Gigs Again!


So, there’s this!

Yes, the pandemic has inhibited sharing songs the way we’re all used to. Yet, yes, the pandemic has inspired some new material, practice and performance and sharing in online outlets and an increased appreciation of what it means to gather in concert (outdoors, of course, with Covid-restrictions still in place).

I want to publicly thank Bill Brink, whom I met back when the Putney Inn existed, and we spontaneously shared our music with a small crowd and each other. He has continued to hook me up to musical opportunities and for that, I am beyond grateful.

Hope to see you on the 22nd of May!

The Gift of Music


This card, a gift I have treasured for years from a close friend, symbolizes a new track for me — renewed commitment to making music.

I’ve written a lot of songs since Love Is Hard came out in 2010, some of which are posted on this blog. What I don’t have right now are three things: polished, instrumentally complex recorded versions of these songs, many available venues to perform because of the pandemic, and money.

Why money? I was blessed to have Connecticut friends with a home studio produce my 2010 CD, friends who would accept nothing in return for their labors, save a party, which I threw to honor and thank them for their support of my work. Now living in Vermont, I have connected with musicians here who want to work with me and have the means to record me in a studio with all the professional trappings. This, of course, costs money.

It doesn’t help that the pandemic has cost me a new calling, and I am trolling the region looking for work in my field to pay the regular bills, never mind an investment to support the songs.

It is, of course, all about the songs. One, about a friend’s depression. A couple others, about betrayal in love. Yet another early one my life partner loves that has evolved into a rocking ballad I perform better today — a song one fan at an open mic referenced when she said, “You should do more of those!”

On my birthday on Nov. 8, before I lost my latest job to economic pressures from the pandemic, I pledged to myself to recommit to music by producing a CD or EP of my mostly unpublished new songs. Not out of a sense of vanity, but because the songs deserve it. And because an EP could help give me a path to securing my own gigs.

My life changed for the better when I embraced my identity as a lesbian and a songwriter. Friendships flourished. Risks transformed my performances. I found meaning in writing about love lost, love found and people’s complexities. And my heart opened.

Fellow musicians in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts are all struggling in this pandemic, but finding ways to thrive by writing about the challenges, sharing demos on Facebook and performing online to keep the spirit alive.

So maybe Kickstarter of GoFundMe is a path I take, as well as securing new employment so I can pay my own way. I also plan to feature more fellow artists whose work demands an outlet here, on this blog. And I am now practicing to a metronome, learning to play guitar tracks without singing, and preparing to come into my own again as a songwriter by making my best songs even better vocally, instrumentally and lyrically.

What I would love is your encouragement along the way. As the lyric says in “Come Back,” the song Lee loves:

“Go where you have to go/Take off like you know/Where you’re meant to be/Then come back to me.”

Queer Women Making Music


It started as yearning.

June 28’s Queer Women of Pride Virtual Music Festival on Facebook spun out of Rita Amethyst’s longing to hear many of the queer rock-and-roll female musicians, balladeers, DJs and comedians she was missing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This event has special meaning, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ rights in the workplace.

A tour-de-force in her own right, music enthusiast Rita took on this project single-handedly, though she has marshaled help to pull it off.

Starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 28, and running through 10 p.m., the line-up includes everyone from co-host Sister Funk to Carrie Ashton to yours truly (I now have a slot at 8 p.m.).

Behind the scenes, I have had to get the right kind of equipment to make this happen, including an ethernet cable and USB microphone. Items I really should have had anyway, since I play live online for other groups.

Mixing up covers and originals, performers typically will play for a half hour (some acts are 15 minutes) and it’s all available on Facebook on Sunday, June 28 by clicking this LIVE LINK: https://www.facebook.com/ThatAmethyst/live_videos/

For the line-up and other details, simply search Facebook for Queer Women of Pride Virtual Music Festival, like our page and let us know you are going!

JOIN US for as much of this celebration as you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Listening


“Bible Song” by Lori McKenna is playing softly on the Folk Roots channel this Christmas Eve — followed by more esoteric selections. I strain to hear while my partner concentrates on her puzzles.

Relegated to the role of listener and one-armed typist after a severe, left-hand wrist fracture, my guitar sitting untouched in the music room, I have time suddenly to think. About challenges, blessings, and the true role of a songwriter as listener and music lover.

The magic of music is that within the bounds of seven notes exists an infinite combination of melodies and harmonies, new and intricate, yet tried and true. Some — including me — think little thought or expression is original, yet can be put forth differently enough to grab and sustain attention.

Nine metal pins, one thin titanium plate, generous intravenous sedation and a sufficient regional anesthetic block later, I emerged from the operating room into the outpatient area, supplied with a small painkiller prescription and high hopes.

Time to listen to my body.

It has been a wonderful year of working with youth, mentoring and trauma professionals, supplemented with some singing and playing for them, open mics and coffeehouse audiences. Now looms three months of healing, recovery and physical therapy. Relearning to use the wrist in conjunction with the hand.

