Blues Guitarist Mary Flower to Perform in Harrisburg

World class guitarist and blues singer Mary Flower brings her artistry to Harrisburg for an April 9 blues guitar workshop and concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society in partnership with the Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The 4:30 p.m. workshop will be followed by a 6 p.m. potluck dinner and the 7:30 p.m. concert.

 Flower is acclaimed as one of the preeminent fingerstyle guitarists who continue in the rich acoustic blues tradition. She has mastered the intricate, harmonically subtle Piedmont style with its good-timey, ragtime feel, and also is an unrivaled interpreter of Mississippi blues and an ingenious composer whose tunes take American music into new places.

 She got her start playing in her native Indiana and then became a much-loved part of the Denver music scene. During the 1970s and 1980s Flower helped develop the core curriculum at Denver’s Swallow Hill Music School and taught there in the early 1990s. She continues to teach at venues such as the Augusta Heritage Center and the Swannanoa Gathering.

 Since moving to Portland, OR, in 2004, Flower has performed all over North America. She’s a regular on the blues and folk festival circuit and also has eight recordings to her credit. She was nominated in 2008 for a Blues Music Award and won the coveted Vox Populi award in the 2009 Independent Music Awards’ Acoustic Song category for “Slow Lane to Glory,” a track from her 2009 Yellow Dog Records release “Bridges.” That recording has been described as “incredibly musical and soul-satisfying.”

 Before the concert, Flower will lead a blues guitar workshop during which Mary will demonstrate, discuss and teach left and right hand techniques that all work together to provide the bounce to this particular brand of blues. This class will explore a few different arrangements that combine alternating bass and melody. Songs might come from the repertoire of Tampa Red and Blind Boy Fuller.

The class is appropriate for advanced beginners to intermediate players. Ability to read tab will be very helpful and audio recording is encouraged.

 Workshop tickets are $20 general admission, $16 for Susquehanna Folk Music Society and Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania members, and $10 for students ages 3 to 22. The potluck dinner following the workshop is free. Bring a covered dish to share; drinks and place settings will be provided. The concert tickets are $20 General Admission, $16 for SFMS and BSCP members and $10 for students. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at or toll-free (800) 838-3006. This event is made possible with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Foundation for Enhancing Communities. Additional sponsorship is provided by SFMS members Bob Lane, Rob Bleecher and by the Blues Society of Central Pennsylvania. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at

 –John Hope

A Podcast of a Conversation with Paul Brown

On March 14, 2011 Folkmama had a converstaion with Paul Brown: NPR newscaster and old-time musician. Here is a podcast version of that conversation:

On Saturday, April 16, 2011 the Susquehanna Folk Music Society presents PAUL BROWN an old-time musician, producer and on-line journalist for NPR who will appear in concert with Ann Porcella, Bill Schmidt & John Schwab. The performance is   entitled “Old Time, New Times, Radio Days, Schoolhouse Nights” At 5:00 Paul will give a talk on the topic which will be followed by a potluck dinner and a concert at 7:30 pm. The event will take place at the Fort Hunter Barn at 5300 North Front Street in Harrisburg, PA. Tickets and additional information is available at Be sure to come out for this top notch, memorable show!

A Conversation with LES VONDERLIN About Her New CD Les is More

By Jess Hayden AKA Folkmama

Les Vonderlin, half of the popular Central Pennsylvania group Voxology has recently released a solo CD Les is More. The CD, recorded and produced by Paul Wegmann (owner of Keystone Studios in Mechanicsburg) features covers by some of Vonderlin’s favorite songwriters plus four originals.

Vonderlin has selected a talented group of musical friends (Paul Wegmann on guitars, bass, keyboards and shakers, John McHenry on drums and percussion, Beth Trez on piano, Charles Marks on piano, and her nephew, Matthew Vonderlin, who co-wrote Vowels on the “meow”) to accompany her stellar vocal work.  To get a copy of this exquisite CD visit Les’ site at

Back in January I had a conversation with Les about what inspired her to make the new CD and the songs and musicians that it features.

Folkmama: There is a lot of beautiful vocal work on the CD. Is it all your voice? And the harmonies are lovely. Do you write them out ahead of time?

Les: Yes, it’s all me…through the wonders of the recording studio. You know, I don’t write music, I learn and compose by ear. When we were working on all those different harmonies Paul Wegmann, who is a real wizard would say, “Well, let’s maybe try this.” And he’d sing it to me and I’d sing it back.  And it worked! So the process was all by ear.

