Looking back, moving forward
Camden — Like an athlete, folk musician Anne Dodson of Camden starts training months in advance for her event — the annual Anne Dodson & Friends concert that caps the town’s Christmas by the Sea weekend. This year’s concert, her 25th consecutive, takes place Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of Camden’s First Congregational Church, by the blinker on Elm Street/Route 1.
“I really do treat it as a marathon; there’s always a lot of new material to learn,” said Dodson in the sunny kitchen of her Thomas Street home the week before Thanksgiving.
Indeed, the counter was covered with pinned-out crocheted string stars; her plan is to give each of the “Friends,” which includes fellow performers as well as people who manage the house, run the sound equipment and handle tickets, a handmade ornament and jar of jam as a thank you.
Dodson said she has a lot to be thankful for. The concert has continued to be popular enough that it warranted a move from the church’s Pilgrim Room parish hall to the sanctuary some years back; one year saw it at the Camden Opera House, but the relative intimacy of the church’s largest space drew her back … and with more than two dozen musicians participating, things do get chummy.
“We are a little squished, performer-wise; you have to know how to layer people,” she said.
This year’s lineup is all “in-house,” Dodson added. Previous concerts have featured a special guest or two, but for the 25th Anne Dodson & Friends, the focus has been to revisit the series and its performers. Featured with Dodson will be the Quasimodal Chorus, husband Matt Szostak, Will Brown, the January Men, brother David Dodson, Kat Logan, Jim Loney, Hazel Delehey and longtime collaborator Gordon Bok.
“I thought we’d go back and bring back the favorites, but we keep finding new things,” she said, the concert’s set list still in progress on her kitchen table.
The series began as part of the Camden Folk Club organized by then-residents Jan and Charlie Brown. They requested a few seasonal songs from Dodson for the December 1987 concert. The result was so much fun for both audience and performers that she decided to do it again the following year, “a bit more focused.” When the local chamber of commerce instituted Christmas by the Sea, Dodson asked if her annual concert could be included “and they said sure.” It has been the weekend’s finale ever since.
Dodson has been performing since she was a child, initially with her older brother David. In her 20s, she began a performing career of solo and collaborative work as well, as being a member of groups including the well-remembered trio County Down and local ensemble Any Monday. A songwriter and singer, she also is a respected performer on the mountain dulcimer, guitar and whistles. She has recorded five solo albums and appears on many others including those by Bok, her brother David and Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary.
Dodson recently came to the realization that for almost her entire adult career as a composing, performing and teaching musician, she has had Parkinson’s disease. She was diagnosed 16 years ago, after six years of trying to figure out the cause of a variety of symptoms.
“But I heard Michael J. Fox say that by the time you notice the first twitch, you’ve lost 80 percent, so I must have had it when I was in my 20s,” she said.
Fatigue is the effect she must manage the most, hence the marathon approach. Dodson said she makes sure her calendar is clear the day before the annual concert, the only full concert she performs anymore, and a couple of days following. And the order of songs on the set list helps her manage her energy for the special evening.
But fatigue can be attributed to any number of causes, which is one reason Parkinson’s is something people can have for years without knowing it.
“You write it off to other things — being over-extended, aging. But I remember a very specific moment during a concert when I couldn’t do a little (guitar) trill I’d always done and had to improvise around it on the spot. I thought, that’s weird,” she said.
Another clue was a recording session when Dodson was playing tin whistle and uncharacteristically struggled with it. She rarely plays whistle and guitar anymore, although she has several guitar students. The mountain dulcimer, which sits on the lap, is her primary instrument and, fortunately, her favorite. Dodson said her voice, known for its rich timbre, has lost some of its upper range and a bit of power but she still can sing just fine in performance, as long as she paces herself.
Keeping fit and active is part of Dodson’s concert prep as well as practice the rest of the year, but the easiest exercise of all is not one she can rely on.
“Walking is the issue, and walking makes it worse. I take three aqua classes a week at the Y and a new yoga class at the Green Church,” she said, referring to the John Street United Methodist Church in Camden.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is hard for anyone to hear. It was especially hard for Dodson, whose beloved grandfather had had the disease.
“And, of course, I knew him at the end of his 45 years living with it. But he’s become my hero — he had such great humor and was such a sweet man,” she said.
It will be particularly sweet to celebrate 25 years of Anne Dodson & Friends with the performers and audience members who have been part of it for so long. And while there often is a seasonal song or two, the annual concert is not tied to any holiday. The primary criteria in choosing numbers to perform appears to be a sense of fun and a willingness, sometimes a drive, to be silly.
“We really do have a lot of fun and the audience gives it right back. We avoid anything particularly political or religious or tied to any one culture or country — it’s a very inclusive evening,” she said.
Indeed, even non-humans will have a say this year. Dodson has written a new four-part song that theorizes what friend Asha Stager’s dog might wish for the world:
Joy for all the sadness
Love for all the lonely
Peace the world around us
And every dog a bone!
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available at The Owl and the Turtle, now on Bay View Street in Camden, and at Rock City Cafe in downtown Rockland. Tickets also may be reserved in advance and held at the door. Tickets are $13 advance, $15 suggested donation at the door for adults; and $6 advance, $7 at the door for children age 6 to 12 (free for those younger). Refreshments will be served. For more information or reservations, call 236-9576.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or email@example.com.