Nordic Fiddlers Bloc on May 3rd in Harrisburg–a MUST GO EVENT!

Three of the finest young fiddle players working in the international folk scene, each with a stellar career with a number of bands, collectively are finding themselves increasingly in demand across the world due to their unique collaboration, onstage sense of humor, and inter-band banter. Known as The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, they make their Susquehanna Folk Music Society debut appearance on Sunday, May 3, 2015, at 7:30 p.m., at The Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 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 website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

Below is an interview by SFMS Board member Peter Winter with band member Kevin Henderson

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“Keeping The Tradition Alive” An Interview with Nordic Fiddlers Bloc’s Kevin Henderson

Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, comprised of Olav Luksengard Mjelva from Norway, Anders Hall from Sweden and Kevin Henderson from the Shetland Isles, is a super group in the truest sense.  Since 2010 these three masters of their respective fiddling styles have been performing together around the globe, melding their similar yet highly distinctive musical traditions just as seamlessly as they combine the spirits of tradition and innovation in their playing.  I was able to catch up to Kevin Henderson prior to their May 3rd Concert at The Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg.  We discussed the common roots of the music of Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, their creative process as a band, and what is unique about Shetland fiddling in particular, seeing that he’s rather an expert on the topic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IeFUlH9Zsk

 PETER: First off, there are three styles of Fiddle playing represented in the group: Olav from Norway, Anders from Sweden and you with your Shetland style.  What is the common link tying these traditions together? What is the thread that unites it all?

 KEVIN: All three places have very strong documented historical links going back hundreds of years.  Shetland belonged to Norway until the mid 1400s when it was loaned to Scotland, and the culture there is more closely linked to Norway than Scotland.  Some of the old traditional music from Shetland is closely linked to the old hardanger music from Norway in the styles of tunes and also traditions like ceremonial music, such as wedding tunes, that are found a lot in Scandinavia.

In Shetland it was very common to find tunes that were played on the fiddle tuned to AEAE rather than the standard GDAE and this was to generate more volume with droning on the open strings, which is very much like the sound of the hardanger fiddle in Norway. The extra volume was required as it was a solo fiddler that played for the dancing very much like Norway with the hardanger fiddle.  Sweden and Norway have some closely linked tune types also. The Polska in Sweden for example is very much like the Pols found in Norway.

You can find tunes in many parts of the world that are obviously a version of the same tune, which is very interesting.  I guess that comes from when people went to sea and met people from different countries and learned music from each other.  Our three styles are very different but we have a lot of fun blending the different styles and playing each other’s music.

PETER: You’re all so busy with other projects, how did Nordic Fiddlers Bloc come about? Whose idea was it? How long did the idea bounce around before you all decided to give it a try?

 KEVIN: I live in Norway now and it was there I met Anders at various festivals and music events and we had a lot of fun socializing and playing music for fun at jam sessions. Anders and Olav play in another group called Sver so they knew each another’s music from that project and it was through Anders I met Olav. We just had a lot of fun playing music together, and decided we would like to make it a bit more serious so we organized a tour in Norway and it was very well received so we decided we should do more with it.

PETER: Describe some characteristics of Shetland Fiddle.  What sets it apart and makes it unique from other traditions?

 KEVIN: The Shetland tunes are very unique in my opinion. The style of them has influences from Scandinavia as well as Scotland and Ireland for example so they have their own sound.  We use a lot of droning on open strings, a characteristic of hardanger music in Norway.  We have specific bowing patterns like 1 down 3 up found alot in the reel playing which help give it the unique sound I suppose.  We have an ornament called “shivers” which I haven’t come across in any other place. It’s like a backward triplet! Hard to explain 🙂

Like I mentioned earlier, we have a lot of ceremonial music like Scandinavia such as wedding tunes and tunes that would have been only played at specific times which is not so common in Scottish fiddle music for example.  The reel is the most common type of tune in the Shetland fiddle tradition and a strong characteristic of many of the reels is key changes within the tune, for example if the tune is in D you would often find C sharps as well as C naturals within the tune which makes it very interesting to listen to.

 PETER: I’m so impressed with groups like Nordic Fiddlers Bloc and RANT from Scotland.  You keep the tunes so varied and rhythmically exciting despite the fact that you are all essentially playing the same instrument. Are there any arranging challenges you run into with Nordic Fiddlers Bloc to make sure the three instruments are not stepping on each other’s toes and the tunes have a solid accompaniment?

