Craig Cummings Music


Back at Brewer’s Alley in Frederick Tonight
September 16, 2013, 9:53 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , ,

Craig_at BrewersAlley_9-19-11

Tonight I am stopping in to Brewer’s Alley in Frederick as the featured performer for the Monday night songwriter’s showcase. This is always a great gig – the hosts, Ron Deacey, Todd Walker, Tomy Wright and Ron Goad are exceptionally kind and all talented in their own right (as their weekly performances show); the music lovers who frequent Brewer’s are a listening audience, allowing performers to play songs not always well-received in noisier venues; and, the other performers brought in to play 3-songs sets prior to the feature are always fine songwriters. All of  this makes the feature performer have to “up their game” to the highest level in order to justify the honor of the featured slot. So it is with this in mind that I’m approaching tonight’s performance.

I’ll be playing selections of songs from my CDs Road Trips and Relationships and Whispering Low as well as threads of songs for 2 recording projects currently in development. My 21st Century Poor project is a collection of songs about what happens to good people who find themselves in terrible financial and social situations after living much of their lives somewhat predictably in the middle class (what’s left of it). The other unnamed project is a collection of songs I’ve been performing publicly for a while that remain in need of a unifying theme. Some of these songs are among the strongest I’ve written and once I clarify what they are saying about me (or to me), I’ll be ready to move forward with some recording of these tunes as well.

Stop by and enjoy the show this evening. The music begins at 7:30 pm with a piano prelude by Virginia resident Jim Moon. The 3-song slots are filled by the incredible Tom Dews, Frederick-area duo Basswood, and Jeff Ball and Greg Dillon. The hosts will get their licks in as well, performing either early in the evening or following my feature spot. I’ll probably go on about 9:00. Hope to see you there.

Here’s a song to get you warmed up for tonight. Enjoy.



Some Thoughts About My Songwriters Showcase at Joe Squared

ImageThis Wednesday, August 21st, the third edition of my Screams and Whispers Showcase takes the stage at Joe Squared in Baltimore. The August show features Sahffi and Heather Aubrey Lloyd and the theme for the evening is 60s soul music. If you are in the area, stop by for the show. It is going to be a great one!

This showcase is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been part of lots of showcases hosted by others, and I always thought that it would be interesting to challenge musicians by asking them to play a few tunes that weren’t too familiar. This “stretch” makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the extended set of their own music they perform later in the show. It’s fun to see which songs are chosen by each artist. So, I create a theme for each show. The first show had the musicians playing Springsteen songs, and the second show, songs by Elvis Costello. Each time the featured musicians commented that learning the songs was a challenge as was deciding which ones to actually play. Interestingly, there has been no overlap of song choice so far. This  focus on the theme as a way to begin the evening is a way to make each show unique beyond the songwriters chosen to perform.

There are quite a few talented performing songwriters in Baltimore. I don’t think that the public really appreciates the talent that we harbor within the Baltimore/Washington/Frederick area. Baltimore in particular, can be a challenging market for songwriter shows. But being able to feature the likes of Tony Denikos, Ken Gutberlet, Rob Hinkal, Tom McBride, is an opportunity I’m not willing to miss. I like the challenge of making these shows successful. And on a personal level, sharing shows with these artists is a treat for me. I’ve been a performing songwriter for a few decades, and I’ve never had this much fun.

As a performing songwriter, I never get tired of sharing my songs with listeners and trying to earn new fans. I am sure that they songwriters that populate the Screams and Whispers Showcases would tell you the same thing. In the current age of faceless communication (thank you social media), we need more ways of sharing our thoughts, hopes, fears, and observations in person…unfiltered and “straight from the heart.” These showcases give performing musicians a way to do this – and they give the listeners a way to do it as well, by talking to us and telling us what they like, what they don’t (gently please), and asking for us to create things we may not have considering creating. This makes us all better – and closer.

So – I hope to see many of you for the show this Wednesday, August 21st, 8:00 pm at Joe Squared, North Ave. in Baltimore. And for some immediate gratification, I’ve provided a link to one of my songs – a preview of what you’ll hear Wednesday.  Enjoy.

 



Emmylou and Rodney Part 2

Emmylou and Rodney

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell brought their Old Yellow Moon tour to the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland last evening. Yesterday, I wrote about them performing together again after many years. This post is just a quick review of last night’s show.

