Kingston After Dark: The artist at 70

Tom Chapin. (Photo: Bonnie Chapin)

Tom Chapin. (Photo: Bonnie Chapin)

It’s moving to hear a song like “Ride Out Any Storm” on activist Tom Chapin’s great new album, 70. Folk elements straight out of the bright light of protest music anchor these songs of determination. You certainly feel Chapin’s continuing vitality.

I ask him whether protest can still weather the storm and make peace prevail in 2015.

“Does musical protest matter? Does it work? Well, sometimes it has worked and made a difference,” the folk hero answers. “After all, looking back, I can say that it certainly has worked in my lifetime. After all, ‘We Shall Overcome’ finally overcame!”


Chapin’s musical legacy is dear in the hearts of people in the Catskills and hills near the Hudson River. People still seek music with activism and unity at their heart. I was blessed to meet Pete Seeger when my mom worked for Clearwater. Younger artists like Mike & Ruthy or my friends The Felice Brothers continue to inspire.

What’s Chapin’s advice for us youngsters or people trying to live a life supporting small business, local farm-to-table movements, or the spirit of folk/jam or even punk-rock music (that last one’d be me)?

“I find it tricky to give out advice, as I am uncomfortable pretending that I am some kind of sage or musical guru,” Chapin responds. “Randy Newman’s advice to a young musician comes to mind: Never leave your wallet in the dressing room.”

I once heard Pete Seeger answer a young reporter’s question about whether his lifetime of activism and music had made a difference. Pete said he didn’t know, “but I do know I’ve met the good people. People with live hearts, live eyes and live minds.”

On the new record, Chapin’s daughters Abigail and Lily sing a Seeger tune, a gentle version of “Quite Early Morning.” But as much as we love Pete around here, it was another song, ‘Old Dogs and Old Friends,’ that really grabbed me. “If I survive to 110 it’s thanks to old dogs and old friends,” the lyric goes. The riff is similar to Tom’s “When I’m 64,” but of course he’s passed that marker already, ha ha. This heartwarming number made me nostalgic for dogs and friends.

As life goes on, does Chapin treasure certain moments more? “Every time of life seems to have its ups and downs,” Chapin says. “I think as I’ve gotten older, I am clearer about why and how I get to make music. There is something magical about a group of people gathered together in the same place, all connected with story and song. And I feel blessed to be able to write, record and perform songs that I have created with my friends.”

I press on. Does Chapin still think we can realize that caring for the earth is the same as compassion? Do evolution and a dumbed-down Christianity have to be at odds? You can love your neighbors and not have to condemn them or live in denial like it is unpatriotic to criticize Wal-Mart, know what I mean?

He thinks. “I think we are on the cusp of a sea change in our environmental thinking, despite what the myriad Republican presidential contenders might say or believe. We are watching corporations, governments and citizens act as if global warming is a reality and a very real threat to our future. I think that change often comes much quicker than we expect or realize. Look at our incredible gains in the last few years in gay-rights issues, for example.”

The troubadour pauses. “But, then, I am an optimist who believes that people will finally act in their own interest, and worry not about a corporation’s quarterly bottom line, but what the world will look like for their children’s children.”

Sunday nights are gay nights at Mkt2 in Rosendale (that’s Market Market, a quaint and popular spot just at the edge of town that used to be the bus station). Cocktail specials and queer movies will be part of the weekly party.

“There weren’t any queer events I could see that were consistent. A random event every few months, but no regular spot where people could congregate on a weekly basis,” says organizer Cara Stewart. “I play music during the cocktail hours but also screen queer movies if people want to just not talk and sort of be there. Ever-changing cocktail specials weekly and a lot of it based around what’s in season. Last week was a rhubarb cocktail special called the Rhubarbra Streisand.”

If you wanna catch one of the most socially relevant concerts of the summer, is your must-visit destination. The AfroPunk movement has been growing strong the last decade, and this year the lineup for the August 22/23 Brooklyn event brings together legends like Lenny Kravitz and the undisputed queen of intense and beautiful weirdness Grace Jones, along with fresh playas like Danny Brown and the funktastic Thundercat plus freakin’ Suicidal Tendencies, Gold Link, Lion Bade, Kelis, Everyday People and many more.

Until next time, be sure not to drink the Kool-Aid or anything at the Monsanto party. We’re heading into summer fast. Stay tuned, ’cuz some killer stuff is on the horizon.

Thanks and stay peaceful.