Saturday, December 2, 2017
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
This was such an excellent Saturday! I spent part of the day volunteering at Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center’s Festival of Trees in Gardiner (I’m on the Board of Directors), enjoyed Gardiner’s Parade of Lights down Water Street from the second story window, and made my way to One Longfellow Square where my steadfast concert buddy, Colin, kindly saved me a front row seat for the show.
I love seeing folk singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky live. She is consistently warm and open with the audience, and seeing her in person feels intimate–like sitting around together in her living room. I first saw Lucy open for Ellis Paul back in 2007, and have seen her maybe ten times since then. I always look forward to hearing updates about her beloved husband, daughter Molly, and Janie the beagle, and it feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. Lucy writes songs about her life, and I’m humbled when songwriters are so willing to share their life experiences with strangers.
One of the things I appreciate most about Lucy is how much she loves and respects her daughter Molly. She played a bittersweet song on mandolin about how fast her daughter is growing up. Lucy told us she’d be happy to play our requests, and even if she hadn’t played the songs we requested in ages, she still gave them her best shot. Someone asked her to play “This is Mine,” and she told us it was a poem her husband Richard Litvan had written for her. When she finished, she said, “and that’s why I love my husband so much.” She also played “Ten Year Night,” which is also about him.
One of the things that makes a concert a true concert experience is when artists discuss the inspiration for their songs. Lucy never disappoints in this area. This time, I learned about her song “Don’t Mind Me.” Her daughter Molly had been assigned to read a book by Sherman Alexie last year, and Lucy told her, “I know him.” Best known for his film, Smoke Signals, Alexie ended up coming backstage to meet Lucy, Dar Williams, and Richard Shindell after a Cry Cry Cry show twenty years ago in Seattle. They hit it off, and he asked them to write a song for a particular scene in a movie he was writing and directing. He told them to think “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” but with Joni Mitchell singing it. Dar gave it a shot and wrote “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” and Lucy and her husband co-wrote “Don’t Mind Me.” Alexie liked it so much that he wrote Lucy into the movie to play herself as a street singer. The movie didn’t end up getting made, but Lucy did get the song out of it.
I follow Lucy on Facebook, so I see a lot of pictures of her beloved dog, Janie. Janie is Lucy’s first dog ever. Her mom had been afraid of dogs, so she grew up without them. Lucy’s daughter kept asking for a dog, and they finally said yes. Lucy said, “it was a revelation to me that I could fall in love with a dog. I have at least a hundred photos on my phone of her if you want to see her after the show.” She wrote a very sweet song for her NYC dog and their “Everyday Street.”
Lucy’s dad, Irving Kaplansky, was a mathematician, a professor, and a musician, and Lucy sang one of his quirky songs, “On an Asteroid with You,” about honeymooning in outer space for us, as well. She’s also recorded an album of his songs aptly titled Kaplansky Sings Kaplansky. You can only get that EP at her shows.
Lucy told us about another audience requested song, “Manhattan Moon,” as well. She’d worked on a song for months, but it wasn’t right, so she sadly threw it away. She took a few of the best lines from that song, though, and wrote a new song in four hours, which became “Manhattan Moon.”
Lucy draws attentive, polite audiences. That matters to me. She appreciates it, too. She told us a few times that she really appreciated playing for us and complimented us on how nice we were to play for. She told us that she truly enjoys her fans, and invited us to come chat with her after the show in the lobby, adding that “you don’t have to buy anything–I just want to meet you!” She closed the show with a cover of Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” but came back to play an encore after a standing ovation.
Lucy ended the night with one of my favorites–“This is Home.” I’ve heard Lucy say that she wrote this song when she and her husband were first starting the adoption process about 15 years ago. They knew there was a little girl waiting for them in China, but hadn’t met Molly yet. I don’t think of myself as much of a sap, but I shed a tear when Lucy sang “when we find her/we’ll belong to her/we won’t see her first smile, we won’t hear her first word/But ours will be the first heart she holds in her hands/She can keep them beside her in her very own room.” What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday! Thanks, Lucy!