KEVIN: That’s what makes the arranging process fun. It is hard to find the correct balance when as you say you are using essentially the same instrument.  It’s that reason why I think it’s important to not do the same thing throughout the tune and thoroughly the whole set. You need to look for different soundscapes to keep the interest for the listener. Anders and Olav are extremely talented at coming with fantastic harmony lines. It’s a big part of the Swedish fiddle tradition that 2 fiddlers play together and use close harmonies. It’s very beautiful.  The setting we enjoy most is Hardanger fiddle, fiddle and viola together. It covers a big range of sound.  As far as I’m aware I do not think there’s another group using that setting that’s playing the different styles we do.

 PETER: What is the creative process like with the three of you? Will one of you come in with a tune and fleshed out idea of what he would like from the other two, or is everyone responsible for their own parts?

 KEVIN: We all come with tunes that we think would work well for the group. Sometimes it doesn’t sit well so we just ditch it, but generally we all know what tune would work well for our sound.  We basically just come with a tune and play it for a while and see what happens and if there’s something we like, we record it down and build the arrangement up like that.  Sometimes the process goes very quick and other times it can take a while before we are satisfied.  We just throw ideas around and see what happens!

 PETER: How do you determine what tunes will work well for the group?  I believe you play some American tunes in addition to music from your native traditions.  

 KEVIN: We have a good idea what tunes will work well in the different settings we use. We also like to play tunes we like from other places. The two American tunes are actually two of our favorite tunes to play.  The setting with Hardanger, fiddle, and viola only works together in certain keys with how the hardanger is tuned, so we know what will be good or not key wise beforehand.  But as I mentioned, sometimes a tune just doesn’t feel right so we just move on from it.

 PETER: What are some important artists and albums you would recommend to people who want to delve into the world of Shetland Fiddle?

KEVIN: Shetland has many fiddle players as you probably know.  There are a great variety of fiddle albums from Shetland from very traditional to more contemporary.  Willie Hunter, who was my teacher, was arguably the finest fiddler ever to come from Shetland. He has made a few great recordings.  Also there is a great album released on Greentrax recordings of older players playing in the true Shetland style with a great variety of players from different areas of Shetland. Even though Shetland is a small place there were many different styles within Shetland.  Then there’s Aly Bain who is a massive inspiration for young players through his work as a professional fiddle player touring all over the world and making TV programs and things like that. He was a big inspiration for me.  I also play in a band called Fiddlers Bid and we play a mix of the old traditional Shetland tunes as well as more contemporary music and we have been lucky enough to take our music all over the world.

The solo album I released a few years back was an album of purely traditional Shetland tunes. I wanted to do that, as the music I keep coming back to is the traditional Shetland music. It’s the music I love playing more and more.  I also felt no one was making an album of purely Shetland tunes, unlike a lot of albums being released in Scandinavia and Ireland for example.

Chris Stout is a fantastic fiddler and a very dynamic musician who has made some great recordings.  There also players such as Bryan Gear and Jenna Reid who are amazing players and they have made great albums.  There are many great Shetland fiddle players and albums out which is great for keeping the tradition alive!

Nordic Fiddle Bloc will be performing Sunday May 3rd at 7:30 at The Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg.  Tickets can be purchased at the door or online @ http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/981137 Visit their website at http://thenordicfiddlersbloc.com/

Nordic Fiddlers blocPeter Winter is a musician and writer based in Harrisburg.  Follow him on twitter @peterwinter38 and check out his band: http://www.seasonsmusic.com

 

 

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Folksinger John McCutcheon to play in York, PA April 24th

Hailed as “folk music’s rustic Renaissance man” and acclaimed as “an incarnation of Pete Seeger and Mr. Rogers, Will Rogers and Bruce Spingsteen, and above all Everyman,” John McCutcheon brings his music on subjects small and great to a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Friday, April 24, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George Street, York.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. This concert is presented in cooperation with Songside.com and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, with support from an anonymous Your Name in Lights sponsor.

For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

Below is a conversation I had with John McCutcheon

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FOLKMAMA: How long have you been performing professionally?

 

MCCUTCHEON:  It’s going on 40 years now. I started performing in 1972 and like many performers first starting out, I didn’t get paid very much.  And in those early years like a lot musicians I juggled a lot of things to get by. I gave lessons, I performed for school kids, I recorded, I wrote. I love to perform, but I’ve always loved those other kinds of things as well. At that particular time, I was 17 or 18 years old growing up in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, I would just take my recorder into the mountains and tape people playing and singing. They became my friends and mentors and I produced a lot of recordings of their music.

