David HB Drake is an artist who’s been called a “gentle troubadour” and an “elemental folk singer.” His music is inspired by Midwest journeys and culture, and he’s been performing for over fifty years.
ME: How did you get involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures?
DAVID: I have a very good friend, Dean Calin, who is the leader of a group called Bounding Main. He said that there was this really interesting lady named Allison who’s doing a for-profit group called Wisconsin Music Ventures, which parallels well with what I do with a nonprofit called Organic Arts. It’s great having a bunch of artists working cooperatively and realize that we’re not actually in competition; we’re much stronger when we work together and share our knowledge and contacts.”
ME: Right on – better together!
DAVID: If you’re creating opportunities for yourself, you might as well create opportunities for your peers.
ME: I’d love to hear more about “Wiscon-Sing”.
DAVID: Well, let’s back up a whole long way (laughs). I’ve been making my living through music and the arts for about fifty years now. The first ten years I was a professional actor-dancer, and when I got bald and gray (laughs) in my 30s, I figured I’d had it as a dancer. I played guitar and loved folk music so I started seeing what I could do with it. Back in the 80s I ran the Great Alverno folk series bringing in national acts, so I had a decent number of contacts. A 4th grade teacher asked me if I could come do songs about Wisconsin for her class because back then, every 4th grade student in the state of Wisconsin had a curriculum requirement to study Wisconsin history, and so I put together a show of Wisconsin songs with slides that would have pictures and words to sing along to. Up until 2008 when the economy crashed, that was my full-time job. I was doing at least four or five schools a week and you could make a living doing that; I had a show for little kids too. In 2008 the economy crashed and No Child Left Behind was really get in there where they no longer studied history. I was getting older so I videotaped the entire show so that there was a good record of it, and I posted it on YouTube for any teacher in Wisconsin to use for free. When you search me you’ve got to have the “HB” in there; it distinguishes me from the thousands of other David Drakes (laughs).
ME: Thank you for sharing all of that!
DAVID: My most recent video project is about Wisconsin’s lake schooner Denis Sullivan getting sold to a group in Boston, and this Saturday it’ll permanently leave Milwaukee, which for me is a very sad thing because I performed a benefit for the Sullivan with an old group I had back in 1995. I found an old VHS tape of the performance and I put it on YouTube, even though the whole point of it has now been cut off at the knees.
ME: That’s very interesting; I didn’t hear about this! Definitely understandable how that’s a sad thing.
ME: What groups are you playing with now?
DAVID: Mostly I do solo and mostly in nursing homes. Part of the reason for that is, my ‘big three’ for gigs have been coffeehouses for my ego (which isn’t income but get to play your songs instead of serving an agenda), schools and libraries (even though that market crashed and it never really recovered), and nursing homes. The nursing homes I still get paid well from and there’s a heck of a lot of them. I’m 75; I’m becoming a peer of the people in nursing homes (laughs). There are even people younger than I am in some of the places I play. I’m doing 60’s folk or songs in that framework that are easy to pick up on. That’s my day gig; next week I’ll be doing something like eleven shows. I do very few evening shows anymore and I’ve never been a bar player; I’m too quiet to be a bar player. My other thing I do is a trio called Dangerous Folk, which is blatantly a 60’s tribute band.
ME: Awesome! Last thing is, what are you working on now?
DAVID: Right now, I’m prepping up for this rather heavy-duty week of touring which will be taking a loop up about as north as Wausau, across Appleton and back down. It’s another multimedia thing like “Wiscon-Sing”; it’s a show called “Blowin’ in the Wind” which is essentially the repertoire of Dangerous Folk with a PowerPoint sing-along slideshow.