"How many of you have never been to one of my shows," Doyle Lawson asked the Great Lakes Folk Festival audience.
Many hands, including mine, went up. Lawson paused before drawling his conclusion: "You people really should get out more."
He's right, you know. Lawson, 66, has been performing professionally for almost a half-century. He's had his own group for 31 years; for six straight years, it won the bluegrass award for best vocal group. By all logic, we should have heard him before.
Many people haven't, though. That evening was the first time Pat Egan -- the gifted singer-guitarist for the Irish trio Chulrua -- heard him. The next day, Egan was at a singing workshop, alongside Lawson and the rest of his vocal quartet. His conclusion: "Hearing that sound ... was a religious experience."
It pretty much was. The Lawson quartet sang beautifully; so did Egan. It was a fine near-conclusion to what was -- despite the unfortunate loss of the Valley Court Park concerts -- a dandy event.
(This blog, and the two previous ones, are about the festival in East Lansing, Mich.; after this, I'll be back to my natural habitat of TV.)
Here are a few random notes:
1) My second-favorite sticker, on the bumper-sticker car: "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."
2) My favorite sticker (paraphrased): "Join the army, go to exotic places, meet interesting people, then kill them."
3) My two favorite jokes both flirted with being politically incorrect. My second-favorite was from Paddy O'Brien of Chulrua: When Jesus turned water into wine, the party was a great success. The next morning, Joseph had a hangover. He called down: "Mary, I've got a terrible thirst. Could you bring up some water? And don't let the young lad near it."
4) My favorite was from Lawson. It seems that a guy was depressed and called the suicide hotline. It ended up at one of those Pakistani call centers. The caller said he was feeling suicidal. The call-center guy on the other end got excited and asked if he could drive a truck.
5) Life isn't fair department: At one workshop, Ed Klancnik played the banjo well. He was asked about the extent of his banjo education. "One lesson, one hour," he replied. Next to him, an Iranian musician played a banjo-like instrument beautifully. The emcee asked if he had any music education. Yes -- grade school and high school and music college and grad school and ...
6) One of the festival highlights emerged from the audience. Mariachi Perla de Mexico was performing in its usual way -- a bit too much grandstanding, but incredibly good vocals and instrumentals. Then Marlez Gonzalez -- the spelling and such is approximate -- asked to sing one song. She was sensational. That's not something you expect from your random Michigan State University student, especially one with a 3.7 grade point average. Still, Marlez -- who grew up in East Lansing -- is also a professional mariachi performer, just like her brother and sister. It was a great moment.
7) Some musicians simply picked up the music from their parents and grandparents. Others had much further to go: O'Brien told a long story of the time a peddler came to his home, with all sorts of things -- including an old instrument. He begged his mom to buy it; a music career began. His fiddler, Patrick Ourceau, was a young adult before discovering Irish music. He soon was taking marathon two-day trips by bus and ferryboat, to the countryside of Ireland.
8) And yes, that thoroughly Irish trio has a fiddler named Ourceau, who speaks French as his native tongue -- and speaks English with a rich Irish brogue. Also, Klancnik's Slovenian polka band has an accordian player who's an Irishman (partly) named O'Berry. You meet some surprising people at a folk fest. Maybe next year I'll see you there ... and maybe next year, it will be much better, with a return to Valley Court Park.