Tragedy & Tenacity:
Hoisting a Dream and Carrying It On
Tracy Grammer at The Colony Cafe
Thursday, April 10, 8pm
Colony Cafe, Woodstock, NY
22 Rock City Road. 845-679-5342
Story by Gary Alexander
Photos by Ray G. Ring IV
and when the sun comes trumpets from his red house in the east
he will find a standing stone where long I chanted my release
he will send his morning messenger to strike the hammer blow
and I will crumble down uncountable in showers of crimson rubies when I
go sigh, mournful sister, whisper and turn, I will rattle like dry leaves
when I go stand in the mist where my fire used to burn, I will camp
on the night breeze
when I go
- Dave Carter ("When I Go")
Looking too fragile to hug, Tracy Grammer stood vigil yards from an open
tent near the backlot
entrance to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. The tent's
simple interior was adorned with photographs and flowers, a few
decorative keepsakes and lit candles tastefully arranged on a couple of
Chords of Fame:
From huge festivals to small clubs, [above] the climb to
public recognition and acclaim for new musicians invariably involves a
rigorous, often grueling, schedule of travel and performance. A glance
at the Dave & Tracy website tour board almost always told the same story
of nights filled with sets in myriad venues and days packed with travel
on the road- one behind the wheel and one trying to snatch some winks
between the bumps and turns.
A close look at Dave in this shot from Rosendale Cafe in October
of 2001 [above] plainly shows a level of strain which Carter was
striving to rise above. The Cafe's proprietor, Mark Morganstern is as
highly regarded among musicians as any club owner it has been my
experience to meet. He recalls his reaction to the duo's signing with a
particular booking agency with grim hindsight: "I remember the night
they told me they were about to sign with them, and I said that's too
bad. It'll be hell to get you here, plus you'll be on the road until
kingdom come... The last time I saw Dave he was exhausted, road weary.
I remember telling him to take his time, relax, have dinner, play when
they were ready."
Morganstern curses the treadmill tour grip of the agency and
laments its cost in human flesh and nerve: "I know that if he had a
pre-existing, perhaps undiagnosed, heart condition, it's not their
fault, but I still want to blame them. I want to blame something for the
loss of this talented, great person. What can I do; what can any of us
do. It feels like shit.... I am so sad and hurt. I really loved this
guy. He was one of the most talented people I ever met at the cafe. His
songwriting was the very best. He was a kind, gentle guy."
It was July 27th, 2002 and the bright, austere tented space was
glowing with a strangely muted sense of spirituality as it served to
focus the encumbering sorrow of passersby. Grammer had seemed ever
present through the weekend as the candles burned and people arrived to
pay their respects. Fragile, yes, but she had put herself out there as a
focal point for the anguish and bereavement of fans and the consoling
embrace of the friends and acquaintances she had gathered in the past
few exciting years with her brilliant mate, Dave Carter. Rather than
folding herself into a self-absorbed corner of desolation, Tracy had
determined to face an outpouring of shock and hurt in the public eye. It
was a courageous strategy to cope, unselfishly, with a tidal wave of
On Friday, July 19th, Tracy's musical partner and life companion,
Dave Carter, had returned to their Massachusetts tour hotel after a
morning jog- a routine round of the area he had developed when touring
there- and collapsed with a massive heart attack. A message posted by
Grammer the following day described the following moments:
"Yesterday, shortly after he went unconscious, he came back for a
lucid minute to two to tell me, 'I just died... Baby, I just died...'
There was a look of wonder in his eyes, and though I cried and tried to
deny it to him, I knew he was right and he was on his way. He stayed
with me a minute more but despite my attempts to keep him with me, I
could see he was already riding that thin chiffon wave between here and
gone. He loved beauty, he was hopelessly drawn to the magic and the
light in all things. I figure he saw something he could not resist out
of the corner of his eye and flew into it.
"Despite the fact that every rescue attempt was made by paramedics
and hospital staff and the death pronouncement officially came at 12:08
pm Eastern Time, I believe he died in my arms in our favorite hotel,
leaving me with those final words."
Tracy, on stage, begins the Dave Carter tribute at Falcon Ridge.
Tracy's touching missive also related: "Dearest friends and sweet
fans, I am with you in tears and bottomless sorrow. This loss is
indescribable. He was endless spring to me, he was bountiful joy and
gentleness and laughter. He was my soulmate, my partner in everything
worldly and otherwise... I am so, so very moved by your
recollections. I have a thousand hugs and tears and words waiting for
whoever wants or needs them. I will meet you at Falcon Ridge on
Saturday, if not before. We need to keep this music alive, it was always
my mission that the world hear and know the poetry and vision and
wonderful mystical magic of David Carter. This path is broad and long; I
hope you will stay the course with me.
