/, Singer-songwriters/OLD WHITE MEN by VANCE GILBERT Story by Luke R Davies


Luke R Davies
Woodford Folk Festival, Queensland
27December 2017 to 1 January 2018

I had long wanted to get to the Woodford Folk Festival. It was on my bucket list as a performer but also as a punter. Going to a new festival is always a buzz –  you never know who you might see, hear or meet. Friends who have attended Woodford gave me plenty of positive vibes – it is amazing, you will love it, it’s intense, you’ll have a great time. But also, it’s hot and humid so be prepared for rain, take your gum boots. So I did.

I really got into the whole Woodford feel-good-we-can-make-a difference-to-the-world mantra. I met some great people, caught up with some friends and a cousin I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Having studied the dozens of performers and presenters in the huge programme I had marked out several to check out, including Vance Gilbert, a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia.

I never expected to come back home to Victoria and want to tell everybody who was into music about Vance. He got a standing ovation every set at Woodford.

Can’t think of a song all festival that blew me away like Old White Men did. When I caught it at the tail end of his set I welled up like everyone else. The song spoke of how these old guys  in a workshop – handymen all of them – had helped Vance as a kid, something many of us can relate to. As kids certain adults can make a big positive difference in our lives and we carry them in our hearts and memories as we too grow old.

The first verse goes like this:
I was such a strange boy
Forty years or so back then
Fat with big thick ol’ glasses
Trouble making friends
Cruising thru my neighborhood
Could easily have come to no good end
Till I stumbled into the workshops
Of old, white men

And, then towards the end of the song:
Old white men
Living crosscut, chainsaw lives
Old white men
They don’t talk back to their wives
Old white men, thanks to them
I can sharpen your kitchen knives with this stone
Some times when I’m alone
I wonder what became of
Old white men

Do they synchronize their watches
As on and on time marches?
Do their belts need extra notches
As their waistlines grow big & ‘round?
I call their wives up often
And I carry their husband’s coffins
As these grey hairs of my own
Chase me down

On the trip home from Woodford, waiting for a plane, I emailed the festival thanking them for having me. I just had to add these words:

Vance Gilbert came to Woodford for the first time and touched us with his grace, dignity and rare talent. I was expecting something special but rarely an artist gives more and more as Vance did over the festival’s magical six days. His beautifully crafted songs.  His a voice, oh, what a voice. His humour, his sincerity touched many and left us altogether better for that experience. I went to all his shows and cried, laughed and wanted more. Vance Gilbert gave it all, then kept giving. Not just a songwriter, performance poet and entertainer, he left us with a part of his soul and humanity. Thanks Vance, you inspire me.


More about Vance Gilbert

Full lyrics to Old White Men

More about Woodford Folk Festival

Luke R Davies and the Recycled String Band won the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia Folk Recording Award 2013 for their album Not A Note Wasted. A Wangaratta musician, Luke joined The Stereo Stories Band after seeing them at the Newport Folk Festival in Melbourne in 2014..

By |2018-01-17T10:28:49+00:00January 17th, 2018|Acoustic, Singer-songwriters|3 Comments


  1. Paul Mullins December 13, 2018 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    I saw Vance at Eudlo, near Brisbane, at a Small Halls concert late last year. I spoke to him before and after the show. He was polite and gregarious. He also nearly fell off his chair when I showed him a copy of “Edgewise”, an album (CD) of his I bought in Brisbane about 20 years ago. I brought it with me to surprise him and he was thrilled that someone over here knew something of him, let alone that long ago. Track down the song “Good Cup Of Coffee” on the ‘net (from that album) as it was this song that made me buy the album. Yes, he did perform “Old White Men” that afternoon…a great song and a brilliant show. I purchased a copy of “Bad Dog Buffet” after the concert and discovered that Vance is into aeronautics. The things you find out from travelling musos.

  2. Paul Mullins December 14, 2018 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Sorry Luke that I didn’t acknowledge your article when I sent my comment last night. I found your words worthy of a complimentary reply. It was just that I had only stumbled across the Stereo Stories website by chance and I didn’t read any other comments on articles contained therein prior to sending my own comments. It shows how compelling a song like “Old White Men” is. Your article provoked an immediate response. This is a great website and I would like to write my own article soon and maybe get to one of the concerts in Melbourne next year.

    • Luke Davies December 14, 2018 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Thanks Paul,
      And fancy having a Vance album as well. “Bad Dog Buffet” is a good record as well. I love the song “For Evelyne”.

      Thanks again for your kind words, Luke

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