Welcome to Focus‘ 100th birthday party where over 60 folk music fanatics were in the audience to help celebrate the group’s centennial concert in Alexandria, VA. This is DCMTA’s first review of Focus Events held throughout the Washington metropolitan area on a monthly basis. What an event to cover for a folkie like me. The headliners for the night were Susan Greenbaum and John Flynn – both notable musicians – who each presented diversified musical sets.
First up for the evening’s entertaining program was Susan Greenbaum from Richmond, Virginia. Susan plays the guitar and sings alto while Chris Parker (her husband) provides the percussion and other special effects including harmonizing with Susan on some of the musical selections. Susan’s voice is capable of traveling up and down the musical scale and her range is both dynamic, sweet and endearing. Her first song was “Wake Up” and it demonstrated her ability to not only entertain, but also connect with the audience.
Susan followed that up with “Penny on the Sidewalk” and “Everything But You.”
As with any event in Washington, DC, politics somehow becomes intermingled – even at a folk concert. Susan shared her song – “Virginia, the Home of the Heart, which is sitting on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Desk waiting for a decision as to whether it will be adopted as the official State Song.
Virginia has been without a State Song since 1997, when the State Senate voted it down because the lyrics of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” were considered offensive to African Americans. After listening to Susan’s State Song submission, if you agree that Susan’s original lyrics and tune should be declared the official State Song, don’t hesitate to write the Governor.
Another highlight of her evening’s selections was “This Life,” which she dedicated the song to her brother who had passed away at an early age due to a brain tumor.
Her brother had inspired Susan to leave her successful career as an executive with a Fortune 500 firm and tap her musical expertise in a far more fulfilling way. She ended Act 1 with Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Feel free to appreciate not only the music but the lyrics of what her songs communicate to her listeners.
By the end of the musical set, Susan was successful in her special connection with the audience. With each selection, it was obvious that we all were on the ride together and wherever Susan wanted to drive them, they were eager to join her. Susan stated numerous times how she talks too much, but in my opinion that’s what makes her music so alive – it’s about us….you and me!
After a brief intermission of birthday cake and treats, those assembled quieted down and gave their undivided attention to our evening’s second performer – John Flynn. An interesting fact about this baritone was when joining the Navy, he was given permission to bring his 12-string Guild guitar with him to Annapolis’ United Stated Naval Academy. He has a fascinating and diverse repertoire consisting of country songs, love songs, songs for kids, and of course, songs of social justice. He shared that the reason he wanted to write music was to “help change the world.”
Besides his guitar, he also plays harmonica, a la Bob Dylan, in some of his tunes. John’s first song was “Go Wake A Heart” which demonstrated John’s ability to hold a note and he obviously had perfected the technique as he employed it numerous times throughout the evening. Highlights of his set included his “Like Woody Done” which was written to celebrate Woody Guthrie’s 100th Birthday. His sharing of “No Them There“ was a robust wake-up song, while his “Only One” masterpiece emulates his belief … with friends, we can each change this world (lyrics at both links).
John’s “Dover” has a very interesting background story. The song was written in response to the US policy of not letting the caskets of fallen American soldiers be photographed as they returned home. John felt it was wrong that the cost of the war was being hidden and that the sacrifices of these brave men and women were not being acknowledged. The song was written around the time of the 1,000th US Military death in the Iraq war. This song is a tribute to those who make the ultimate sacrifice in their duty to our country.
Susan joined John on stage with an encore for the evening…where they both together in unison sang “May the Road Carry you Safely Home.”
As is common with many folksingers, both Susan and John are both wonderful storytellers and shared stories about their songs and relevant messages that their songs communicate to the listener.
Focus venues are not only located in Alexandria, but also operate in three other locations including Falls Church and Mount Vernon, VA. as well as Rockville, Maryland. Its goal is to return 75% of admissions to the performing artists, which is substantially more than most other venues operating in this area. We encourage you to investigate the Focus website and provide your e-mail so you can keep apprised of all events in all locations. Advance tickets to most events are $15.00.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.