around the world to find a home on our shores. He will be greatly missed, especially in these times of trying to secure health care for all Americans.”

Looking out onto Madison Square Gardens was like looking out onto the Grand Canyons for the first time. Breathtaking. I walked up to a security guard and asked him, “Where did Mohammed Ali box?” He looked at me and said, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about that before, but I will now.”

There was no distance between the audience and performers. The moment was when Pete Seeger sang Amazing Grace and all 20,000 people stood up singing. No one can engage an audience like Pete.

Bruce Springsteen spoke with great eloquence. Maggie’s Farm with Ramblin Jack, Kristofferson, Richie Havens, and Arlo Guthrie was a hoot. Rufus and Martha Wainwright sang a most beautiful, tender ballad of Pete’s. Before going up on stage Kris Kristofferson turned and laughed, “ I don’t know what I’m doing.” He did well! Ani DeFranco and he sang, “There’s A Hole
In The Bucket.”

I sang with others beside Joan Baez on Jacob’s Ladder and Bernice Reagon on We Shall Overcome. We were all F.O.P.’s (Friends of Pete), according to the techs. A polite (or not so polite) way of referring to the lesser known musicians who were personally invited by Pete. To us it was a compliment.

Seeger90 will be televised as part of Great Performances for PBS in the coming months. Will be interesting to see how the editing is done.

He Was A Real Good Man

(Honoring Craig Wilkins)

I met Craig along time ago
When I went to college
Right after I left home
Much older and wiser than me
He just got out of the military
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

With a smile hard to resist
With a twinkle in his eye
He called himself a feminist
Long before Robert Bly
The last in the room to say good-bye
He was real good man. With a real slow man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

Listening to some old fiddle tune
With Diane Odegard
And their friends at the Grand Mantel Saloon
Life with Craig it wasn’t hard
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

From that South Jersey front porch stoop
A real class act people say
Always one to tell the truth
One beer to mourn. Two beers to celebrate
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

His mother taught him how to cook
When he was just a kid
From recipes not found in a book
Until Craig said, “Mom, I want to get slim.”
“So cook your own damn food!”,
His mother told him
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em uch better than Craig

With Candy the love of his life
Together they built a home
Not long after she became his wife
They got that FHA loan
Craig cooked for Candy
each night when she came home
He was real good man, with a real slow hand
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

Through their love they had a son
Ethan, a real good guy
Who like Craig, has now become
The last in the room to say goodbye
With a twinkle in his eye
He’s a real good man, with a real slow hand.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

On that bus his father rode
To work each morning
To MN DOT where they love his Dad a lot
Craig their ‘Newsline King’
The ‘wittiest, pithiest editor you have ever seen!’
He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

When you lose someone you love
What more can one do
But to love those who are
Still here with you
What more would Craig want us to do?
He was real good man with a real slow hand.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

He was real good man. A real good man.
They don’t make ‘em much better than Craig

Words & music by Larry Long

 Larry Long 2009 / BMI