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    Legendary Singer-Songwriter Tret Fure to Perform at SF’s Park Presidio United Methodist Church

    legendaryTret Fure could easily rest on her laurels. Her music career spans four decades and includes work recording and producing some of the best of Women’s Music, such as “Meg and Cris at Carnegie Hall.” SF Bay Times co-publisher Dr. Betty Sullivan was at one of the two Carnegie Hall performances hosted by Meg Christian and Cris Williamson and remembers how magical it was. Over the years, Fure has also performed as a guitarist and vocalist for Spencer Davis, and has herself recorded 14 albums.

    Fure—one of the first women sound engineers in Los Angeles—broke down gender barriers with sheer determination and talent. Her passion for music has only strengthened over time. When she performs in San Francisco on September 27, she’ll be presenting both old and new favorites. We welcome her back for this visit after a too-long absence and were delighted to catch up with her recently.

    SF Bay Times: When we think of your music we think of connection: between your music and the audience, humanity and nature, you as an individual and your listeners. Some performers seem to sing at people; your performances seem more about inclusion. Is this something that you have worked towards, or has it always just happened organically for you in performances?

    Tret Fure: Performance is an unending growth process. I’ve always felt that communicating with your audience is the job of the performer and of utmost importance. It is a conversation. I’ve not always been as connected as I am now. I work at it. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I am very comfortable in my skin, in who I am and it feels welcoming to people. We have a great time at my shows. My audience laughs with me, cries with me and travels with me through my stories and songs. People ask me if I am nervous before a show and I answer “rarely” because I look forward to that communication every time. It feeds me and heals me.

    SF Bay Times: Going back a bit, who influenced you when you were just starting out as a performer? Did you have any relatives, for example, who inspired you, given that you were already doing professional work as a musician at age 16? And who have some of your other mentors been along the way?

    Tret Fure: My mother was a big band singer in New York City. She was good, but she hated the lifestyle. So singing and music is in my blood and my family has always been proud of me and encouraged me. My parents saw my talent at an early age and arranged piano lessons for me when I was 5. I was writing songs on the piano by age 7.  My oldest brother gave me my first guitar when I was 11 and I learned quickly. He played some as well, and we became a duo for a few years, playing at faculty parties, the one coffeehouse and around campus. They he moved away and I was on my own. Growing up, I really didn’t have a lot of musical friends or mentors. I was pretty isolated in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But I listened to every folk album I could get my hands on. I learned to finger pick by listening closely to Judy Collins and Joan Baez. I didn’t have songbooks. I had to learn everything by ear. I loved Bob Dylan and later Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. I imitated everyone I could until I found my on voice. Of course, when I went to school at Berkeley, the whole world opened up and I shared music with many talented people.

    SF Bay Times: Your career is full of tremendous achievements. Please share some of your most memorable moments over the years, perhaps mentioning any anecdotes that have stuck with you. From Spencer Davis to your recent honors, it all sounds remarkable!

    Tret Fure: I moved to LA when I was 19 and was quickly introduced to the women in Fanny, the first all women rock and roll band that had any success. It was an incredible introduction. June Millington and I became personal partners and I spent a lot of time with the band, at home and on the road. I was introduced to Spencer Davis by Nicky, the keyboardist for Fanny. Working with Spencer opened many doors. He was doing acoustic blues at the time and I was well versed in Lead Belly style blues finger picking and twelve string slide guitar, a skill few women at that time had. Through that connection, I met the manager who got me my first deal on MCA/Uni Records. He also suggested Lowell George as producer. I had met Lowell through June. Lowell was a huge influence and taught me so much about integrity in the industry. He knew how hard the business was, especially for women. He taught me how to hold my own, something I’ve never forgotten.

    Later, when I left L.A. and fell into women’s music and became partners with Cris Williamson, another world opened up. In the 80s we would play for thousands, mostly women, women who were hungry for women-made, women-owned music. Those were very heady times. We toured constantly, sometimes doing 5 shows a week. We worked with a band for several of the years we worked together, which was just so much fun, though hard work. I will never forget the crowds that would come to these shows. They were events, historical events in an historical time. I learned how to be a good producer in those years. I would have to say that the “Meg and Cris at Carnegie Hall” was a highlight. Two back to back sold out shows. 5000 women dressed to the nines. I was co-producer and engineer for that album and I spent much of that night running back and forth from stage to the sound truck to make sure everything was happening right. It was exhausting work, but incredibly inspiring. I still get chills when I listen to it.

