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Wiffledust Loves Tom Prasada-Rao ...and always will.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to say a few words about Tom Prasada-Rao while he’s still with us. That sounds dire, but while I believe in all kinds of miracles, Tom has told us that his days may be numbered due to cancer….I’ll go with whatever Tom says since I know either way it’s not the end forever. Eventually we’ll all be sharing Christmases in the Ashram together. But for now, Tom knows Tom best.


I’m not writing this as the person who is his bestie or one of his incredible band of brothers we’ve seen in his partnerships and the Fox Run Five.  But I’m writing this as someone who met him 30 years ago (that’s BEFORE he wrote songs for the TV show  Touched by an Angel, Folks!) and has worked with him, had fun with him, organized music with him, sung behind him, fed him, shakered a shaker to him, argued with him, depended on him, been grateful to him, talked about everything from peanut butter cups to philosophy with him, praised him, shared my mother with him, shared moments with his sisters with him, had the pleasure of working with both of his wives with him, and shared a community with him. You know a lot about a guy that way too. You can’t help but watch a person grow and deepen over so many years.


It was just a freak thing that had me cross paths with Tom at all. Alan Rowoth called me up one day thinking I had a regular venue to tell me four guys from the Internet Quartets couldn’t play the Tin Angel in Philadelphia as promised and needed a place to play. At that point I had presented exactly one major songwriter event in the Philadelphia area and didn’t have a regular venue. I wasn’t a folkie other than a love for Nanci Griffith, and I didn’t know an internet quartet from a name like Prasada-Rao. I wasn’t even really sure that the internet was going to be a real thing for more than a few months! I had never heard of the other guys either. Who was Bob Halligan? Michael Lille? Tom Kimmel? I sure had no idea, but Alan had faith I could figure this out. Great. I didn’t know Alan either. Apparently Kimmel had written a song I should hear for Linda Ronstadt, Lille was a great guy and talent, and Bob Halligan was a super songwriter. Okayyyy…Alan, who is Prasada-Rao? Oh he wears a big dress, you’ll love him. Well alrighty then.


So I had faith I could figure this out. So I figured it out. Up until then I had had three local songwriters who were excellent but local. These Quartet guys were guys from all over the place. And it looked like they had (gasp!) real records and stuff. This Tom PR guy had just been made the Kerrville New Folk winner that I did know was something special. Well I wanted to hear these people. I hoped someone else did too. I had no room at the inn so to speak, but I found a choir loft in my church. It held about 50 people up a steep staircase with attic dormers. Alan said do it, and we did. I worried about my high heels on the steps. I hadn’t joined the folk world yet that allowed women to wear sensible shoes.


Before the audience came (back then you had to mail invites to people!) my helpers were whispering to me that Tom seemed mysterious. Big guy wearing a dress and looking like he was probably a mystic. I said I think he’s normal. They said no way. I said yeah, I think so. I asked him if he wanted something to eat before the show. He said a salad with Feta cheese on it thereby confirming he was not a mystic but just a hungry guy with a guitar. With three other hungry guys from the road with guitars. And they were nice guys telling me fun stories. Tom Kimmel even recited A.A, Milne poetry to me. And then the room filled up with people and a magical night of songs that you are still playing now were played close their first time in public with the sweetest harmonies. It was beautiful. I knew I had to have whoever could come back, come and play another big show. That meant I had to do another show. And that meant wiffledust had to keep going. Sure enough Tom Kimmel and Tom Prasada-Rao came back. This time we had 200 people in a Friends Meeting House in Haverford, PA, and we couldn’t keep enough cd’s in stock. We were taking orders.


If you want to know just how weird people can be in this world, present music. You’ll have to deal with helpers, artists, and the public…all at the same time. Some artists put having frozen milky ways in their contract…Tom didn’t do this. Some  audience members wander in off the street with a dog and a baby neither one being theirs.  Some well-meaning helpers can’t count change or pour coffee if their lives depended on it. But you keep going and depend heavily on the people who know how to do…anything. And that’s when I began to know TPR.


