Framing Maine 2: Singer and Songwriter David Mallett
David Mallett: An Evening of Song and Story
Maine balladeer David Mallett came to Orono on April 7th for a performance that combined some of his best-loved songs with an onstage Q&A with Rob Caldwell of WCSH-TV. The event was the second in the series Framing Maine: Conversations with Storytellers and Imagemakers from the Pine Tree State, organized by the Maine Studies Program.
Mallett performed a set of a dozen of his best-known songs, most of which were inspired by places and people here in Maine. This includes his classic “The Garden Song,” which he revealed was only the second or third song he ever wrote, inspired one summer day by his hardworking father in his home garden. Mallett was accompanied onstage by his quartet, featuring bassist Mike Burd, pianist Roy Clark, and violinist Susan Ramsey.
David’s performance was followed by an onstage interview with Portland news anchor Rob Caldwell, who picked Mallett’s brain about his upbringing, inspirations, and the many songs he has written over the years. The 45-minute conversation shed light on how Mallett works (melody first, then lyrics), how growing up in Maine formed him as an artist, and how his time at the University of Maine was spent (not much in class, apparently, but in local music venues like The Ram’s Horn). They also discussed David’s years in Nashville as a journeyman songwriter, his experiences with the recording industry, and what finally brought him back to Maine full time: to let his children grow up the way he did, with family, friends and farm close at hand.
The event was attended by roughly 200 people, nearly filling the intimate Minsky Recital Hall. Sound was provided by Birdie Sawyer and a team of students from the School of Performing Arts, who made sure the acoustics met Mallett’s high standards—he has performed thousands of concerts in his nearly five-decade recording and performing career. Welcoming comments were made by Provost Jeff Hecker, CLAS Dean Emily Haddad, and Maine Studies Program Director Kreg Ettenger, who organized the event.
David Mallett Biography
Born and raised in rural Sebec, where he still lives, David Mallett has been writing and singing about his home state for 55 years. His professional music career began when he was just 11, playing in a country and folk duo with his older brother, Neil. Later, as an acting student at the University of Maine, Mallett discovered guitar-wielding bards like Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, which led him to his eventual career. “I was a theater major. I felt short-changed that I had to speak someone else’s words. If I became a singer-songwriter, I could sing my own words.”
A turning point in Mallett’s career came in 1975 when he met Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. Stookey produced Mallett’s first three albums in his Blue Hill recording studio. He also brought David’s tune “The Garden Song” to the attention of Pete Seeger, who included it on his retrospective album, Circles And Seasons. This humble song about a gardener’s faith (“inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow”) has since gone on to become a folk classic, recorded by everyone from John Denver to the Muppets. “It was never that big a hit,” says Mallett. “It’s gotten around, but in a very human way—through the mouths of children, at campfires and wedding ceremonies. I’m so proud to be associated with such a simple and beautiful thing.”
Mallett has recorded 17 albums and penned hundreds of songs, many recorded by major artists including Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, and Alison Krauss. Many of David’s songs and albums are inspired by Maine places, people and history. He has made a career of writing and singing songs that connect the listener with a specific place, whether that’s a backyard garden, a town in decline, or “a deep pool where the fish wait,” as he describes in “Summer of My Dreams.”
Mallett’s songs are filled with passion, evocative imagery, and a sense of the inevitable passage of time. His writing room in an old farmhouse in Sebec, where he grew up, reflects both his love of nature and his connection to the past: it has a view of a field and a tintype of his great-great grandfather on the wall. “I like to keep reaching out to touch the past,” he says, “to connect it with what’s going on now. To me, music is one of the few things that are timeless.”
For more information about David, including tour dates and music purchases, please go to david.mallett.com. Here is a link to a video of David’s recent song “Celebration,” from his album of the same name.
Rob Caldwell Biography
Rob Caldwell is a news anchor and reporter for WCSH/WLBZ’s NewsCenter Maine. He is also co-host of 207, the news magazine program that airs weeknights on WCSH in Portland and WLBZ in Bangor. Since joining WCSH-TV in 1982, Rob has covered everything from papal visits to cats stuck on ice floes, and interviewed thousands of people ranging from Barack Obama to Larry the Cable Guy. A graduate of Williams College, Rob is a member of the Maine Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. To see Rob Caldwell’s work on the show 207, go to newscentermaine.com/207.
The Flickr album can be found here.
Framing Maine Series: Credit and Thanks
Framing Maine is a new series that brings well-known Maine artists, writers, musicians and others to the University of Maine campus to talk about their careers telling Maine’s stories through various media. The series kicked off last November with a talk by television host and reporter Bill Green, including an interview by NPR Washington correspondent and UMaine graduate Brian Naylor.
Support for the series comes from Bangor Savings Bank, and from the University of Maine Cultural Affairs and Distinguished Lecture Series, the Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Maine Folklife Center, and the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature.
Those wishing to support future Framing Maine events are invited to contact the Director of the Maine Studies program, Dr. Kreg Ettenger, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-581-1840. Gifts may also be made to the Maine Studies Program through the University of Maine Foundation website. Please note that many companies offer matching gifts to educational institutions such as the University of Maine; be sure to check with your HR representative or donor liaison.
Biographical information and photos on this website are courtesy of David Mallett and Rob Caldwell.