When I told Tom about the sing-along he was immediately on-board, as I knew he'd be. Tom, like me, is a big fan of Bill Cohen, the folksinging former Statehouse reporter for Ohio public radio and television known for his cool, soothing voice and his annual 1960's Coffee House:
Maybe it wasn't even that folk music was all that great. Maybe what was great about it was that it was singable. And that we all of my generation sang it.
And last Saturday a few hundred of us were singing it again.
"We're the youngest ones here," Tom observed with amazement in his voice.
Though we probably were not actually the youngest, Tom wasn't far from wrong.
But when we started singing the good old songs we were suddenly transported from looking like this:
Here's what was rather amazing about our sing-along: There were no song sheets.
"You won't need any song sheets," Bill Cohen had told us at the beginning of the event, "trust me, all the words of these songs will come right back to you."
And he was right. Forty, fifty years later, we all still remembered the words to these songs. Over the two hours we were there Bill on the guitar and his banjo-playing duo partner Carl Yaffey,
But they were more than songs to us. They were our statement, our protest against war and the establishment and materialism, our proclamation of our desire and belief in a simpler lifestyle and better, more just and equal society.
Young, unencumbered, well-fed idealists that we were.
I remember a spoof by 60's singing satirist Tom Leher called "The Folk Song Army" which had a line,
"We are the folk song army, in our march against poverty, war, and injustice: ready, aim, sing!"
And sing we did.
Back when I was in college from 1969 to 1973 every other person played the guitar, me included, though I actually learned because I had a part in a play my sophomore year and in one scene my character had to play the guitar while the other person sang. When I told the director that I didn't know how to play the guitar he waved his hand dismissively and said, "So, learn. Teach yourself. Have somebody show you."
And that was exactly how we all learned the guitar back then. We taught ourselves and we taught each other. The commonest sight in the world on a college campus back then was somebody sitting under a tree or on a bench practicing guitar alone or with another, maybe singing, alone or with a group, singing and playing the same C - A minor - F -G seventh chord pattern of the folk songs that we all knew.
"That's what young people used to do back then," Bill Cohen reminded us at one point in the program, "someone would pull out their guitar and we'd sit around and sing.
(Sigh). Indeed we did.
And indeed, given the opportunity, we of the Folk song Army, though now retired, still will.