 

FOLKMAMA: Well you know that the Susquehanna Folk Music Society, the organization that you are playing for on April 24th presents concerts that showcase tradition- based music. How much of that Appalachian sound that you became familiar with as a young man can be found in your music today?

 

 MCCUTCHEON: Well, I mostly perform stuff that I write myself. But the song writing that I do and the performing that I do is all based in traditional music. It’s the bedrock of what I do. The themes tend to be themes that you might find in the traditional songs; things like home, family, work, and the everyday life. And I also perform some traditional songs as part of my repertoire. I think most people know me for my original songs. When they come into a concert I want them to see that no performer is just one thing.

 

FOLKMAMA: I remember you from the 70s and 80s and I think of the work that you did with the hammered dulcimer. How you really did a lot to forward that instrument and get it into the public eye. But I also think that you were doing some things to change the instrument mechanically, like adding dampening pedals and things like that.

 

MCCUTCHEON: Well I was kind of a guinea pig for the guy who builds my dulcimer, Sam Rizzetta (http://samrizzetta.com). I met Sam in the 70’s when a friend of mine built a hammered dulcimer under his tutelage which eventually became my first dulcimer. He’s a terrifically creative guy and a stunning craftsman.  I would go to him and say something like, “Man, it would be really good to have something that was really light and compact, but would still have a big sound. And could you add more notes to it? ” and he was always game. Sam and I had discussed how to create a dampening system, but it wasn’t until the mid-80’s after I returned from Central America where I had adapted my dulcimer to make the percussive sounds needed to play alongside marimba players by putting duct tape across the bridge that we got serious about making this revision. He really loved the sound, but of course was horrified about what I was doing to the instrument with duct tape!

 

FOLKMAMA:  So described the dulcimer that you are traveling with now. What does it look like? What does it weigh?

 

MCCUTCHEON:  It weighs about 12 or 13 pounds. And it has about three full chromatic octaves. It goes down about a fifth lower and a couple of steps higher than a typical dulcimer and it has a pick-up system built in. It has some very light telescoping legs, because I play standing. It has four bridges, the two standard treble and bass bridges and then some extra bridges that allow my instrument to go lower and higher. And it’s got a dampening system, of course. I can’t ever imagine now having an instrument without the contrasting sounds that dampers allow.

 

FOLKMAMA: And for someone coming to your concert who has never heard you before, what might they expect to hear?

 

MCCUTCHEON:  They’ll hear a lot of interesting stories. I like to tell stories about the songs and put them in context. They’ll hear hammered dulcimer, fiddle, banjo, autoharp, guitar and piano and a little hambone thrown in too. They’ll be some songs that I’ve written and some that are traditional. We’ll have a good time together!

John McCutcheon

Check out this story on John McCutcheon from the Carlisle Sentinel! See him perform in York, Pa on April 24, 2015!

Thank you to Andrew Carr for his interview with John McCutcheon. See him live in York, PA on April 24, 2015. More information at http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/JohnMcCutcheon.htmlJohn McCutcheon

http://cumberlink.com/entertainment/local-scene/folk-musician-john-mccutcheon-to-play-york-area/article_3d6037fb-7a56-5930-817b-5ae136deac11.html

Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, Jim Watson and Joe Newberry play old-time music in Harrisburg, April 12

Take three original members of the legendary Red Clay Ramblers, add the talents of an Ozark Mountains native, and you have an ensemble that delights audiences with their solo selections and ensemble songs and fiddle and dance tunes from the classic Red Clay Ramblers repertoire (a highly original Stringband from the 70s and 80s) . The original Ramblers are Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, and Jim Watson, and they’re joining forces with Joe Newberry for an April 12, 2015, Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at 4 p.m, at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Bill Hicks and Jim Watson founded the Ramblers in 1972 with the late Tommy Thompson, and Mike Craver came aboard the following year. For the next decade they toured extensively through the U.S., Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, and Africa. They appeared frequently on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, played in two off-Broadway shows, and released nine recordings.

They are joined in ensemble performances by Joe Newberry, who grew up singing the old songs he learned from his family in the Ozarks. He is known for his powerful and innovative banjo playing, plays and sings with the group Big Medicine and is a frequent guest on “A Prairie Home Companion”.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006.

