BON DÉBARRAS Concert (to have been held March 3, 2019) CANCELLED because of snow.


Susquehanna Folk Music Society audiences have been treated to some fantastic concerts by artists from Quebec in recent years (think Le Vent du Nord, the Yves Lambert Trio, Genticorum, and Le Bruit court cans la ville) but what we haven’t seen much of is the wonderful step-dancing that Quebec is known for. You’ll get a chance to check out amazing PERCUSSIVE DANCE AND BODY PERCUSSION this coming Saturday evening, March 3rd when Bon Débarras comes to Harrisburg!

Bon Débarras is an exciting trio from Quebec that brings together a fusion of Quebecois folk music, traditional step-dancing and global influences for a show that is full of fun and inventive energy. On guitar, banjo, violin, and harmonica, the trio opens a door to their recollections of America and their music is at the intersection of various traditions. Bon Débarras’ energy taps into the rhythms of today and ventures boldly on the multi-faceted road to tomorrow’s dreams, in an atmosphere that transcends boundaries and ages.

For this tour only Bon Débarras will be traveling with Alexis Chartrand, a fiery young fiddler from Montreal. As the son of Pierre Chartrand, Quebec’s most celebrated tap dancer, Alexis has been immersed in the tradition since he was very young. He and is well known for his energetic accompaniment of step-dancing and social dances. Susquehanna Folk is excited to welcome Bon Débarras to Harrisburg!

IF YOU GO: Bon Débarras appears on Sunday, March 3, 2019 at 7:30 PM at Appalachian Brewing Company located at 50 N. Cameron St, Harrisburg, PA 17101. This is a sit-down concert in a listening room environment. Tickets are $24 General Admission or $10 for students and can be purchased at the door, by calling 800-838-3006 or online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3600840

We had a chance to speak to band member Jean-François Dumas about the band’s music and their upcoming concert in Harrisburg.

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FOLKMAMA: What will people experience when they come to a Bon Débarras concert? What is your music like?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS : They can expect lots of joy and energy and fun!  We play a lot of dance music and sing songs in French, and there is body percussion and step dancing too. We compose our own music but our inspiration comes from the old tunes that have their origins in the music that the Irish, Scottish, and French settlers brought to Quebec. So audiences will hear singing, guitar, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, and some other surprises too!

We think of our music as a voyage across North America with stops along the way in Appalachia, Louisiana, Mississippi and other places so our music has overtones of Cajun, rock, blues, country music , and even rap. Plus Montreal is a very cosmopolitan city, so we are influenced by the Latin and African music that we hear around us.

FOLKMAMA: What does the band’s name Bon Débarras  mean?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS:  Bon Débarras has two meanings, really. One is ‘good riddance’ and good riddance is getting rid of sorrow, anger and all negative energy. We let it go when we play music.

Also in French, débarras is a place to keep old stuff you don’t want to get rid of. Our band is like a storage closet where we can go and find traditional influences and inspiration.”

FOLKMAMA: I’ve seen your band twice, and I’ve come away both times thinking about the band’s wonderful use of rhythm. There is rhythm and pulse in everything that you do. Can you speak about that?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS: Well, I’ve always loved drums so for me rhythm has always been very important. I use rhythm when I play with my hands or tap with my feet. Just about every song has rhythmic foot tapping, which is something very different that we do in Quebec which adds a lot of energy to the music. Dominic is a percussive dancer, and a lot of what he does uses syncopated rhythm. And all of us add body music. Another thing that Quebec is known for its mouth reels, which adds a lot of rhythm to the music too.

FOLKMAMA: Can you tell me about the players in the band?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS: I mentioned Dominic Desrochers. He and I have been the core of the band since we first started playing together about 10 years ago, mostly in kitchens which is where a lot of Quebecois music starts! He plays regular guitar and then a small guitar from Cuba called a Tres and sings. And getting back to rhythm, Dominic’s step dancing is very powerful and rhythmic and adds a very exciting dimension to what we do. He is very respected for his dancing by a lot of groups including La Bottine Souriante and Cirque du Soleil. And I play banjo, harmonica, accordion, and a little guitar and do foot tapping while I’m playing. I grew up in a musical family and have traveled a lot in the United-States, Latin America and Europe to learn about other peoples’ folk traditions and colors. So we’ve been the core with other musicians playing bass, accordion, or fiddle.

