The Song Journal

Miscellaneous news and writing by Bob Franke, mostly about songs as a portable art form, and the process of creating them and enabling them to do their work in the world.

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Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

from Bob Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Monday night at the Cantab

Last Monday night Joan and I went to the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge to troll for students (see previous post) at Geoff Bartley's open mike and were treated to a feature performance by Kirsty McGee and Mat Martin. Geoff has done an exemplary job of turning this event into a supportive venue for new talent, and the Tuesday night Bluegrass open mike into something of a local cultural phenomenon, despite the fact that the Cantab, as a meeting place for multiple communities in a very small space, is not an ideal venue for music. As in any bar, even in a homogeneous community, there are multiple agendas: conversation and socialization, relaxation, checking out the opposite sex, active alcoholism, selling booze on the management's part, and, oh yes, music. When we're honest, we musicians can't really fault any of these agendas, since we might engage in any number of them ourselves at various times in our lives. The problem with mixing music in with the rest of them is that music is rests as well as notes, and it's hard to find silence in an active bar.

There's yet another agenda that at this point might be the thing that keeps the Cantab's open mike nights going: musicians socializing with other musicians. Many of us are working so hard that it's difficult to find a bunch of us together in one place. But it's good to get together and compare notes (as well as rests). If a not-yet-fully-developed musician takes the stage (there were damn few last Monday night--the roster leading up to the McGee and Martin included fully developed ones like Ray Chesna and Ellen Groves), it's actually a good thing to have a noisy bar nearby to cover our own lapses as an audience as we socialize and/or do business with one another. For a developing artist, the only place you can get better feedback is on the street, where the only people who listen for long are the ones who are enjoying the act. If you get silent attention from most folks at the Cantab, you're doing very well (as did McGee and Martin, who were astonishingly good despite the aformentioned handicaps). If you get the attention of the whole bar, including those folks who have other things they'd rather be doing, you're doing very well indeed.

Like frequent Boston Globe correspondent Scott Alarik, and like Ellen and her musical partner David Fishken, Geoff, who has been astonishingly good himself for many years, is providing the musical community an incredibly important service by doing a relatively thankless task. More power to them all.


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