By Susan Braden, Features Editor
Saturday, January 19, 2002-Clinton Recorder Weekend
photo by Cathy DeMeo, CT Commission on the Arts
Musician Tom Callinan takes his role as State Troubadour seriously but not, too. The singer-songwriter prides himself on his "nutmeggery."
When one thinks of a troubadour, one may picture a musician on foot wandering from town to town with a guitar strapped to his back.
Clinton's Tom Callinan, a Connecticut State Troubadour, fits the part in a way. He travels all over the state (he's performed in each of the 169 towns) and from Maine to Florida,
playing some 300 dates a year. Only he gets around driving his station wagon, carrying his guitar, sound equipment, strings, a stool (for performing), and CDs in the back.
Callinan recently recorded "Tom Callinan: Connecticut Grown" a CD of his original music to mark his 10th anniversary of being the first appointed "Official State Troubadour." This CD is his second album of songs about The Nutmeg State.
The recording features songs about Connecticut with titles such as "Strawberry Socials" "Save The Singing Bridge," "The Shore Line East," "Christmas on the Shore," "Maple Sugar Time" "The Leatherman," to name a, few homey tunes.
Callinan joked that he is a troubadour "emeritus" and that it is a lifetime honor. In fact, to convince sate legislators to appoint him as troubadour in 1991, he wrote a song "Connecticut's Lifeline: I-91" at the request of a lawmaker.
The legislator told him, "You know if you wrote one (a song) about I-91 you'd have a better chance of getting this out of committee," Callinan remembered.
The musician-songwriter recalled with humor how the state legislature at first wrestled with this appointment. Callinan good-naturedly swears politics had nothing to do with it.
In the car, on the way to a hearing on the matter, Callinan wrote the I-91 song.
"I still had to go to a hearing. I got there and brought my guitar - I'm a troubadour what am I going to do?" Callinan quipped.
Some lawmakers, however, looked askance at the musical instrument he carried and he was told, "There will be no singing at this hearing."
Now, those legislators and Callinan, a big booster for the state, laugh at this. In fact, Callinan has been called "an ambassador for the state of Connecticut."
Friends have told him that his appointment was "the only good thing in that entire session in the state legislature."
Callinan calls himself a "Conn-Oddity" (for his "penchant for nutmeggery") which is "better than being known as a Conn-Artist," he noted with a laugh.
He named the CD "Connecticut Grown" because of his connection to local farmers; Callinan comes from a family of dairy farmers and his family once owned the Sunshine Dairy in Middletown.
The songwriter wrote the song "Strawberry Social" to mark the 100th anniversary of a church's strawberry festival.
"Everybody comes out with a red ring around your mouth," he said about those who attend the annual June socials.
Another song that is close to his heart is "Christmas on the Shoreline." He was inspired by looking out onto the water from his home in Clinton one winter morning.
"I just looked out my window and saw it all - the snow line down to the waterline. It's like a postcard."
Callinan is a prolific songwriter and he admitted, "Some take me 20 minutes - some will never be finished."
"I don't write for fame or fortune. I write about things that make me feel good."
Callinan enjoys being commissioned for a song and added that his motto is "Jingles all the way."
`I'm the hired gun - I'm the hired pen," he joked.
Callinan has appeared on PBS' "Shining Time Station," ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN's "Earth Matters" and on public radio stations nationwide.
Callinan often performs locally with his wife, Ann Shapiro. The pair have formed Crackerbarrel Entertainment. They got the idea for their business name from "The old general store where people sat around the cracker barrel and played cards."
The name has an "old timey feel" and reminds Callinan of where people would go to "yuck it up."
Callinan especially likes handing out his business card for Crackerbarrel Entertainment when he visits Cracker Barrel restaurants.
"I always get really quick service. You see their eyes light up."