The 159th First Friday for Folk Music tonight will be a special evening as the Savannah Folk Music Society presents Florida singer/songwriter Garrison Doles and local bluegrass band Southern Tied.
The Society also honors the memory of a special fiend, Doug Wyatt. Wyatt, a fine journalist and wonderful man, succumbed to brain cancer earlier this year. The evening will give those assembled an opportunity to learn more about this incipient disease and to make a donation to the National Brain Tumor Society in his memory.
Garrison Doles is a broken shard of sea glass that washed up on the beach of his hometown of Miami. Shattered and jagged and tossed into the ocean to tumble against the sandpaper bottom until it rolled out smooth and hard and not quite transparent.
It took a lot of hard work and determination to develop a world class drinking problem. afternoons hustling 9-ball at pool tables in the corners of 7th Avenue strip joints. Nights picking out home-made songs on his battered Martin D-28 in saloons from Key West to St. Augustine.
“I wasn’t gettin’ a lot of vegetables back then. Unless you count Marlboros and Jack Daniels,” Doles said.
Coconut Grove wasn’t a bad place to start out. Coffee houses where Joni met David Crosby and began her long run. Where Jimmy Buffet and Steve Goodman worked the kinks out and legends like Michael Smith and Gamble Rogers traded 40-minute sets in rooms with audiences of 50 or 60 or maybe a hundred on a big Saturday night.
“I’d see Fred Neil and Vince Martin on a tiny stage in a tight spotlight and think that was just where I wanted to spend my whole life,” Doles said. “I didn’t know anything. I thought there were places like that all over the world. I barely got to play any of those joints at all and then they were gone and I found myself working dark, smoky bars; playing for people who showed up to drink and get lucky and to definitely not listen to original, acoustic soul songs.
“I did that for about 15 years before I figured out it wasn’t what I’d signed up for and that it was killing me. So I quit.”
He quit playing in bars, quit drinking, quit smoking. Moved to Orlando and got a real job. Got married, had a kid and got divorced. Got himself involved in some local drama - he was co-founder of Theatre Downtown, a way-off-off-Broadway style theatre that’s been around for about twenty years now, where he has produced, acted, directed, designed and written for the theatrical stage. He can’t seem to stay out of trouble. And he just keeps on writing songs and somehow the audiences find him. Raising his fifteen year old son has kept him pretty close to home but he performs at all of Florida’s folk and acoustic music festivals, of which there are 5 or 6 really good ones, and at house concerts and other listening venues. Now it’s time to get out on the road and share his stuff with a larger listening community.
A finalist twice in the South Florida Folk Festival song contest and winner of the contests at Suwannee Springfest and at The Gamble Rogers Folk Festival, he’s got three independent CD’s out there; This Man’s Heart (live original folk), The Night of Heaven and Earth (original Christmas songs) and Draw Us Closer (original contemplative worship songs).
Doles is a true singer/songwriter. He is a songmaker and a storymaker and listening to these songs is like running the pad of your thumb around the edge of that smooth, green sea glass. You can sense the raggedness beneath the surface. You can feel the textures of life’s abrasion, the swirling imprints of the forces that polish us down to our essential selves and there is a comfort in that and a complex sort of pleasure.
Bluegrass has always been a niche market, even during its golden years. Southern Tied, with a song list that draws on everyone from the Osborne Brothers to Duke Ellington is doing all they can to ensure that niche is at least a broad one.
Dobby Simmons was first introduced to the double bass when he was nine years old and performed in the Public School System through 1976 as a member of the Savannah Youth Symphony. He fell in love with bluegrass after attending the 1980 Lavonia Festival. Simmons, who studied under seven time IBMA Bassist of the Year, Missy Raines; has since become an instructor in his own right as well as one of the most sought out sidemen in the area.
Multi-instrumentalist. Bobby Morris, has been a bluegrass stalwart in Southeast Georgia for over twenty five years, including fifteen with First City Bluegrass. Morris is a walking repository of traditional and contemporary bluegrass songs.
North Carolinians, Al and Leigh Harris, are no strangers to Savannah folk music fans, having performed together and with FOCOROPO for several years. Prior to that, Al honed his bluegrass chops for a decade with Savannah and the low country’s Bound and Determined.
All four musicians have crossed paths over the years but it wasn’t until one of luthier, Randy Wood’s, impromptu Saturday afternoon picking sessions in 2005, that the Harris’s experienced Bobby’s honest, unpretentious style and endless repertoire first hand. What started as a one-hour jam lasted six with Morris never repeating a song. At the same time, Bobby enjoyed pushing the envelope by adding banjo, guitar and harmony to the Harris’s more eclectic material.
Every Southern Tied set includes at least one original so audiences can expect something old, something new, something borrowed but always blue. Bobby, Leigh and Al share vocal duties and alternate on guitar when not playing banjo, mandolin and dobro respectively. Dobby’s bass anchors it all and occasionally he’ll pull out the bow to add goose bump depth to a ballad.
“First Friday for Folk Music” – Savannah’s monthly showcase of local and touring folk music talent – is a production of the Savannah Folk Music Society and is held the first Friday of each month at First Presbyterian Church at 520 East Washington Avenue in Savannah. The time is from 7:30 and its smoke-free, alcohol-free and family-friendly. There is a recommended donation of $2 per person. Beverages and fresh baked goods are available for purchase at nominal prices.
For further information, call Hank Weisman at 912-786-6953 or on the web see www.savannahfolk.org.