Just very recently the fiddler Véronique Plasse joined the band, but she was not able to join us on this tour, so we have Alexis Chartrand. Alexis is a young fiddler who grew up in the tradition since his father Pierre Chartrand is a very famous Quebecois Tap Dancer. He has been accompanied dancers since he was very young, and when we first got together to prepare for the tour he learned our show in no time! He’s a very good singer too, and we are very excited to be working with him.

FOLKMAMA: Does Bon Débarras’ tour frequently and if so where do you generally tour?

JEAN-FRANÇOIS: It’s funny, but it seems that most of our touring is outside of Quebec. We tour all over Canada, the US, France, and the UK. The current tour that we’re on will take us to Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Harrisburg before heading off to Scotland for the Shetland Folk Festival. We’re really looking forward to being in Harrisburg and hope to see you there.

 

 

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Interview with Celebrated Clawhammer Banjo Player and Member of Charm City Junction Brad Kolodner: “It’s Really Meant to be Shared.”

Charm City Junction, an ensemble comprised of four of the most talented and promising young acoustic roots musicians in the country (Patrick McAvinue on fiddle, Brad Kolodner on clawhammer banjo, Sean McComiskey on button accordion and Alex Lacquement on upright bass), will perform on Sunday, February 10th at 7:30 pm at the Abbey Bar, located upstairs of the Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg.  The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website HERE. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online HERE.

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Earlier this week, celebrated clawhammer banjo player Brad Kolodner chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter about the origins of the group, their new album “Duckpin” and his journey to the banjo.

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I’m sure this could be a very lengthy story, but how did Charm City Junction come about? How did you guys all meet, begin playing music with each other, and decide to become a band?

Well we’d actually all known about each other for quite a number of years, occupying different corners of the traditional folk music communities here in Baltimore.  We’re all connected to the Baltimore area.  I grew up playing old-time music (because my father is a musician) and our accordion player Sean has a father who plays the Irish button accordion (he’s quite renowned in that world), and we grew up together in Baltimore sort of crossing paths, sort of missing each other in the night. It’s funny how it works in these different traditional music communities, they sort of occupy some of the same spaces, but don’t always intermingle together.  So we were always aware of each other.  Patrick grew up in this area playing bluegrass fiddle…Eventually we decided to just get together for some jams, just kind of as friends.

We kind of had this meeting at this local old-time music jam here in Baltimore that I run with my father, called the Baltimore Old-Time Jam.  I had met Patrick there (he just showed up one night), we got to chatting, [and] said it would be fun to get together to play some tunes.  Patrick was going to some of the local Irish sessions, and he was playing with Sean playing some Irish music, and so we got together at Patrick’s house, back in I think it was probably the fall of 2013?

We decided to just get together for some tunes and see if we could find common ground between our various styles: old-time, Irish, bluegrass. Being a clawhammer banjo player, I play old-time, but I liked bluegrass, enjoyed Irish and didn’t have a chance to play it much, so I sort of jumped at the opportunity.  We’re all sort of in the same age range, and we all enjoyed hanging out with each other, so it really sort of formed on friendship initially, and then evolved from there.

As the three of us started playing together just casually, I called up my friend Alex who was living in Northern Virginia at the time (a great bass player), who I’d known for a couple years through old-time music festivals. [I] called him up and said, “You know we’ve got these three musicians up here in Baltimore, we’re getting together to play, and I think the only thing we are missing is bass.  You should come on up and have some tunes with us.” So Alex came up for a handful of jams.  There was a great musical spark right off the bat, we really enjoyed playing together, enjoyed each other’s company, and quickly realized we had something really unusual and unique between our different styles of music, our various backgrounds. There was a lot of common ground. We grew up playing slightly different types of music, [but] these styles all kind of have a common thread, as it was those Irish and Scottish fiddle tunes that were brought over many years ago, that sort of morphed into old-time tunes with the banjo from Africa and different influences there, and then old-time music kind of morphing into bluegrass.  There’s definitely a commonality between those different genres. We pretty quickly recognized that our repertoires are really not as different as we thought they might be!  And so we just started to get together more regularly, and work up some arrangements, started to play concerts, record albums.  Now we’ve toured all over the country and the rest is history!

 

Yeah! That’s awesome. One of the things that jumps out at me about Charm City Junction that I think is so interesting is that as you said, with these old-time, bluegrass, and Celtic traditions, there is this common thread, and one kind of led to the other.  However, I think musicians and especially performance ensembles still tend to stay in one tradition, and there’s not that much crossover. So what’s interesting about you guys is that you are jumping around.  You’re an ensemble that plays Celtic, and old-time and some bluegrass as well.  Was it an intentional concept of “let’s be a band that genre hops?” It seems like it was more of a natural progression.

