Jason Baker is a songwriter & performer from Burlington, Vermont. Jason started writing songs in 2017, and performing in 2018, releasing his debut, “America Dreams”. On his new album, “Common Man Blues”, Jason continues to write songs influenced by the deep roots of old-time & acoustic music, yet modern in lyrical perspective.
I had done two recording sessions with Rik Palieri for an album of traditional, public domain folk songs. I was also trying to write and refine new material for my next solo album.
At that point, the Novel Coronavirus began a worldwide tour.
A global pandemic sweeps the globe, and ham-fisted so-called “leaders” drop the ball, choosing to sell and buy stocks based on the information rather than alert the public to the danger, and otherwise engage in self-serving and stupid activity that is almost universally harmful rather than helpful.
Well, that escalated rapidly.
So what’s a topical songwriter to do? Well, first we alter plans a bit: gigs are cancelled, recording sessions too.
Then we get writing, and since we are home anyway, recording. I am in the process of refining a group of songs now, and hope to release an album in a month or slightly more.
I also hope to be able to work remotely with Rik Palieri to finish the album we started, and release that as well. Timing: undetermined.
Do what you can, where you can, with what you have.
I did two live stream shows on Facebook, in a group called Live Stream Open Mic. I extracted some performances from the first one already, and have started posting them to my YouTube channel.
Several songs on my album were actually recordings made during these sessions at Robot Dog Studio, courtesy of Tim Lewis, WBKM, and Ryan Cohen and Sam Marks of Robot Dog (many thanks again to all). One of these songs, “The Last Coral Left Alive”, is now included in a new compilation of songs (and interview snippets) from the series available to stream or download for free! This is the third season edition and includes a wonderful cross-section of Burlington’s diverse music scene:
Season three includes performances by Ver Sacrum, Troy Millette, Happy Spangler, Jesse Taylor Band (though solo), Radio Underground, Jeremy Gilchrist, Smokestack Lightning, Jessica Rabbit Syndrome, Cricket Blue, Green Chapel, Late Night (Peter Danforth, Annie Costa, Chanon Geoff Bernstein), The Steph Pappas Experience, Jason Baker, Blowtorch, Bethany Conner, Dirty Blondes, Clare Byrne, Sad Turtle, The Red Newts, Wolfhand, Comrade Nixon, Community Garden, Matthew Mercury, Andriana Chobot and Josh Glass.
Many thanks to Ron Cooke of A Still Small Voice for including my song “Right or Wrong” in his radio program “Music They Don’t Want You to Hear” back on January 12th of this year.
Check out the placement of my song in the middle of this set: (!)
Joan Baez | Blowin In The Wind | From Every Stage Live
Tommy Sands | The Answer Is Not Blowing In The Wind | Fair Play To You All JasonBaker | Right Or Wrong | Common Man Blues
Joan Baez | Diamonds And Rust | Rare Live And Classic
Joan Baez | Battle Hymn Of The Republic | A Continuing Debut
Previous year-in-review focused on songwriting productivity: how many songs did I complete in the calendar year? I find it hard to count up the songs this year, as so many are works in progress still. I have surely completed at least 20 songs, some of which are included in the latest album.
However, the realities of being a recording and performing artist sank in this year: I have spent as much time promoting existing works as I have creating new works, and spent time developing skills quite tangential to songwriting itself. That’s not bad, but does take time away from songwriting and developing those skills.
I made some conscious decisions to be more careful about the selection of songs for Common Man Blues than I was for America Dreams.
I took songs for feedback to two different groups of songwriters, AND to two different mentors when any deeper question came up. Being open to the suggestions given really helped several songs improve, and the feedback of the groups was instrumental in choosing which songs made the cut.
I also invited guest musicians Rik Palieri and Janice Russsoti to play and sing on my album, and that was an enlightening experience itself, and improved the arrangements for those two songs immensely. Working with different studio engineers (instead of doing it all myself) was delightful, and while I am also glad to note my “home studio” recordings stand up to the pro studio stuff, it was way better to have someone else handle all the microphones and mixing.
This year I tried to do more “jamming” and collaboration in general, and it’s been generally beneficial. People seem to really like my slide guitar playing. I will be incorporating more of that into my songwriting. The Burlington Songwriters Holiday Celebration allowed for a small group of us to form a little impromptu harmony group. I expect to incorporate that in future songs as well.
What are my specific plans for the new calendar year? Subscribe to this blog to find out next time!
Now tell us your plans for songwriting in 2020 in the comments section! Always love to hear ideas for everyone to try…
This year I attended as a Singer-Songwriter and Performer, and also as a Folk DJ, since I am co-host of a radio show called Folk Talk, a weekly 1 hour folk music & talk radio show hosted by Rik Palieri on WBTV-LP 99.3 FM, Sundays @ 4PM.
Other things I did differently from my first NERFA, last year:
Came as early as possible on Thursday and stayed through lunch Sunday.
I got an exhibit hall table, which I shared with The Rix, and which also served for promoting Folk Talk, as Rik Palieri, the host, is a member of The Rix duo. Our table was next to Zoe Mulford, who has appeared on our radio show, and it was a delight to get to talk with her and her husband.
I have physical CD’s of my new album, Common Man Blues, and was able to give it to DJ’s with a Track Card and Press Release folded and tucked inside the CD sleeve.
I bought the extra meals and made time for at least one nap.
I also did something NOT recommended: I seriously cut one of my fingers on my right hand carelessly reaching into my bag (shaving razor got loose) and had to detour on the way to an urgent care facility to properly bandage it up, as the single band-aid I had in the car could not contain the flow of blood. I had a GIANT bandage on the ring finger of my right hand.
I attended a songwriter swap called “Unsung Songwriters” with my hand like that, and was glad I had the ukulele! I was able to swap the comically-oversized bandage for two normal fabric ones and at least I didn’t look as weird playing. Good thing I use my thumb and index finger for most picking!
Another new thing: playing a guerrilla showcase with a new accompanist with a single rehearsal! A violinist named Alice Hasen put out on the NERFA Talk Facebook group that she was available to join other artists in their showcases, so I, and apparently a lot of other people, took her up on it. She did a phenomenal job on everything she played on, and her own showcases were delightful! I was very excited to meet a young musician of this caliber, and although she is based out of Memphis now, she is originally from Shelburne, Vermont, up in my neck of the woods, so I am hopeful we will get to work together in the future.
Another way I stepped out of my comfort zone was signing up for the Crab Donkey “Murder Ballads” showcase. I specifically learned two songs for this: “Stagger Lee” and “Banks of the Ohio” and played them on a round-neck, all-metal resonator guitar on loan from Rik Palieri.
The showcases wrapped up, in classic NERFA style, at 3 AM, but we had people singing along even at that hour!
Workshops I attended included Vance Gilbert‘s Performance Workshop (as usual, pure genius, not long enough) a DJ workshop about new digital platforms, and a workshop by Liz Stookey-Sunde, Founder of Music to Life, about connecting activism and music.
Hoping to get Vance to come up to Burlington to do his workshop and maybe a show. Also hoping to connect with Liz at Music to Life to develop a plan for a “Social Change Music Academy” concept.
“Folk Talk” is already part of the offerings on Folk Music Notebook, a new 24-hour folk music internet radio station created by Ron Olesko, DJ and Founder of “Traditions”, now WFDU-FM’s longest running program.
NERFA is an interesting opportunity to connect with the community in a way that is different from the rest of the year, and I look forward to the next one!