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There is something sweet, simple and triumphant in Ron Dalton’s award-winning song, “Artist Set of Tools.” Dalton explores the wonder of art, and looks wryly at the dollar-bill signs in the eyes of many who miss all that the arts—and, often, life—have to offer. “Now some folk like the words I write,/ Impassioned in my views./ Others say, ‘Hope you kept your day job, too?’”
It is the quiet sense of humor, the sense of balance and gentle humility, that give Dalton’s songs and performances a kind of grace that sets them apart. But this is not a man who has always received the greatest support. “I wrote music for a country lyricist and when I showed him some lyrics I had written, he suggested I just stick with music and forget about writing lyrics. ‘There’s not enough years to learn it,’ he said.” With advice like that, who needs enemies?
Dalton had dabbled fairly seriously in music for many years. He sang with the vocal jazz group Soundsation in ’74 and ’74 and even went for Metropolitan Opera tryouts in ’75, wrote emotional soundtrack midi pieces in his basement for many seasons and, after receiving the numbing advice about writing lyrics, became seriously involved in writing lyrics to his own music and performing the resulting songs, accompanied by his own guitar, which he picked up for precisely that purpose.
In 1999, at Madison’s Café, he made his nervous way to the microphone at the Victory Open Mic. “My voice cracked. My fingers wouldn’t move and my hands sweated so much I stretched the strings before the song ended. But there in front of me was this guy named Jim Nason slapping his knee to the rhythm of my song. He came up to me when I was through and said, ‘Great job! See you again next week?’” With a response like this, you start to make friends very quickly.
Indeed, Ron has made many friends in the acoustic music community of the Pacific Northwest. “I find the people in the singer-songwriter community truly precious gems who will open their hearts and homes to other musicians. And there are numerous friends I have made through Victory Open Mics.”
Ron—a technology specialist at Edmonds Homeschool Resource Center who co-teaches web design, Photoshop, Cinematography and Broadcast Journalism—settles into a low-tech, acoustic mode in his off hours. “I have only played guitar for six years now, so I am still learning new things and that keeps my search for the lost chord alive. As a singer, I am constantly trying to incorporate new genres to stretch my vocalese. If the music gets me through the rest of my life, I’ll be happy. If it was about the pay, I made the wrong decision.”
So—what about this award-winning song? Just before Labor Day, Ron made the drive to Richland, Washington, listening to Dido and Los Lonely Boys on the way there. On Saturday, he competed in the Tumbleweed Music Festival songwriting contest and “Artist Set of Tools” came in second, nudged out for number one by Joe Jencks’s moving song about his recently deceased brother’s empowering support throughout his life. Ron was sitting at lunch with Joe when the news of their winning the contest was delivered, and their joy and mutual respect spilled over into the room. A day later, Ron drove home, this time listening to Joe Jencks and Joe Crookston (“And I was blown away by his new CD”) on his car’s sound system.
Picture this: The kind of beautiful Sunday that the Tri-Cities often deliver as September begins—the bright, lazy sunlight filtering through the leaves of the tall, sturdy trees in Howard Amon Park—Joe Jencks giving us a moving and generous set of music on the North Stage, the sunlight turning his hair into a halo, at once mildly hilarious and utterly appropriate—and Ron is there, listening with a big smile on his face. Joe Crookston sways in the audience with his new child in his arms—Deb Seymour is there, so are Anita LaFranchi and other friends—and an ample crowd of music lovers is sprawled happily across the lawn. The music is amplified with utter clarity by Gary Smith’s and Janet Humphrey’s Precision Sound. Strangers walk by, caught up in their own conversations, along the riverside path. Boats ply the waters, one trailing an inner tube with two children holding on for all they’re worth, another a water-skier.
This is a special kind of heaven. Ron Dalton knows it. Everyone who has ever stood before an audience with his guitar and songs, and everyone who has sat in such an audience and deeply enjoyed the musical creations of people who have become very special friends knows it. Ron’s heart is with this music, and with this community of musicians. And it is a big heart, as you will recognize immediately in his fine lyrics, sturdy melodies and gratifying performances.