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Mack Bailey rouses concert series crowd

April 10, 2014
Tim Chapman - Tribune Editor , Pierce County Tribune

Folk singer Mack Bailey brought laughs, smiles and probably a few tears to a near-capacity crowd at Tilman Hovland Auditorium on April 3.

Bailey, joined by his wife Rachel Levy occasionally through the set, played for about two hours with original tunes, John Denver songs and other classics. The stop for the Heart of America Concert series was one of 40 on an eight-week tour for Bailey.

He encouraged the audience of mostly seniors citizens to sing and whistle along after sharing humorous and heartfelt stories about his early playing days at nursing homes.

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Submitted Photo
Folk singers and married couple Mack Bailey and Rachel Levy perform at an earlier date ahead of their visit to Rugby on April 3. The duo performed at Tilman Hovland Auditorium as part of the Heart of America Concert Series.

"I was playing a lot of music and gigs were going well, but the work wasn't making a living," Mack said. "It was a roller coaster."

He saw an advertisement in a Washington D.C.-area newspaper for a regular singer at a nursing home and took a shot.

"I'm a singer and I wanted to be wanted," Mack said. "It was a shock to my system. They're not always the most pleasant places to visit and it really taught me to sing a song and look in their eyes. A man sang with me after not speaking for six months."

Once heralded as the "next great singer in folk music" by folk legend Glenn Yarbrough (Limeliters), Bailey lived up to the billing as he sang on a variety of topics.

His song "When I Dream," was inspired by a patient with Parkinson's Disease. She told him that she can do everything she once did - "hands that once could write letters and works of art/page after page of poetry/scriptures from the heart," - when she's dreaming. The tune struck a bittersweet mood and had a deeply reflective feel similar to many Jim Croce hits.

His song "Just Because" spoke to losing a loved one and reminded listeners that "just because you can't hold me doesn't mean I'm not there/just because you can't see me doesn't mean I'm not there."

Bailey also sang many uplifting tunes and favorites like Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World" and the Limeliters' "Lollipop Tree." On the funnier tunes, he had the delivery and humor of John Prine.

He learned to play guitar by practicing John Denver songs, and even traded verses with Denver on "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," at a show shortly before the legend's death in 1997. Along the way, he began performing with the Limeliters and Yarbrough after growing up on their songs, too.

He got much of the Rugby crowd to sing along with the Limeliter's Irish tune "Whistling Gypsy."

"It's OK to use your outside voice," Bailey said.

Earlier this year, Bailey earned his master's in neurological music therapy, which he'll use when he works with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He works with the veterans by teaming to write songs about trust and regaining identity.

"I feel I have a better appreciation for what music does," Bailey said. "It's not what you get out of music, it's what it gets out of you. PTSD can destroy self-expression, one of the worst things that can happen to anybody."

For more on Mack Bailey and Rachel Levy visit



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