Image by Dion Hitchings, courtesy Outsider Art Gallery
So, Saturday morning Brian Gormley called and encouraged me to jump in the car and drive down to Frenchtown, NJ to an opening at the Outsider Gallery. With nothing else going on, it did not take a huge amount of encouragement, and there would be a band. It was a beautiful early April day, and for some reason Frenchtown is like a magnet for me these days.
Outsider art was first championed as art brut ("raw art" or "rough art") by the French artist Jean Dubuffet. In Frenchtown, outsider art is championed by Dion Hitchings, owner of the gallery. The current group show is of painted reinterpretations of French postcards. There is a handsome spiral bound book of all the new versions of the saucy originals. The sales benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and their arts outreach program for at risk youth.And everything is priced super-affordable. Where else do you see original art work for as little as fifty bucks? And it's colorful and cool.
Hitchings had a grill in the gallery's garden and there were burgers on the fire for all comers. The main entertainment was the FunkTASKtiks -- a group of musicians who came together when they met in the soup line. Times are tough in America, and the world right now; and times are always tough for the urban poor in second and third tier cities like Trenton. Anyway, Hitchings put out a nice spread which was much appreciated by all.
There was kind of an open mic feel to the event, what with poets affiliated with TASK reading their work and some singers singing their favorite cover songs backed up by the band's funk groove. Even though my uke case was attached to my hand like a handcuffed briefcase in a movie thriller, open mics have really become the bane of my existence of late -- which is a whole rant unto itself -- so it was my intent to stay out of the mix.
Anyway, the drummer and the keyboard player from the soup kitchen band approached me during a break and convinced me to sit in. It being a lovely day and the Delaware River flowing by, and a new war hatched by the military industrial complex and their White House puppet, my song choice was "Down By The Riverside". The band all sang along on the chorus, as did many of the folks attending and/or aprticipating in the French postcards book launch.
There was a break that turned out to be the end of the festivities that day. A little while later, after having an iced tea at the National Hotel with Brian Gormley, and dropping by to see my pal Cleo Sharplin at her Alchemy clothing store -- we're on the Frenchtown Riverfest committee together -- I ran into all the band and a few others from the soup kitchen in the street next to the gallery. We blocked traffic after they urged me to break out my silver ukulele, and we all sang "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It". What a hoot that was.
It was an interesting end to a week of freebie playing. Midweek, with JJ Peppers on saxophone and contrabass clarinet, we played as a duo set at the Slate Belt Nursing and Rehab Center in Bangor, PA. And on the last Sunday in March, eight days ago, we played an impromptu 90 minute set for my old pal Farmer Frank, who had a stroke last autumn and is now in rehab at the Pleasant Valley Manor in Snydersville, PA.
All this running around and playing for the less fortunate almost makes me feel like a social butterfly.