Yeah, I would draw that back to the collaborative nature of this group, in terms of how we build our repertoire and put together our sets. We each have sort of a wealth of knowledge and a big repertoire in each of our own respective home base genres, so when we get together to work on tunes, we kind of go around the circle and just kind of pitch in a tune.  I’ll throw out an old time tune that I think could work really well in this context, Sean will then throw out an Irish tune or two to play as a medley, and then Patrick might have a Bluegrass classic that he might want to throw into the mix, and then we teach it to each other.  Alex also plays a mix of music; old-time, and he grew up playing a lot of jazz and soul.  There’re different types of funky and groovy things that he’s able to come up with.  Really, I think it is a product of just sort of our collaborative process.

Over the years we’ve definitely started to play more original tunes that one of us will write and then we’ll all sort of collaborate, and work on too. On our latest album I think there are probably five or six original songs, whereas on the first record there weren’t any.  It was all traditional material and kind of hopped around from genre to genre.  But we’re really trying to carve out a sound of our own, drawing from those different traditions. We don’t want to just come off as academic, in a concert where we’re saying “Ok, here’s an Irish tune, here’s a bluegrass tune!” It’s funny because we’ll play concerts and people will come to us afterwards and they’ll pinpoint specific songs and think that they are Irish tunes because we played it a certain way, but it’s actually an old-time tune! We’re fans of the different genres and not necessarily making it seem like “Here’s the Irish portion of the concert! And here’s the bluegrass portion of the concert!”

Yeah! That’s really really cool.  I want to talk about your personal musical journey.  Your father Ken is a very renowned hammered dulcimer player (I play hammered dulcimer as well, so mucho respect).  I know you come from this musical background and you play other instruments, but how did you find your way to the banjo?

Well I grew up around the music, so there was a lot of hammered dulcimer and fiddle, and it was always something my father did with his friends. I never really thought it was something that I would do, my parents didn’t press music on me or force me to play banjo or anything.  I came to it on my own when I was 17, and I was taking an intro to banjo workshop up in Maine at a music camp that my father was teaching at and I was along for the week. Mostly it was to just hang there play with some of the other kids at the camp, I had no intention of picking up a new instrument, but I took an intro to banjo (old time clawhammer banjo) class, and I really loved the sound of the clawhammer banjo and liked the way it felt in my hands.  My instructor was a great clawhammer player whose playing really moved me.

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I came back home in the summer (I guess this was 2007) and asked my parents if they could find a banjo somewhere for me to keep learning on.  I just really started to fall in love with old-time music, and it really was from that day forward where I really started to go to old-time music festivals where there are just folks of all ages.  Particularly peers of mine who are really into the music, have a really sort of exciting youthful energetic approach to the music.  Once I started to find friends who were really into old-time as well, that really grabbed me.

I’ve been very fortunate to have my father as a great resource for learning the music in those early years and I certainly, really appreciate having the music around the house so regularly when I was a kid, because when I picked up the banjo it felt really natural and…even though I wasn’t aware of it all those years, listening to the music [back then] it was starting to seep into my bones.  When I finally picked up the banjo I took a real liking to the music, and it just sort of took off from there.

Was there ever a point when you were finding your way on this instrument where even you met the banjo through clawhammer, you were asking, “Do I want to learn clawhammer, or do I want to learn 3 finger bluegrass style?”

I wasn’t actually too familiar with the different styles of banjo, I think I sort of, like many folks, thought of the instrument as “the banjo!” I didn’t really recognize that there are really many different approaches.  I certainly acknowledged that clawhammer did sound a bit different than maybe what I was used to hearing on the banjo, of course the bluegrass style being by far the most popular style culturally.  But I think there’s a whole resurgence of interest in claw hammer these days, and there’s just tons of folks interested in learning, and it’s becoming much more well known, the clawhammer style. In any case, I think I just liked the fact that clawhammer and that old-time style, just really lends itself more to the groove, rather than taking sort of wild improvisatory solos.  There’s just a really nice steady groove to clawhammer that really hooked me, [it] just has this really nice flow. I also just like that clawhammer is kind of like a band with one hand.  This strumming rhythmic sound, but you can also play melody, there’s also the drum head that you can tap so it’s kind of percussive. It just has this really versatile sound.  I don’t think I was consciously sitting there one day trying to decide, “well do I want to play bluegrass music or old-time music?” I think as musicians it was something that I liked, and I just pursued that.  I didn’t think too much more deeply than that.

