My friend Jeff Boudreau has asked for a little history of Saturday Night in Marblehead, a concert series at the Church of St. Andrew in Marblehead, Massachusetts that I started in the mid to late seventies, and have re-inaugurated with the support of the church, starting with a concert by Claudia Schmidt this Saturday night, Nov. 12.
In the mid 1970s I had already at that point done a fair amount of traveling as a musician, but much of my musical activity was happening as a singer of old blues and ragtime on the streets of Boston. Having found a worshiping community in Marblehead, and being a member of the informal fellowship of traveling folksingers, it occurred to me that, with the support of the church and my first wife, Christine Whiteside, I was in a unique position to put together a benefit concert of some of my colleagues for a local anti-drug program. We did that with some modest success, and that gave me the idea that it might be possible, and a very good thing both for me and for both communities, to introduce my musical community to my worshiping community and vice-versa. I put together an eight page proposal to the vestry of St. Andrew's pointing out the near proximity of the church to Salem State College, and to the fact that, alcoholism being Marblehead's number one mental health problem, it would be a good outreach ministry to provide high-quality entertainment in an alcohol-free venue. No one had ever previously presented an eight page proposal to the vestry, so they felt compelled to approve a trial series of six weekly concerts. No disasters ensued, so they approved another eight weeks, and by that time the series was an institution.
Our friends in downtown Marblehead running the Me & Thee Coffeehouse with its own high quality Friday night series at the local Unitarian-Universalist church were a little skeptical to begin with, but we soon found out that, not only did the competition keep us all honest (we began to copy each other's best practices), but the effect of having two coffeehouse series in the same little suburban town was similar to that of putting McDonald's and Burger King on the same corner: that town became the place you went to when you wanted good music, and the audience began to grow. People started to talk about another folk revival, and indeed, other suburban coffeehouses started to pop up. People would call me up and ask me out to lunch to find out how we did it, and we became a catalyst for musical growth in the area. In the 10 years of my tenure as artistic director and chief chair mover, I became the first to put folks like Cindy Kallet, Patty Larkin, and the late Stan Rogers in a concert setting in the Boston area. The church's support gave me the freedom to use quality as my prime booking criterion: for instance, Patty only drew a dozen people or so to her first two concerts at St. Andrew's, but when her first recording came out, she returned to a full house, and the rest is history.
In 10 years, as my own performing schedule began to fill out and became 17 years on the road and in the area full-time, I handed over the artistic directorship to my good friend the wonderful songwriter Chuck Hall, who in turn handed it on to others. It lasted for 22 years.
I don't have quite as much energy as I did back then, and I once again have a full-time day job, but there's a whole new generation of folks (and/or potential alcoholics) looking for reasonably priced high-quality concert entertainment, so I went before St. Andrew's vestry once again with the idea of a monthly concert series, and they approved a first season. Artistic genius is ubiquitous, and I'm going to look for it in all generations, hoping for a listening audience of all generations in our little corner of the North Shore. If we find it, who knows, we may become an institution again.