Garden of My Dreams
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 2013 Synergy, Port Townsend, WA
Engineer: Neville Pearsall
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: Did You (BSR151)
Current Release: Did You (BSR151)
Starting around 2008, I traveled annually to a folk festival put on by Bud and Donna Ford and Tom Ivey in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Their group, Cripple Creek, has been together over 30 years playing 60s folk interlaced with their own tunes and a few contemporaries. I regard it as one of the last true folk festivals in the country. Supported by local merchants, it's free to the public.
It is a bridge in my life, a time machine. The audience is warm, folky and my sets are five hours over a weekend. I get to play songs that otherwise don't get heard much. I can play heartfelt songs alongside the dog howling, bear waltzing and political tunes from yesteryear (that are appallingly still current.) One year, members from the Limelighters, Kingston Trio and Brothers Four were on stage jamming on one of my tunes while in the audience a Chad Mitchell Trio member listened from the front row.
Every time I go there I spend a few hours in the Garden of the Gods Park, a touchstone I consider a deeply spiritual place. I go to watch the sunrise, a cup of coffee in my hand, putting over there on a vintage Vespa from Bud Ford IIIs collection. In 2011 my trip to the park was tempered with the realization that I was, indeed, getting older. That, like it or not, things change. Through my head was running the refrain, “I may not pass this way again.” It was a call to attention.
As I left the park that day and was driving off to breakfast, I saw a boy in yellow pajamas walking exactly down the yellow center stripe like he was on a balance beam. Since I was in Manitou Springs I didn't actually think that was strange. A few blocks later I came to one of those perpetual garage sales. A lady was rearranging stuff and I had a few hours to pass before the festival started, so I stopped in.
We talked. She found out I was a musician and said she was once a musician and had landed a big contract in Nashville doing her original material, the lead singer for a group called, Attitude. In the process of moving there, the very day she arrived, she was struck broadside by a car. It took away her memory and her abilities. She went from having a high IQ to that of a low functioning adult. She could not remember her hundreds of songs nor stay coherent for very long. She showed me her PR glossies, put on a tape of her studio-produced demo, sang a few words and then would forget the rest.
I got out my dulcimer to play for her and this tune just started to flow, simple chords shyly flirting with a somber progression. She began to create lyrics for it, “It doesn't matter if...” She tried to complete the thought, smiled with embarrassment and said, “I can't do it. I've had to rebuild my life to do what I can do.” She waved at the yard full of stuff with the little pathways through it. Coupled with my mood of that morning, the thoughts connected. “It doesn't matter if I will pass this way again.”
I went across the street to work with the song. As I stood there a police car pulled up and I was asked if I had seen a boy walking down the road. “Was he wearing yellow pajamas?” I asked. Yes. I was able to tell him where. Another car pulled up. The same question. I realized from his concern that this was the father of an autistic boy. I then thought about my wife's father, Dave, and his memory loss from a stroke and those with Alzheimer's. I went to the cafe and the whole song wrote itself.
Later that day I saw a young lady playing in a booth that sold cardboard dulcimers. I asked about her story. She dreamed of singing opera. She had just graduated from a prestigious conservatory and had had an audition lined up but got a serious vocal cord infection. Now she didn't know if she'd ever be able to sing opera, deciding at least to sing folk music until maybe one day she could. Here was someone for whom the song was meant. I told her the story of my day. That evening she sang the new song with me on stage. The next day I went back and played it at the perpetual garage sale.