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Big Chuck

May 23, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: Move over, Vegas: Oneonta's got live music to spare

Forget "City of the Hills." Shelve "Life Enjoyed." How about "Oneonta: The Live Music Capital of America."

OK, so that might be a stretch, but has anybody else noticed how live entertainment around these parts has exploded in the past year?

From excellent live musical productions (such as "Always, Patsy Cline," which lured more than 1,000 into the nostalgic Oneonta Theatre recently, or Orpheus Theatre's great version of "Sugar") to tributes to rock 'n' roll royalty (including Ricky Nelson's boys' tribute to their dad), it seems like every time you turn around in Oneonta, you are tripping over one great act or another ("Look out, don't trip over Gordon Lightfoot!").

In fact one weekend no fewer than four members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame graced the stage of the Oneonta Theatre: Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen (of Hot Tuna, inducted in 1996 with Jefferson Airplane), followed 24-hours later by John Sebastian (the Lovin' Spoonful in 2000) and Roger McGuinn (the Byrds; 2009).

Four Hall of Famers in one weekend. That's Cooperstown statistics!

People ask me what kind of music I listen to when I get off the air from my radio show. Well, it certainly isn't country music. I love it, but I have had it pouring into my ears in high-decibel brilliance for more than two decades now. So what is my music of choice during my "off hours?"

I enjoy folk music. I guess it is the stories and simple, sing-a-long melodies that entrance me about it. The Kingston Trio changed things when a million people bought their sad tale of a murder of a young girl in North Carolina in 1866. "Tom Dooley" was a No. 1 hit in 1958. Not really a "first date" kind of a song, but I love it for its spareness.

Glenn Yarbrough has one of the purest tenors in folk music. Hear him with the Limeliters on "There's a Meeting Here Tonight" and you won't soon forget his sound.

I enjoy the Brothers Four, and their 1960 classic "Greenfields" is still one of the best. Listen to Ronnie Gilbert soar on the Weavers' biggest hit, "Goodnight, Irene." Even old Leadbelly would approve. Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs: perfection. I was shocked hearing the news of John Lennon's death. But I actually shed a tear when I heard the news that Mary Travers had died Sept. 16, 2009, and left a sad Peter and Paul without their favorite blonde. Folk music is like that.

A while back, I traveled to Scotland with my Oneonta friend Cameron Oliver, a "son of the Borders." We roamed the valley of the River Tweed, the loch lands of the central district, the battlefields of "Braveheart" fame and the pubs and castles of Edinburgh's High Street. On our last night, Cam took me to his favorite old Scottish pub for a night of stories, tipping and Scottish folk music.

There we stood, in the Bailie Pub in the ancient Stockbridge section of Edinburgh, on a Saturday night as the place filled with couples, grimy-faced factory workers, rosy-cheeked housewives and enough Darby O'Gill look-alikes to fill a Disney casting call. On stage was Scotland's most popular and enduring folk music group.

We tapped our mugs to the beat of the pounding bodhran as the trio sang of lives and loves lost, seagoing captains who never returned, daring war heroes (whose names everyone knew, except me), and a colorful lassie named Nancy Whiskey. When the mournful refrains of "Loch Lomond" closed the show, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, including the Darby O'Gills with whom my arms were now solidly intertwined.

As we crept home that night, I said to Cameron, "If that group ever comes to the States, I want to go see them again, I don't care how far we have to drive."

They were in Oneonta last weekend.

North Sea Gas played to a full house at Foothills Performing Arts Production Hall on Sunday, May 15. The threesome gave a rip-roaring two-hour performance. Cameron and I chatted up the boys and reminded them of our night at the Bailie years ago. They slapped us on the back, gave us a knowing wink, and let out with a hearty laugh. We couldn't believe it. After all these years they were performing folk music in the "Live Music Capital of America."

It was just like back in old Edinburgh. Only without the Darby O'Gills.

It was heaven.

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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