Sloan Wainwright, The Decemberists in January, and I Can’t Breathe

I Can't BreatheOn a cold Sunday night with few people walking the streets of downtown Manhattan, a sold out audience were cozy and warm inside the City Winery for Sloan Wainwright’s annual holiday bash. Fronting a solid band led by guitarist Stephen Murphy, who has been her accompanist for close to twenty-five years, and with the half-dozen strong choir of ‘Sloanflakes’, the audience was dazzled and delighted by the range and depth of Sloan’s set of classic holiday covers and original compositions.

It was a Little Rascals’ style review, with Sloan slipping on and off the stage to allow her fellow musicians and singers, friends and family to share the spotlight. Among the people who dropped in were legendary Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel, Muppeteer Peter Linz with assorted furry friends and Boston-based singer songwriter Cosy Sheridan. And with her uber-talented family tree, we were treated to the great vocals of Sloan’s son Sam McTavey, and niece Lucy Wainwright Roche with her mom Suzzy Roche. Brother Andy was dressed as Santa and selling posters at intermission to raise money and awareness for The Kate McGarrigle Foundation. And her other brother Loudon the Third contributed a sultry, entendre-laden “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause” as only he could pull off.

Sloan’s show comes just ten days before she’ll perform at Rufus and Martha Wainwright’s Noel Nights at New York’s Town Hall. With the afore-mentioned Wainwright clan also onstage, special guests will include Emmylou Harris, Cibo Matto, Justin Vivian Bond, Jenni Muldaur, Cyndi Lauper and Renee Fleming.

In addition to her albums and shows, you’ll find Sloan at a number of songwriting and voice workshops and camps in the summer months. She also teaches privately throughout the year, with both individuals and groups Here’s a video I thought you’d enjoy…on how to sing like a Wainwright. As if we could.

You never know who you might come across performing for tips in a New York subway or train station. And a couple months ago on a street corner in Brooklyn you might have stumbled upon Decemberist’s Colin Meloy busking with an acoustic guitar. I imagine it was either a tune-up or stress relief. With a new album dropping on January 20th, a tour kicking off in February that travels from Ireland to Nashville in just two months, and last week’s debut of probably the funniest video since David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo”…they’re back. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World will feature 14 new tracks, and mark the band’s first new album in four years.

I can’t breathe.

When did NBA and NFL players become America’s new folksingers? Last week I guess. Wearing shirts on the field and in stadiums that proclaim ‘I can’t breathe’, they echoed and amplified the feeling in the streets from coast to coast. For those of us who grew up with Guthrie and Seeger and Dylan and Ochs and all the others who raised their voices in the fifties and sixties against war and poverty and civil rights…the silence is deafening.

I can’t breathe.

While not wanting to add to the twenty-four hour barrage of info-commercial-entertainment-journalism, there is something that seems to get lost in this concept of justifiable homicide. A man. A father. Big. Black. Imposing. Prior arrests. His crime that day? He bought a pack of cigarettes, opened them up and was standing on the corner selling them one by one for a buck. And a group of policemen, more than the three you see in the video, are standing there and not one of them raises their voice to say…hold on, let’s back off for a second. Let’s talk this out. Figure out where we should go from here. Not one. Crime and punishment.

I can’t breathe.

Do you know how many thousands of people in the financial industries were culpable of manipulating the laws and loopholes to bring the world economy to it’s knees not even ten years ago?  Less than zero. How many homes were taken over by the banks? How many jobs were lost? How many retirement funds turned to zero? How many families were destroyed? How many were prosecuted? How many were taken down to the ground with a forearm compressing their airways?

I can’t breathe.

Last week I sat on the couch like many Americans and watched the protests on television. And I felt guilty for not hopping on a train, riding into the city and joining in. I felt helpless and hopeless. And a little lazy if I’m to be honest. My heart was there, but not my ass. Hard to criticize such few voices that rise up from our music community, when I myself stayed inside. I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.

And I can’t breathe.

Last July, soon after Eric Garner’s death, there was something different that took place at Times Square in front of the NYPD station. I found the video below, while searching for a song that might be appropriate to post. Don’t think this made much noise on the news, and it only has received less than a half million views on You Tube. Hell, a dancing cat in a tutu eating chocolate pudding gets ten times that.