I'm a public radio listener/baseball fan/movie buff whose passion is music.
I like to think of myself as politically aware, but I also love the mundane (celebrity gossip - woohoo!). I usually fall asleep watching The Colbert Report while doing a crossword puzzle, and as a result I have pen ink on all my bed linens and pajamas. Too much info? Maybe, but I think it says something, though I'm not sure what.
By day, I work as a computer programmer; by night, I'm a bar and club rat. I sing with one band (Chandler Travis Philharmonic) and several of its variations (Chandler Travis Philharmonette, Modern Maturity); I sell merchandise for another band (The Incredible Casuals); and I try to check out the Cape Cod music scene as often as I can haul my sorry old ass out of the house.
Before any tour or out-of-town performance I have some freakout period. With basic out-of-town gigs, it's a fairly low-key freakout, really just a matter of trying to stick to a routine and not think too much about things. With tours, however, things can get pretty nuts in my head - especially when hitting the road for 2+ weeks. Three weeks ago it seemed like I had all the time in the world to prep for the tour - but then suddenly it was a week ago and my brain started a-whir, there just seemed so much to worry about. Then finally I made a checklist (lists help) and really, it seemed all do-able. From then on, the days flickered from manic to calm. With the huge help of Belinda from Bubbles in the Think Tank, we managed to launch a new web store for Chandler's merchandise, including high-quality downloads of (soon) all the albums. We even have new T-shirts that we'll be selling at tour dates (and online after we get back).
And now, I even have time to write this missive.
Because we have gear for the full Philharmonic (the rest of the boys are meeting us in Mobile, AL next Friday), the Three-O is traveling in two vehicles - Chandler's car and Berke's van. Tonight I'm in Berke's van along with John and Berke's plan is to drive straight through to West Virginia. We're lucky to have two drivers, Berke & Chandler, who can drive for hours & hours. So the plan is to get into Charleston, WV early afternoon, check into the hotel, nap & shower, and then go the hour to Huntington, WV for stop one of the tour, at Black Sheep Burrito & Brew.
A couple of months ago I got a phone call at home that went something like this: me: hello? person: Is this Fred Boak? me: yes it is person: I'm calling from the Cape Cod Chronicle, and I'd like to interview you for a story about you me: uh ... um ... why? person: well, aren't you a member of [looking at notes] the Chandler Travis Philharmonic? me: oh sure, yeah, I sing with them person: well, this is a feature about people you might see around town and that's why we'd like to talk to you. me: oh I see - sure, I guess I'm game!
So ... we set a date, had a very pleasant interview, took some pics (I in my valet gear, complete with "Chandler Travis, King of the World" towel which sadly was cropped from the published pic). The article was published in the October 13, 2011 edition of the Cape Cod Chronicle. Unfortunately, online access is only available via subscription (not even a pay by the article option), so I can't point you dear readers to a direct link to the article. However, I scanned and transcribed it, giving this post its title.
Cape Cod Chronicle - October 13, 2011, Page 2 A Spotlight On Lower Cape Personalities And Visionaries
Harwich's Singing 'Valet' Fred Boak Does What He Loves Best
by Elizabeth Van Wye
Harwich resident Fred Boak has found a way to do what he loves. By day he is a computer programmer with more than 25 years in the computer software business. But when his work is done this self-styled "harmonizer-at-large" is also fulfilling a lifelong dream. He sings with the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, an Eastham-based band described by the Boston Globe as "Dixieland, pop, avant-jazz, rock.. .and fully over the top."
Boak, who was born in Manhattan and grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was an only child. His father was a Presbyterian minister and Boak grew up loving to sing. He joined the church choir at five and advanced through all the church and high school choruses, taking voice lessons along the way. Boak came by his talent honestly. Both parents sang in vocal groups and it was natural for him to join in as soon as he could "I just loved doing it," he recalled. "I couldn't stop!"
Boak's musical tastes progressed from the Beatles to art rock, including the bands Genesis and Kansas, to Frank Zappa and then all the modern classical blues, doowop and more. Meanwhile, in 1980 he was doing well enough in high school to get into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Boak says that while MIT is well known for its math and science, it was also a good place for music.
He sang in the Chorallaries ofMIT, the university's mixed vocal a capella group, and eventually became the director for two years, frequently doing vocal arrangements. The group went on a couple of tours, through the Midwest, Chicago and Florida during the January independent activities time frame. "We'd schedule a tour and stay at alumni houses along the way," he recalls.
Meanwhile, back in the classroom at MIT, Boak was studying economics and material science, learning all about plastics and chip design. "I liked the beginning courses," he says, "but it wasn't what I wanted, so I Ieft in 1985." Boak got a job at WordsWorth Books in Harvard Square and worked there for several years before a mend told him about a computer job at its sister company, WordStock, designing computer systems for book stores.
"I started out in tech support and learned programming on the job," Boak says, add. ing, "I've been there 20 plus years." In the '90s, he moved to Harwich, where he telecommutes, continuing to program inventory control systems for bookstores.
Telecommuting is not for everyone, he says. "It takes discipline and there are good days and bad. Mostly it's great, with flexible hours."
It's especially good for his music, Boak says. In 1997 he heard singer Chandler Travis perform with the Philharmonic, his nine-piece group, for the first time.
"I started out as a fan," Boak recalls, and Travis soon asked him to start selling the merchandise, the assorted CDs, Tshirts and other band paraphernalia often available at concerts. "When he found out I could sing, I weaseled my way on stage," Boak says with a smile. "I love it," he adds, "I hadn't sung in 10 years and didn't realize how much I missed it. I love playing and singing Travis' songs... he is fantastic. They are some of the best musicians I've ever seen."
Boak performs vocals as needed with both the Philharmonic and the Three-o, a smaller group of Philharmonic musicians, occasionally adding a collapsible vuvuzuela, the South African plastic horn, into the mix. Their unique sound, including horns, a keyboard and a mandolin as well as vocals, has been called jazz, pop or omnipop and even alternative Dixie land. "He gives free range to the horns," Boak says of Travis, adding that the music can be danceable but also quiet. John Donohue, writing for the New Yorker, has described the music as "playful original songs that mix mind-bending wordplay with jazz, shimmering rock, and horn-fueled R&B."
The group is known for its pageantry, especially in their attire, and may perform in costumes as diverse as bathrobes, pajamas or suits. Recognizing the special nature that clothing plays in their performances, Boak assumed the persona of "Chandler Travis' valet" and during shows he dresses in the style of a contemporary Jeeves, with black suit, white shirt, black bowler hat, pink paisley bow tie and matching handkerchief, pink sunglasses and flip flops.
The group performs year round at restaurants and other venues, both on Cape Cod and nationwide, as well as at private parties, with 12 to 15 shows every month in the summer. They also perform gigs to help out non-profits in need, like their annual Christmas show, this year at the Old Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans.
With his flexible work schedule, Boak manages to do what he loves. "When I left school I wanted to do music I loved," he recalls. "I didn't want to lead a band. This is the best of that for me. I get to perform songs I really like, respect and appreciate."