THEY still find time to play music together although many of them are successful in their selected fields. More than a dozen have migrated to the USA in search of better opportunities and protection in “Uncle Sam’s Arms” while the rest of the bunch preferred to be busy with their jobs in Baguio or elsewhere in the Philippines. Some of them remained in the music business and never stopped playing.
I am referring to the singers and musicians of the 70s and 80s who were the fixtures in the watering holes and restaurants cum liquor bars in Baguio City. These particular shops called “folkhouses” were The Fireplace, Gingerbreadman which metamorphosed into The Cuckoo’s Nest, Tic-Tac-Toe, Cozy Nook, Harpo’s, Music Box, Capriccio, and the Lone Star in Camp John Hay, to name some.
Ironically, singing which they can do best and which they have been doing for four decades now, has made them the “unsung heroes” of today. Their unity and bondage became tighter while practicing for one of the first Baguio “all-star cast” concerts, “May You Stay Forever Young,” a song title borrowed from Bob Dylan, on December 10, 1977.
Many of Baguio’s part-time folksingers in the 70s sang their first song at The Fireplace or at TheGingerbreadman before scouting for extra singing slots in other folkhouses. In truth, The Fireplace and Gingerbreadman folkhouses practically served as training grounds for many folksingers in Baguio.
The bars were then popularly called “folkhouses,” maybe because the performers sang a broad mixture of American folk music, folk-jazz, folk-country, folk-rock, and other similar genres.
Or maybe the nightspots were called folkhouses then because a majority of their regular crowd consisted of common people – students, professionals, government workers, farmers from nearby towns in Benguet Province, foreign and local tourists, US Peace Corps volunteers, and neighborhood drunks, of course.
The Fireplace was where Filipino singer-composer-artist Tito Mina, now an expat in Germany, sang “Early Morning Rain” by Gordon Lightfoot, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Dylan, and “You Can Close Your Eyes” by James Taylor before he wrote his Filipino hit song “Ikaw Pa Rin.”
Singing as a part-time job backed up school fees for many of us. I know that because I was one who skipped late evening classes once in a while in order to play my sets. Bubut Olarte, a lawyer for 30 years now and a candidate in the last elections, admitted that a big part of his law studies was supported by his singing.
Most of the singers at The Fireplace did not attend formal studies in music. But their natural talents pulled them together such that the singing they do sound so amazing, a new duet or trio or quartet can be formed right away during rehearsals.
“For-a-cause” concerts or benefit shows are not new to the early singers of The Fireplace, Gingerbreadman, or Cuckoo’s Nest. As far as I can recall, we performed the first-ever benefit concerts in the Cordillera. In December 1977, the group that was once called the Baguio Musicians’ Guild performed in Banawe, Kiangan, and Lagawe in Ifugao to support the establishment of school libraries in that province.
The Ifugao trip was followed by a “concert-for-a-cause” inside the Lepanto Mining Co. in the town of Mankayan, Benguet during the cold month of January 1978, replicated by another show in the University of the Philippines Los Baños that benefited the Green Mountain Circle, an organization of students from the Cordillera Region.
Today, even while most of their time is occupied by work, the musicians and singers find themselves playing in benefit concerts for heart, kidney, and cancer patients, or for any good cause. The reality is that the “for-a-cause” musical event has already developed into a community effort.