    One other memorable moment was at the Ark in Ann Arbor where I got to sing with one of my heroes. I got to sing “Rambling Boy” with Tom Paxton and I remember thinking, “Who would have thought when I was a teenager learning this song, that I would one day sing it with him on stage?” You’ve got to love it!

    SF Bay Times: What was it like being one of the first women sound engineers in L.A.? Was the environment welcoming, difficult, or…?

    Tret Fure: The environment was definitely not welcoming. I did get on the job training from the guy who was engineering my album and he was great. He saw how much I wanted to learn, how I hated being ignorant of the tools with which I was working. I read the sound engineering bible and he realized I understood the mechanics, that I knew what I was talking about, that I loved the language and he hired me as his second engineer. I worked 18-hour days with him, 7 days a week for 18 months before I had my own client.

    But being a woman engineer was not welcoming. It was actually funny at times in that my name is so androgynous, new clients wouldn’t know they would be working with a woman. They’d walk into the studio, look at me and ask, “Where is the engineer?” When I would tell them that I was the engineer, I could visibly see the color drain from their faces. I had to prove myself every time, but I never lost a client. I knew what I was doing, I had a very good ear and I had patience, not a usual engineering trait.

    I was the first woman engineer to be asked to join IATSE, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States. It was an honor that I would refuse because it would have cost me $1100 a year and I wouldn’t be hired for a job for at least two years, just the nature of the beast. I just didn’t have the money or desire to just work in TV and film. But still, it was an honor. There still are not that many women engineers, which is a shame. It’s still a very male dominated field and the truth is, women are very good at it.

    SF Bay Times: As the LGBT movement has evolved, so too has its music. Some of us are concerned that Women’s Music has not received the play it has deserved, and that “assimilation” might jeopardize the richness of LGBT culture, including its music. How do you see such music evolving now?

    Tret Fure: I think most of the women’s music has been assimilated. A lot changed when k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge came out. It didn’t change for the lesbian artists working in the trenches, but it seemed to make it okay to be part of the mainstream. So that culture, that need for ‘a room of one’s own’ started to change and evolve into something else. And younger women had their own heroes and role models who didn’t grow up in the culture of women’s music and didn’t need that community. They had their own. There are still a lot of women artists in the movement and a handful of festivals, but it is definitely a smaller culture. I’m grateful for the women that still take the chance and come out for the shows. I don’t bill myself as a lesbian artist; I am a singer/songwriter in the folk and new music world, but I couldn’t do it without the women. They are the backbone of my concerts and so much of my history.

    SF Bay Times: Please tell us about your latest release, “A Piece of Sky,” and what inspired you to record the songs.

    Tret Fure: “A Piece of the Sky” is my 14th release and, in many ways, I think my best. It came out of a very hard time in my life. My world was crumbling. My partner of 10 years had left me and I found myself approaching 60 and alone and starting over. It only gets harder. But it led me to the relationship I have now, the life I have now and it was all meant to be. Some of the songs talk about the hardship of loss and loneliness, some talk about the joy of my new life, some deal with both at the same time. There are songs of celebration, my life as an artist, Alzheimer’s and even a remake of my very old, very well loved song, “That Side of the Moon.” I worked with the drummer and bass player that I’ve worked with on 5 of my 6 last CDs, which was an absolute joy. Pamela Means worked with me and June Millington played some kick-ass guitar on one song. I’m very fond of this CD.

    SF Bay Times: We don’t get to see you often enough here in the SF Bay Area! What do you like to do in San Francisco? What are some of your favorite places to visit, for example, and have you ever lived here before?

    Tret Fure: I lived in San Francisco in 1975 for about 6 months. I moved up from L.A. to work with another artist, but his band didn’t want a woman in it so that didn’t really work out. I moved back to L.A. because that was where I was supposed to be. But I love San Francisco and the Bay Area. It’s been so long since I’ve spent any quality time in the city, I wouldn’t know what places there might be. I’ve spent more time in Berkeley but even then, not as much as I’d like. Most of my friends have moved away, though I do have a nephew in Berkeley and an ex sister-in-law. I hope to spend a bit of time with them. Now that I live on the East Coast, it is a long travel time west, but I do manage to play Oregon, Washington and southern California every year or so. I’m delighted to be making it back to SF after too long a time.