"In the center of our hotel window earlier tonight, by lamplight,
came the shadow of a bird to my curtain. He held steady for a four flaps
of the wing, maybe five, and then he pivoted away. My heart froze for an
instant and then I felt some relief. I took this midnight messenger as a
sign. You know that I have been desperate for a sign... My love to
you,... Tracy "
At 49, Dave Carter possessed a boyish charm which conveyed the
illusion of a man growing younger by the day... Or was it illusion? When
you look as photographs of Dave and Tracy from July, 2000, when their
performance at Falcon Ridge first electrified the Northeast folk
community, you see a man still marked by the solitary stage years before
Tracy; a man carrying an intellectual fever his new partner was helping
him elevate. As the weave of Grammer's incandescent musical fiber
slipped through the structures of Carter's music, it rose soaringly to
new heights; bringing the pulse of the entire genre upwards with it.
And, as his hair grew longer, Dave's face and eyes seemed to grow
An early self-released solo cd by Carter called Snake-handlin'
Man contained an alert to the folk music world that a raging new
talent had arrived but the promise of that start didn't really begin to
congeal until Tracy was added for a second outing billed "Dave Carter
with Tracy Grammer" and the Leo-Aries axis truly began to roll. That
effort, called When I Go, sparked world-wide notice and the hard
pace of touring turned furious at points of the year. But, as a result,
they placed third in popularity among acoustic acts in the year 2000
and, with subsequent releases, first place in the following two years.
Their second album, Tanglewood Tree, came as close to the perfect
folk record as anyone had dared to even imagine in decades. The
follow-up, Drum, Hat, Buddha, brimmed with an astonishing
progression of the duo's pilgrimage and contained perhaps the best song
of 2002 in "Gentle Arms of Eden," along with a generous serving of other
masterpieces. It all left fans breathless for the next entry in what
seemed a flight beyond any moon folkies had the good fortune to walk
beneath for far too many seasons of radio rotation.
Tracy's role increased with each release; her incredible fiddle
and ever expanding vocal share winning even more converts as she picked
up the tone of Carter's surreal journey through an American landscape
which he was able to make more recognizable to the divine core of its
inhabitants than any television programmer working the corporate line.
That night of July 27th, at the Falcon Ridge Festival, Tracy
walked upon the stage at sunset to a thunderous and lingering ovation.
Standing tall, she sang one of their most popular tunes, "The Mountain,"
as Pete and Maura Kennedy as well as Chris and Meredith Thompson
accompanied her voice... "I see the mountain/the mountain comes to
Falcon Ridge 2001: (L to R) Mark Erelli, Mary Gauthier, Dave Carter,
John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky, Vance Gilbert,
Christopher Williams, Jimmy LaFave
As the applause died down, Tracy retired to the back of the stage
as other artists at the festival performed a deeply indelible tribute to
Carter's music as the day faded and night stole in and more than a few
from the audience joined their voices to the blend... The Thompson
Sisters stayed to render a gorgeous version of "Tanglewood Tree";
singer-songwriter Mark Erelli followed with Carter's darkly ironic
"Cowboy Singer." "Ordinary Town" was stirringly visited by Nerissa and
Katryna Nields with Dave Chalfant and Lorne Entress before the latter
two backed Erin McKeown on "The Gentle Arms of Eden."
Mark Erelli returned to team with Kris Delmhorst on "Farewell to
Fiddler's Rim" and the group Eddie from Ohio contributed their version
of Carter's Townes Van Zandt-inspired "Farewell to St. Dolores." After a
rousing take on "Happytown" from The Kennedys and Christopher Williams'
rendition of "Merlin's Lament," Chris Smither delivered an
interpretation of "Crocodile Man" that had you hoping he'll record it so
you could hear it again and again and more after that... He tore it up
with fond and lively reverence.
As Tracy returned to the spotlight for a parting rendition of
"Gentle Soldier of My Soul," the crowd sat stunned by what had unfolded
before them. And then, when the set closed, they just exploded.
In those brief years and in the months since Carter's departure,
Tracy Grammer has become much more than the already superb musician she
had been when they first met at an open mike performance in Washington
State. A consummate performer on violin, mandolin and guitar, Tracy's
extraordinary and beautiful vocal expressiveness masters the singular
tone of their masterful songs together and proudly advances the dream of
a transcendent crafter of song.
Bringing that spellbinding legacy and the new horizons to which
it compels her, Tracy will play her first performance in Woodstock at
The Colony Cafe on Thursday, April 10th. This is definitely not a night
to stay home.
is an independent journalist and scholar whose focus of
interests range through a variety of disciplines. Under various names,
he has written (and ghost written) upon history and current event;
science and technology, as well as music and the arts in books and for
national periodicals. While particularly attentive to the subtle and
complex impact upon cultural imagination and contemporary structures of
presumption which activity in the above mentioned topics tend to have,
Alexander treats his topics with a slightly more than occasional resort
Posted on April 9, 2003