Last night was the every-year-about-this-time housefilk at the home of bedlamhouse and ladyat. I arrived a bit early, and got to watch quadrivium wrestle with tuning a cranky cello. Then we got some much-needed real food at the local Chinese takeout while more people arrived. Folks were starting to form up the circle but at the stage where people were just noodling and nobody really wanted to start. I was in the kitchen with braider, ladyat, and another person or two, and braider decided to try to start something happening by launching into "Captain Jack and the Mermaid", which I thought came off pretty well. The arrangement of Captain Jack that I have in my head has at least four voices, with the middle part switching solos between the lead female singing the bride, a second female voice singing the mermaid, a tenor for the crewman, and a baritone or bass for Jack. I had been doing my harmony-challenged best to be supporting for the song up to that point, but I stepped up to the verse where Jack speaks, and braider let me take the solo. I think my solo and the whole song came off pretty darn good, until the mysterious case of mass Frank Hayes disease on the last verse. (It's weird how you can forget a line in a song that you've known solidly forever, but it's even weirder how, when it happens, several other people who also know the song well can suddenly blank on it as well.)
We drifted into seats in the forming circle, where min0taur was leading some jamming on a traditional folk song about love and epic betrayal that I actually didn't recognize. He didn't sing the whole song, but we did get a lot of people playing along and making a two-chord song sound awfully rich and interesting. Then bedlamhouse declared that the circle was open, and that because we had a number of shy folks, we'd be bardic, and since it was before Beltane, we would proceed widdershins around the circle, and that to keep things moving, when your turn came, you had to have something immediately or lose your turn. Which left me on the spot, because was sitting on min0taur's right, so I just dived into the page where I'd been as I sort of idly flipped through my book -- a song I haven't done myself or heard in ages, a song that I haven't practiced in ages but I figured I could probably just do cold, that I thought would be familiar to some and have simple chords that might encourage participation: "Ballad of the Three Kings" by Poul Anderson and Gordy Dickson. bedlamhouse managed to pull out Gordy's guitar to play along by the end of the last verse.
At this point, you're probably worried that I'm going to recapitulate the entire evening at this level of detail, but don't worry -- even if I cared too, my memory isn't up to it. I can recall that Daisy was on my right, but not what she sang next, and Michael next, and it gets fuzzy. I think that's where braider was in the circle, but I might be skipping someone. braider announced that she was trying to actively work on her playing-along-with-others skills and intended to play along with everyone who didn't specifically ask not, on her very shiny new red mandolin. Ooh, twist my arm. And she did play along with almost song all evening, competently but without stealing the spotlight from the person whose turn it was, and made everything sparkly. quadrivium was playing along with almost everyone, too, on the cello, clarinet, and bass clarinet, and we had ladyat and tollers with drums, and several guitars who would come in when they could. It was a wonderful circle musically. Not hugely flashy -- on many songs, the playing along was tentative and quiet -- but I can't recall it ever being disruptive. I'll try to cut this short, and just shout out a couple of real high points of the evening. One was that Neil, who is a poet and kind of shy, joined the circle reciting some of his poems. I'm not usually very much into modern poetry -- what Garrison Keillor reads on The Writer's Almanac almost always underwhelms me, for instance -- but this guy has a gift. He had one in particular that explored the value and humanity of the mentally ill through an extended metaphor about the trees that grow on the grounds of mental institutions that is still haunting me. Another was that min0taur blew us all away by asking quadrivium to play a certain jazz standard, and then singing an alternate set of lyrics that left the whole house laughing too hard to breathe. I don't want to say any more, because it will have more impact if you actually hear it without expecting it, and There Was Talk of including it in the Play It With Moxie set at the next GAFilk. Before min0taur started, I'd been trying to decide between a couple of serious, pretty, moody choices, but I was laughing too hard to even consider trying to play calmly, so instead I read "Horton Hears a Heart", milking it as much as I could, and kept people laughing pretty well.
As the evening wound down, we all agreed that we need to do this more often.