|Singer/songwriter Mark Dignam|
at the Barking Spider Tavern
You may already know through social media that I've been muddling through a really bad year. A hamstring injury continues to threaten (and potentially end) my ability to train and compete in a sport that I not only love but one to which I've dedicated many many years. And in disaster-magnet fashion, a few weeks ago I was in a car accident. I was rear-ended by another driver, my 14-year-old car was totaled, I suffered additional injuries, and my emotional well-being, already hanging by a thread, was further pushed to the limit by being given only three days of a rental vehicle by the other driver's insurance company. Stressed out with new aches and pains, frantically searching for a new (or used) car or come up with alternate work transportation, I found myself crying a lot and drawing for mental relief (having lost the stress-reducing factor of running that I've so relied on in the past).
So what does this have to do with music, you ask? Well, although it shouldn't happen this way, last night I had to be reminded of one of the great uplifting, anxiety-relieving things in this world - something I can get lost in that gives me hope and makes me want to get up the next day - something that gives me an appreciation of beauty and good in the world. That thing is music.
The musician is Dublin-born, Pittsburg-based Mark Dignam. The first time I heard him was in 2010 supporting the Swell Season at The House of Blues in Cleveland. He has a storied history having grown up busking on the streets of Dublin with the likes of Glen Hansard. And like Hansard, he truly embodies the spirit of the singer-songwriter. If you want to know more, Google him like I did the first time I heard his music. I watched every video I could find... the more I found, the more I wanted to kick myself for not having heard of him earlier than 2010 (seriously, it was embarrassing). But the most amazing thing about Mark Dignam is that he IS his music. When he performs, it seems like every molecule of his body is belting out the song. (Note: I stole this description from my friend Andy - an artist and occasional musician - who seems to have made it his mission to turn me onto good music. In the past, he's described some of his favorite musicians in this way - they "are their music.")
Mark Dignam is one of those musicians. Watching and listening to him, I can't imagine he could ever have done anything else with his life. It's an all-incompassing talent that I would proverbially give an arm and a leg to have (especially in my art). It's a talent that rarely sees the light of day in this world - a world in which we have American Idols crammed down our throats and are force-fed monotonous pop "music" via uninspired corporate-owned radio stations.
The only thing about it that makes me sad is that Jim and I were two of only about ten people there to witness Mark's performance in Cleveland, a city that claims to have great cultural institutions. It would have been easy to pack the place - a small bar called the Barking Spider - because it was a free gig right smack in the middle of a big university (Case Western Reserve). Unfortunately (in fact, it was a damn shame) only a few people were there to see it. A very lucky few, but in the end, only a few.
I am sure Mark Dignam made fans out of everyone sitting in the audience last night. One customer - engaged in conversation with him when we arrived - had no idea he spent the better half of his time at the bar talking to the performer. Having to leave half way through the set, the still-shocked new fan walked up mid-gig and asked to buy Mark's one CD. (Note that upon finding out he brought only one CD to Cleveland, this was the one I had set my heart on leaving with.) My point is, it's hard not to be blown away seeing Mark Dignam live. And if you didn't already know about it, he will introduce you to the catharsis of the sing-along. I don't know about you, but it's hugely fun (and stress-busting) singing out loud with (not quite) a roomful of people.
As we did last night. And hopefully will again. And again.
So, because I sometimes make it my mission to turn people on to good music, I have to share some of it. The title of this post is a line from this, one of his more well-known songs, "Stormy Summer" (since I had a pretty bad summer, hearing this live was my personal catharsis). Here's the video I took of it (with his permission):
And here's another song from last night - this one is called "Build":