To put it simply, this was one of the best concerts I’ve seem in some time. The artists’ incredible taste and good sense in music was evident from their choice of songs (3 Gram Parsons tunes and one from Townes Van Zandt for starters), to their decision to put together a touring band that was the reincarnation of their 1970s collaboration, The Hot Band. The current version includes guitarist Jedd Hughes who at several points was channeling James Burton in a way that few would even attempt.

Emmylou and Rodney’s voices are a match made in heaven. From their decision to revist Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty to their soaring vocals on Roger Miller’s country shuffle Invitation To The Blues, the E&R show reminded us of what we’ve been missing all these years. While it’s certainly true that Emmylou can make pretty much anyone sound better, Rodney showed his own vocal chops throughout the show, and he reminded us all, with songs like Till I Gain Control Again and I’m Still Learning How To Fly, that he has been one of the finest songwriters in Country/Americana music for many years. If you’re not sure about this, just check out his 2008 solo release, Sex and Gasoline.

I suppose it’s hard to say how long their current collaboration will last. So, if you have a chance to see them when they come your way, don’t miss the show. I’m certainly hoping they come back this way.



From Country Rock Darlings to Americana Heroes

Senator_AC_Shadow#2

In the mid-1970s, I was a twenty-something singer-songwriter whose songs were properly categorized as country rock. As I continue to write and perform in the mid-2010s, my music is now called Americana. Same style, different descriptors. And just as country rock was one of the major genres of that time, so is Americana one of the most popular forms of music today. Along the way, I ventured into other musical genres, but I never could really escape the kind of music I was meant to make. I think this is true of many artists who have continued to write and perform over the past 30-odd years.

I was thinking about this as I am preparing to attend a concert tonight featuring Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. They just released a new recording, Old Yellow Moon, to rave reviews. Emmylou featured Rodney’s writing on her debut solo alum, Pieces of the Sky. Rodney then joined her in two subsequent releases, Luxury Liner in 1977, and Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town in 1978. On these latter two albums, Rodney is part of the legendary Hot Band, featuring James Burton, Emory Gordy, Hank DiVito, Albert Lee, and others. I still listen to these recordings on a fairly regular basis because I never tire of listening to their voices together.

Maybe they felt the same way just before they decided to embark on their current musical project. The country rock darlings of the mid-1970s have become the Americana Heroes of today, and my instincts tell me it must be because through all the musical twists and turns they’ve experienced, Emmylou and Rodney realized just how good they are together. And, that the music on Old Yellow Moon is the music they were meant to make.

Back in 2008 or so, I started writing songs without trying to be anything in particular – not country, not folk, not pop. What came out was a sound similar to the sound I began with in the mid-1970s. I realized that this is who I am, because it just comes out that way – effortlessly. Not that songwriting isn’t work…but the feel of what I’m creating doesn’t take effort. It just takes letting go.

Listening to Emmylou and Rodney sing on Old Yellow Moon, I am inclined to think that they sound so good together because they are just letting go. That country rock stuff they wrote and performed a few decades ago is now Americana music. But really…it’s just who they are, and what they were meant to do.

See you at the show – if you’re lucky.



Day #2 – Singer Songwriter Cape May Conference

congresshotel

Still Chilly in Cape May!!

The 2nd day of the music conference was filled with panel presentations by industry leaders discussing income streams, publishing possibilities, and recording tips. Folk singer Ellis Paul delighted the crowd with his keynote speech, presenting his “career by the numbers.” Mr. Paul is a very successful folk singer – much more successful than most. His easy manner with the audience and his incredible songs played in open tunings revealed much of why he has been so successful.

This was also the day of my performance. My set was arranged for 7:30 pm at Lucky Bones Grille, a local restaurant and watering hole of some renown. Sandy and I rolled into the place well ahead of the scheduled start time to find a line out of the front door and a stage the size of a postage stamp – well, make that no stage at all, just a tiny area near the front window with a microphone stand and a mixer mounted on the wall. There’s nothing like playing your songs while you move your guitar around to dodge all of the patrons moving back and forth in front of you as you perform. Only many years of playing bars and clubs helps you build that skill!

