In the company of friends: When musicians are spurred on by feedback from their fans
By John Addyman
A singer, a musician, a songwriter — they live to perform their music in the company of friends. It’s in that instance that their work is appreciated and valued, evaluated and advanced.
Frank Meyer and Siobhan McGuire not only produce and perform music locally and internationally, they provide a venue — their own Canandaigua backyard — for local groups to play a set on six warm Sunday afternoons in a relaxed, friendly and unusual openair setting.
The arrangement is called The Parkside Poets.
“We want to bring people together to enjoy each other’s company, to enrich their lives with the original music and lyrics of some of the area’s finest singer-songwriters, and increase the audience to create a more rewarding experience for our performers,” Meyer explained.
“For Siobhan and me, our music has been and always will be just a vehicle we use to connect with people and have fun with them. Our goal is to try to add a special touch to each event we play,” Meyer added. “Music has brought us in touch with so many wonderful people. We can hardly wait to meet the new friends who are still somewhere down the road. Siobhan and I were lucky to find each other, and we were even luckier to be able to use guitars to make a difference in the lives of people. For this, we are forever grateful.”
The Rochester–Finger Lakes music scene is full of Americana performers and songwriters who offer tunes that are part country, part folk and part rock. The Parkside Poets series offers concert dates starting at Memorial Day and ending just after Labor Day. The series will continue next year, with the schedule available in February or March (on www.meyerandmcguire. com).
Intimacy and closeness are hallmarks of the poets’ concerts and the shows are important dates for local musicians. There’s a lot of love in each gig.
Meyer, 71, and McGuire, 66, found each other through music and one elbow touch was all it took.
Graduating from Colgate University and filling in for a year of teaching English at Canandaigua Academy in 1974, Meyer was successful enough in the classroom that he kept getting a next year’s assignment and was approved for tenure after his third year.
He was also devoted to playing guitar and writing songs. Meyer had first performed in public at The Agora, a Colgate campus coffeehouse.
On the night of that debut, “I drank nearly a six-pack of beer to calm my nerves,” he said. “Despite all of that beer, it was a show I will never forget. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was in a place where I was supposed to be. That night I learned that, for me, nothing tops being able to use music to open the hearts and souls of people.”
With a day job at Canandaigua Academy, Meyer ventured further afield and starting getting singing gigs in restaurants and pubs. When a local band, Mulligan Stew, broke up, Meyer joined with former singer Steve Miller to form Meyer and Miller. They were joined by singer Carol Mulligan and became Meyer, Miller and Mulligan.
“I was an administrative assistant at a subsidiary of the phone company,” she explained.
She worked for Miller. So, when the band was playing, she’d come listen. On a night at George Cullen’s pub, Meyer was introduced to McGuire.
And it was electric.
“I brushed against her elbow… and I felt an instant attraction to her,” he said.
That gentle touch meant a lot more to him than most people. Meyer is totally blind.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Yet. Later than night, she told him she was taken.
Meyer was disappointed, but the tingle from that gentle touch lingered.
The two kept bumping into one another because they knew the same musicians. In 1981, He became a solo performer and she started showing up to listen to his songs. They moved in together in 1982 and she became Frank’s roadie.
“She was running the sound for my gigs,” he said. “In the early 1990s, she learned to play bass guitar.”
Their relationship grew into a personal, academic and musical partnership. She had joined him in the classroom as a teacher’s aide in 1990.
“I read the mail, graded tests, passed out papers, did the copying, the typical things,” she said.
“She would read student essays to me,” he said. “The 16 years before I met her, I would hire people to read to me. I also had some volunteers and colleagues who had free periods who would proctor my tests.”
In the weekdays, they would take care of the business of academics. At nights and on weekends, it was music.
They practiced, honed skills, recorded songs and played a schedule that just kept growing. Meyer’s songs are personal and reflective. From their title song from their “Road Less Traveled” CD:
“There are many roads to travel, many things to be,
It seems the road less traveled has worked the best for me…
So I sat down, let my words flow,
And just like little children, watched them grow.
And as I guided them with my heart and hands,
They began to spread their joy throughout the land.”
“Frank is attractive, he has a great sense of humor and he’s practical in a life sense,” she said. “He doesn’t get worked up over things that aren’t worth getting worked up about when there’s nothing you can really do. Life has bad things happen; you deal with it, but you don’t let it ruin your life.”
“Siobhan has an infectious laugh,” he smiled. “Anywhere people are laughing, you know it’s her. She’s a sensitive person: what she does for me, she’s more understanding of people’s situations and gives me perspectives. She lights me up. She says, ‘Let’s try this, let’s do this.’ She gets me to balance.”
The duo has three albums available: “The Road Less Traveled” and “Caught in the Middle”, and Frank has one solo CD, “Hometown.”