 

 

So last year you guys started a collaborative show with The Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble.

Yeah!

You guys are doing some festivals with them this year, so I was wondering, how did this come about? How did you guys start working together?

Yeah! I think at its core the music that we play is dance music, and over the years the dance component of traditional music sort of becomes divorced from the actual styles in which they’ve grown and evolved together; so on stage you frequently see bands playing, and then there’s folks out in the crowd, whereas I think this music sort of goes hand in hand with different styles of traditional dance.  It was a really natural fit.  Here in the Baltimore area there’s this dance ensemble called Footworks (they’ve been around for forty years, I think this is their 40th anniversary this year) and I think they saw us playing at a concert in North Carolina.  I think we were down at IBMA the big Bluegrass music conference, probably back in 2015 or something like that. They saw us play there, and they immediately fell in love with what we were doing; blending these different styles of music as they also blend together different types of traditional progressive dance.  Whether it’s things like Irish step dance or clogging, or flatfooting, they also mix in modern dance, [and] traditional Hungarian dance. Dance styles from all over the world.  They were really attracted to us, how we had (through a similar philosophy) tried to sort of blur the lines between these genres while still acknowledging the roots of the music. And so it was a really natural pairing when we got together with them, back in…I guess it was a couple years ago now, we put together a big show at a local theater here in the Baltimore area called the Gordon center (we’re actually working on another show hopefully for 2020 there).  In any case, we got together with them, building a repertoire based on our material and they arranged dances to our music, and we put together a whole program. We didn’t do much last year, we played one down at the Strathmore in DC, but this year we got a few shows on the books.  We’re playing a couple of festivals Delaware, Valley Bluegrass Festival, then we’re taking it on the road to Old Songs festival in New York, them we’ve got another show at the Strathmore this summer.

That’s a really fun show for us.  It kind of ties together even more of the roots of this music. It’s really fun to be a part of that creative, collaborative process as a band with another group. They’re an incredible group of dancers and at the helm is their founder.  Her name is Eileen Carson Schatz.  She’s just super passionate about the music and the dance, and loves our group. We have a lot of mutual respect for one another, occupying similar styles of music here in this region.  We’re sort of covering the music side and they’ve got the dance.  It’s just a really fun partnership!

That is really neat. So, you have two shows on Bluegrass Country Radio.  You have “The Brad Kolodner Show,” and “Old-Time Jam.” You also had a show in college, too right?

So I studied radio and television in college.  I have a minor in documentary, film, and then did a lot of TV broadcasting and radio broadcasting.  That’s what I thought I was going to do when I finished college!  I went to college in New York, then [when] I moved back home to the Baltimore area, I just started to pursue a career in music.  I was teaching lessons, and playing concerts with my dad, and then Charm City Junction.  I’ve been doing it for the past 6 years and plan to do it for the rest of my life.  But in college, I always really enjoyed that other side of my career, this broadcasting side.

I did a folk radio show for a couple years, and really enjoyed just sharing some of my favorite music with folks on the radio.  I really like that medium for storytelling, and for just sharing new music. I’m very fascinated by what’s on the cutting edge of the acoustic music world, whether it’s old-time, bluegrass, or Americana music.  I really like to dig through some of the new releases that are out there.  There’s so much great music that’s coming out these days that’s really tying together many different styles of music and so many great innovators in Americana and the acoustic music scene.

After college, I learned about a station in the DC area called Bluegrass Country, and when I found out about that station, I just immediately got in touch with them and said, “If you’re looking for a new young DJ sign me up, I’d love to do a show!” They gave me a two-hour time slot on a weekend, and I drove down there every week and did a radio show, basically just progressive bluegrass/Americana, and some old-time as well.  Over the years I’ve just stuck with it and when I get off this phone call I’m actually going to start building my show for Friday! I now record the show from my house in Baltimore. I do two programs now: “The Old-Time Jam,” which focuses on contemporary old-time music.  It’s not a show that focuses on the old school old-time, but the players who are out there today, keeping the music alive, taking new directions. My other show, “The Brad Kolodner Show” is on Wednesdays, and that program is kind of a mix of styles, kind of my favorite music, mostly Americana and progressive bluegrass. I bring in bands every couple weeks.  As they pass through the area, I bring them into the studio and get to chat with them.  It’s probably my favorite part of the show. It’s fun! I’m also on a station out in Tennessee, I got my old-time show broadcasting on Radio Bristol, so that show is syndicated a couple places. Really, it’s a ton of fun, to be able to have access to all the new roots music recordings that are coming out these days, it keeps me inspired.