But, I’m not complaining, just describing the setting as it was. I played a set that began with songs from the first CD. I followed with songs from Whispering Low, and then launched into a couple of songs from my project in progress, “21st Century Poor.” I planned to finish with songs from another project in progress, which I refer to as the “CD I need to make” because I think the songs are very strong (Santa Fe and Natural Disaster among them). But time conspired against me so I never got to the last few tunes. The crowd was great…very attentive and enthusiastic. I talked with new friends from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, met someone who grew up in Towson and transplanted north, and worked the crowd as best I could. After the show, Sandy and I ate a clam and garlic pizza that was to die for…beers and a martini on the side.

It takes skill to play a show like this – it is not for the faint of heart. My strategy is to just go up there and command the stage, make people want to listen, and reward them when they do when a few words, a smile, and a download card they can use to remind them that they saw you perform and they liked it.

Time, to hit the road, south on 95 and back to Baltimore…”You’re in the front seat with the window down/golden curls blowing all around” Well, Sandy’s in the front seat but believe me, the window is not down. That won’t happen for another month or so.

Peace and a Cold Beer!



Day #1 – Singer Songwriter Cape May Conference

traceygrammar1

Good Morning From Chilly Cape May NJ!
Sandy and I arrived in town about 1:30 after an effortless drive north. Checked in at the conference after a great Tex-Mex lunch at Geckos, dropped in on a presentation by Paula Savastano on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the music profession (imagine covering that in one hour!), and then proceeded on the see the keynote speaker of the day, Tracey Grammar.

Tracey is a well-known folk singer who performs the songs of her ex-partner (in more ways than one), Dave Carter, tells great stories, and lights up the room with her presence, her voice, and her gift for flawlessly delivering a song. During the keynote, she mixed storytelling with song, allowing the attendees a chance to understand how she survives and thrives as a folk musician. She communicated the necessity of making music with a warmth and easiness that belies the constant challenges faced by indie musicians of all types.

During the question and answer period she shared the following insights:
When asked about the constant rejection that musicians face, she replied simply, “I have an audience. I find them and they find me.” It reminded me to stay true to what I do and pay attention to who pays attention.

Another musician asked her how she remembers the words to the countless songs she performs. Tracey explained that her technique for remembering words was making them into a movie in her head. As long as the movie is playing the words come along. “When you can’t see the movie,” she revealed, “It’s time to put it (the song) aside and come back to it some other time.” As someone who deals with the challenges of remembering words, I appreciate how difficult that can be…and I think I’ll try that technique.

In the evening, Tracey performed a set Dave Carter’s songs and ended with the one song of her own that she performs for live audiences. Her delivery was sure and sweet. Most songs were preceded with a story that led the listener to a deeper understanding of what they were about to hear. A performance like this is instinctive. There are plenty of things you can learn to do well as a musician, and there are some things you either have or you don’t. Tracey delivered.

Day #2 is coming up shortly as I emerge from the hotel room. I’ll be checking out some presenters and then listening a bit to today’s keynote, Ellis Paul. I’ll be performing tonight at 7:30 pm at Lucky Bones Grille, on Jew Jersey Rt.109. Stop by and see me. I’ll try to keep the lessons I learned yesterday in mind.

Peace and a Cold Beer.



Singer-Songwriter Cape May Conference

Teavolve - Craig  & Mic

Today I am heading off the Cape May NJ, to participate in the annual singer-songwriter conference. I’ll be attending some workshops and performances and I’ll be giving my own performance Saturday night at 7:30 pm at Lucky Bones Grille on Rt. 109 in Cape May. I performed last year as well, and it was really a great time. I also enjoyed getting around town and seeing other performing songwriters. There’s a lot of talented people out there. It was great.

I’ll be reporting on the happenings at the conference through my blog over the next couple of days, so check-in and pay attention if you want to hear about what’s going on in Cape May. If you’re in the area, try to stop in and catch my show.

Peace and a Cold Beer!



Gumbo And Gigs
March 14, 2013, 8:05 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , ,

Senator_AC_Shadow#2

03 Leaving Lafayette Readers – play this first!

I’m careful about what gigs I choose to play. I know plenty of musicians who will play just about anywhere as long as they are getting paid. I’m not one of them.

If I am going to play a room I want the place to provide a certain comfort level – a welcoming atmosphere that makes you glad you showed up. I like places with eclectic crowds where the hipsters, the cowboys, and the regular people all come together…kind of like a gumbo that mixes whatever you have on hand into some creation that is so good you have to have a second helping.

