Photo: Jack Williams and the ambulance
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April 2006

Jack Williams takes the Florida Stage and sets up quick, an outdoor show under a canvas tent at Suwannee Springfest, as nice a festival as I’ve been to. He plays two songs through the set-up and sound check, and by the scheduled start time he already has a gathering, and people looking over to see what’s going on.

Photo: Jud Caswell

I’m sitting with Jud Caswell, winner of the festival’s song contest that we’re both here for. I took second, and the prize money and CD sales from this and another second place at Plowshares last week bring me to that mythical place on a performing tour where you get home with more money than you left with.

Not a lot more. If Jack Williams took in what I made this trip he’d drive off a bridge, but he would at least have had enough gas money to do so.

The sustainability of playing out has been shown to me by scores of artists doing it, the marketing and packaging and presenting of product, the trade tricks of the singer/songwriter life. The good ones have it there,in their show and inside that CD.

A concrete path leads past the stage back to the indoor theatre, Guy Clark’s set finished and hundreds pour out right past the tent and in a minute the tent is full. I imagine Jack planned this. I mean, the US flag had 48 stars on it when he started playing. There can’t be a lot he doesn’t know about setting a stage or working a festival. He’s a verse into a song when an ambulance pulls up next to the stage, throws in reverse, and the backup alarm pulses and wails throughout the tent.

Photo: Nick performing at Suwannee Springfest, photo by Betty Phelps

Photo by Betty Phelps
Guitar by Chuck Brodsky

CD sales is where I trade my song for food and shelter, A CD sold is an hour I can share with a guitar instead of a hammer. As much as I need the next CD I cannot forget albums which sounded just like that, like the songwriter needed new product.
I'd like to avoid that.

The ambulance and the amplified song share the stage, but Jack is fine, the alarm is not interfering at all, and I look stupidly at Jud and he looks with wonder and awe back at me and mumbles in disbelief, “Right on pitch. Right on the beat.”

The siren is pulsing in perfect tempo on the bottom note of the root chord of the playing song.

Maybe he planned this, too.