“Children don’t give up your heart
To the counting of the days
And the sleep that we start
Hold on to the wind at night
And the river of dreams
That will show you the way back
To moonlight in the garden.” Walls of Paradise
A beautiful young woman in her early 20’s, long auburn tresses flowing down her back, froze in amazement on the stairs leading down to the bustling Open Mic Night in a Northern California former Gold Rush town. She took part in the Open Mic every week, a vital member of the town’s bustling music scene, had no reason to feel that night would be different than any other raucous night of music and jovial socializing. But something stopped her in her tracks. “Whose angelic voice is wafting up to me,” she wondered, “ expressing such poignancy and heart-felt truth?” Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, she found a shaggy haired lad hunkered over his guitar, playing originals with determined intensity and bumming booze shots to pour in coffee, as he wasn’t legal to drink yet. She thought it might be fun join him on a few tunes….
Thirty years later, the musical stars continue to happily align over celebrated national touring folk artist duo Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald. They still base out of rural northern California but have loyal fans all over the world. Married twenty-five years ago, they have a “muse-inspired relationship based in mutual admiration and respect” for each other’s talents. It’s not easy to be a married couple and a performing business team as well; many music presenters wouldn’t book them at first, doubting the act would last. With patience, perseverance and the giving of lots of personal space, the duo has found an organic balance that allows both to create solo (he in France, she in Greece) yet keep the home fires well-stoked in harmony at home. Home is a five-acre oak-shaded ranchette with a lovingly tilled vegetable garden and varying array of critters – horses, ponies, goats, dogs and cats all earn a hearty welcome at Paul and Eleanore’s place.
Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald play Ft. Worth for the first time—Friday Sept. 2 at Fifth Street Coffee House off Sundance Square.
“From the fire the songs of all our fathers came
From the fire to sing with us again
From the fire and on and on we’ll tell this tale
From the fire till that ship is gonna sail.”
From the Fire
Defining a uniquely rich, harmonious style that blends traditional folk with contemporary (and earthy world-beat essence on their 2010 CD From the Fire), the duo have independently produced nine albums of original music, receiving critical acclaim from folk music trade reviewers worldwide. Their CDs get regular play on NPR, Community, College and Public radio stations the world over as well as on internet and satellite radio. Since 2000, every CD they have produced has rated high on the Top 100 Folk DJ Most Played CD’s list.
They have loyal fans across Europe, the Middle East and Korea. Find them playing most often on the West Coast, not far from home, but they are regulars at Strawberry, Kerrville and Kate Wolf Music Festivals, as well. As a duo and Paul as a solo artist have won prestigious New Folk Artist Awards over the years at the “big ones”, the Kerrville, Telluride and Rocky Mountain New Folk Festivals.
On the Water
Watching over us tonight…
Silent Angel, silent angel
Is that you in my dreams tonight
She lights the fire and waits for you there
Your tears of joy the only jewels she’ll wear.”
“Paul channels the music first, and the lyrics just fill in. Sometimes he gets it all in a half hour; sometimes it’s a longer process. He doesn’t start from an intellectual place; he needs to get out of the song’s way and let the words flow organically.” Paul plays in three bands with totally different styles at one time. “He’s extremely prolific as an artist,” Eleanore says. They aim to produce a finished CD every couple of years; it keeps their name and brand fresh in front of the public, and they always have lots of music to choose from. All of their CDs are self-produced. Their most recent CD From the Fire got funded 100% by their fan base. They were ready with the material but short on the funds to produce it. Eleanore put it out to the universe (and their fan mailing list); people stepped up from all over with generous support.
Eleanore started out as a classical and modern dancer but became a singer on a dare. She says she found inspiration from an eclectic mix of artists: Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell, the classical & jazz ensemble Oregon. Together, their heroes include Seattle’s Jim Page and Ann Feeney. The artist who most powerfully influences the duo today is the recently deceased U. Utah Phillips, folksinger, labor activist, peace and social justice advocate, mentor to many young artists. “He got us out on the road in the 80’s. He’d write the lyrics to a tune then throw the song to us to finish. He taught us to pay attention to the past, to those who came before. He urged us to find our genuine voice then stand up and sing it out. He also taught us to believe in joy and mirth.”
“My name is old Mary,
And I’ve won and I’ve lost.
Some still call me a communist for questioning the boss.
But I’ll tell you one more thing, boys: and that’s all I will say —
You can screw the people, but we’ll get you someday.
Salt in my tears, salt in my tears;
Will you matter then when you’re clogging up the gears?
Like you ain’t worth a salt in my tears.”
Salt In My Tears
When 9/11 hit, Kamm and MacDonald’s music took on activated focus with Utah cheering them on. “We simply had to incorporate the political material; we cared. Yes, it did marginalize us in some places; but we write about things that matter to us and to the world. We never try to beat anyone over the head with our opinions, just encourage them to think and feel.”
Eleanore believes that the special moment of communal transformation between artists and an audience is a magical gift to be cherished, a sacred space that can make people feel better about themselves and grow more open to life’s possibilities. “To touch someone, to have them take that authentic moment home with them”—that’s what she and Paul love most about performing. It’s how that shaggy–haired lad of 19 affected her when she joined the Open Mic thirty years ago, never dreaming what path of love, companionship and musical expression they would embark upon together.
Coming to Ft. Worth September 2
Fifth Street Coffee House (at Macon St.)
Tickets: $20 817-339-5071
The coffeehouse is located on 2nd Floor of the Foundation Building on the corner of W.5th and Macon in downtown Fort Worth, rght off Sundance Square.
More about Kamm & MacDonald
Cohesion Arts Review: October 2010
Eleanore’s blog “Notes from An Endless Sea”:
Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald with Mikhail Graham, Salt In My Tears live:
Fifth Street has a monthly concert series that has featured such performers as: Susan Werner, David Wilcox, Buddy Whittington, Peter Mayer, Eliza Gylkison, Carrie Newcomer, Storyhill, Ruthie Foster, Sara Hickman, Brad Thompson, Elizabeth Wills, Brave Combo and many more. Proceeds are used to support local charities.
All lyric excerpts by Paul Kamm.
Interview with Eleanore MacDonald at her home in Penn Valley, CA, via telephone on 8/26/2011