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I had the opportunity to speak to Mike Craver, one of the former members of the Red Clay Ramblers and keyboardist for Craver/Hicks/Watson and Newbery about their current band and about their beginnings with the Red Clay Ramblers

FOLKMAMA: Describe the music that Craver/Hicks/Watson and Newbery plays?

MIKE: We’re a quartet, first of all. We have a fiddle player, a banjo player, a mandolin/guitar player and a keyboard player. We do old time music and we do songs in that genre. We do some original material too. We do all sing, a lot of harmony singing. That’s it in a nutshell.

FOLKMAMA: Is it more like the Southern Appalachian music, bluegrass…maybe parlor music? Or something in between?

MIKE: I think we are a glorious hybrid of all that. We started out long, long ago calling ourselves a stringband and being called a stringband by other people. But we always kind of wandered past that boundary. We were always a little bit of an anomaly. We do a lot of harmony singing. Someone will take the lead, but there is usually a chorus. That’s always been something that we’ve done, even when we started doing this back in the early 70s.

FOLKMAMA: So what is the history of the old time string band tradition?

MIKE: For me it all began back in the 20s. That’s when it was first recorded. And in the 20s and 30s and 40s it developed and bluegrass came in in the later part of that chunk of time. We (the Red Clay Ramblers) came a long in the 70s and we were of another generation and so a group like sort of put their own spin on that old time music. We couldn’t be old-time because we were from a different generation. We maybe modernized it a little bit although I hate to use that word. That’s probably what ended up happening.

And we wanted to write too—some of us did. That was the thing you did back then—in the 60s and the 70s. People wanted to be a songwriter—they wanted to be like their peers, their contemporaries. We added that element of original songwriting. Not every song. We’d throw some in just to season it up a little bit. We tried to be ourselves as opposed to just copying a style and redoing songs that we found on old records.

FOLKMAMA: How unusual was the Red Clay Ramblers at that time? Did some of the unusual instruments that the band used cause a sensation?

MIKE: The band started out as a trio and then we added a fourth person and a fifth person and we just used the talents of the people that we had to enhance the instrumentation. I was a piano play and I played bass and guitar a lot until we had a fellow join and he played the bass but he also played the trumpet and we started using the trumpet and the piano and that might have been a little different for string bands up to that point.

FOLKMAMA: What were some of the influential groups that were around during that time period?

MIKE: Definitely the Carter Family because they were so well distributed. A lot of people had heard them because they made a lot of records. And people learned their songs and did their songs and I heard people doing their songs before I heard them. And finally when I was in college I finally heard a Carter Family record. I had heard about them for years. if you took Sing Out Magazine there would be a Carter Family song in the Sing Out magazine and I would read about the Carter Family without even knowing what they sounded like. Their sheer distribution meant that they were guaranteed an audience. It was a little bit harder to hear more obscure people who weren’t as well recorded. But they were definitely a big influence. They were a big influence in sensibility and instrumentation and vocalization too.

FOLKMAMA: Who else?

MIKE: I know when I got into the band the guys were doing songs by Charlie Pool, the North Carolina Ramblers and  the Georgia Yellow Hammers. The guys in the band were really into that kind of music and it worked its way into the repertoire.

FOLKMAMA: What are the members of group doing when you are not on the road performing together?

MIKE: Jim Watson has been playing with Robin and Linda Williams as part of their band and Bill has kept playing the fiddle although he has had some non-musical occupations. Joe Newberry—we picked him up because we had first gotten back together again in 2001 and we worked as a trio for awhile and then we decided that we needed a banjo player so we kinda tagged him to fill that slot. He was living in Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill was where we all kind of got together.

FOLKMAMA: How often do you perform together?

MIKE: It’s not that often. We have two people with day jobs and we have another person who is on the road a lot and then we have me and I’m just a lay-about so I don’t count! So anyway it’s hard to carve out a period of time when everyone is available. That’s the main challenge so it’s kind of something we do for fun and not for necessity. And actually, I kind of like that! It’s kind of a good way for it to be.

We really like being on stage together. We try to make people happy. We do up-tempo, happy, goodtime, rousing music. W  e like to have fun and make fun for people to hear.Ramblers

New Seasons CD features more vocal work along with richly layered arrangements

SEASONSThe Central PA based band Seasons has produced their six CD, a self titled work called Seasons. The recording is a departure from their previous CDs which were almost exclusively instrumentals. On Seasons the group features the impressive songwriting skills of Mary-Kate and Peter Lee while exploring a widening variety of folk styles. With nice solo work and crisp arrangements it’s clear that the Lee siblings are growing up and really coming into their own as musicians!

