Always a big hit at the annual Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference in New York with his acoustic music shows, Appalachian-style string-band music fiddler/entrepeneur and Alaska-setting poet/storyteller Ken Waldman is changing it up a bit this week with two different programs, both at Hell’s Kitchen cabaret club Don’t Tell Mama, on Thursday and Friday night.
Instead of his traditional Thursday night “dress rehearsal” gig at Jalopy in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, where he would preview the Don't Tell Mama Friday night From Manhattan to Moose Pass roots music variety showcase, the Alaska-based Waldman, known affectionately as “Alaska’s fiddling poet,” has scrapped the Brooklyn warm-up altogether, adding instead the Thursday night A Night of Music and Spoken Word Theater performance at Don’t Tell Mama.
Friday night, then, it’s Another Great Big Night of Roots Music Variety at the venue, which is within walking distance for the thousands of international talent buyers and presenters over at the APAP conference headquarters at the nearby Hilton Hotel Midtown.
“The biggest change is that we’re opening it up a little more to the general public,” says Waldman. “We’re still comping APAP attendees, but letting anyone else in for $20 for Thursday, $30 for Friday.”
“I decided to make the Friday night show a bit looser, since we aren’t doing the Thursday night preview,” he continues. “Instead, on Thursday I’m making an evening of theater/storytelling/spoken word, all accompanied with some kind of music.”
Thursday night’s A Night of Music and Spoken Word Theater breaks down into five 25-minute shows: Singer-songwriter Natalia Zukerman performs her multi-disciplinary show The Women Who Rode Away, which includes her visual art as well as musicianship and writing. Waldman, backed by The Secret Visitors (featuring banjo player Illan Moss), follows with a presentation of Trump Sonnets or: How I’ve Taken on Donald Trump (and Won)—his theatrical piece employing his music, storytelling and poetry, specifically published in three volumes of Trump Sonnets, and a fourth, Trump Sonnets, Volume 4--The Shrunken Soul Edition (26 chronologically arranged poems, all titled "Donald Trump: His Shrunken Soul"), shortly forthcoming.
Up next is Nigerian-born actor-singer-playwright Tayo Aluko’s award-winning Paul Robeson theatrical tribute Calling Mr. Robeson (with Aluko accompanied by a pianist and also incorporating material from his Langston Hughes tribute show), followed by Waldman and Moss, this time performing Portrait of an Artist as Santa Claus (with Waldman, after every fiddle tune or poem, going into the audience and giving away the book or CD where the work originally appeared).
The evening ends with singer-songwriter Liz Queler’s The Edna Project, featuring her, husband Seth Farber and son Joey Farber on her music settings to poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Friday’s lineup returns to the roots music variety format of From Manhattan to Moose Pass and featuring, in addition to Waldman (fronting The Wild Ones, including Moss), original folk-Americana duo Bettman & Halpin, guitarist-songwriter Jefferson Hamer & Friends, Scottish and American traditional music from Jane Rothfield and Allan Carr, Lizzie & Ken (Waldman and cellist-mandolinist-fiddler Lizzie Thompson), Queler and the Farbers, old-time multi-instrumentalist Thomas Bailey & Friends, and The Maybelles’ Jan Bell.
“In other years we started out with a ‘Class Party’ set, where I introduced everyone before their later sets,” says Waldman. “This year, the whole evening will be a class party with fun, collaborations, surprises, and inspiration.”
He notes that he’s gone with two nights at Don’t Tell Mama after discovering that Jalopy and Red Hook were too out-of-the-way for Midtown Manhattan conference attendees, and that the Friday night attendance at Don’t Tell Mama kept increasing.
“It’ll be different this year,” he says, “and like all years, it’ll be fun.
Incidentally, Trump Sonnets, Volume 4--The Shrunken Soul Edition is Waldman’s twelfth book and tenth poetry collection. His Friday night show at Don’t Tell Mama marks his tenth anniversary of staging APAP events there, and when the conference ends, he heads down to New Orleans (he splits his off-road time between Alaska and Louisiana) for the annual Folk Alliance International 2020 Conference, where he’ll hold four different indie showcases.