Then last Sunday Everly and I were returning on a beautiful sunny day from an unnamed house repair/supply giant with a brand new mower - a red and black gas monster, baby! I will step up my recycling and good deeds to make amends - and new "Hep Green" paint to makeover some porch furniture and our porch rail. Excited about the coming of Spring and lighting up the drab exterior of our house - the former owner was what you might call a Pint Bottle Shirker, who didn't even plant a shrub or tree - and when we opened our car doors there was a double keening. One high pitched and frantic, the other low and guttural. I looked up the street and saw a young girl bending over as if in pain and yelling and an elderly woman half running backwards up the street moaning "Somebody help me". We went toward them as did our closer neighbor who as it turned out luckily was with two friends who knew cpr. The older woman hysterically wrapped herself around Everly, putting her in a chokehold. Meanwhile the young girl had ran off down the street with someone else who had popped out of one of the houses. The older woman calmed down enough to tell us through broken breaths that her eldest son was on the floor inside, that an ambulance had come for him an hour earlier but he refused to get in it.
Everything happened so quickly and was such a 180 degree turn from the sunny home repair mind we were in that we were stunned. I think if Everly hadn't had a hold on the older woman or vice versa she would have run into the traffic in blind grief. At least a half dozen other faces appeared at the door of the woman's house, most of them shouting into cellphones. The neighbor closest to us and her two friends went inside the sick man's house to try to help. It only took a few minutes for the medics to show up and one of the neighbors who had administered cpr to the son said he had moved and breathed on his own.
We drifted back into our house, hauling our shiny lawnmower and paint. The next day Everly ran into the older woman on her way to work and found out the son had died. Now when I paint on the porch or run the circular sander I feel a guilt and a hovering presence.
But all it took was an instant of the hopping unwashed Baltimore String Felons, the City Paper calls them crust folk, to take the stage and then abandon it to wander closer to the crowd to banish the gloom from my mind and put me back in the wash and spin cycle of no holds barred life. Mikey the banjo player and singer has truly gained his own voice, which is saying something as young as he is and in the field of "Americana" music or old timey music or whatever you want to call it. Country jazz? Weirdo folk hop? And I love the band not just because my talented multi-instrumentalist nephew Soft Serve is in it. He whipped up on the fiddle most of the time, but also played some mandolin and even a clean mean crisp ukulele.
After the Felons a group traveling from New York called Spirit Family Reunion, not to be confused with Spiritual Family Reunion, which is what Chris Toll and I were familiar with and thought we were going to hear, played. Pretty good. Tiny Woody Guthrie-like guy playing a nice brown parlor acoustic and a willowy double jointed banjo player with a good voice.
All that plus a quick heaping bowl of authentic Maryland crab soup at Clementine a block away beforehand. I love my neighborhood.
JUST IN: Found this nice review in the City Paper of the String Felons live when they played with Balti Mare.
"Earlier in the night, the Baltimore String Felons offered their own unique twist on folk traditions, theirs being more distinctly American. And what's so refreshing about the weirdo folk acts in Maryland, as opposed to say New York or California, is that we're not so far from Appalachia that the musicians seem more connected to those influences, and more likely to have actual family roots. The String Felons, with their fiddle and banjo twang, have a definite mountain sound in their so-called "inner city doomgrass," even with its oddball twists, including songs that detail the assassination of JFK or choruses that howl "please don't kill me." And like Balti Mare, the combination of tradition and playful irreverence is what makes the String Felons work."