By November 5, 2021 Read More →

Unplugged View: The Song Remembers When

Unplugged View: The Song Remembers When
by Aaron Rowan & friends

Welcome, dear reader, to the 100th UnpluggedView column. Here’s something special to mark this milestone: stories from a few of the great creative people I’ve worked with over the years, about pieces of music that carry a special meaning and the true-life tales that accompany them.

ROY STEVENS (General Director, Opera Modesto):
In 2012 I had the remarkable opportunity to perform the role of Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albania, during that country’s centennial anniversary of independence. Skanderbeg was an amazing man, general and literate diplomat from the fifteenth century. It is pretty crazy that a non-Albanian would have this honor. It was partly that the head of the Albanian National Theater & Opera wanted to honor the American presidents who helped Albania achieve and retain independence, and partly that I suited the role. The opera, ‘Skanderbeu’ by Prenk Jakova, is one of the most important operas composed in the northern dialect of Albanian from the 1400s. So, for the native Albanians, it was very challenging because of the ancient dialect. For me, it was, well, just Albanian! The music is beautiful and distinctive. I was the only non-Albanian in this production on the national stage of Albania, then in Macedonia and finally at the World Albanian Diaspora Concert at the Arena of Geneve in Switzerland. An experience and honor I will never forget; an opportunity to represent my own country in a way not normally given to performers, and to honor the fine people of Albania.

ALZARA GETZ (award-winning songwriter/bandleader of Brother Spellbinder):
After three years away at graduate school for social work in Pennsylvania, I returned to my apartment in San Francisco. As I walked around the neighborhood, admiring the beauty of the architecture and feeling home again in the Bay Area, a melody came into my head with the words “20 Years Ago.” I quickly recorded the idea on voice memos. Later I realized it had been exactly 20 years since I had moved with my son into the very same apartment. But 20 years ago, I expected my life to be something entirely different. I had hopes and dreams that never materialized and others I never imagined that did. The song represents a sense of lost innocence, yearning and idealism. When you find you’ve returned to the place where you were, you may ask yourself: Am I going backwards? Is this some karmic circle? Did I fail or succeed? What do I know now that I didn’t know then?

DAVID FINLEY (former Nashville songwriter/bandleader of True South):
Some of my finest and favorite songs have been written while away, or travelling for work. I spent several years working in the construction field. I was away for months on one particular hotel project in Los Angeles. I had sent the crew home for the day and the paperwork was finished. I was sitting in an office in the empty shell of the ninth floor with every patio door open. Streetlights dotted the night as the sounds of the city echoed from below. I grabbed my guitar and started to play. The story told itself. A man having to work away from his family, wife raising their children, the loneliness and hardships endured by the entire family, the pains of construction life, and ultimately the sacrifice of love for a loveless career and bills to be paid. My son Bergen and I played through the song time and time again, diligently charting out the fills and solos. Finally, we were satisfied with the results of our efforts and introduced the song to the band for rehearsal. We are very proud of “When You Talk About Us” and it’s one of True South’s favorite song to play live.

AARON ROWAN (concert curator/scene supporter):
In late June of 2017, I embarked on the second of three tours that year with a mesmerizing songwriter from the mountains of Colorado. At that time my assorted musical duties included serving as her tour manager. This particular journey was a train adventure of the kind I enjoy so much, which took us on a meandering route south with views of the Pacific, through the blazing desert landscapes and forest towns of Arizona, into New Mexico with its lovely earth colors and architecture, and finally full circle to Colorado Springs, one of my favorite destinations. Days spent surrounded by works of art forged both by the natural world and by the minds and hands of humans. Nights filled with “music for the haunting” as her bio phrases it. But the greatest musical payoff for me came after the tour ended, sitting in my travel companion’s backyard not long after a light summer rain. She busted out her guitar and belted out her rendition of ‘Barbara Allen,’ a Scottish ballad dating back to the 1600s, as I trained my video camera on her. Whenever I rewatch that song (which can be found on the Modesto Unplugged Youtube channel) I feel the longing to be back wandering the streets of the Springs.

DONNA PHILLIPS (music educator & enthusiast)
Sometimes a particular song becomes part of your soul with one wondrous, magnificent moment moving you profoundly. It happened for me when, after a traumatic injury left me unable to walk until major surgery, I grabbed an unmarked cassette tape to listen to as I drove for the first time in four months. It was a rainy, dreary day on the road as the music started to play. At the exact moment, I heard the lyrics “At the end of a storm there’s a golden sky,” the clouds literally parted and shafts of glorious light streamed down! I had come full circle, for the cassette was an acapella recording I made of my own singing during my most bleak time. I had listened to it to repeatedly over the past year for inspiration. What a finale that day – truly at the END of a personal storm and highLIGHTED with a Song and a Golden Sky!

November live music highlights:
11/6, 7pm – Reggae dance party with A La Lune and Honey B – Congregation Beth Shalom
11/13, 8pm – bluegrass with Red Dog Ash & North Country Blue – West Side Theatre (Newman)
11/14, 2pm – Dirty Cello with special guests True South & Float On – Valley Music Institute, 1222 J St.
    Intimate performances. Infinite playlist. MODESTO UNPLUGGED.

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