A main theme for the night was the Leo Coffeehouse as a kind church, where the good news of music encourages community. It wasn’t planned; it was just something in the air. A secondary theme was languages other than English. And a third just may have been the Leo’s Songwriters’ Collaborative.
Pam Temple — one of a team of rotating emcees — noted the main theme explicitly. She said, “A lot of people have come up to me this evening and said this [The Leo Coffeehouse] is my church. This is where I get together with my community.” There was team of Emcees because Pam held an emcee workshop earlier in the evening and several of those attending took the opportunity to practice the role during Sunday’s concert. The team also included Elaine Hansen, Madeline Driesbach, Spencer Funk, and me (Eric Hansen).
The themes of musical community, languages other than English, and the Songwriters’ Collaborative started during the open mic section of the evening.
- Opening the evening as the first open mic performer, I sang an original song, one of three I’ve written since the collaborative started up last spring. I’ve been a member of the Balladeers for about 20 years now. In the first 19.75 years, I wrote two other songs. So, for me, the collaborative is working. Not saying they are great songs, but I am not embarrassed to play them out, so that’s something. I also covered a great song — Tecumseh Valley — by a really great songwriter, the late Townes Van Zandt.
- Sherri Allen, who did the second open mic set, performed a couple of songs in Hebrew, including the national anthem of Israel, which she described as one of the least militaristic national anthems in the world. She also got the audience singing the chorus of Guantanamera (which she performed in Spanish).
- Bob Kotz closed the open mic set with two originals, one of which he also brought to the collaborative for feedback, about a time of his own innocence and American Dreams, “Back when I was ten. Shepard, Grissom, Glenn” to quote from the song. His other original, a few years older, is called (I think I’ve got this right) “Words Get Broken.” A really good song with (as the title implies) a bittersweet message.
John Redell, the second set performer, played and sang a lot of great music. Blues is his forte, but there was other stuff in there as well. John also took time during his set to do a little preachin’ – being, as he said, formerly in the ministry. Part of his message was that for the most part, we all agree on at least 80 percent of the stuff we believe, but that we seem to focus on that 20 percent where we disagree.
Anna and Milovan, the feature performers, brought it all home, treating the audience to a wide range of great music done really, really well, including
- Joan Osborne’s “What if God Was One of Us” (continuing the theme of musical church)
- A mash-up of a Hungarian folk tune and the Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” (continuing the theme of languages other than English)
- John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” famously covered by Bonnie Raitt. (Anna invited the audience to sing along, which we did, continuing the theme of musical community)
Two thoughts have occurred to me while writing this.
One is that my friend and Cincinnati citizen Peter Block often invites people to think about inverting cause and effect as a way to become engaged citizens, to “take the stance that we are creators of our world as well as products of it,” to quote from his book “Community: The Structure of Belonging.” One of the inversions he states is:
“The audience creates the performance.”
The implication, Peter says, is that the audience members are not just passive recipients of whatever is happening. They should be treated as active participants in the event. At the Leo, that is most certainly true. Just by listening well, the audience plays a tremendous role in creating great performances.
The other thought is that the perfect ending to this epistle on the theme of music as community builder is the Playing for Change project’s version of “One Love.”