FAR-West Conference in Irvine, Nov 6 & 7, 2009 (www.far-west.org).
This year, the conference took place at the sprawling Hyatt Regency by the Jamboree exit of the 405.  Lorie and Gene and I (Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements) played 15 guerilla showcases over the two days and nights of non-stop music.  It was wonderful.  We connected and reconnected with old friends, club owners, house-concert people, radio people and made many new friends and fans.  I was happy to get requests for material on my CD, “ A Place in the Sun,” such as “Waffle Boy,” “Night Blooming Jasmine,” “Diane,” “Laraine” and “Goodbye. Aloha.”  I also did my Christmas song, “Mama, I Know You Ain’t Santa” a few times… it is November.   And I got requests for new material, such as the carpool song “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” and my tribute to Merle Haggard, “Table Nine.”  Oh, and some people wanted to hear “I Just See You,” a song I wrote about what I see when I look in the mirror.  The amazing guitarist, Steve Postell sat in with us for about 5 of the showcases.  Luke Halpin (on fiddle) and Matt Cartsonis (on mandolin) sat in for a few songs, too.  That was cool.  That’s what it’s all about.  The nighttime guerilla showcases didn’t even start until 10:30, so we were all exhausted by Sunday morning, but what fun!  (These guerilla showcases take place in a host’s hotel room.  It was all on the 3rd floor.  The hallway was very noisy.  Sometimes it wasn’t a problem; sometimes it was.  It would be nice to figure out a way to fix that next year.)
Also, there were some 40 Main Showcase performances, going on from 6:45PM to 10:15 on Friday and Saturday night.  They took place simultaneously in three rooms, each with superb sound and lighting.  If you wanted to see everyone, you would have had to pop into a room, listen to a song or two and then move on.  I’m sure everyone who was there could speak at length about some great Main Showcase act, but this is my forum, so I’m going to focus on just three.
First off, Shaun Cromwell.  I won’t go on and on about how great he is, I promise.  It so goes without saying.  Just this:  Several of us – Ernest Troost and his lovely wife, Louise, and Nicole Gordon and I sat in the front row smiling like magpies through his whole set… a half hour of kvelling.  I don’t think the smile left Ernest’s face for one second.  I remember the first time Ernest saw Shaun… he wrote to me saying, “Holy Mississippi John Hurt!”  That’s all I’m going to say.  Check out Shaun for yourself: (www.shauncromwell.com)
Aztec 2 Step.  I had never seen them.  I had heard of them in the early 70s.  I entered their showcase room, sat down next to Steve Postell and was transported by Neal Shulman and Rex Fowler.  Neal has that abandon on the guitar that you dream of.  It’s not just that he plays fast and accurately… it’s that he plays with abandon.  He’s free.  He’s not working up there; he’s just playing.  And the charming Rex Fowler sings out loud and clear and fully committed to a timeless style.  Their wonderful bass player was having the time of his life… I’m so sorry that I don’t remember his name!  (www.aztectwostep.com)
Robert Morgan Fisher.  Well, well, well.  He’s wonderful but I see him fairly often in town.  I don’t know what drew me to his room, but I went in and sat in the back.  I don’t remember what he started with, but I was singing along. Then he started his song from the point of view of a guitar… Life in Music.  I’ve heard it probably 10 times, but he was performing everything on this Far-West Main Stage with such quiet, gentle power that I felt myself get up and go to the front of the room.  I realized about halfway into the song that I was watching Robert “come into his own” for lack of a better phrase.  He was completely in his element.  He was in the right place at the right time.  Far-West is the absolute right audience for him.  His stories are so well-crafted and his music is so perfect, and he was so happy up there.  Robert has something to say and we were really listening.  I just felt like his life was changing before my eyes.  I’m so glad I was there!  I should mention that the terrific Matt Cartsonis was up there supporting him on guitar.  What a perfect side man for Robert at that event.  (www.robertmorganfisher.com.
I will be returning to Far-West next year, in San Jose .