The Critical Mass

Bat McGrath: The early years.

Bat’s advice on life from a Tennessee mountaintop: Keep it simple

Bat McGrath is coming back to Rochester, with a gig Friday at The Little Theatre. I can use a little Bat right now.

The signs are all around me. Yesterday, with my hands full of coffee cups and jackets, I put a set of keys on the roof of the car. Just for a few seconds, I thought. And then drove off. A mile down Lake Avenue I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw something sliding past the window, and onto the street. I turned back but, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at how bent-up a set of keys gets when 40 cars drive over them.

A minor problem. Four keys, I’ll get new ones made. But it’s nevertheless an irritation. Big things, little things go wrong and you realize it’s time to simplify life. So you can pay attention to details, not let dumb things happen.

McGrath’s songs are often like that. He sings about “re-arranging the change” on the bar in front of him. I understand that image, I’ve sat in bars idly re-arranging thousands of dollars in coins over the years. He sings about using wire to put a rebellious muffler back on your car. I used to do that kind of thing all of the time, years ago. Use a coat hanger, rather than pay a mechanic $100 to do the job.

He writes lots of love songs.

Bat today: Ethan Porter, left , and Bat McGrath.

As most Rochesterians know, McGrath and Don Potter were the music scene here, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. They had a great band, The Showstoppers, and a late-night coffeehouse, Hylie Morris’ Alley, where young musicians like Chuck and Gap Mangione, and Steve Gadd, would show up to play.

I wonder what happened to those guys?

Good things, I guess. For Potter and McGrath, too. Potter found God and The Judds, and has done well for himself. McGrath and Tricia found each other, and moved to a mountaintop home in the woods just outside of Nashville. You can usually find them up there with the dogs. And the copperheads. Living a quiet life of creativity. Tricia was on The Young and the Restless for years. Now she makes quilts. McGrath, who gave up writing and performing for a while to work as a bodyguard for Van Halen, before returning to being a musician.

McGrath’s been riding a real creative surge, writing songs, cranking out new albums. The parts wear out; he had a triple bypass a couple of months ago. But he and Tricia keep things simple, and manageable, with few distractions. And the creativity flows on that Tennessee mountaintop.

Friday’s show starts at 8 p.m., tickets are $15 advance, $20 the day of the show, and available at The Little and thelittle.org.

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