Thanks to all who've answered so far with advice and encouragement! I will check out the NEFFA thread, and will plan on going. I'll also try to get up to the Boston session sometime soon. Maybe I'll get to hear Peg? :-) I don't know of too many open mikes around here. There is a good one over in Newport, but it is mostly professionals (Paul Geremia for one jams there when he is in town) and besides it is my mother's turf, so I have not been over there yet. I'll have to hit the Stone Soup Coffeehouse on an open mike night and see if there are any new people hanging about.
Believe me, I am not doing this with any pie-in-the-sky dreams. I have been thinking about this (and have performed very sporadically, hosted by other groups) since I was 12. I was very lucky in that I have parents who spent 23 years supporting a family of five on one very low-paying day job and one fairly successful maritime folk music career, so I know what to expect money and venue-wise. I am currently a stay-at-home-mom with a choice of part-time jobs that pay pittances and aren't in my field, or graduate school to delay the inevitable fulltime job for a pittance (museum work...) on the horizon. I'd rather get started doing what I've always known I wanted to do, since I seem to have matured enough to have some balls to try it.
I'm not really relying on the advice of strangers in the street; although they have certainly been instrumental in giving me some impetus. It's nice to know that people who don't know me from Adam are interested in hearing me. They come up and ask where I perform because they'd love to hear more. That's a real boost, and some honest feedback from the multitudes, so to speak. I've had encouragement all along from others - sometimes it borders on threats, lol ("You have a lot of talent, a gorgeous voice and you know your stuff. So get your ass in gear and get up on that stage before we all die of old age!"). When people like Stan Hugill, Louis Killen, Stuart Frank, Ellen Cohn, etc etc, tell you they like your stuff, you know they're being honest. When professional performers call you on the phone to ask you about such-and-such a song, well... What I'm trying to say without sounding arrogant or name-dropping (I admit I didn't exactly succeed there) is, I know I've got "the stuff."
Right now I'm looking for 1-3 other people to get together with and produce music that will appeal to a wider audience than what I alone can appeal to. I see it as a smart move for a couple of reasons. I know I am not a strong solo performer because my choice of materials follows the tastes of Louis Killen. Louis at this time in his career can pull that kind of stuff off. I on the other hand, would have to be suicidal to try. :-) Besides, I want this to be fun as much as work.
Thanks again, and I'd love to hear more advice or even just stories like Alice suggested.