20 songs about death adds up to one fun afternoon
Last summer, my folk group, Long Road, played a small number of concerts, on occasions that included the National Senior Games and the grand opening of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. It appeared that a pattern was forming, and I couldn’t help but wonder where we would go from there and where we would play this summer. I got my answer: Lake View Cemetery.
It seems like a natural next step—not that I feel ready to take that next step in real life. But show biz is another thing.
Among the beautiful and historic cemetery’s many wonderful features, it offers a summer concert series, now in its second year. The free concerts will be held on certain Sunday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. near the James A. Garfield Monument. When you drive in the Cleveland Heights entrance, on Mayfield Road, signs will guide you to the concert site.
The cemetery, which has been in continuous operation continuously since 1869, straddles three cities: Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights. Its 285 acres of gently rolling hills contain numerous types of trees and hundreds of species of plants and flowers, plus many kinds of animals, including deer and fox. And you can find hundreds of amazing monuments among the 107,000 graves.
Interred at Lake View are locally and nationally famous figures, including J. D. Rockefeller and President James A. Garfield. The Garfield Monument, located in the Cleveland Heights section of the cemetery, is a great place to visit and to take out-of-town guests. If you happen to be there on Sunday, July 20, the lawn on the building’s north side will be the site of Long Road’s concert.
In Long Road’s repertoire, we have about 200 songs, and because we do a lot of folk songs, it wasn’t difficult to find 20 that have something to do with death. We also perform folky versions of old rock and country songs. Some of those happen to deal with death, too, in one way or another.
So that’s what we’re doing: 20 songs about death. Sounds like a fun afternoon, right?
Well, actually, it will be. Not all of the songs are sad. In fact, most of them aren’t. There are songs such as the Marty Robbins 1958 hit “El Paso,” for example (one of only two records to hit the charts in which the narrator of the story is a dead guy), a country-gospel tune or two, old Irish songs, and even newer singer-songwriter fare.
Bring lawn chairs or blankets to these concerts, and food, if you wish. The Aug. 3 concert features Rachel Brown and the Beatnik Playboys, another versatile group from this region. For all concerts, the rain date is the following Sunday.
We’re happy to be doing a concert in Lake View Cemetery, but I’m not sure I want to know where we might be asked to play next summer.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, author and professional musician and comedian.