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Saying Goodbye to Michael Meldrum

The gatherings of the tribe that met Monday night and Tuesday morning and afternoon were groups of which Michael Meldrum would not only have been a part of, but probably would have organized and arranged the music, too. Sadly, the tribe was gathering to say goodbye, at least physically, to Meldrum.

Meldrum, the quintessential folk singer, troubadour, Allentown musician-artist and master organizer, who was the heart and soul of the longest-running open mic night for neophyte, rising, and established singers, songwriters, and guitarists, died of liver failure on Thursday, May 5, in the Buffalo General Hospital hospice unit at age 60.

Meldrum was well known for being an early supporter/advocate and guitar teacher for singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ani DiFranco. DiFranco and her record label, Righteous Babe Records, basically returned the favor and support by helping Meldrum record and release his only full-length musical release, Open Ended Question, in 2006, and DiFranco performed with Meldrum during his CD release show at Nietzsche’s. During the May 10 funeral mass for Meldrum at Our Lady of Hope Church, Scot Fisher, cofounder and chief of Righteous Babe, read a memorial from DiFranco, now a New Orleans resident, calling him a “devoted husband and loving father,” and “the most interesting person I ever met.” She also praised him for serving as a teacher, promoter, singer, and organizer, adding that people need to sing and carry on his legacy.

Hosting the open mic and singer/songwriter showcase at Nietzsche’s for about 28 years, Meldrum was known for encouraging and allowing all musicians, regardless of experience or talent, to perform and to work on their music and/or art. He often appeared on stage with them. His love of music resulted in two of Buffalo’s most popular and eclectic annual events: the Bob Dylan Imitators’ Contest and Cold Turkey: A Tribute to John Lennon.

He also started the Buffalo Song Project, a band featuring some of Buffalo’s best musicians, including singer/songwriter and guitarist Jim Whitford and drummer, singer/songwriter Rob Lynch. Meldrum also worked with the likes of Dave Ruch, John Lombardo and Mary Ramsey, Alison Pipitone, John Brady, Alex Lynne, Joe Rozler, Tom Fenton, Liz Abbott, Joelle Labert, and Geno McManus. Ramsey noted at the memorial open mic hosted by Dee Adams at the Sportsmen’s Tavern Monday night that Meldrum introduced her to Lombardo.

Meldrum performing on stage and elsewhere with his family; he grinned ear to ear when his daughter Julia and his son Alexander joined him on stage at his CD release gig, and he co-wrote “Rainstorm,” which appears on Open Ended Question, with his wife, Diane Gall-Meldrum.

Meldrum was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2006; he also won several Buffalo Area Music Awards over the years.

The Buffalo music and artistic community, his family, and his friends, displayed a massive outpouring of love and concern for Meldrum over the last several years as his health began to deteriorate, especially in the last few weeks. When Meldrum was placed in hospice care, his hospital room could almost always be heard generating music, discussion, and laughter, even when Meldrum could do no more than smile and acknowledge people. The day before he died, John Brady was playing some blues/folk acoustic guitar while other people talked. When Alexander and Julia came in, Alexander picked up his father’s guitar and joined in with Brady.

Monday at the Kolano Funeral Home on Amherst Street, the line to pay respects to Meldrum snaked out the door for most of the night. After the wake, the Sportsmen’s Tavern, just a block down Amherst Street, opened its doors and arms to Meldrum’s family and friends. Many stopped there and spent a couple of hours before heading to Nietzsche’s for the Monday open mic Meldrum would have hosted. Among the musical highlights was Michael’s brother Bill Meldrum singing a song for him at the Sportsmen’s, as well as Ramsey playing a lovely, viola-led instrumental version of “Waltzing Matilda,” noting that Michael knew all of the verses. Liz Abbott sang an emotionally charged a cappella song at each club, and the Nietzsche’s show featured a show-stopping version of “No Woman, No Cry,” led by Tom Fenton on vocals and guitar, with Mike Brown on vocals and mandolin, Jim Iarocci on piano, and Joe Mancuso on harmonica and vocals. The song, which Fenton used to perform with Meldrum, was dedicated to Meldrum’s wife, Diane.

Tuesday’s funeral and brunch featured some of these same people. Joe Head sang an awe-inspiring version of “Ave Maria” during the mass. During a brunch at Asbury Hall at Babeville, Alexander sang a song about honoring one’s father, what he helped you become, and doing right by people.

kevin j. hosey

One word that comes to mind when I think of Michael Meldrum is generosity—generosity of spirit and generosity in everyday works.

alison pipitone

He may have believed in music more than anyone else I’ve ever met.

greg klyma

He was kind and gracious to every nervous performer who stepped up to debut a song at the Monday open mic, whether you’d been playing two months or 20 years, and he made everyone feel valued and welcome.

cathy carfagna and dave meinzer

The overarching theme that you’ll hear from people about Mike Meldrum is how he connected so many of us. I trace a huge percentage of my musical cohorts and very dear friends directly to him. Such a gift that I’m ever grateful and thankful to him for…

jim whitford

Michael took people in. If he saw or heard any hint of passion, talent or desire in a singer, songwriter, poet or musician, then he’d immediately draw that artist into his circle. He was always looking for something, always trying to nurture the young into the full blossoming of their talent.

brian lampkin

I can honestly say that if it were not for Michael Meldrum, I would not have become a musician.

mira fink

It’s a little cliche, but he would give you the shirt off his back…I remember one time commenting to him that I liked his tie, and a minute later he was putting it on me.

randy milligan

It’s Michael’s loyalty to his friends and to his beautiful family that make the biggest impression. He lived his life motivated by love and a passion for music and friendship that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in another human being.

alex lynne

Once he found something he thought was special he would promote it tireless…He knew what was good and wanted everyone else to take a bit.

rob lynch

It will be a strange and sad thing to celebrate Michael without him there, but it won’t be lonely, because if any man can be said to live in spirit, especially the spirit of music and fellowship, it is Mike. I heard a song spilling out of the door of Nietzsche’s this cold spring night. I thought of Mike behind that door, as he is behind so many doors in my life. I felt that music was celebrating him. I know I always will feel that way; I can take it for granted.

michael sheffield

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