This Friday March 15th I am playing at the Chesapeake Wine Company (CWC) from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. The CWC is this kind of comfortable place. Yes, it’s a wine store and they also have plenty of beer choices, but that is just the beginning. There is something about the atmosphere of this place that just begs you to pull up a chair, makes some new friends, listen to the music, and…stay. Oh yeah – and drink more wine. The owners, Mitchell and Debbie, couldn’t be more friendly, and everyone who comes in just seems to be stopping by to sit in their living room and spend some time away from whatever else calls them.

This Friday at 5:00, I’ll become part of that gumbo. Maybe I’ll be the file` – that ingredient that thickens the dish and makes it a little more interesting than it would be otherwise. I’d like to think so. Why not stop by and add your own ingredient…see what you can bring to the gumbo that is the Chesapeake Wine Company? Friday 5:00. Be there.



The Best Shows Aren’t Always On the Weekends
March 10, 2013, 10:26 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , ,

Craig at GB3

Tomorrow night, March 11th, Brewer’s Alley in Frederick, MD presents its weekly songwriter showcase. I’ll be a part of that show along with the duos Basswood, Erik and Amy, and the night’s feature performer Tony Denikos. Wavy Gravy alter-ego Jimbow starts the evening with his off-the-cuff piano and melodica jams. As always, the brain trust that includes Rod Deacy, Ron Goad, Todd Walker, and Tomy Wright bring an outstanding show to Brewer’s Alley that challenges music lovers to forget that it is Monday night – and hey, shouldn’t we just be at home chillin’?

Last Thursday, I was part of the 9 Songwriter Series show, hosted by Justin Trawick. Justin brought his traveling songwriter showcase to Gaithersburg, MD and a fairly packed house was treated to two-plus hours of performing songwriters bringing their best stuff to an audience eager for more. The week before last, I joined Justin and his showcase in Baltimore for another fantastic show.

The easy thing…the typical thing, is to wait until the weekend to make your live music choice. But if you limit yourself to what you can see on Friday and Saturday night, you are bound to miss many of the best shows around. This is especially true if you want to be able to actually listen to the music unfettered by the sounds of the group next to you raising their voices to be heard over the din of other groups doing the same.

So, the next time you want to go out and hear some good music, don’t wait until Friday or Saturday. You can start tomorrow at Brewer’s Alley in Frederick. The show starts with Jimbow at 7:30. My set falls somewhere between 8 and 9:00. Tony comes on around 9:00. The regulars at this night spot come for the music and the camaraderie. You should join them.



A Guilty Pleasure
March 8, 2013, 9:22 pm
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Craig at GB 03-13Every now and then I come across a recording that hangs in that sound cloud inside of my head and refuses to leave. Examples of these recordings include Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Steve Earle’s Washington Square Serenade, Justin Townes Earle’s Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, and Joni Mitchell’s Hejira.

For the last year or so, the recording that has lingered on my iPod (and in my head) long after any other has been This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark. This double CD features a collection of well-known songwriters performing classic Guy Clark songs. The is no need to spend much time extolling the incredible songwriting talents of Guy Clark. He is the dean of the Texas songwriters, and anyone who knows anything about writing songs knows that to study Guy is to study the master.

This recording is exceptional in how it allows his admirers to present his songs in ways that honor his talents. Lyle Lovett presents a memorable version of Anyhow I Love You. Kevin Welsh’s Magdalene evokes the desperation of needing to get out of town and start again. James McMurtray’s version of Cold Dog Soup with its classic line, “There ain’t no money in poetry, but that’s what sets the poet free, I’ve had all the freedom I can stand” rings true for anyone who has ever cast their fate to the arts.

My personal favorites include Radney Foster’s reading of LA Freeway and Jack Ingram’s Stuff That Works. The CD ends with a beautiful rendering of My Favorite Picture of You from Jerry Jeff Walker.

As a songwriter, I can be a harsh critic of other writer’s efforts. I have my own standards and ideas about what constitutes a well-written song, and I am not easily swayed when others try to convince me that something I hear as pedestrian is more than that. But when I listen to this CD, I am constantly amazed at the depth of Guy Clark’s talent. I know this is nothing new to many who study songwriting or who spend most of their time crafting songs. There have been many tributes to Guy’s talents. But I have to say that if you haven’t had the chance, buy this CD and let yourself fall in love with Guy’s songwriting talents. Feel the admiration that these incredible performing songwriters put into their versions of Guy’s songs. You won’t be able to look – or listen away.