Playing in clubs, I never felt irritated until one night when a bunch of drunk strangers called out, “Freebird.” “Play Freebird.” It was near the end of the night at a busy, smoky Capitol Hill bar. I had played my usual set, including Cole Porter, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra. I felt like an automated jukebox: put a quarter in, and pick the same song every time, as if what I had to say artistically was not good enough to hear. I hung the head of my guitar in sadness and strummed “One For My Baby.”
The twenty-something bar manager demanded “newer” songs, and laughed when I suggested The Beatles.
I’ll admit I was in a bit of musical ivory tower at the time, but we all want approval for performing the art we love. Driving past an old folks’ home on my way to another run-in with my ego identity at the bar, it occurred to me that the residents there might just dig the songs from the Great American Songbook that I liked to play. Heck, they might even consider The Beatles pretty hip.
A two-way love affair was born, but like any love affair, it has had its ups and downs. The first time I played in a dementia ward, for example, a lady hiked up her faded pink skirt, removed her artificial leg, and slammed it down on the table in front of me. Another stood ten inches away and stared at me throughout the entire concert.
Another lady’s response to the music during that first show changed my life forever. Yes, that is in the show. Very old people used to make me nervous, but then I discovered they are just like me, only a little older. I am all too quickly catching up with them anyway.
So, 14 years and more than 1,000 concerts later, I put together Dementia Melodies: It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over, a solo show based on my experiences playing for old folks, so that I could share with audiences what I’ve learned.
Dementia Melodies is filled with stories from and about these people and my experiences. The people are all very different, from very much still-with-it doctors and war heroes to folks with Alzheimer’s who haven’t spoken in years. What ties them together is the healing and social power of music. Long after Alzheimer’s claims the mind, music remains vibrantly alive within.
My journey from nervous newcomer to 100th birthday party specialist is filled with laughter, tears, and music.
With original songs and covers. All ages. 60 Minutes.
CAOS ON F – 923 F Street NW, in Washington, DC 20004
METRO: Metro Ctr (Blue, Orange, Red), Gallery Place-Chinatown (Green, Yellow, Red).
July 11 7:30 pm
July 14 7:00 pm
July 18 6:45 pm
July 20 6:00 pm
July 21 5:00 pm
July 25 8:45 pm
PURCHASE TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (866) 811-4111.