We meet John and Grace at the Burke and Wills Folk Festival our first weekend in Australia. John approached us about coming to his home for his Tuesday night folk club and we were all about it. Over the course of four weeks, e-mails and text messages, we found ourselves at their front door.
It’s always an exhilarating thing to rock up to a total strangers house, instruments in hand and no where else to go. The kids continuously asked on the way over, “Now, where are we going? What are we doing there? Who house are we going to?” And, honestly, we didn’t have much of an answer for them, except that they were a couple we meet the first weekend, which now seemed like such a blur. And, they had invited us to their home for a dinner and song.
John and Grace live in a beautiful part of Melbourne, lush greens and flowers everywhere. I don’t remember the outside of the house but as soon as we knocked and they greeted us at the door, it felt like home. They ushered us in, gave us the quick tour, meet their son, Hugh and daughter, Helen, and took us straight to the music room. Banjo was excited to see a drum kit and immediately asked if he could give them a go. There was a piano, that Graciana began to eye up. Then I spied the button box. I’ve long dreamed of having an accordion or button box player in our band and secretly hoped that Graciana would be the one to learn. She had tried the accordion in a music store once and really liked it, so how about the button box? Grace, our host, saw my enthusiasm and put it into Graciana’s hands. She grabbed her’s and off they went. For the next 20 minutes or so they played the scales and a number of easy tunes. It was beautiful watching my daughter take to it so keenly. They finished, I smiled and then Graciana announced that it was not her thing. She said, “Sorry Mom, no connection.” “But you took to it so well” I responded. She just rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah, I’m just not feeling it.” Ha! Oh well, I won’t lose hope for that accordion player just yet.
John arrived with a fantastic spread of Indian food and we all sat down to enjoy the meal. Conversation flowed, as well as the wine. After dinner instruments were brought out and other folkies started to arrive. People were happy to be there and ready to begin their Tuesday night ritual of sharing in song with one another. There were folks from all walks of life, professionals, students, retirees and even a couple of friends who had never been to a folk jam.
John and Grace started off the night with a jig while everyone found their places. Unsure of the format, we watched and learned. After they finished they asked us to take a turn. We smiled and hesitantly yet joyfully led a song. After we finished, others shared and around the table the baton went. Stories were told of origins of songs and the history of times gone by. It was a delight to hear some familiar songs but even more fascinating to hear tunes from the old country. Grace and John’s kids were so welcoming and brought Graciana and Banjo right into the experience. At one point, Grace and Hugh broke out into a Mumford and Sons song. The clock struck 1am before the night finally came to a close and even then we could have continued.
There is something unpretentious and countercultural about folk circles. In a performance driven world the laymen are left behind, but these precious folks are keeping the tradition of sharing in song alive. They are an encouragement to us all. Put your fears aside, get your old guitar out, invite your friends over and share in an incredible evening of dinner and song.