Through it all, I expect to take in the healing power of music in its many lustrous forms, and get back to the soulful business of making music.

A Little Inspiration


A recent performance at Skunk Hollow Tavern put me in a place I’d never truly been: One with the audience.

The house — literally an historic Hartland, Vt., home converted to an intimate restaurant — was packed for one of the last performances by Jim Yeager, an accomplished singer/songwriter who hosts many open mics and venues, and his band. He was ending a stint there as host to pursue a new venture.

Jim and the band warmed up the crowd nicely, as did Woody, the bongo player who also sits in on guitar singing Crosby Stills Nash and Young favorites. Bill Brink, another musical mover and shaker in the Springfield, Vt., region, did likewise with his own blend of covers and originals.

Then it was my turn.

Woody welcomed me as the rest of the band took a break and I asked if he knew “Closer To Fine” and “It’s Too Late.” He did and we were off and running. The smiles from mostly women in the crowd lit up as they heard the first chords to the Indigo Girls song and we got a nice round of applause.

But when I broke into the next song with, “Stayed in bed all morning just to pass the time …” and looked up, a sea of again mostly female faces were mouthing the words and joining me, and I could hear them belting out the lyrics flawlessly! It was, as my cousin Jeff Fortier would say, “a moment.”

We sang together like that, and I felt emboldened to play an original called “Come Back,” a rowdy fictional love song. I broke my pick strumming.

When I went to the bar for a tonic afterward one of the women who had been singing and rocking to the music complimented my set. “That last song,” she said. “You should do more of those.”

Much thanks to Jim and Woody for getting me primed to give back, not just go up on stage and get attention.

And so, more of those, including a new one like “Come Back,” and a few covers, too, will be front and center at three upcoming gigs in Springfield, Vt.:

  • Sept. 28, Out of Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk, Springfield, VT
  • Oct. 5, Flying Crow, Springfield, VT
  • Nov. 16, Coffeehouse, Springfield Unitarian Universalist Church

Come sing along!

A Spiritual Voice


Crossing Jordan, songs of comfort and healing by Rhode Island songwriter Joanne Lurgio, has until 10 a.m. on Feb. 7. to complete its all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign.

Every dinero helps.

Why support this project? Lurgio’s vocal chops combined with her sensitivity, song selection and artistic team are making these hymns and originals come alive.

Not sure? Check out my blog of her last CD, Rise From the Storm. Or read more about her at www.joannelurgio.com. And help her lift our spirits in song.

Full Disclosure: I have contributed to the campaign.

Introducing “Magic Treason”


Magic Treason Rough Mix,” newly added to this website’s “Sampler,” is in fact the most finished version ever — with guitarist Mike Ball accompanying me and Arlene Wow producing.

This version has been hiding in my email archives for a couple of years, one of the few I had the joy of recording with Arlene at the helm.

The song is special to me, emerging from a crush gone bad. It’s a highly stylized rendition that fictionalizes a woman I could not get out of my head or heart, but could not work into my life, either. It is not real, but rather a dramatized portrait of someone with whom I grew disenchanted and came to mistrust. But mostly, it is a character many of us, man or woman, have known and felt betrayed by.

Yet, she was the inspiration for many a song. And so, I offer this with gratitude and yes, with love for the journey.

Thanks for listening, and please: let me know what you think!

Hanging with the Locals


It’s only taken me eight months to investigate the Vermont music scene. Moved here, lost a job here, got back on my feet here — and I’m ready to play.

Happy to report it is a great way to stay in touch with my musical side, and witness the small but mighty community of songwriters and performers that are keeping the spirit alive here.

 The Millhouse Heaters — including Jan  and Mike Sheehy and a harmonica player I did not get to meet — rocked the Pizza Stone in Chester last Tuesday night. With longtime friend Bill Brink on hand, a few of us performed as well.

Paden Kalinen, guitarist and host, welcomed open mic’ers to two hours of fun.  

And a few short weeks ago, I got to play, again courtesy of an invite from Bill, at the Vermont Apple Festival in Springfield, with a handful of talented performers.

Part of my inspiration? A neighbor named Chris Kleeman, who has his own jazz band and lives a stone’s throw up the road. As summer trailed off, I and a friend got to see them perform in the Chester Summer Music series on the Green.

Also inspiring: another neighbor, Scott MacDonald, who repairs guitars and shapes custom models to a player’s soul. He adjusted the action on my dear old Yamaha — just because. It still has a sound better than some expensive guitars, and now I can play it without losing all sensation in my left hand.

What else can I say except: It’s time to get back in the saddle as a singer/songwriter, and as a blogger, too. I hope to have more to share in coming weeks and months, including an original or two.

Please stay tuned.

 

She Just Wants to Rock ‘n’ Roll


Sue Menhart is sassy. She’s sultry. And she’s sympathetic as the subject of a memoir that pulls no punches in detailing the trials and triumphs of a life led working a day job while founding and fronting a rock band.

