Making Set Lists

Spiritual Smart Aleck


In a world gone mad – well, not all the world, but a few people with power disproportionate to their ability to handle power – it is consoling to find something that has remained the same.

What I have in mind is the making of set lists.

Throughout childhood I sang songs accompanied by my mother playing the piano. One song was the limit at the PTA Music Festival, and the 4-H and County Fair Talent Contests.
When I got to college, I began singing and playing with other musicians and doing gigs for which I had to make set lists.

Making a set list is both an art and a craft. You must have in mind your audience, your tempo, key changes, moods, and tunings, if you play the guitar. All these things go into making a set.

You want to start with a song that grabs people’s attention, then you want to pace the songs deliberately while traversing the middle of the set, and then you want to end on a high note, always keeping in mind that you must read every audience and be prepared to shift one direction or another if necessary, so keep that master list nearby.

In my twenties while performing solo I put together a collection of original songs, love songs, story songs, country songs, folk songs, funny songs, and of course my baby done left me/men are no damn good songs.

In 1974 I met Malvina Reynolds, a truly great songwriter and a truly great human being. She was a socialist – a real one. I knew her long enough and well enough that when people shriek “Socialist!” about somebody these days, I think, you wouldn’t know a real socialist if one bit you in the butt.


I added some of Malvina’s songs to my repertoire, and my sets perked right up.
So this was great. I was traveling to gigs in Oregon, California, and British Columbia as well as Washington, and I worked hard on my sets.

I sang on the island frequently. In those years I often played at Sound Food on a Saturday night.

I suppose I must explain for some of you newbies (if any newbies read the Loop) that Sound Food was a restaurant on the corner of the Main Highway and SW 206th Street. It opened in 1974 with high hopes and a hippie ambiance. Some of the waitresses wore halter dresses that didn’t even cover their aspirations to do something besides waitressing, and older customers clutched their pearls when young moms nursed their babies right there at the table. Ah, the good old days.

Sound Food went through many iterations, and, sadly, closed permanently a few years ago, but in the seventies, the joint was jumping.

The restaurant was noisy, and cheerful, and usually there were toddlers who got up to dance and run around.

The live music was background noise.

After making careful set lists for the first year or two when I went to play at Sound Food, one day I thought, nuts. I began singing the songs from my master list alphabetically.
No one ever noticed.

I kept singing and making set lists for most of my adult life, as a solo act and in groups, in between being a mom and having dead end jobs to support my music and child-feeding and clothing habits.

The kids grew up and left, and a few years later my husband Rick became ill. I spent five years being his caregiver before he died. No music in those years.

Now I sing with Listen in the Kitchen, five women (including me) who are brilliant and talented musicians, not to mention women with the wild sense of humor you want in the friends who accompany you in this life. We sing marvelous harmonies. We play toe tappin’ tunes. We have fun.

We work hard on our set lists.

Sometimes these days I sing solo. More set lists.

You know, when I lost Rick, it felt like my world had burned to the ground and I had lost everything. There were times I thought I was going to die or wondered why I didn’t, with life so empty. Times when I wondered why I was still here.

Unfortunately for that attitude, after a few years I decided that I might not know why I was still here, but I might as well do the two things which I seem to do well, singing and writing, and see how that goes.

So far, so good.

I’ll be singing at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 18, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. That’s a busy place, with lots of people walking around. Noisy, crowded.

Maybe I’ll sing my songs alphabetically.

Just kidding. I will make set lists.