Christians, Lesbians, and Babysitters: The Music of Dar Williams
October 28th, 2004
“And like the woods where I would creep / It's a secret I can keep / Except when I'm tired, except when I'm being caught off guard.” These expressive lyrics from “When I Was a Boy” illustrate the skill of Dar Williams, a folk singer-songwriter channeling Joni Mitchell. Williams took the stage at Robert F. Wagner Park on Sunday, October 3 as part of The Family Music Festival at BPC: Harmony on the Hudson, one of the many free events sponsored by the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy.
The park was not a glamorous revenue; the stage was a small raised platform, and "backstage" consisted of a single tent. However, the combination of the warm weather, blue sky, and the sparkling Hudson River made the event relaxed and enjoyable. Even with background noise from park-goers and no acoustics, the sound was crystal clear.
Williams, who has been writing songs since she was an 11-year-old in Chappaqua, New York, opened with one of her most popular songs, “The Babysitter’s Here.” From the audience members' reactions to this song, it was already apparent who the die-hard fans were; they were the ones mouthing all the words as Williams’s voice spanned three octaves. These lip-synchers comprised a diverse following that included a seemingly middle-aged woman and a collegian who sang along to every song.
After “The Babysitter’s Here,” Williams sang two less well-known songs, "The One Who Knows," which is her most downloaded song [SAYS WHO?], and “Golden Thread,” which was written by Pete Seeger. She then proceeded to perform two favorites, the aforementioned ‘When I Was a Boy” and “The Christians and the Pagans,” in which she discusses a pagan lesbian couple visiting a very religious relative.
Before each song, Williams told the story behind the lyrics. She connected to the audience, pointing out where her family was sitting and talking to the people closest to the stage. After she performed, she was more than willing to sign autographs and take pictures with the people backstage, even having conversations with her fans to explain the messages of her songs.
It is these messages that cause many to become Dar-crazy. Her songs focus on universal experiences, which is the reason her fan base is so varied. According to Williams, in “When I Was a Boy” she sings of children who are not aware of societal stereotypes and are free to act as they wish, before they grow up and are forced to conform.
Williams’s lyrics are poignant enough to rival those of the legendary folk singers from the ‘60s. Just as they were down-to-earth and modest, so was her unaffected interaction with the audience. She comes across as not merely a performer, but as a close friend sharing her life journey. For all those who complain that the American music industry has degenerated into pretty people with all show but no talent, a Dar Williams concert would prove refreshing and expose them to a type of music that one does not hear on Z-100, Hot 97, or even Lite FM. One day, you may hear a woman who could be your mother and an NYU student humming the same song—written, of course, by Williams. "I've had a lonesome awful day, the conversation finds its way..."