 He always drove up to wiffledust shows and back to the D.C. area the same night. He was never late. I never had to give him directions, and this was before GPS and our regular new place was in the woods.  He never caused me one ounce of extra work. He trusted me with the math of his CD sales ….his principle way of making a living at the time…Tom always  played nice with the other musicians backing them up or being quiet depending on what was needed. He made connections, he forged relationships, he taught you a chord or recommended a book. He did all this in addition to giving the listening room a groove that no other performer could give. Tom had soul in his music, Tom had rhythm, Tom didn’t just play C’s and G’s to one beat. It’s not a little thing to evoke some Marvin in a folk room. I so appreciated that. Tom could make you want to dance by just whispering.


I hosted Tom so many times I can’t count them…not because he drew huge numbers, but because singer songwriters just don’t draw huge crowds in big cities where they are competing with the biggest names in entertainment. Not often anyway. But he came back over and over again, because he was good. He was talented. He was kind. He respected the community I was trying to build, and he added to it. I respect Tom’s work ethic. I respect his creativity. I respect his showmanship. I respect his songwriting. I respect his ability to read a room and read a community whether it’s in a tiny attic, a big performance hall, or online. I have no doubt he’ll still be doing it in his next great adventure. It’s who he is. He shares himself. I also respect his off-color jokes and poems that he sometimes thought I couldn’t hear. He’s funny. He swears. He has doubts. He cares if he isn’t perfect. He’s very human. I like that in a human. He also dearly loves his friends.


I know that, because Tom is a connector. You can see that online. So many things in my life would not have happened and so many people I would never have met had it not been for Tom just being Tom. I want to publicly thank Tom for that while I’m sure he can still hear me. He’ll hear me later, but I want to be sure in my limited way now. I wouldn’t have had the second and therefore the rest of the wiffedust shows if Tom hadn’t been Tom. I wouldn’t have met and worked with and loved Matthew Kahler for decades, because Tom said after our first show that the person I needed who was a perfect match for wiffledust was Matthew Kahler…a songwriter I’d never heard of. But Tom had the gift of connection and told me how to find this unknown person who changed my life. I wouldn’t have had the crucial moments I had with Tom Kimmel or been the fan that I am of his music. I wouldn’t have known and learned from Cary Cooper in the ways that I have. I wouldn’t have grown to be a fan of her great songs. I wouldn’t have the warm relationship I have today with so many of Tom’s dear friends and fans. Some of those friendships are ones that have saved me from serious harm and loved me through trauma.


But perhaps one of the biggest thank you’s I have for TPR is when he came to play a concert that was to be for my dying husband. My husband didn’t make it to the concert. He was fighting like Tom is now. But Tom came after and sang my husband’s favorite song. He just loved Tom Kimmel’s song “Angels” better than any other song in the world. Tom K was booked, but TPR (one of his best friends and someone who I knew could sing Angels, because he had done it with T.K at wiffledust prior) came zooming up here from D.C. and sang Angels like I knew he could for me and my friends. I just knew it could be heard in other spheres. And riding shotgun up here with him was his sister Patty. She stopped the show and took my hand and sang directly to me the beautiful hymn “Stand By Me” with the conviction of a believer.  She strengthened me to hang in there all these years later so I can be here to write this. And if she needs anything in the days or years to come, Tom can count on me to be her friend. We’ll all be there for his Mum and sisters.


Well I guess this was sappy. But I think anyone who had the time to read this feels the same way and probably agrees this is the time to be sappy. We don’t always get to tell someone how their life changed ours. But I get to. So I’m doing it. If not now, when? Tom, all I have left to say through the tears is what I said after every show with you….”So beautifully done! Thank you.”


With love for everyone in the family of love for Tom Prasada-Rao  and love for indie music, independent thinking, social justice, and good times…


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