Longform

Notes From the Underground

Page 7 of 7

"I'm not a '60s folkie," says MacDonald. "I'm a person who came of age in the music world in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. The Fast Folk thing presented the first work of a lot of very important people. I think it's worth keeping as a historical document."


I know a guy in software design

he's online all the time

just trying to duplicate this sound

But it will never sound as clean

as my old wood machine

six strings and a hole big and round.

-- "Six Strings & a Hole Big & Round,"

Into the Blue (1999)

MacDonald's musical career has taken him many places since 1984. He's recorded six albums for three labels and performed in hundreds of venues. In the late '80s and early '90s, he opened a slew of New York-area shows for folkie and Woodstock performer Richie Havens. Each year MacDonald tours Europe, particularly Switzerland and Germany, where he has built up a following. He lived in northeast Italy for a time and made two trips to Czechoslovakia in the wake of the fall of the communist regime there to perform at concerts and festivals, sometimes for thousands of people.

If the folk scene in South Florida is going to continue to grow, MacDonald says, it'll need a respectable venue that showcases performers on a regular basis. He notes that there are attractive performance spaces in the area, but most showcase folk music maybe ten times a year rather than every night. "There's nothing like the clubs in Greenwich Village, where six, seven nights a week there are really good songwriters playing original music," he says. "But there is work for people that play and sing well."

Tonight MacDonald finds himself in the humble surroundings of the Coffee Gallery Café in Lake Worth. With 11 p.m. approaching, the crowd has thinned to about a dozen people -- if you count the owner of the café and two waitresses, who have repaired to tables. Someone sitting at a sidewalk table has called out a request for the John Denver song "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Looking momentarily nonplussed by the request, MacDonald tells the audience that, before Denver died in a plane crash two years ago, it wasn't fashionable to play his songs. He then gamely recounts a story of how, back in the '70s, his ability to knock off a few Denver tunes helped him find a ride into Pittsburgh in the middle of the night.

"Take Me Home, Country Roads" is followed by a Donovan song and then a Leonard Cohen tune. For his final number, MacDonald performs an earnest political anthem called "Who Built the Bomb? (That Blew Oklahoma City Down)." "So who lit the bomb that blew Oklahoma City down?" he sings. "'Not I,' said the preacher, book in hand, with his personal knowledge of God's great plan/ 'God will punish those who do wrong and sometimes we need to help Him along.'"

The song is greeted with hearty claps from those remaining.

"Hey Rod, who wrote that one?" asks a man who says he used to see MacDonald play all the time in New York City.

"Me," MacDonald smiles. "I'm the guilty man."


RELATED LINKS

Three sound clips from MacDonald's new record

*Rod's homepage, http://www.parallaxpro.com/rod/

Singer's House Concert Series and calendar of folk events, http://www.singerfolkmusic.com/

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Paul Demko
Contact: Paul Demko