Le Vent du Nord Plays in Harrisburg Sunday, March 1

Le Vent du Nord, which translated means the wind from the north, brings the incomparable spirit and roots of traditional Québec

Le Vent du Nordmusic to the Harrisburg area on Sunday, March 1, 2015, for a 4 p.m. Susquehanna Folk Music Society matinee concert at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Concert tickets are $27 General Admission, $23 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. (Young people are welcome; Appalachian Brewing Company’s 21+ age rule does not apply to this matinee concert.) Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at www.sfmsfolk.org.

This is Le Vent du Nord’s forth visit to the area compliments of the Susquehanna Folk Music Society. Two years ago their show was recorded live and later aired on WITF’s Center Stage.

So what is it about this band that makes Susquehanna Folk want to bring them back again and again? Our patrons really seem to love the familiar Celtic flavor to some of their tunes (due to the couple of hundred years of assimilation between French, Irish and Scottish immigrants to Canada) coupled with a freshness coming from the use of less familiar instruments. The most obvious is the hurdy gurdy, Nicolas’ speciality, and the jaw harp from Réjean.

Vital to the overall sound is the use of both feet to tap out the sometimes complex rhythms of the tune, given the delightful name of podorythmie.

Song lyrics are, naturally, in French but the obvious problem this could create for English speaking audiences is neatly sidestepped by the often hilariously entertaining explanations, rarely translations, offered by the various band members. This humor and the clear enjoyment that the band derives from describing and then singing their songs contributes vastly to the Le Vent du Nord experience.

I had a chance to chat with Rejéan Brunet, Le Vent Du Nord’s fantastic accordion and keyboard player about the band and what they’ve been up to.

FOLKMAMA: I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the Le Vent du Nord experience. What should expect to hear when they come to one of your concerts?

REJÉAN: For the people who have seen us or not seen us it’s always nice. For the people who have not seen us it’s a super good way to experience the old tradition in a new way. We do a lot of traditional stuff and also compose in the style of the tradition. It’s a good mixture between old and new.

Sometimes it sounds quite traditional. We use the traditional instruments: guitar, fiddle, and accordion and we all sing. The group is quite strong on vocals. We do a lot of harmonies so it makes the song really full. So it’s a very unique experience with Québécoise music.

FOLKMAMA: Once thing I’ve always been impressed about with your band is that you seem really organized on stage. You seem to know what you’re going to do every moment—real pros!

REJÉAN: Yes. Right now we are in the process of developing a new show because in the end of March we are going to release our new CD. So the show that we’ll do in Harrisburg will have some new songs and some old songs. But when we structure our shows we know that we want to place a trad song in a certain place, the smooth songs we try to place in the middle of sets, we try to start to with a song that will create a feeling of what will happen. We see our show like a popular singer would see it and plan it carefully. Create an event—create a feeling to bring the people in with our stories.

And of course the Québécoise accent is so nice when we speak English. After the third or fourth word that we say people are getting into it and very receptive.

We have been playing a lot in the states and in many countries where they don’t speak French. We play with words and we always have a lot of fun translating things and explaining instruments.

FOLKMAMA: So can you talk a little bit about the unusual instruments that the group plays; the hurdy gurdy and the jaws harp?

REJÉAN: The hurdy gurdy is a very unusual instrument. Maybe people won’t know much about it. It’s like a wheeled fiddle with strings. There are traces of that instrument a long time ago in Quebec 200 years ago, but not that much. It was not so easy to travel with the hurdy gurdy. But traditionally it’s been singing and fiddle when the colony first started. And jaw harp is a very old instrument, easy to carry, so it was more evident early on.

The other instrument that we play that would be interesting to talk about is the bouzoki. It’s quite a new instrument. It’s like the Greek bouzoki except without the rounded back. It looks very much like a big mandolin. Even in Irish music, it came in the end of the 1960s. It was in fact a mistake, a guy wanted to have another instrument, and someone brought back a bouzoki instead. He started to play on that and it became quite popular.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve read that about 50% of your music is traditional and 50% are your own compositions. I’ve also read that you like to find old traditional pieces that have never been recorded. Where do you find them?

