Saturday, May 3, 2014
Johnson Hall, Gardiner, Maine
Jeff and his boys spoiled me with a daytrip to Peaks Island for my 34th birthday. They packed a picnic lunch and birthday cupcakes and we walked the beach and played at the playground. We made it to the ferry just in time to see the sky turn from blue and sunny to dark and about to downpour. I made my way home to Gardiner to meet friends at Vintage Wine Bar to enjoy a glass of wine before the Putnam Smith show at Johnson Hall. The kind folks at Pastaz (who make great, homemade Italian food) made me a plate of gnocchi to go during a busy dinner shift so I could have some dinner before the show.
I’d somehow not seen Maine’s own Putnam Smith live before. (Check out this pre-show interview Putnam did with Kennebec Journal’s Lucky Clark.) Putnam’s a mulit-instrumentalist traditional folk musician with an old soul. He talked about being a homesteader in Durham—farming, canning, and even letter pressing his own CD covers with a “small” 1901 800-pound letterpress he bought from Uncle Henry himself. Putnam said he usually stands to play, but he’d helped a friend move and woke up with a bad back. He thought he’d have to cancel the show, but discovered he was able to find a comfortable position to sit and play if he used a couch cushion he brought with him from home.
April Reed-Cox joined Putnam on stage all night and was a glorious cellist. My childhood decision to quit playing violin after just a year haunted me all night long. Putnam played a number of instruments and some of them were family heirlooms—his great grandfather’s banjo from the 1880’s, a fretless banjo, and a mandolin. I appreciated his song “Gold Rush” about the importance of the family farm and in which the grandpa’s farm in torn down to build luxury estates. “The Stars Will Line Up Someday” was my favorite song of the night. The line I was most drawn to was “your father joked maybe you’ll hit big shot fame, but what he really meant was—punch the clock and pay the rent and suffer his fate.”
Putnam played some songs in mountain tuning and they were appropriately old timey. He played “Arkansas” for us and said he’d written it in one sitting before finishing his morning coffee. We chuckled knowingly as Putnam introduced “Lawnmower Repair” with a story about his broken lawnmower. As Mainers, we certainly know the value of our tools—the Valentine’s Day morning storm of 2014 put my snow blower out of commission for weeks!
I got a message from Jeff that he and the boys were back at my place (an unexpected surprise), so when Putnam said we were going to have an intermission, I decided that was my cue to leave. When I got home, there were five deer—does and fawns—in my backyard! I kept the lights of my car on so I could see them and I stood out on the porch and enjoyed their company for far longer than I thought they’d stay. I was in bed and asleep by 10 pm—tired from a fun birthday!