Lyrics and Program Notes for “One Family”

The Family Folk Machine presents “One Family” on Sunday, November 17 at 3:00 p.m. at the Englert Theatre

Circle of the Sun

The FFM first performed this Sally Rogers song in 2014. Associate Director Gayla had a good idea about how we could spruce it up for this year’s performance. The song reassures us that all the stages of life—birth, childhood, adulthood, and death—are part of the circles of sun, clouds, wind, and rain.

Let Her Learn

The FFM performed this beautiful song by Nicole Upchurch in 2017 with the Awful Purdies. Today we present the song with our own band. Nicole’s lyrics reflect many of the themes of this concert: giving birth, aging, leaning on the example of our elders, and the gift of finding “family” in those linked to us “not by blood, but by unity.”

Walkin’ Daddy

I love hearing Greg Brown sing this song, a warm tribute to his dad and also to the power of finding your purpose in community. “Ain’t no road a good road ’til it’s free to everyone.” “Ain’t no sorrow can dim the love come shinin’ through.” “I know what I am here to do: to be of use, try to help the deal along.”

Hidden Youth

Songwriter and Folk Machinist Susan Stamnes writes:
When I was young, I used to sit at holiday dinners and listen to the older folks talk about their surgeries, and aches and pains, and latest prescriptions and thought, hmmm, I’m not doing that when I get older. Fast forward, and here I am doing the same thing.

Aging hit me rather suddenly after I had chemotherapy for breast cancer at 42. The treatment itself was no big deal (and I’m fine), but it started a cascade of aging-related things that I wasn’t quite ready for.

I recently saw a meme that encapsulates this song. It was an old man looking in the mirror at a young man with the caption “The sad part about growing older is that no one can still see you are young inside.” I love the intergenerational aspect of Family Folk Machine. But we know each other as we are now. Can the kids see beyond the wrinkles to imagine what we older adults might have been like in years gone past? There are so many hidden layers to a person that we may not know.

Time is falling. Age is pulling
Trying hard to keep up with the game.
Creaking, sagging, slowing, losing,
Yet inside I somehow feel the same.
Low and high times. Long time friendships.
Please forgive if I forget your name.

No going back. Nothing to be done.
Under the wrinkles, I feel young.
Can you see it? The inner truth?
Can you see it? The hidden youth.

Pills, appointments, support garments–
Dinner table talk involves them all.
Lists, reminders, lapsing memory–
Why was I just heading down the hall?
Biking, hiking. Fragile bones.
Alive means not afraid to fall.

Inside I still feel the same. Inside I still feel the same.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

The adults of the Folk Machine enjoy watching the kids of the Folk Machine grow in wisdom and stature through the years. We are fortunate to have a mighty group of junior-high kids in the FFM, and they present this song as a testimony to their readiness to face the problems of our time. And you need to get out of the way “if you can’t lend a hand.”

The Great Divide

When I first heard this beautiful and pointed song by Janis Ian, I already had Dylan’s “The Times” on my mind, so it seemed like a cosmic resonance that The Great Divide responds to the Dylan song in its images and rhetoric. “The Great Divide” takes Dylan’s “you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,” runs with that watery image—”Step out of the water before you drown”—and indicts those who “turn a blind eye” or “follow like sheep.” “You whose silence cost your soul: learn to speak or dig your hole . . . The tide’s already risen, the deluge is at hand; don’t sit there by the ocean while it sucks away the sand, ’cause you’ll be left with nothin’ but the memory of land.”
The fact that Ian includes parent-child relationships in this song brings the activist side of the message into a real-life context. “Come, good people, and gather here, you who still hold freedom dear; step across the waters, bring your sons and daughters.”

Homeward Bound

Gayla Drake co-wrote this song with FFMer Jerry Partridge as part of last spring’s Family Folk Machine Shop, a songwriting workshop that continued the work of a songwriting class Gayla taught in the fall of 2018. “Homeward Bound” expands our perspective to consider the human family and the way we can bring that feeling of family into our interactions with friends and with strangers.

In our humanity we all seek freedom
To make a start, broken hearts need healing
We cannot be blind to the ties that bind
That create one family in the great Divine
As the world turns ‘round, as the rains pour down
As the sunlight warms us, wherever we’re found
In this dimming light, grant us sacred sight
Bring us through the mystery, lead us through the night
Back to hallowed ground, lead us homeward bound

Every man I see, my father, my brother
Every woman I meet, my sister, my mother
Every precious child, my son, my daughter
And every elder, grandmother, grandfather
We’re blossoms and leaves on one old tree
More alike than different, despite what we see
We all have minds and hearts and eyes
Our hearts are the rhythm that gives us life
So let the drum beat pound, lead us homeward bound.