REJÉAN:  It’s always different of course; the story of how we find each one is different for each song. It happens sometimes that we just have found the lyrics and we have to compose a melody for that. Many we go seek people who know a lot about the music or we go to the archives. There is a big University in Quebec City called Université Laval that has a super large amount of archives with old recordings.

FOLKMAMA: I saw some of your You Tubes at Celtic Connections (a large winter festival in Glasgow, Scotland), and I saw that you performed with the Scottish singer Julie Fowlis who is going to do a concert for Susquehanna Folk in October. How did this concert come about and what was it like performing with Julie?

REJÉAN: So it was a special show, only a once in a lifetime show. The concept was “Misses & Messieurs” because we are four guys and we invite only girls. So we had a string quartet that was four girls and we invite a few others like Julie Fowlis.

The folk music scene is not so big. So we see each other sometimes at festivals. So we saw Julie many years ago and she’s a great singer. Super great voice. In terms of a Celtic music singer she’s one of the best. So when they asked us to do this special program we said that we thought Julie would be super good. She sang a little bit with us on stage in French. She’s a very nice, a very kind person. Very generous and very talented.

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Bluesman Guy Davis to perform in Harrisburg, PA Sunday, February 22nd.

To Guy Davis, the stories behind Southern blues are as important as the familiar music that defines the genre. His songs are full of legendary tales, old and new. Davis is the son of the great actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. He says his blues music is inspired by the Southern speech of his grandmother. “What draws me into the blues, I think, is the music not only of the instruments but the music of the language,” Davis says.

Guy Davis has made a long and varied career of performing– re-creating the music of blues masters, singing and writing his own songs, performing and creating theater, and doing residencies with children. His work has earned him nine Handy Award nominations over the years, including Best Traditional Blues Album, Best Blues Song, and two for Best Acoustic Blues Artist.

Guy Davis will perform in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society sponsored concert at 7:30, Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the Appalachian Brewing Company located at 50 N. Cameron St, Harrisburg, PA 17101. For tickets and information visit http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

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Below is a FOLKMAMA interview done on 2-12-15

FOLKMAMA: I love your music, but you are a terrific storyteller too. How integral is storytelling to your performances?

GUY: The way that I do things, there are always some stories connected to what I do. I don’t always tell the same stories. The stories that I tell may come from my one man show ‘The Adventure of Fishy Waters: In Bed with the Blues’ Other stories might come with whatever happened to me that morning.

Stories, I find ,are what connects all human beings. Even if they are just very personal stories, even if they are political stories. Stories of Jews, stories of Palestinians, stories of me being at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. I’ve got all kinds of stories, I don’t necessarily plan which I’m going to tell.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve heard you called “The Ambassador for the Blues” and I’m wondering if you could talk about your experiences overseas, especially among people who maybe have not heard the blues before.

GUY: I travel around playing the blues to places where you might not think that I would get. I went to Greenland a couple of years ago and I remember standing in front of an iceberg singing Robert Johnson’s Walking Blues. Not a lot of people had heard that there, but maybe a few.

Traveling around the world with the blues has really given me the opportunity to see first hand what is going on politically in many places. I got a chance a few years ago to play in Russia, and then a year later I played in the Ukraine. I was in Kiev in the Ukraine and there were buses full of protesters –people saying that they wanted the Ukraine to adopt the Euro instead of the Russian Ruble. The day after I left the Ukraine was that day that the statue of Lenin got knocked down.

But just to let you know that this world is a big place and people tend to receive me in a way that has to do with music and heart, story and enjoyment and not so much politically. I’m just noticing as I’m going along that it’s very political out here.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve always been curious about something. You hear a lot about the old blues masters like Robert Johnson–did the blues originate with them are did it come from some earlier source?

GUY: Blues music really started as work songs. But in time when black people in particular had leisure time and went dancing, those lyrics would come up in those songs sung while those folks were dancing. Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the early blues men, said that people dancing way back in his early days looked like people stomping. So people were responding to rhythms and social dancing was evolving.

FOLKMAMA: You obviously know a lot about the blues. It’s such a rich tradition, how did you go about learning about it?

