School Shootings to Kazoos, Common Fence Venue Encircles Tragedy and Joy

While America continues to grieve over the massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, the community at Common Fence Music finds emotional support in times of tragedy, rejuvenation in times of joy. This informal venue in Portsmouth, Rhode Island on a Saturday evening in January, has its typical spirit that’s been keeping it lively for 20 years, packing in 200 people for nearly every show.

“Won’t you come home Bill Bailey, won’t you come home….whole night long…”

At Common Fence Music, it’s kind of like hanging out with 200 of your best friends – and some of them happen to be musicians.

“Remember that….fine- toothed comb…”

At the annual Gathering of Fiddlers and Fishermen, Ed McGuirl is on mandolin, Mike Fischman is on guitar, and both are on kazoo.

(kazoo)…”OK we’re in tune.”

It’s bring your own a picnic basket and bottle of wine at Common Fence Point Community Hall. For dessert, you can spend a dollar or two on homemade cakes and pies baked by your neighbors in this seaside community in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, not far from Newport.

“Michael row the boat ashore…hallelujah…Michael row the boat ashore…”

But folk music is about life and that means joy and sorrow.

Angelo Marinosci, Jr., who’s from Warren, Rhode Island, dedicates a song to the 20 children and six adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

I was so overwhelmed by it. Immediately following that tragedy I was grasping for something which fit what I was suffering with, and what I felt like everybody around me…. it was like the day Kennedy was shot. How do you put that into a place that feels right, without feeling banal or vulgar?

What does it mean that song, Michael Row the Boat Ashore?

To me, I think it’s the whole notion of crossing over, crossing over. We leave here and we go on to wherever it is that we came from and wherever we belong, whatever that means to whoever.

“The river is deep and the river is wide… hallelujah…”CommonFence EM&MF

I try to tell people all the time that are afraid to sing or play in public, I tell them the only important thing in music is sincerity,it’s the feeling. How great your voice is or how terrific the material is, that’s really the second part of the adventure. The adventure is that people get up there for a moment. They click with your emotions. They feel what you’re feeling, on some level, and that makes them feel good, on some…even if it’s bittersweet poignant, painful.


“…somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue…”

Bittersweet, poignant and painful, Bob Drake’s version of Over the Rainbow is all of those. He dedicates the song to his sister, who died a few months earlier.

Did you play here before?

I’ve never played here. I don’t usually play in front of people. I think it’s a great venue.

You don’t often play in front of people?

No, I don’t. I set up all the chairs and I help with the sound, with Tom.

How long you been doing that? Oh, probably eight or nine years.

“…hey, hey up she rises…”

Singer-songwriter Kim LaMothe is from Tiverton, Rhode Island. In honor of the fiddlers and fishermen theme, she leads a song about a sailor.

“…put him in the back of the paddy wagon…”

So what do you think about this venue?

Oh, it’s fabulous, it’s a community, it’s a living organism.

Have you played here before? Yes, I’ve played here before.

What do you think the value of the venue is? Common fence?

It’s an avenue for people to get up there and play.

And how about people who don’t play?

They obviously feed off of each other and off of the musicians, and literally, off of the picnic baskets they bring.

With fiddlers, fishermen and friends, I’m Rhonda Miller, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

“..that’s what you do with a drunken sailor…early in the morning..”


Broadcast history:

Posted on Public Radio Exchange Feb. 11, 2013


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