    SF Bay Times: What do you hope audiences take away from your performances? Your shows have always struck us as being very peaceful, inspiring, life-affirming and healing. Benefits that we could all sure use more of today. 

    Tret Fure: My audiences take away a sense of home and family, joy and sorrow as the emotions of our lives. My storytelling is as much a part of my show these days as my songs and my audience seems to love it. The stories are inclusive; the songs are inclusive and we laugh and cry together in meaningful ways. I hope people come away with a better understanding of who I am as a person, and who they are as people.

    SF Bay Times: Please tell us about some of your other projects, such as “Tomboy girl” clothing, your cookbook and music workshops. You are a Renaissance Tomboy Girl!

    Tret Fure: The “Tomboy girl” line of clothing came out of a pop-rock song I wrote back in the 90s, a song that appeared on the “Radio Quiet” CD that I did with Cris. So many of us grew up as tomboys and some of us never lost that nor wanted to. The clothing appeals to a lot of women as well as young girls and young women who embrace the title that was once an onus to us. I had a storefront for about 7 years in Madison, WI, and mothers and grandmothers would buy clothing for their daughters and granddaughters. It was fun, though I would never have a storefront again! But the clothing always sells well at my shows.

    My cookbook has been around for a long time. In fact, it’s time for a second edition! I put it together first for friends when I was leaving L.A. My friends were sad to see me go, not because they would miss me, but they would miss the dinner parties that Cris and I would throw. So I did it as a Christmas present for friends and one of those friends reprinted it through her publishing company as a contribution to my CD “Back Home.” It still sells well!

    My workshops have evolved out of a desire to share the knowledge I have gained as a prolific songwriter who has struggled in her own right. Songwriting is a learnable skill and I love to share that with people. It is life changing and the workshops are so rewarding, not just for the attendees, but for me as well. I usually get a song out of the workshops myself! Out of those workshops, I have developed a student roster that I teach on Skype. So it goes on.

    SF Bay Times: Your work for Local 1000 is important in keeping the art of music alive, helping to preserve its integrity. Please tell us a bit more about it. Can anyone join? And how has it helped you?

    Tret Fure: I’ve been in the musician’s union since I was 16. I joined in my hometown of Marquette, MI, because it was the right thing to do. It was the folkie thing to do. Pete and Woody were singing about unions. I had to be in my union! But really, the AFM did little for me until I joined Local 1000 because you cannot reap the benefits of a union if you don’t work in your jurisdiction. Locals are built on jurisdictions. I’ve always been on the road, never really playing Marquette except when I was young or when I came home for a concert, but still I paid my dues.

    In 1999, John McCutcheon called me and told me I needed to join Local 1000, which was the non-jurisdictional local of the AFM (American Federation of Musicians). He said this was chartered specifically for traveling musicians and I could work toward getting a pension if I joined. Not only did I join, but he talked me into being on the board and within 2 years I was Vice President, a position I held for 9 years. In 2011, I ran for and won the Presidency and have held this position for 3 years and hopefully for another 3. In two years, I will start collecting a pension and I can keep working and keep building that pension for as long as I can sing and play my guitar. It is a great union and I wish that every traveling musician would join and see that their future can be secure. Folk musicians have almost always died poor but not anymore. There is also contract protection, equipment insurance, disability and any number of benefits. To be a member you have to work primarily outside your jurisdiction, otherwise you should join your own local. If you are not a working musician, you can join in solidarity, to help secure the longevity of the local and the work we do. As you can see, I’m a big believer in unions!

    SF Bay Times: Please mention anything else that you’d like our readers to know.

    Tret Fure: I just want the readers to know that I am passionate about the music and the work I do. I want to share what I have learned over the years of working in the industry, in the women’s music world, in the folk world and in the world of the heart. I want women and men to see me today, not a memory of something from the past, but the work I do now, which I think is as valuable as any work I’ve done, even more so. I want to gather community together again, as it has become so fractured and we need community, now as ever. We need to gather in celebration of life, and I hope we can do that at the concert for that brief moment in time.

    Tret Fure will be performing at Performance@Park Presidio on Saturday, September 27, at 8 pm. Performance@Park Presidio is located at the Park Presidio UMC, 4301 Geary Blvd., San Francisco 94118. Tickets for the performance are $20 advance, $25 reserved (seating in the first rows) and $15 for supporting members. Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/817861 For more information on the series, please visit http://performanceparkpresidio.tumblr.com  For more info about Fure, go to: http://www.tretfure.com/