By Billy Templeton
Danny Fitzgerald is not a young man. At 80-years-old, his days of playing the washtub bass and leading a band are few and far between, but no one who watches him strut and sway on stage can deny that he still possesses the showmanship of a bona fide front man.
There are sights and sounds ubiquitous to cities that are hard to come by in a small borough like Honesdale, PA. On street corners or on subway platforms in any large city one is likely to hear the ragtag beats of street performers of varying skills playing music for small change and a chance to shine for an audience, rising above the cacophony of the everyday. But last Saturday, March 1st, Danny Fitzgerald and the Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band graced the quiet town of Honesdale, PA with a memorable performance at The Cooperage, the town’s newest community space and performing arts venue. For the evening at least, the little Main Street corner was hopping.
Fitzgerald was accompanied on stage by a group of new and old friends playing lead and rhythm guitar, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and the washtub bass in tunes that had all 90 people in attendance bobbing and clapping, yet all eyes were fixed on the man upwards in age with the gruff voice, as he grooved and sauntered his way to and from chair to microphone. Leading many songs was guitarist Joe Flood who beckoned Fitzgerald to share the microphone and sing backup or take the lead. Between songs Flood reminisced about his own past performing on Paris street corners and the day he met the legendary Danny Fitzgerald.
As they moved into songs from their latest album, Fitzgerald shared stories about his past, his love of musicians like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and recalled accounts of friends long gone. Like the lives many of his Blues singing peers, his story has never been officially recorded or verified but his music is his life, so every recording, every performance is a living testament to his past and life’s work. Through his bandmates, his life will be celebrated for many years to come through songs that would otherwise leave the world with him.
After the second set a tired Fitzgerald stepped off the stage, to enjoy the encore from a seat among his fans. The lights faded and he settled down a little in his chair, bobbing his head as Joe Flood and a few other band members played one last song. At 80, and having left his mark on this world, Danny Fitzgerald took pleasure in a sight—and sound—few are lucky to enjoy: seeing the fruits of his talent as the musicians inspired by him and fans delighted by his nature in celebration of his life.
Few in the crowd gathered at The Cooperage knew much about the life of Danny Fitzgerald before the show, but the intimate nature of the small-town venue and the gregarious personalities in the band gave everyone gathered together on that cold night, a little taste of the big city street corner Blues.
Billy Templeton covers stories for The River Reporter. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and has work that has appeared in RHINO, Dark Mountain, and The Cortland Review.