Flynn to take Old State House audience on folk journey

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Wilmington singer-songwriter John Flynn will perform a free concert tonight at 7:30 at Dover’s Old State House as part of the Delaware Friends of Folk’s Winter Concert Series. (Submitted photo)

The biography on iTunes for acclaimed Wilmington folk singer/songwriter John Flynn says he “has remained one of the better-kept secrets in the Americana scene.”

He chuckles when he hears that but he understands why.

“My kids are grown now but my first responsibility when they were growing up was to be part of their lives. So I made my living on the local cover bar scene. I don’t think I signed my first record contract until I was in my early 40s and I didn’t start hitting the road until my late 40s and early 50s,” said the fit 58-year-old Mr. Flynn, who just recently completed the Philadelphia Marathon in four hours.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copy“When you’re that far along, the music business stops paying serious attention to you but that hasn’t really stopped me from connecting with people through my music and bringing audiences along for the ride.”

Mr. Flynn brings his brand of music that can be introspective and topical at times and light and playful at others to the Old State House on The Green in Dover tonight at 7:30 for a free show, as part of the monthly Winter Concert Series presented in partnership with Delaware Friends of Folk and the First State Heritage Park.

The good-natured troubadour has been a regular performer for the Delaware Friends of Folk for many years.

“I’m not sure how many times John has performed at one of our events. One listen tells you why we keep asking him back,” said Delaware Friends of Folk Co-President John Kidd.

“He’s done our coffee house and our festival multiple times, and now we get to hear him in the intimate setting of the Old State House. He is a true music professional. He really cares about the quality of the music he writes, his performances and his recordings.”

With a variety of albums, both for adults and children, Mr. Flynn has collaborated with musical greats such as Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

He was a Grammy honoree in 2012 for his song “Two Wolves,” which he contributed to the anti-bullying album, “All About Bullies, Big and Small.”

He’s also been honored with many humanitarian awards.

For over 10 years, Mr. Flynn has volunteered at Wilmington’s Howard R. Young Correctional Institution as the head facilitator of an inmate-support group called New Beginnings. For those leaving prison, Mr. Flynn leads New Beginnings-Next Step, a sister group that is dedicated to the transition from incarceration to freedom.

He also serves on the advisory board for Camp Dreamcatcher in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a therapeutic summer camp for children whose lives have been impacted by AIDS/HIV. He is also an ardent opponent of the death penalty and former member of the board of directors of Delaware peace and social justice organization, Pacem in Terris.

Additionally, he’s performed the American and Canadian national anthems for a handful of Philadelphia Phillies’ games and was the baseball team’s choice to do “God Bless America” on the first game played after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A straight-laced kid from suburban Philadelphia, Mr. Flynn was headed to the Naval Academy before he realized his true calling.

“It had a lot to do with the realization of who I was and who I hoped to become,” he said.

“I was really interested in studying law but I was advised to lie to the Navy throughout the process and say I was interested in becoming an engineer and then once I got in there, I could do what I wanted.

“But I realized that if I started this whole thing off based on a lie, it wasn’t going to be a healthy relationship. It was my first coming to terms with who I was really at my core during one of the scary and fateful moments in my life. I’ve always been grateful that I managed to sense the courage it takes to listen to the little voice inside me.”

He changed course and obtained a political science degree from Philadelphia’s Temple University.

But his music still beckoned.

“I wanted a shot at being happy and alive and awake. I knew a lot of people who went in the opposite direction and the more I saw that path, the less interested I was in it,” he said.

“Plus I figured the world could stand the loss of one more lawyer and gain a few extra songs.”

A stop in Nashville as a songwriter followed after college and then years of raising a family followed.

A career highlight came in 2005 when Mr. Guthrie invited Mr. Flynn to join Willie Nelson and Mr. Elliott on the “Train to New Orleans” tour following Hurricane Katrina, where they toured storm-ravaged regions and he got an up-close look at the devastation.

“As broken as the city and the people were at the time, New Orleans became one of my favorite places in the world,” he said.

A friendship with Mr. Guthrie has continued to this day as well as a relationship with Mr. Kristofferson, who has sung on four of his albums and written liner notes on others.

“He’s been very supportive over the years and there is no way I could ever repay him for his encouragement,” Mr. Flynn said.

A song of Mr. Flynn’s that has special meaning for locals and those in the military is “Dover.”

The tune, about the fallen soldiers who are returned home to the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, received considerable attention upon its release in 2008.

“It’s been humbling the effect that the song continues to have on people who have given so much in terms of their own lives and the sacrifices that family members have made. I’ve heard directly from people at the base who continue to do that very important and holy work,” he said.

The song wasn’t without controversy as some questioned his patriotism for writing the anti-war tune.

“I didn’t realize that my work would get scrutinized the way it did. People questioned my politics and there was considerable acrimony toward me as being somehow against the troops because I was against the war,” he said.

“I always draw the analogy that you can be against house fires and still support firefighters and I think my shows at Walter Reed Medical Center and my raising awareness of PTSD issues bear that out.”

At tonight’s show, he expects to draw on his eclectic wealth of material, including songs from his upcoming album tentatively titled “If I Fall Behind,” and even do some Christmas tunes.

Mr. Flynn is grateful for the Friends of Folk’s support over the years.

“They’re the best and doing something that is so important. We’ve never needed a sense of community more in this country than right now and they provide it with live music,” he said.

“They are getting folks out of the house and coming together. That is what this series is all about. I can’t wait to see them and just thank them for carrying on the tradition of live music.”

A busy weekend for the Friends of Folk continues Saturday with two events.

The first is the monthly Pick-In, an open and informal, round-robin jam session taking place from noon to 3 p.m. at the Young Bean Coffee House, 314 Main St. in Clayton.

At 7:30 p.m. is the annual Holiday Open Mic at the Wesley College Chapel, Division and North Bradford streets, Dover, and hosted by Jim McGiffin and Kathy Doyle.

All acoustic genres are encouraged to participate: folk, country, blue, and bluegrass. (In keeping with tradition, the Friends of Folk requests no drum kits.) The concert is preceded at 6:30 by the annual open-board meeting and elections. The evening also includes a potluck and a food drive for the Delaware Food Bank. Admission is free.

For more information on these and other Friends of Folk events, call (302) 827-FOLK or visit delfolk.org.

Sinatra centennial show at Schwartz

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Sean Reilly presents his popular “Sinatra 101” concert Saturday at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover.

Also Saturday night, Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts marks that day’s 100th anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra with a concert by Wilmington’s Sean Reilly.

Known for his sound and look similar to the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Reilly will be backed by the six-piece Sinatra Centennial Orchestra under the direction of well-known Delaware pianist David Zipse.

Mr. Reilly performs a production called “Sinatra 101” with stories behind the music.

Tickets for the 7 p.m. concert at the Schwartz Center, 226 S. State St., are $27-$30.

Call the box office at 302-678-5152 or visit www.schwartzcenter.com.

Holiday house

Jim Teagle of Wyoming called this week to let us know that his festively decorated house will be available for free tours this weekend complete with all of the holiday hoopla.

In the past, the house has been used for a charity fundraiser. Although that won’t be the case this year, he’s still opening it up to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday.

The display at 9384 Westville Road, just west of Jenkins Airport on the left, boasts 300 moving animated objects, loads of lights and themed rooms.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the “Moby Dick”-inspired tale “In the Heart of the Sea.”

On DVD and download Tuesday is the “Fantastic Four” reboot, “Ted 2,” “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” and “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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