Seasons is comprised of the siblings Mary-Kate Spring, Peter Winter, Mary-Teresa Summer, Mary-Grace Autumn, and Mary-Clare Chun Lee. The Lee siblings seek to not only pay homage to the rich tradition of Celtic and American folk music, but also to treat it as a living, breathing entity.

I had a chance to speak to Mary-Kate and Peter Lee recently to ask them a few things about the group’s newest CD.

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FOLKMAMA: I’ve always been fascinated by family bands, having grown up performing in a family band myself. You’ve matured into quite an accomplished harp player, Mary Kate and I’m wondering what your growing up years were like and when you first started playing together in a band.

MARY- KATE: Almost as soon as I starting playing the harp I started performing. That was in Middle School. Soon after we started playing together as a group. It started out with us doing a lot of songs that were in the folk tradition, but also things from the 20s and 30s that we’d go and play at retirement homes. We’d also do a lot of covers of people like Billy Joel, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel because those were the records that were in our house.

We listened to a ton of records as kids. For us it was a completely normal thing, but other people weren’t listening to them quite as much. I was always very into Judy Collins –without knowing it we were listening to a lot of Child Ballads, plus Scottish and early American ballads, so we had a very strong ballad tradition which I think came out as we started to write our own music.

FOLKMAMA: Your newest CD Seasons seems like a significant departure from your previous recordings which featured predominately Celtic instrumentals or in the case of your Christmas CD’s, of course, seasonal songs. This CD is almost all vocals and the bulk of the tracks were composed by members of the band. I’m curious how your group approaches songwriting?

PETER: The songwriting was very integrated on this album. Mary Kate and I have really built up a good back and forth of writing together. There are some songs where she had a lyric and I had music and they fit together. And there were some where she had a finished song and we expanded it with the band. And then there were some that we literally wrote together with a guitar. The cool thing about our songwriting relationship is that we’ve have success with many different methods of collaboration.

FOLKMAMA: So, as you were working on this new CD, what were you thinking of conceptually? What did you want this CD to “be” for your group?

MARY-KATE: It’s kind of like the “catch up” album demonstrating we are now as a band. We’ve been building this collection of songs probably over the last ten years.

PETER: I agree.  I think the cool thing about this album for people who have been going to our shows is that only two songs on this album are surprises. So one of the amazedly gratifying things about this album is that we can play a show now and someone comes to the CD table and I can hand them an album that I think really encapsulates our live show.

FOLKMAMA: What other styles beyond Celtic do you pull into the songs on the CD?

PETER: I think that Celtic music will always be that envelop that we try to operate under, but we listen to a lot of music and are inspired by artists who work within the folk tradition but also what to write their own music. On this CD you can hear how artists like Abigail Washburn (who is an amazing Old Time musician and a fantastic songwriter as well), Anais Mitchell (who has an awesome literary voice), and the Punch Brother and Väsen (who have really exciting visceral driving sounds) have influenced us. I really like the idea of expanding folk traditions. We are using and “older voice” when we write, but we are also trying to move the tradition forward to do new things.

FOLKMAMA: This CD features some guest musicians. What did you have in mind when you invited them?

PETER: The vast majority of these songs are just us, but in the studio you have this amazing opportunity to expand your vision and create a “dream” version of a song. For example we asked this local Indi Pop group The Match Twins to sing on the CD because they are really good with harmony vocals. In some cases it’s like a bigger, bolder version of us, but at the same time we think we’ve been able to be faithful to our sound.

FOLKMAMA: You have a lot of instruments on your CD and the arrangements are quite nice. How do you go about arranging your songs?

MARY –KATE: As you can imagine with a bunch of siblings there sometimes is a lot of bickering! It’s definitely a process that we have to carve out big blocks of time for. Sometimes people will come up with their own parts. I’ve been impressed with Grace and Clare in particular. Initially when they started in the group Peter and I would have to tell them what to do, but now they really generate a lot of ideas.

PETER: I’ve played in a lot of different bands and I think that it’s really important that everyone in the band respects one another, but that you don’t have a fear of conflict. Probably one of my favorite things about Seasons is that we all love each other, but aren’t afraid to butt heads over things. I think that this willingness to challenge each other has often generated the best ideas.