Do you know Willy Claflin? If not, you should.
If you will be in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, you can see him perform live this Sunday, September 27, at 2:00 pm at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. You can also see him live at Berkwood Hedge School's Telling Tales Storytelling Festival in Berkeley on October 17. The Freight and Salvage show is geared towards adults; the Berkwood Hedge School event is all ages. Willy will also be performing in the Austin, Texas public schools in a couple of weeks. If you can't make any of those performances, you can see some of his work here or on YouTube.
Willy Claflin was the first professional storyteller I ever heard. And he made such an impression on my elementary school-age self that over thirty years later, I recognized him at our gate at Logan Airport when Wyatt and I were flying back to San Francisco this August. But it's not like I did my usual thing where I think to myself, "Oh! That looks like so-and-so," and then wonder for a few days whether it was, in fact, so-and-so. This time I actually gathered my nerve and said something like, "Excuse me. Is it possible you performed at my elementary school?" To which he replied, "Yes! Where did you go to school?" And then we introduced ourselves, and the conversation took off from there. I don't exactly remember everything either of us said because I was very, very busy being starstruck fangirl at the time.
Willy and I chatted again at baggage claim in San Francisco. He invited me to email him to find out about upcoming performance dates, so I did. A couple of email volleys later, I asked him if Wyatt and I could stop by his studio space one afternoon. To my delight, he happily agreed to see us.
As kids, we looked forward, like nothing else, to Willy Claflin's performances with his puppet friends (including Maynard Moose), fractured fairy tales and hilariously engaging songs. And you'd be wrong if you thought that by my age, I'd have outgrown my school girl off-the-charts excitement and anticipation of getting to see him. True to form, for the last week, I have been waiting for Wednesday, today, the day Wyatt and I were scheduled to visit Willy's studio.
In preparation for this visit, I assembled my Willy Claflin items so that I could ask him to sign them. The record, "Stones Along The Shore," is an album of his Wyatt and I rescued a few months ago from a bin at The Record Store in West Portal. And in anticipation of our studio visit, my parents, who save everything important, sent me his cassette recordings from the eighties. Wyatt decided he wanted to make Willy a present, so he rolled a beeswax candle. I tucked all of these items, along with a sharpie, into a tote bag.
After I picked Wyatt up at school this afternoon, we walked the few blocks to Willy's studio. When we saw the moose-shaped door knocker, we knew we were in the right place. I lifted Wyatt up so he could reach the moose and knock on the door. Willy opened the door, and for the next 40 minutes, we enjoyed the most wonderful visit with the kind, smart, hilarious, engaging man I remember from childhood. We also met many of Willy's friends.
We met Maynard Moose, and his back-up moose, "Boris with a B." We also met Little Moose, who is the heroine of the book, The Little Moose Who Couldn't Go to Sleep.
We met Ms. Moo. She has a big voice and tells stories with strong morals.
We also met Gorf, who is a bullfrog flyswatter percussionist.
Riboculous is an inappropriate raccoon who told Wyatt a story about how once he had lots of cupcakes, and they were so delicious because they were made with sugar, "nature's most perfect food." Riboculous said his mom told him share the cupcakes, so he did, but once he had shared with all his friends, he had no more left to eat. Riboculous concluded by saying that the moral of the story was not to share. Willy chided him for that inappropriate conclusion and put him firmly back on his shelf.
We also met Dr. Al, who is a humorless tie-wearing alligator, as well as Buzzy, Willy's well-loved bear, who is in his sixties.
I also learned that he is recording his fourth music album and is starting a long children's novel. Between all of this and his performance schedule, I find it hard to believe he's even semi-retired, but he claims to be.
We left Willy's studio with so many presents, including a copy of the album he recorded with his son, Brian Claflin, called In Yonder's Wood. It is a stunning recording of traditional tunes, mostly narrative ballads, some from the British Isles and some from Appalachia and the American West.
Today was worth every moment of anticipation I had pinned on it. It's not often that someone can live up to a decades-old childhood memory. Today, Willy Claflin did exactly that, and I can honestly say that he's even more wonderful than I had remembered.