Singer-songwriter Marc Delgado has lived in the Woodstock area about eight years now, but the land of California remains deeply ingrained in both the man and his music. If California conjures images of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, think again. Delgado hails from the other California, Steinbeck territory.
Back in the 1930s, Delgado’s grandparents were immigrants from Spain. Working up and down the San Joaquin Valley as migrant field hands, they eventually got married and bought a farm in Fresno County. Their ten children helped work the farm, growing grapes to make raisins.
“I love the symbolic implication of making raisins,” Delgado says. “You put the grapes in the sun, they shrivel, wither, die and become raisins. I feel like the sun is doing the same thing to the people … blasting the life out of them.”
Delgado sees beauty and promise in the land, but with richness and opportunity come exploitation, crime, and poverty. When he lived in Fresno in the 1980s, his hometown had the highest murder rate in the U.S. It remains one of the nation’s biggest producers of methamphetamines.
This dark side often surfaces in Delgado’s music. His most recent album, Wildwood Road, includes lyrics that make no attempt to pretty things up. Looking across the landscape, “Grapes cut a long green scar across the face of the valley floor.” Elsewhere, a Fresno local meets his untimely end with “arm bent back behind him like a question mark.”
Poetry and Woodstock
It’s no coincidence that Delgado’s lyrics often scan like poetry. One of the paradoxes of Fresno is that — balancing its rough reputation – it has one of the more highly developed poetry scenes in the country. “The Fresno Poets” include Philip Levine, Peter Everwine and Larry Levis. The city even has its own poet laureate.
“I went to readings all the time. It had a huge impact on me,” Delgado says. “I never studied with Levine, but everything was in his wake. He and Everwine seemed to influence everyone! I studied with M.L. Williams in high school and Dwayne Rail in junior college.”
Delgado admits to having been “pretty wild” by this point, as he moved around the state, for several years. Then he met the person who would become his wife, the painter Melanie Delgado, in a San Diego supermarket.
Despite their personal connections to California, the pair decided it was time to make a change. Packing all their possessions into a U-Haul, they drove east, not knowing exactly where they would end up.
“We were on the road when we got a call from somebody at the Byrdcliffe art colony. They had a small cabin available, and were we interested? The price was right, and it was Woodstock, so absolutely the mystique of Woodstock was big in our decision to move here.”
One of Delgado’s songs is a homage to Richard Manuel. The Band is an obvious influence. He says that Bob Dylan’s impact is too significant to be measured.
But is it only the Woodstock of legend that keeps him, Melanie and their daughter Mary here?
“What’s happening now is different and wonderful,” he says. “The people I have met have changed my life. So many interesting artists in every category. Being an artist as a job seems much more common here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. It radicalized my whole way of thinking.”
Fellow artists include members of his powerhouse band: guitarist Todd Nelson, bassist James Alanson Kirk, and drummer Justin Tracy, who is also Delgado’s writing partner and producer. The band plays regularly throughout the area, and Delgado can also be seen playing solo shows at more intimate venues.
It would seem that Marc Delgado has found happiness trading one mythical town for another. We’re happy to have him.
“Wildwood Road” is available through Bandcamp and other online music sources. Upcoming local shows include Pearl Moon on December 16 and Autocamp on December 17. See his website for more details on all things Delgado: www.marcxdelgado.com