It’s a great opportunity as musicians to just be fans, and just love on the music and share it.

Yeah absolutely.

You already touched on this, but I wanted to talk about your sophomore album “Duckpin,” which came out in 2018, and debuted #6 on the Billboard bluegrass chart, which is really cool.  You guys went three years between records, as the self-titled debut came out in 2015. What were some of the big ways you guys evolved in those three years between records?

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Well as I mentioned on the first album, we were still pretty fresh as a band.  We had only been together for maybe a year or so when we finally got into the studio and recorded that album.  So we were really just drawing from our various traditions. I can look back on that first record and kind of pin point who brought which song to the band.  As you go down the album, you can sort of sense that there is one musician who is sort of taking the lead; clearly it is their style and we’re sort of morphing our playing to fit that.  I think our first record still stands, I’m really happy with how it sounds when I listen back today, but there’s definitely more…I think it’s just more geared towards sort of featuring specific styles and specific players.

Over the years, we’ve played together more (we probably played 100 shows between that first album and our second record), and we just spent much more time together.  We were becoming more diverse and versatile musicians and so when we were building up our repertoire for our second album, it’s less clear what styles of music each specific song comes from.  Certainly, with more original music, we’re sort of developing a sound that’s really our sound, as opposed to like an Irish music sound or an old-time music sound or a bluegrass kind of sound.  There are certain tracks that certainly have that feel (there are certain tracks that have similar to an Irish feel), but I think it’s a little bit less clear, which I think is really fun for us, because it just sounds like us. That’s the biggest difference between those two albums.

There’re some technical differences between them as well: we sing a little bit more on the new album, but we also recorded this new album down in Nashville, as opposed to our first album which was recorded here locally, on this local label called Patuxent.  The new one we actually released ourselves, and [it] definitely gained a bit more traction, landing on the Billboard bluegrass chart for a couple weeks.  We’re really happy with how it turned out…Since releasing it in the summer, we’ve actually only probably played maybe seven or eight shows since then. So it’s still really fresh to us! We’ll be playing a lot of that new material on our promotional circuit.

Alright, this is my last question!  Thank you so much it’s been a blast.  Reading over your bio a word that keeps coming up is “ambassador,” how you’re an ambassador for old-time music, and  clawhammer.  You also hear the band described as torchbearers, for a lot for roots music.  What about this music, be it fiddle music or old-time, makes you want to be this ambassador? What makes you want to share it with others?

Well I guess part of it is just knowing how much fun we have playing this music, and how we want other people to have access to the same kind of enjoyment that we get out of the music.  It’s just satisfying for me to play a concert and have a fun time, and it’s just as fun to organize a concert, or organize a local square dance or a jam and I think it’s just as much fun for me to look out in the audience and see all those folks having a fun time, either playing along in a jam or dancing at a square dance, or clapping along at a concert.  That gives me just as much satisfaction: that it will be sort of carried on for years to come.

Also selfishly, I enjoy living in a town where there are lots of opportunities to experience music. When I moved back to Baltimore, I made it my mission to help grow the scene here now; so other folks can enjoy this music, but so I have more opportunities to enjoy this music myself and with the idea that other folks might be interested in that as well. We’re starting this big old-time music festival here in March, with this venue called the Creative Alliance, which is really tying together a handful of events that I’ve been a part of for the past couple years.  That’s been a really fun new endeavor and I think it’s going to go really well.

In regard to being torch bearers, there’s a responsibility with tradition (especially with an aural tradition) that is passed down generation to generation…It’s just a social style of music.  It’s really meant to be shared, and at its core it’s a style where you just get together with your friends to play socially.  We just happen to do it onstage, and get payed for it.  But I think we’re mostly engaged in this musical world because of the social component.  I think without that we don’t feel as inspired, so I think as torchbearers I think it’s mostly just about bring able to share this music so that people down the road get into playing.  You don’t need to be an expert, or an advance player to start strumming along on a few chords, or playing a couple tunes on the fiddle!

Brad thank you so much!

Yeah likewise!

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Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He is on instagram