Folkmama: I have to say that I loved your vocal work on Hallelujah.  That piece worked very well with your voice. There is such simplicity to that song that I feel it really requires a voice with your kind of depth.  I also loved how you created the choir effect.  I’m curious to know if that what you were going after? Also, I wondered which version of the song influenced you the most.

Les: Yes, we were absolutely going after a “choir” sound. Using many, many tracks during the recording process gave it that big, full sound.  I like the Rufus Wainwright version the most. That was the first one that I heard—it just absolutely did something to my heart and I’ve adored that song ever since.

Folkmama: I was also impressed by the guitar work on the CD. Paul Wegmann sure seems like a versatile musician!

Les: Yes he is. He did all the guitar work and the bass tracks too. He plays everything from classical to acoustic to electric guitar. He used to run the Good Life Café in Carlisle with David Ison, but since it closed now just the studio is there.  Paul is very active with recording and producing and he teaches as well. It was kind of David’s idea that started me on this journey to record a solo CD. He had said to me, “You know, you need to do something that showcases Les Vonderlin”.  It really has been a really exciting journey. I am so proud of this disc!

Folkmama: I’ve known John McHenry for awhile. He’s a terrific percussionist.

Les: Yes. I met John when Paul and David were producing a radio show for WITF called The Good Life Café.  They asked Voxology to be part of the house band and they pulled folks together and made this virtual house band for this radio show and John was the drummer.

Folkmama: And the acoustic piano is quite nice too.

Les: Yes, my dear friend Charlie Marks, who actually delivers babies for a living in Gettysburg, plays piano on Vowels and Hallelujah. And Beth Trez, who has a music studio in Mechanicsburg plays on Stories, and If She Waits.

Folkmama:  Four of the songs on the CD are originals. Can you tell me a bit about them?

Les: I wrote Stories for a very good friend of mine who just got married this past fall. I wanted to redo the song with a whole different treatment with a piano. Stories and If She Waits have been recorded with Voxology, but Vowels and The Struggle are brand new.

Folkmama: The rest of the selections are written by songwriters that you admire; ones that you say really mean a lot to you personally. There’s Mahala by Darrell Scott, Junk by Paul McCartney, Looking for Space by John Denver and Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. What lead you to select these songs?

Les: They are all songs that I find really striking. Mahala has got to be my favorite Darrell Scott song. And he is my favorite singer-songwriter. I just can’t get enough of him. There is just something about that song—about his little girl being so wise and his love for her. And my first memories of music were The Beatles and John Denver who were huge in our house. And that Denver song in particular really spoke to me—looking for space to figure out who you are and what’s going on. And Junk was written by Paul McCartney, but people don’t know that. It’s just a really strange, random song. And Simple, the KD Lang song is just so fun. All these songs are wonderful to sing. So I just wanted to include them to pay homage to the folks that I look up to and love to emulate.

Folkmama: Did you have a theme in mind when you were putting together the CD?

Les: Not really. But as it all came together, it really started to be about finding myself. This was my first CD on my own, apart from the bands that I have been involved in for a million years. So it really became a sort of coming of age. Finding what I am outside of that. Voxology is 15 years old, almost. And that’s wonderful and I love it, but this was an opportunity to do something completely different

Folkmama: One of the most intriguing songs on the CD for me was the one called The Struggle. It had some really cool background noises on it and at one point I could hear a clock. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Les: It was the last song that we recorded and we didn’t rehearse it together beforehand because we wanted it to sound a little raw. We were toying with different ways to do it and Paul said, “You know what, why don’t do it on the roof?” So we recorded it on the roof of his studio in downtown Carlisle.  That’s what you are hearing. It just happened to be 6 o’clock in the evening and the clock downtown chimed and we just looked at each other and said, “Oh, my goodness!” It was just perfect.

Folkmama: Anything that you want to add?

Les: Just that I’m really pleased with it. I’m so grateful for everyone that was involved!

Musican and NPR Journalist PAUL BROWN appears in Harrisburg, PA on April 16, 2011

On Saturday, April 16, 2011 the Susquehanna Folk Music Society presents PAUL BROWN an old-time musician, producer and on-line journalist for NPR who will appear in concert with Ann Porcella, Bill Schmidt & John Schwab. The performance is   entitled “Old Time, New Times, Radio Days, Schoolhouse Nights” At 5:00 Paul will give a talk on the topic which will be followed by a potluck dinner and a concert at 7:30 pm. The event will take place at the Fort Hunter Barn at 5300 North Front Street in Harrisburg, PA. Tickets and additional information is available at Be sure to come out for this top notch, memorable show!

