Sunday night we held the tribute to Louis Giampetruzzi, about whom I’ve written many times. For me, Lou was not only a musical mentor, but also an introduction to the world of New York City bluegrass and old-time music. At jams on Sunday afternoon, at rehearsals, at shows, on the radio, on the phone, and in detailed emails, Lou helped me and many other players my age realize that everything we did had a place in a tradition, not just the overall tradition of country music and bluegrass, but the New York City tradition. Lou would be the first to remind people that many of the Carter Family’s original hits were recorded right here. And he personally connected us to days when Bob Dylan was a scruffy kid cadging gigs on Bleecker Street and the Friends Of Old-Time Music were bringing then-unknown musicians like Doc Watson to New York to play.
He made those connections for me and many others of us who were lucky enough to see him every week at the Brooklyn jams he loved. He did it online with a Yahoo group reuniting players from the Washington Square Park days. He did it his whole life, and Sunday night, some of the musicians he’d touched and who played with Lou over his 30+ years in the bluegrass scene got up and performed songs for him. And his wife Kate played several songs, concluding with a gorgeous new original called “What Do the Angels Sing At Midnight,” a harbinger of what we all hope will be her re-entry to public performing and singing and songwriting.
There was so much amazing music I can’t even begin to recount it all. I met and saw perform people that I knew only as names on the liner notes on Kate and Lou’s albums, or from stories they’d told me. I played and sang in front of them. The show and the room spanned generations; there were members of several bands there that formed as a direct result of Lou’s encouragement and advice or through having met in various incarnations of the Kate and Lou Band.
But the music was less important than the spirit and the community. Even a hard-and-fast atheist could feel Lou’s presence, with everyone there for him, everyone having been so strongly influenced by him, everyone the richer for having known him. It was a magical evening. It made me even more strongly committed to making the most of this musical moment and growing the connections to and among this community. At the end of the night I sat in the back of the room with a few friends, people I play with several times a week, and all we could talk about was how lucky we felt to be part of this community, to be able to play with so many great musicians, and to have been lucky enough to have known Louis Giampetruzzi.