GUY: I learned a lot about the blues by talking to a lot of people, and of course some of it is conjecture that I use to pull all the things together. I wasn’t there at the end of slavery when men and woman had to live during very tough and brutal times. Black men and women in particular. And the people who were there before the blues began–before the 20th century in my opinion–I don’t know if I could live that rough a life. When I listen to the lyrics of the songs, when I listen to the rhythms, the meanings, the melodies–I’m hearing the story of America itself. When I perform I don’t try to teach people, I just try to entertain. But I find when I perform, a lot can’t be learned.

FOLKMAMA: I know that you work a lot with kids in schools. Is your aim to move the Blues tradition forward and to introduce a new generation to the Blues?

GUY: When I teach there are a few things going on. First off I want to inform, to let the students know about the early blues and where it came from and how to tell the difference between the East Coast Blues and the Delta Blues. But on a selfish level I’m hoping that these kids will be my audience in another 20 years because I intend to still be playing and singing.

FOLKMAMA: So what should people expect during the concert? Maybe someone who has never seen you, someone who might not even know the blues?

GUY: Well, it will certainly be a lot of fun because I’m an entertainer. When the guitar is broken and the strings pop, I’ll be able to tell stories. When my mouth didn’t work I would draw pictures.

I would expect that people would get a sense of how it felt to be sitting on a front porch, maybe a 100 years ago, hearing some early music. Or maybe like back in the 20s or 30s hearing musicians like Blind Blake or Son House or Bukka White or Robert Johnson. I want folks to get a sense of the social adventure. Folks will just be sitting in an audience in rows of seats –but that’s all good. What I do is not meant to isolate anyone. It’s meant to expose what the Blues is. Just like I was a kid many years ago and I would and hear folksingers standing on stage, and it was magic. That’s what I want to create. Magic.Guy Davis

The Western Flyers perform Western Swing music on February 7th in Harrisburg

The Western FlyersOne of the most exciting new bands to hit the music scene in years, the Western Flyers, comes to central Pennsylvania on Saturday, February 7, 2015, for a 7:30 p.m. concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $16 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society Web site at www.sfmsfolk.org

I had a chance to speak to guitarist Joey McKenzie recently. Joey is recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of this style of music. He is a two time Texas Guitar Champion and is considered to be a state treasure.

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FOLKMAMA: I’m really excited about your upcoming concert with the Western Flyers! The three of you are all such great musicians. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about yourself and your band mates.

JOEY: I live in Burleson, Texas which is a suburb of Fort Worth, and I’ve been playing music my whole life, basically since I was about 11 years old. I play guitar and fiddle and mandolin and tenor banjo, and have really been enamored with Western Swing especially, and a lot of music that is played in the state of Texas

I grew up in Oregon and I moved to Texas 25 years ago to be close to the music and learn from the great Western Swing musicians.   I got to know a lot of those people and become friends with many of the Western Swing musicians and Texas style fiddle players.

So I’ve been teaching also for all those years. I taught the Quebe sisters and eventually we started a band and did that for 10 years. We made the mutual decision to go our separate ways. We wanted to slow down a little bit; we wanted to keep playing but not constantly gone. So we started The Western Flyers with Gavin Kelso and Katie Glassman.

Gavin left the Quebe band the same time that I did. We were on the same page with what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it so we started the Western Flyers. Katie is an old friend—I’ve known her since she was a kid, for 20 years, and we’ve always loved playing together and feel musically very compatible. So we had the opportunity to form The Western Flyers and Katie was as fired up about it as we all were.

Katie Glassman is incredibly talented. She’s been a two time National Fiddle Champion and a 7 time Colorado State Fiddle Champion and a wonderful singer and songwriter—truly one of the most talented people that I have ever known. She’s just a fun person to be in a band with.

You know the time that you play on the stage is only a fraction of the time that you spend together. Katie, Galvin and I get along great. You know you have lots of hours traveling together, staying at hotels, and eating together. It’s really fun to spend time with Katie and Galvin.

And Galvin Kelso and originally from Neosho, Missouri and he moved to Texas to go to school in Denton at the University of North Texas which has a world class upright bass program. Probably one of the largest program of its kind in the world. He has a degree in classical bass performance, but he really comes primarily from a jazz background.

You know, Western is just country jazz. I always say that we’re just playing jazz with cowboy hats on.