During an interview conducted on March 14, 2011 Brown talks about his musical background and the upcoming performance.

Folk Mama: You’re a great lover and an appreciator of southern mountain music and I’d like to know more about how that interest started. I know that your mother was from Virginia and that she brought songs from her home-state into your home. I also know that you have done a lot of field research.

Brown: One thing that I do tell people when they ask about the connections between the journalism work and music is that for me the two things are basically the same. It’s storytelling. In other words, my idea as a journalist is to understand people’s stories and help them to share them. The music that I was first exposed to as a kid, from my mom’s repertoire out of central Piedmont, Virginia was largely songs that told people’s stories. At it got me interested in the music and the stories at once. Then as I sought out older musicians to learn from I started to understand that their stories were as interesting as the music that they played. They wouldn’t be around forever. And I wanted to understand the ways in which they lived during times that were very different from the times in which I grew up. Now, decades later, I’m really getting a lot of pleasure out of sharing some of these stories, both through the music and through the memories that I have of sharing time with these people. And because the world has changed so much with new media and new lifestyles and a new economy very different from the old agricultural economy I’m finding that people are ever more interested in the old music and the stories of those times. It’s been amazing to me over the last couple of years. That’s what people seem to want more than anything else. What was it like?

Folk Mama: I think of the Piedmont area as being where a lot of American blues comes from. Do you also do some blues?

Brown: I play a little blues, but old-time, bluegrass, jazz and blues are all so closely related. If you look back at what was going on in Piedmont, Virginia and Appalachian North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia there are more similarities than differences. My mom’s first music came from elderly black people in the Bedford and Lynchburg areas of Virginia. But what I noticed, especially when I went to college at Oberlin in the early 70s and ran into other people who were interested in old-time music, was that the old-time repertoire shared a lot of songs with the repertoire that my mom showed me. And as I met some of the older musicians I realized that the black musicians like Turner Fodrail in Stuart, Virginia and white musicians like Fields Ward from Independence, Virginia shared a number of songs. And they also shared an approach to the music. There are so many blues influences in old-time string band music and old time songs that it’s hard to mistake. Yes, so the Piedmont area is known for blues, but there was also a tremendous well of old-time music there. The Appalachian area is popularly known for string band music and hillbilly songs, but there was also quite a bit of blues influence there too. So the music that I play crosses all those boundaries because of what I grew up with and was exposed to as a young person and a young adult as well.

Folk Mama: I’m really fascinated by the topic of the talk that you will be giving on how bluegrass and old-time music was affected by the advent of the radio. From what I read the arrival of records and radio in the rural south is what first exposed people to music that they couldn’t hear in their own backyards. It also gave musicians opportunities to be heard and to play where they couldn’t before.

Brown: I think that radio had a number of effects on communities. It did expose people to music further away than they might have heard otherwise. And that had the effect of homogenizing music to some extent, even as it had a positive impact by allowing people to hear music from further away. If you listen to recordings of old-time music before the days of radio at some of the earliest recording sessions, for example the Bristol Sessions in 1927, you hear the musicians that came into that session. They sound almost like nothing that you would hear today in their uniqueness. Every band, every group, every individual seemed to have a signature that was unmistakable. As you listen to later recordings and music that went out over the radio they are still very representative of old-time music and they are distinctive in terms of their place in American culture but yet you can hear people trying to sound like other people who may not have grown up anywhere near where they lived. So radio united communities in my experience, but on some level in also homogenized music or spread styles much further than they might have been spread had radio not been around. What I found when I was working at WPAQ in Mount Airy, North Carolina in the 1980’s was that there had been a tremendous and very interesting merging of styles. On that station we were broadcasting in the 1980s everything from country blues to blues-tinged bluegrass to the old fiddle tunes that sounded very English from southwestern Virginia to the Round peak music of Tommy Jarrel which combined some of those English and Irish tunes with a real blues sensibility and all this was very vigorously represented in that community. Part of it was the music of the community itself and part of the energy of the music was I think due to the presence of that radio station. So when I was working there it was really interesting to see the interplay of the local and the National or the local and the regional through radio. Working at WPAQ taught me a lot about the positive role that radio and media can play in communities to bring them together. And the work that I’m doing at NPR is a direct outgrowth of that. Whether it’s a geographical community or a community of the mind, it doesn’t really matter to me. But, media do allow people to communicate and think about and ideas together. So it’s really been an interesting time to be in this field and also to be interested in old-time and traditional music as well as journalism. They are two very closely related aspects of my life.

