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Michael Fracasso "Tuning Fork"
Rainshadow Recording Studio
Port Townsend, WA
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Michael Fracasso "Tuning Fork"
Besides being one of the finest songwriters I have heard, Michael Fracasso is also an accomplished Italian chef. Born in 1952, he became the first member of his Italian family to be born in the United States and was raised in the hardscrabble steel town of Steubenville, Ohio. (Think Michael Ciminos The Deer Hunter, which used the working-class hub as a filming location.) An introspective kid who adored music and harbored an interest in the nascent ecology movement, his first song, written in high school, was titled Pollution Blues. Fracasso never really jibed with the environmentally wrecked city where football reigned supreme. He worked, uncomfortably, for a spell in the mills, studied environmental science at Ohio State and entered grad school at Washington State University in an attempt, Fracasso admits, to get as far away from where I was as possible. In order to turn his songwriting habit into more frequent live performances and perhaps an actual career in music, he left grad school early and headed to New York City.

In New York, Fracasso took part in the influential songwriters scene that coalesced around the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village. There, he refined his material among wordsmiths like his friends Suzanne Vega, Jack Hardy, Lucy Kaplansky and Steve Forbert. He got a gig at Kenny's Castaways, but it came with a catch: No English-major folkie stuff - you need to be fronting a band. An open-mic acquaintance helped Fracasso collect musicians, and introduced him to the game-changing rock, roots, pop and new wave happening in venues like CBGB and the Mudd Club. That version of New York music better suited Fracasso's dynamic amalgam of influences than did the poetry workshops hed been immersed in; in addition to the likes of the Beatles, Paul Simon, Neil Young and Lou Reed, his songwriting took crucial cues from what he terms "the brutal simplicity of bluesmen like Howlin Wolf." He forged ahead and began learning how to lead a unit and get a rowdier room on his side. One night, a fan who also happened to be employed as a major-label A&R rep, gave it to him straight: He was brilliant, but New York wasn't the place where his rootsier sound could gain a foothold. In 1990, Fracasso moved to Austin.

He had already gotten a taste of Austin's wonderfully diverse scene back in New York, taking in shows by Kinky Friedman, Joe Ely and others, but he'd only ever driven through the city once before he settled there. Still, it didn't take long before the move proved fruitful. That lithe rock-and-roll voice and those brainy yet bar-friendly tunes earned Fracasso buzz around town straight away. In 1993, through the respected Austin-based indie Dejadisc, he made a belated but auspicious debut with Love & Trust, featuring a duet with Lucinda Williams. More name-making successes would follow in the years ahead: a tune co-written with Alejandro Escovedo; spots in all-star tributes to Woody Guthrie, Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt; and five additional critically worshipped albums, including the more recent triumphs Saint Monday, one of the two Fracasso records boasting a duet with Patty Griffin, and Here Come the Savages. His songwriting remains impressive, the Austin Chronicle wrote of Savages, but with the addition of some well-chosen and often unexpected covers, he delves into his feelings of love, loss, and mixed emotions deeper than before.

For Fracasso, his discography is also a sort of ongoing journal. "Every album of mine encompasses some period in my life, and I really love that about them. But I dont mind playing any of my songs from any period, he explains." Much of World in a Drop of Water came to him on a wave of anger and frustration, and Big Top too reflects a certain thematic darkness or cynicism. Sometimes I think about the person I was back then, he says. We all change, and I couldnt get back there to write those songs again. They were of a time and place for me.

Indeed, Fracasso's life today is transformed. He is a proud father with a thriving cooking career that dovetails comfortably with his music including innovative combined cooking/singing performances. In 2013 he released a book, Artist in the Kitchen: A Brief Autobiography in Food, detailing this lifelong passion, and his late-night feasts, prepared after gigs for an exclusive coterie of musicians and pals, have entered Austins lore.


Rainshadow Recording Studio (View)
Fort Worden State Park
Port Townsend, WA 98368
United States


Food > Dining/Meals
Music > Americana
Music > Folk
Music > Singer/Songwriter

Dog Friendly: No
Non-Smoking: Yes!
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes!


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