Their latest CD, Still Giving It Our Best, debuted at a concert at Brew and Brats in Naples in September. Wellknown local Americana musicians Perry Cleaveland and Maria Gillard are part of the new album and the concert was also a celebration of the 40 years they’ve been together.
Meyer and McGuire do some of their recordings in a closet in the basement of their home. She handles the technical side, doing all the mixing and recording and balancing.
“She’s the whole tech side of the production,” he said proudly.
With his mastery of the internet, he puts up special song lists on Spotify, interspersing Meyer and McGuire songs with those of the Beach Boys, Jerry Garcia and a lot of other artists, providing an hour’s worth of listening for each album and there are many.
With all the recording, performing (24 shows a year) and songwriting going on with Meyer and McGuire, they also found themselves stepping up to promote local songwriters.
Birth of The Parkside Poets
“In 2012 we were playing at the now-closed Buffalo Bill’s in Shortsville,” he said. “The owners, Bill and Robin, had a side room off their bar. They said, ‘We’ve got to do something with the side room.’”
Meyer told them, “If we’re going to do something, I want to do something creative, not just open it up to regular bar gigs. Let’s move in the direction to get songwriters to present their work.”
“In 2012, songwriter Maria Gillard, a friend for 40 years, began the series and from then to 2018 we did shows there every other Thursday night for songwriters throughout the area,” he said. “But then Bill and Robin retired, and the buyer closed the restaurant for renovations.”
Rafael Guerrera, who owned Rio Tamatlan’s Mexican cuisine restaurant in Canandaigua, suggested to Meyer and McGuire, “Why don’t you bring that songwriter thing over here?”
“He had a room upstairs where we could continue with songwriters,” Meyer said. “We started up again until March 16, 2020, when the bottom fell out with the pandemic.”
A year later, as the pandemic started to lift in the area, Meyer and McGuire had a new idea.
They found the perfect site — their own back yard, complete with swimming pool.
“A friend built a (performance) deck for us and we rearranged the yard a little bit,” he said. “We did four shows as the Parkside Poets in 2021 and again Maria Gillard started the series. We did six shows this summer.
“It’s a comfortable level for our audience. For our social demographic, most people are 50-plus and it’s a nice comfortable setting for them. We started getting some neighbors coming over. We like it. We’ll keep doing this as long as we can.”
Meyer averages 20-40 people for each performance, all comfortable in the chairs they brought with them, enjoying the drink and snacks they walked in with. “We have not yet gotten to the point where people have to make a reservation,” he said. “We can hold up to 50 people and if it gets to be a problem, we’ll address it. It’ll work out over time.”
The musicians who take the stage “really enjoy it and want to come back,” Meyer said. “(WRUR deejay and songwriter) Scott Regan loves coming here. He’s been a consistent performer for us since 2012; such a great guy and a really good songwriter. Our goal — I want to present the songwriters with a nice venue, a spot to play and I’ll do my best to get them a good audience. People keep saying ‘Yes.’”
On July 31, the Cadleys (John and Cathy Cadley on guitars and vocals, John Dancks on bass and Perry Cleaveland playing mandolin and fiddle) took the stage in front of a couple dozen people. In that tiny venue, nobody missed the role the audience played.
“It’s so valuing an effect,” said Cleaveland. “We appreciate the people being in the audience, but we can actually feel how palpable it is because of their proximity to us in this venue. Frank and Siobhan have created the perfect size for it. I’ve been to festivals, for example, where things are so spread out there’s no connection with the people. Because that’s why we do it: we want to connect with people. When you have something like this, where you can see the people in the audience and their expressions and feel them with you, that really spurs on a reciprocal relationship we have with the audience and it spurs more creativity and musicianship.”
He said the Meyer and McGuire Parkside Poets site is about the most intimate he’s played in.
“The square footage and the way it’s laid out — people have a tendency, the old church tendency, to sit in the pews in the back of the church. But not here. When you’re more constrained with what you have to work with, in a nice way, you want to be closer together. I think that works well for this audience and the performers,” he said.
Cleaveland has played with many band combinations, “but Meyer and McGuire is probably my favorite band to play with because it’s so easy and relaxed. Their attitudes, they’re all about the fun: they get that relationship. A lot of bands get kind of caught up in trying to be perfect. This isn’t perfect. It’s more about the fun we’re having,” he said.
John Cadley said Meyer and McGuire have succeeded in what they attempted to do.
“This is great,” he said, gesturing with open arms about the backyard layout. “People come specifically to hear the music. It’s not like a bar where they come to talk and drink and music just happens to be there to listen if they want to. They come specifically to hear the music. They come here to listen to the original songs and they really do listen. For a songwriter that’s the best you can hope for, to feel that you’re really connecting with the audience and they get what you’re saying.”
On the concert afternoons, McGuire plays hostess and Meyer is the emcee, both visibly enjoying their roles.
And the music unfolds. Nobody seems to enjoy the afternoon as much as McGuire and Meyer.
And all this came about by the touch of an elbow.