Folk Mama: So, tell me how different the first half of your concert is going to be from the second half?

Brown:  A lot of the first half will be solo. Not, all of it, but a lot of it. I’m going to start with some of the earliest music that I learned from my mom; the lullabies and the mountain songs that she knew. Also some of the fiddle tunes and some of the songs of Fields Ward and other people who I met when I was a young adult that were similar to the songs that I learned from my mom. So I’ll probably take people through a little journey from those earliest songs on out to meeting some of the old-time fiddle players and going to square dances and our show will expand a little bit as we get towards the end of the first set, adding more players. When we come back in the second set we will fuse all that with the emerging repertoire of southern radio so we’ll have some old-time Stringband music, some blues songs, and some early crossover songs between old-time and bluegrass which to my ear represents some of the greatest expressions in the mountain south in the 1950s to the 1980s. It was an amazing style and still is. So that’s what we’ll do. The second half will be slightly more performance-oriented music because that was what radio was about and that was what bluegrass was about. And the advent of mass media and the advent of transportation, of sound amplification really helped to change styles somewhat. We’ll talk about that and we’ll show it. It’s really fun. The second half is really a blast. The first half will be very enjoyable too. What I hope is that people will see the connections between more modern bluegrass and Stringband music and old-time music and what was going on during the early part of the 20th century on out to the middle part. There was a big cultural shift after World War Two. Bill Monroe started with his band The Bluegrass Boys in the 30s and 40s creating some new sounds but the new economic and social conditions that emerges after the Second World War really kicked what he was doing into gear as Earl Scruggs on the banjo with his new style, but a lot of it through my own ear and through my experience had to do with social conditions. And the fiddle style changed because of that. And I will show that because I play some of the early old stuff and I like to play square dances in the more modern style. So we’ll be able to make that transition together. All of us. The people who come to the show and the musicians.

Folk Mama: Just out of curiosity, how much did that fiddle style change as economic conditions improved by musicians having access to taking private lessons? A lot of fiddlers currently study classical techniques on the violin before they start playing Stringband music. What that an influence that changed the sound?

Brown: You know back in those days I can’t really tell you because I don’t know. I d know that now, like you said, I’m seeing a lot of fiddle players who have a type of training that just wasn’t available to those early fiddlers in the beginning of the 20th century, though the Second World War and beyond. You do hear some very, very highly skilled fiddlers now. What I think did happen was radio, recordings, the advent of easy transportation and electric power to amplify sound all came together to help advance a longer bow style to fiddle playing that was better suited to big dance halls and also needed than the older style. You can’t really play in some of the older styles and be adequately heard in a big dance hall. Once you get a large band behind you that can be heard, you need to do different things with the fiddle which helps the dancers.

Folk Mama: So what instruments are you going to be playing?

Brown: I’m going to be playing fiddle, banjo and guitar. I’ll also sing quite a bit because I like songs. Songs are at the heart of the early music that I learned and I still sing a lot. And we’ll have other people playing guitar, fiddle, banjo and bass. The show should be really fun. People really want to know about this—it’s like an era that has past.

Folk Mama: I’ve had a couple of people say to me that they want to learn the music of their family, perhaps if they have a Scots-Irish heritage. Too me, this is a great way to introduce a new community to old-time music.

 Brown: I’d encourage them to come. You know, every family has a story. The number of people that have musical stories hidden in their families is probably bigger than any of us recognizes. It’s a tremendous opportunity to go after some of that stuff.

A Conversation with Ciaran Tourish from Altan

Altan, one of Ireland’s premier traditional music bands is heading to the Carlisle Theater in Carlisle, PA for a performance on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 in honor of the band’s 25th anniversary. ( On March 1st I spoke to one of the band’s fiddlers, Ciaran Tourish, from his home in Ireland.

 Folkmama: We’re looking forward to your March 15th show in Carlisle. So many bands make constant changes in their personnel. Has Altan’s instrumentation stayed pretty constant in the last few years?

Tourish: Yes it has. We have two fiddles, an accordion, two guitars, bouzouki and of course Mairéad sings as well.  