Full disclaimer: I have shared the solo-acoustic corner of a pub or two in New London County, Conn., with this woman and joined her in the audience at occasional Sinners’ Circles where newcomers and veterans alike performed originals to a packed listening room. I also have seen her prance and project on stage with the Sue Menhart Band, ripping through some bluesy number with the energy and fury of her idol, Pat Benatar.

So too, have countless others, and when she belts out the tune, “Where’d You Come From,” her soulful presence rocks the room. But she is a singer/songwriter at heart, persisting in an unforgiving industry where streaming songs pay a fraction of a cent and competition is fierce.

They Made Me Play a Polka reads like a hybrid of stand-up comedy and a playful whodunnit: laugh-out-loud funny but fast-paced and driven by a mix of well-known and unnamed characters populating a world where Grammys are as elusive as (and not unlike) the lottery, and you keep waiting for an answer to the question: Why isn’t Menhart a star? A page-turner, the book invites you to uncover layer after layer of reasons for this stark reality — some her own doing and some the fault of a maniacal music industry that takes no prisoners.

Living through everything from Lyme disease to motherhood to husband/drummer Kevin’s life-threatening illnesses, Menhart has bigger wars to wage, mainly with her illusions about the viability of “making it” in the music world.

Maybe she should have stayed in California as a young wannabe instead of coming back East. Maybe she should have made an even more concerted effort than she did at self-promotion on Apple Music. Maybe she should have never accepted that gig at a local vineyard that didn’t exactly go as planned.

There is very little whining in this memoir, or regret. There is no glossing over struggles with alcohol or real human emotions of frustration, aggravation and the lust for lasting fame.

What there is is self-deprecating humor; a bold, scrappy commitment to her role as leader of a southeastern Connecticut band with rock ‘n’ roll roots; candid heart-to-hearts for those of us with dreams of fame or, at least, airplay on Sirius radio; and, in the middle of the book, a searing and well-researched assessment of exactly what it takes to produce and promote original band or solo material. The pitfalls, the behind-the-scenes manipulation and the sheer hard work.

She reaches several conclusions at the end, but — spoiler alert — one rings truest: “I like singing,” she writes. “And nobody’s gonna stop me.”

That conviction may have landed her her latest gig. Look for Menhart at the Maugle Sierra Vineyards in Ledyard, Conn., from 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 7. Then pick up this memoir and follow her on the Sue Menhart Band website. Why? Because she knows her why. She’s still at it, and thriving.

 

 

And Then There Were Three: Banjo Tribute


This … is my new banjo. And I’m discovering, as a longtime guitarist, that three’s a crowd.

For me, the allure of the banjo is how it stands out acoustically in bluegrass and folk music, and almost has a percussion-type role to play side by side instruments like mandolin and guitar.

But adding this instrument, with it’s challenging finger-picking style, to my more familiar Yamaha- and Ovation-accompanied repertoire is proving daunting.

My love affair with the banjo’s big sister, the guitar, began at age 10, when I learned to read music, but shyly hid little milestones —  playing nervously to family, with my back to them, fingers trembling, heart racing.

Fast forward 32 years. The writer in me won out. I began to write and perform songs in earnest, after having learned to fingerpick Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” at age 15 from a guy named Mark in a summer arts program at Wesleyan University and again, with more discipline, in my late 30s, focusing on classical works for several months with a professional teacher.

All of that finger-picking expertise figured into my songwriting, as I pulled melodies from the chords I dissected with hands not yet tinged with arthritis.

Fast forward another decade, and my songwriting spree began to dry up. This past year, as an anniversary with my partner approached, I began listening to classic banjo, clawhammer banjo, and whatever else I could find on YouTube. And my partner listened to my pleas and helped buy me a Gold Tone banjo starter kit from Hanover Strings in Hanover, N.H. (Full disclosure: Hanover Strings did not pay for my banjo or pay me to write this.)

The five-string banjo, as fellow musician and former bandmate Luke Selden advised me, has a mellow tone that suits my voice and folky style. Yet, although I’m playing a 30-minute set at the Springfield, Vt., Apple Festival on Oct. 6, I’m not planning to pull out my five-string.

The reason is simple: With the help of a chord chart in G tuning, I’ve only been able to pick out a few tunes so far: “The Rose,” “Let Her Go” by Passenger, and “Come Back,” an early original and my partner’s favorite.

What I really want to do is pull a Steve Martin and dive out of my comfort zone into that lightning-speed finger-picking style for which he and his peers have become known. The actor is incredibly accomplished and at ease on the banjo. As were Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley. And this youngster.

Until I commit to lessons, or spend some time using online video tutorials, you won’t see me playing my banjo publicly. But I am determined to make this banjo fit into a tiny space we have dubbed “The Music Room.” My third instrument. My next conquest.