We’re blossoms and leaves on one old tree
Ancient and sacred, rooted in mystery
My father, my brother, my sister, my mother
My son, my daughter, grandmother, grandfather
All those lost are found, and we’re homeward bound

On Children

Ysaÿe Barnwell set this familiar poem by Kahlil Gibran as a four-part a cappella song, recorded by her group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Our small group of a cappella singers had a great time learning this one, and its message is one that our children would like us to keep in mind.

Little Disasters

Songwriter and Folk Machinist Aprille Clarke writes:

“Little Disasters” is a celebration and critique of our Midwestern “deal with it” attitude toward the daily onslaught of challenges and heartbreaks large and small. It started as a ballad in the Family Folk Machine Shop, and with feedback from fellow workshop participants, it evolved into something brighter and livelier. With lots of help from Jean’s and Gayla’s arrangement and orchestration, and the talents of the FFM singers and instrumentalists, it became even more exciting. I’m especially happy to have so many FFM kids involved as soloists and instrumentalists, as sharing music with my own children has been one of the best parts of our FFM experience. Big thanks to Denny, who sang the ABC song to future-Miles every day through my belly and who calmed that screaming baby down by singing it to him during the scary early minutes of Miles’s life mentioned in the first verse of the song. It’s a family effort, and it will be okay.

The mother smiled as the baby screamed
And clamped his eyes shut against the light and
Gravity crushed him from all directions
And everyone said “congratulations.”

Okay, okay.

He bored a hole in the wall
And stuffed it full of marbles and ball bearings and peas.
And when they smashed that house down,
The wrecking ball kissed its little sisters.

Okay, okay, okay, okay.
That’s what they say, it’ll be okay.
Okay, okay, okay, okay.
Little disasters happen every day.

A man told a woman that all points in time
Exist simultaneously, and thus,
Our actions have no consequence.
And when she left him, she hoped he found solace in that.

Okay, okay.

Poorly considered decisions
Pie crust promises flake away at dawn.
She didn’t mean to chew him up.
She must be part velociraptor.

Stop being so sensitive.
These open wounds just court infection.
Stop begging for attention.
Best to let it scab on over.

Process is greater than product,
And what burns now will soon just be an ache.
Chin up, buckle up, grow up and throw up.
And hold the wheel tightly while you pump the brakes.


We know this story-song because of Pete Seeger. In the words of the liner notes to the Smithsonian’s Pete Seeger box set, “While Pete was researching songs from South Africa, he found a melody in the Xhosa language called ‘Abiyoyo.’ Pete learned the melody from a book that told how the song came from a story about a monster that could be vanquished if parents could cause the monster to dance and fall down. Pete used this to create a story for his own children.
“The song became not only one of Pete’s most frequently performed pieces, but also an award-winning children’s book. In many ways, it is a metaphor for the battles he himself fought: ‘Even though the townspeople scoffed at the boy’s music, it helped solve their troubles.’” Beloved Folk Machinist Ed Flaherty becomes “Grandpa Ed” in reading this story to the FFM kids, who respond with their ukuleles and voices.

Flower of the Universe

This lovely, mystical song by Sade was written for the soundtrack of 2018’s film version of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Sweet Mama Angel

“Sweet Mama Angel” is an intensely beautiful song that FFMer Jeff Capps wrote in the year 2000, shortly after the death of his mother. Our arrangement pairs Jeff’s solo vocals with the full choir and Tara McGovern’s solo fiddle parts with a string quartet accompaniment in addition to the band.

You Are Not Alone

The emotionally direct lyrics and ambling groove of this song make it great, but I also love the fact that the commercial version is an intergenerational collaboration between songwriter Jeff Tweedy and singer Mavis Staples. The message of this song is a good one to carry into the holiday season, when many people feel loneliness resulting from societal pressure to have certain types of family formations or relationships. When you feel lonely, the song says, you’re not the only one: you’re not alone. “Every tear on every face tastes the same.” Thanks to the FFM cello choir for bringing out the beauty of the dark harmonies of this song.

Lovely Day

This Bill Withers song from the 1970s is a favorite of the choir. It’s such a happy song! Please sing along—I can almost guarantee it will improve your mood. “Then I look at you, and the world’s all right with me. Just one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be a lovely day.”