CEDAR RAPIDS – An evening with Tom Paxton is an evening of careful listening, and a thoughtful celebration of our time.
A full house greeted him Saturday night (1/26/13) at the CSPS Hall.
This Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner brings a lot of folk music history with him, honoring a 52-year career.
Yes, he’s 75 years old. But he still has his chops. Picking a steel guitar with nimble fingers, he was backed up by local guitarist Bill Heller. Paxton is a generous, gentle showman who offered the audience 20 songs, along with the stories that accompany their creation.
Audience members were mostly his age and grew up with his songs. He is one of those performers who, like the pencil marks on the kitchen door, measures our lives by his artistic progress. He is a song maker who comments on environmental causes like strip mining: “there goes the mountain, father of fir trees/creator of sunlight/heaven’s caretaker.” He is not an in-your-face protestor, preferring to mourn loss, rather than to yell angrily about it.
One of his most beautiful ballads is “Whose Garden Was This?” — “whose garden was this? it must have been lovely … whose forest was this? why is it empty?”
These songs are softly delivered, and have become anthems to our endangered natural splendor.
The evening including such past hits as “Bottle of Wine,” with the audience quietly singing along: “bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when are you going to let me get sober/let me go back and start over.”
Another hit Paxton shared with the audience is “Ramblin’ Boy” – “may all your rambling bring you joy.” The songwriter described playing this song for Pete Seeger, only to have him sing it with The Weavers at Carnegie Hall two weeks later. And it is a great song.
Paxton describes his craft as a “terribly interesting kind of madness.” A song that came to him in a hotel room in London was my favorite, a hymn of appreciation for the Great Plains: “Come away with me where the long grass grows. Come away with me where Missouri flows … women stand in doorways looking southward/old men dream the buffalo dream.”
Paxton is a storyteller, a chronicler and a troubadour. His most dramatic song was dedicated to the firefighters who lost their lives in the twin towers of 9/11: “pounding up the stairs, while we were running down.”
He is also a humble man, refreshingly self-deprecating for an artist with such a remarkable career. It is easy to admire and understand his attitude towards nostalgia: ” It’s all right to look back, as long as you don’t stare!”