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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Poet/fiddler Ken Waldman devotes APAP 'set within a set' to multi-artist interpretations of

Ken Waldman

Ken Waldman's 2018 APAP showcase at Don't Tell Mama (photo: Cullen Strawn)

Ever the innovator, Ken Waldman was looking for a way to “improve” upon last year’s grand opening of his annual Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) showcase, called From Manhattan to Moose Pass: Ken Waldman’s Roots Music Variety Show Showcase Evening and traditionally held at Brooklyn’s Jalopy and repeated the following night at Manhattan’s Don’t Tell Mama.

The Appalachian-style string-band music and Alaska-setting poet/storyteller always starts his multi-artist roots music showcase with what he calls “a showcase within a showcase.”

“There’s so much going on at any given time during APAP, that it’s hard for people to stay in one place for two-hours and 15-minutes,” Waldman explained afterward. So once again, he began his showcases last week with “Ken’s Class Party,” for which he called up each of the seven acts on his curated bill, one at at time and often overlapping with the others, to join him on stage for an introductory tune--after which they all got their own 15-minute set. That way, those performing arts professionals unable to stay for the whole event would at least get a taste of everyone during the initial half-hour “Ken’s Class Party” set.

Ken Waldman's "Greasy Coat" opener from APAP 2017 at Don't Tell Mama

Last year Waldman opened the proceedings by reciting his instructional poem “Old Time Fiddle Lesson,” followed by Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards performing the old-time fiddle breakdown “Greasy Coat,” with the other acts joining in for an extended 12-minute jam.

“It was excellent, but I wondered, ‘How can I improve it this year?’” Waldman said. “So this year I wrote a new poem specific to the occasion.”

The poem, “8 or 9 Ways of Hearing Greasy Coat,” is about the tune and starts with its lyric “I don’t drink/I don’t smoke/I don’t wear/No greasy coat.” The poem explains that the song title is “a euphemism for a condom” and offers nine tidbits about the song and Waldman’s experiences with it.

After Waldman’s live recitation, Cortese and her band—last year’s sole returnee—again led the way, with each of the participating acts—eight or nine total depending on whether Waldman counted himself once as a solo artist or twice as solo and bandleader—then following with their own version of the “Greasy Coat” chestnut, some less recognizable than others, with Waldman ending it with solo fiddle.

“It’s a traditional tune, and we all just came up with interpretations,” said Waldman. “There’s not one definitive version--this being ‘the folk tradition.’ This year we just included every group, beginning with Laura after I read my poem--sort of a theatrical experiment. It showed how different musicians perform the same song.”

The “Greasy Coat” versions ranged from Cortese’s traditional take to fiddler Ryan Drickey’s Swedish interpretation and even a juggling routine by folk musician Nate the Great. Blues/folk duo Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons actually added their own politically-tinged verse: “Killing folks is no ways wise/Get off your ass and organize!”

Waldman said he’d done something similar at a St. Patrick’s show in New Mexico, where he and his other acts all played an Irish song. Meanwhile, at his APAP exhibitor’s booth at New York’s Hilton Hotel Midtown, he was not only drumming up 2018 bookings for himself and his multi-artist variety shows, but trying to sell his new program, Ken Waldman & The Wild Men featuring Riley Baugus, comprising Waldman, old-time guitarist/banjoist/fiddler Baugus, and other musicians to be determined by the needs of specific venues.

“I’m trying to rebrand myself!” said Waldman, who gave a taste of the concept at Don’t Tell Mama by calling for any “Wild Men” instrumentalists to join him at the end, though being equality-minded, he also sought any “Wild Women.”

And also at his APAP booth, he signed copies of his new book Trump Sonnets, Volume 2. Volume 1 covered Trump’s first 50 days following the 2016 presidential election.

“I can do another one every 50 days!” said Waldman, and sure enough, he’s well on his way to completing Volume 3.



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