FOLKMAMA: It interests me that you would move to Texas to learn about Western Swing. Is Texas the hotbed for this style of music?

JOEY: Yeah, it was born here. That’s where it all started. You’ve probably heard of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Well, Bob Wills was known as the king of Western Swing. So he started it all in Texas and then he went to Oklahoma in Tulsa and was based there for awhile and then went to California. In those years Bob Wills was a huge star. He was making records and he was a radio star and he was in a lot of movies. He was a huge star back in the 30s and 40s and 50s and the Western Swing became a really popular music. So being in Texas where I’ve gotten a chance to play with a lot of the original Texas Playboys—although there are not many of them left—I’ve been really fortunate to be friends with those guys and learn a lot from them.

The Western Flyers are really trying to carry on the rich tradition that Bob Wills began. We love Western Swing and think it’s important to get it out there and bring it to the folks that aren’t as familiar with it. I really try to do the music authentically, as does Katie and Gavin. So on our individual instruments we really try to capture the style—but do it with our own kind of twist.

FOLKMAMA: So, what has happened to Western Swing music since the time of Bob Wills? Has it evolved? Is it still as popular?

JOEY: Bob originated the style in the 40s, and although it was really popular, by the late 50s and early 60s it became tougher to earn a living because of the advent of television. A lot of this is dance music and people started staying home and watching TV and staying away from the dance halls. The advent of television really changed music in a huge way. So the times got pretty lean and rock and roll came in and a lot of the young people that were listening to Western Swing started listening to rock and roll. So towards the end of the 50s there was a gradual decline in Western Swing music and it made it harder for bands to be able to make a living. It was always around, but you had to look music harder for it.

But in Texas and Oklahoma it still stayed, even in the years when it was not popular everywhere else, it still happened here. And then you know bands like Asleep at the Wheel came to be and they helped keep Western Swing alive and we really try to do our part with traveling and we do workshops. It’s really something that we love and we want to promote and help to perpetuate the music. It’s the sort of music, that when most people hear it, even if they are not familiar with it, they can’t help but like it.

Its fun music and I think a lot of the songs that are associated with Western Swing music are pretty timeless. You know you wonder about some of the music that is being played now, there are some big bands that are playing nowadays, but will their music be able to stand the test of time?

Bob Wills music is still very popular, in fact my wife Sherry and I and our production company, Twin Fiddle Productions, along with the city of Greenville Texas, started in 2014 the Bob Wills Fiddle Festival and Contest. And Bob Wills daughter Carolyn is a friend of ours and she got the Bob Wills Heritage Foundation on board so we started this huge festival.

We had the Time Jumpers with Vince Gill, a wonderful Western Swing band from Nashville and we had other Texas bands, Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys played plus Bobby Flores and the Yellow Rose Band—they’re a great Western Swing band from San Antonio. And then we had a world class fiddle contest. We had competitors that came from 10 different states.  We also had a Bob Wills division where people had to play a song associated with Bob Wills. And that was very popular, and they also played the traditional Texas Breakdown style of fiddling. That was a first year event and people came from everywhere. The shows were sold out—it’s an indication that Western Swing music is really having a resurgence. There are so many young kids that are starting to learn to play Western Swing so I think the future is pretty bright.

FOLKMAMA: So, how would you describe a Western Flyers concert?

JOEY: We always have fun when we play. The main reason that we play is because we love it. And we love to travel.

So we play music that we love and it’s not entirely Western Swing. We’ll throw in an old swing jazz tune like you may hear some Benny Goodman, we throw in a Texas Style Fiddle tune every once in awhile, like you may hear from Benny Thomasson or Howdy Forrester. Or we might throw in a classic country song like you may hear from Ray Price or Connie Smith. And we try to play music that is not all just the same, but also has a connection.

So Ray Price loved Bob Wills and Bob Wills love Ray Price and the fiddle players loved Bob Wills and Bob Wills loved the fiddle players (of course he was a fiddle player). They were all listening to one another—Benny Goodman listened to Bob Wills and Bob Mills listened to Benny Goodman. It’s all related, so we try to do a little bit of all that and we have some fun and we talk a little bit about the music as we move through the show.

It’s just a real passion for all three of us, and a pleasure and an honor to go out and be able to share this music with the rest of the country.