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Saturday, June 23, 2012


dori freeman

edwin lacy and scott freeman

edwin lacy's left hand, scott freeman, mike gayheart, dori freeman

edwin lacy, willard gayheart, scott freeman, mike gayheart, dori freeman

edwin lacy and scott freeman

dori freeman

The house band was all together last night at Willard Gayheart's Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn, Virginia. The evening's show was to feature Dori a week after her performance at the Wayne Henderson Festival last Saturday. The audience last night, about a tenth, a pie slice of last week's audience, pulled for her while she sang, the same as the audience at the big outdoor fest pulled for her like somebody watching a nascar race, pulling for his/her favorite driver. I don't mean to state this as objective fact, because it is based in subjective feeling, I believed I felt the audience around me pulling for Dori, wanting her to be as good as her promise in the first verse of the first song. It felt the same to me in both audiences. It may have been just me, but I was seeing in other people's faces and eyes remarkable satisfaction that she had indeed fulfilled her promise. I don't believe Dori knows it yet, though I don't want to underestimate her either, but I am having a sense that Dori has a charisma she's not aware of yet. I say yet, because it is so inevitable she may, in fact, know it by now. The audience last night had light in their eyes listening to her singing. The spirit in the place last night was light-hearted and open, similar to the spirit at the Henderson Fest.

What I'm noticing, connecting the dots, is the people in the audiences, self included, feel a sense of awe in her voice and her delivery, together. Not because it's big like a contestant for Miss America, and I don't see it that Dori has a feel for manipulating the audience, or a will to, with charm or cleverness. It's the same in her songwriting. Her songs are beautifully worded, but don't call attention to their beauty. She tells the story that tells itself without the distraction of attention called to self. Dori doesn't call attention to herself as she sings, like Sara Carter in that way. The song tells itself; she's simply the voice it needs to manifest itself as song. She brings the song to life. My feeling is that it may be this quality of her singing the audiences take to so attentively. She doesn't distract from the words. Dori appreciates the words, one of her favorite old-time songs being Gold Watch and Chain, a beautifully worded song. When she sings, she is sharing with us her love for what the song has to say and how it says it, wanting to make it clear so we can hear the song with her understanding of it. In this time of emotive singers, the singer's dance becomes the purpose of the song. The words are there to support the performance, instead of the other way around.

Dori sings in the mountain tradition, all attention given to the song, focusing on the performance in the quality of musicianship and voice. By quality, I don't mean a given sound or style, I mean from the heart. That's where you find quality in mountain music, any music. Bluegrass banjo picker Jr Maxwell told me there's no music in it when it's not played from the heart. For several years now I've listened to his meaning in the music I hear. Dori contains her emotion in relation to the song's words, to the singing of the words, words she has chosen to sing because they say something she wants to share with her voice. Dori the songwriter hasn't had enough time yet to write the songs she will write, but she's catching up fast. She's been on a run recently writing songs. Songs that are worth listening to. I have to say it over and over, like the chorus to a song, the songs she writes are more beautifully worded than the songs she covers. A Gordon Lightfoot song sounded dull next to one of Dori's. Her images are fresh, something on the order of her manner of singing. It is an interesting style she has that is not forced. Joni Mitchell is a good example of a mental style created to draw attention to itself. 

Dori will grow as a songwriter, the same as she will grow as a singer and guitar player. I see in her the potential to one day be in the league of singer-songwriters Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Iris DeMent--if that's what she wants for herself. I don't mean to say I want her to go in any direction but of her own choosing. I'm just saying what I see possible. It's like saying she has an IQ of 200, let's see what she does with it. It seems awfully far away in her beginning to have several albums of songs of her own composition and a continually growing fan base. Dori's singing is relaxed like her talking, poised with her own presence. In this way I have to compare her to Lucinda Williams, as I hear Lucinda Williams. I hear a songwriter of Dori's freshness, whose songs have something to say worth listening to, in words and images artfully conceived without showing it. Dori is an artist like her dad before her, like her grandpa before her. When your fan base starts off with some of the finest musicians of the Central Blue Ridge, audiences will follow. The regular audience at the Fiddle and Plow series Friday nights at Willard's gallery is the next ring of her fan base. After last weekend, her fan base grew another ring. Last night, just about every one of the half dozen new people who'd never been there before bought one or both of her cds. It's that charisma, again. I was looking at some of them while she was singing, and they were all awe-struck. I don't mean in a fall-over-backwards way, but the light that flashes in the back of the mind that says: wow.

I've been searching for the source of her charisma on stage. I think that's it right there, that she turns on that light in the back of the mind that says wow. It's not a wow for any one particular item, but for the combo, excellent songwriter, excellent singer, excellent band, excellent visuals, becoming an excellent guitar player. Last fall she had a big decision to make about whether or not to go back for more school. She chose not to, evidently dedicating this time to working on her songwriting, her singing, her performance in front of an audience. In my own personal way of seeing things, I support her in her bid to use this time to develop her writing and her singing. This is not a time for her to be bored for the next three years. Three years from now she'll have her solid place in the music world of SW Virginia. She already does, it's just that not many people know it yet. But it doesn't do to project the future. Those projections of potential are all in my mind. I don't mean them to be objective fact or anything, really, other than reporting thoughts I have around Dori's singing when I listen to her. I don't want to send her to Nashville in my mind if that's not where she wants to go. I don't want to project Songwriter of the Year at SPBGMA onto her if she's not interested in that direction. If she wants to go to Hollywood and be the next Lindsey Lohan, that's ok with me too. It's just that I think I see Dori setting her focus on some kind of success as a singer of her own songs. If she never wants to leave the Galax area, I'd be all for her. If she wanted to go to Nashville, I'd support her. If she wanted to get married and have babies, I'd be all for it. What she wants for herself is what I want for her. I'll be pulling for her like I pull for Earnhardt Jr in a car race. She's found her light, she's found her voice, she has support from all around. 

Dori, I'm sorry, I don't mean to give you the big-head. Just reporting it as I see it.      


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