Folkmama: So, tell me about the upcoming tour in the US,

Tourish : So basically we’re doing this tour and we’re celebrating 25 years. And we have an album with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra called Altan · 25th Anniversary Celebration. We did the record in the RTÉ studios in Dublin here and we were very pleased with it. It’s just a nice way to celebrate the 25 years. And it’s just something different. I mean, all the tunes and songs that we did were stuff that we had recorded before. We just picked our favorites. A guy called Fiachra Trench arranged the tracks. And the result is what we did with the orchestra. So that’s what we are basically touring. We are in celebratory mode I suppose you could say.

Folkmama: Altan has twin fiddles. Tell me what having two fiddles can do for a group.

Tourish: The music that we play, it’s not only Irish music but it’s from a specific part of Ireland; County Donegal in the Northwest where most of the band members are from. And Donegal does have a very strong fiddle tradition. And within that tradition there are a lot of different things that you can use the fiddles for like playing octaves and harmony and stuff like that. Where one fiddle can play the melody and another fiddle can play exactly the same melody an octave below. At the very beginning it was always a fiddle-driven band because of the nature of the music and the style that we play, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

Folkmama: Is it pretty typical for bands from your region to have twin fiddlers?

Tourish: Well, I suppose there are not many bands from Donegal really. I mean there is a lot of music that came out of Donegal like Clannad and Enya but they were more vocal-driven bands rather than instrumental. So I suppose that you could say that Altan was the first instrumental band out there on the world stage promoting Donegal fiddle music.

 Folkmama: I was at Celtic Connections (a festival in Glasgow, Scotland) this past January and I went to a lecture which was quite fascinating called “Queen of the Bow.” The lecturer, Liz Doherty spoke about the role of woman fiddle player in traditional music from Celtic cultures. She credited female fiddlers like Natalie McMaster and the female fiddler in Altan; Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh as being real trendsetters that led the way for the large number of female fiddlers that are performing today. Would Mairéad agree with Liz Doherty’s point of view?

Tourish: I suppose if I were to speak for Mairéad I would say that she probably didn’t think too much about. Mairéad is the kind of person that if she wants to do something, she just does it. Growing up her father played the fiddle and he for one wouldn’t have had it any other way other than her playing the fiddle. I think if you go back maybe a few generations before that, women weren’t allowed to play any instrument as such because a woman’s job was to stay at home at raise a kid or something like that. We all know that times have changed now and people don’t really think much about those things anymore.

Folkmama: But it is true that there are so many more women fiddlers now. It’s amazing.

Tourish: Oh yes it is true, and it’s great. You know that fiddle used to be considered a man’s instrument, that’s the way that it was seen in the time span that you are talking about. But that is long gone. Women are some of the best fiddle players in the world now.

Folkmama: Now for someone who has never been to an Altan concert, what might they expect to hear at the March 15th concert at the Carlisle Theater?

Tourish: Well, I suppose we’re lucky to have the best of both worlds. We have the fast, upbeat instrumental music, we have some slow instrumental music, but we also have the voice—we have Mairéad singing as well. Within that there is fast and slow. There are songs that are predominately love songs. And I think although most of the songs are mostly in the Gaelic language people get the emotive side of it. People understand what the song is about purely by the way that it is delivered and by the arrangement of the songs. Even though we explain a bit about what the song is about, I suspect that if we didn’t, people would still understand or get an idea of what it was about.

Folkmama: And you are working only with traditional music? Is there some contemporary music that you are mixing in?

Tourish: Well, we do write a fair bit of our own music but it’s written in such a way to blend in with the traditional. One the CDs that we recorded before the orchestra one we had track called “The Roseville” written by our guitar player Dáithí Sproule and we also included that tune on the orchestra album, just with a different arrangement. So that gives you an idea—that’s a modern piece but it’s sort of written in such a way that it doesn’t stand out too much. It blends in with what the rest of the recordings are about.

Folkmama: Your guitar player Dáithí Sproule is from the states isn’t he?

Tourish: No, he’s from Ireland, from Derry but he has lived in the states for the last 18-20 years. In Minnesota.

Folkmama: So he just comes from the states and meets the band wherever they are touring?

 Tourish: Exactly. But we’re very lucky to have two guitarists. Our other guitarist does some of the work over in this neck of the woods. His name is Mark Kelly. But Dáithí will be with us on this tour.

Folkmama: So you fly out tomorrow?

Tourish: Yes, we start out in Dallas at the North Texas Irish Festival and make our way around the mid-west and the east coast. I’m looking forward to it, to be honest.