On April 26th in Harrisburg John McCutcheon Performs the Music of Pete Seeger in Honor of the 100th Anniversary of Pete’s Birth

John McCutcheon is master of a dozen different traditional instruments and revered as one of America’s most respected and loved folksingers. He brings his celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pete Seeger to Harrisburg for an April 26 Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at 7:30 p.m. at Market Square Presbyterian Church, 20 S. Second Street, Harrisburg.

May 3, 2019, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Pete Seeger. No one had a greater impact on American folk music than Seeger. McCutcheon was both a student and friend of Pete’s. He has released an album celebrating the Seeger century—”To Everyone in All the World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger.”

Pete Seeger once said of John McCutcheon, “John is not only one of the best musicians in the USA, but also a great singer, songwriter, and song leader. And not just incidentally, he is committed to helping hard-working people everywhere to organize and push this world in a better direction.”

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.com or telephone (800) 838-3006. Visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at https://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/JohnMcCutcheon.html  for tickets and more information.

Last night I had a chance to talk to John McCutcheon about his musical background, the many instruments that he plays, and the special relationship that he had with Pete Seeger.

 

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about your early years. How did you decide to take a musical path?

 

JOHN: I was one of 10, 000 kids who played guitar back in the 1960s when folk music was available and visible—its 15 minutes of notoriety before rock music took over. I didn’t know about folk music early on because I wasn’t in any of the big hubs—I wasn’t in Boston or New York—I grew up in North Central Wisconsin.

So I didn’t know anything about this thing that was going on. But my mother who was a social worker before she became my mother in my eleventh summer made me sit down and watch the March on Washington. It was the first thing that was broadcast live on all the channels. The next thing was Kennedy’s assignation which was mere months later.

So even if I wasn’t interested in it as my mother was, I would have known that it was something of note. So me being the eldest, my mother, and thinking I was probably the closest to adult companionship that she could get, sat me down and made me watch it.

And everything about it was amazing to me. I mean, I didn’t know that there were that many people in the world, there was this preaching that resonated with me—I mean it was right out of the church—all the language, even the songs, “We Shall Overcome” sounded like a hymn to me. But it was when the only white people who were on the stage came out and sang, it was Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger—and this was my introduction to folk music.

Fast forward two or three years and my youngest brother was born. I had been in charge of all my brothers and sisters being 14 at the time and when everything was announced to be good I left my next youngest sister in charge, she was only a year younger than I was, and I biked my way down to the music store and bought an album entitled “We Should Overcome” because I had become interested in this and it was a Pete Seeger album.

 

“The most fantastic instrument that Pete Seeger played was the audience.”—early impressions of Pete Seeger

 

FOLKMAMA: What did the album come to mean to you?

 

JOHN: It was my introduction to live performance and to Pete Seeger. [The album had been recorded live at Carnegie Hall] I had never been to a concert and Pete made this whole thing really unusual. I knew that concerts were supposed to be somebody showing off. And this was definitely not that. And he got the whole audience involved. Every night—the most fantastic instrument that Pete Seeger played was the audience. He got them singing—he got them doing something that growing up Catholic I had no idea that humans could sing like that.

That’s when I decided to get a guitar. And my best friend got a guitar too and between us, we drove everyone in our houses crazy. And from that time the ability of music to both pull together and expand people had never let up. And I was lucky enough that there were still some of the enthusiasts of the folk music world left in the wake of the folk music revival and it was groups like you all, groups who wanted to provide a place for people who liked this kind of music to get together to play and dance and have campouts and they could put stuff in schools and just promote this stuff that they love. And then every now and again maybe a itinerate folk singer would come into town and we would rent out a Unitarian Church or a Union Hall and put on a show. But that was not the primary reason that little groups existed all over the country. So I started off traveling hither and yon playing for little folk music groups.

 

“I wanted to hitchhike around the Appalachian South and meet banjo players.”—exploring old-time music.

 

FOLKMAMA: I know that you spent a lot of time in the Appalachian South as a young man learning about folk music from the elders there and that this time was very influential in your evolution as a folk musician. How did that come about?

 

JOHN: One of the things that happened to me as a teenager is I started to play the banjo and growing up in Northern Wisconsin, it was a really lonely effort. I went to college at a little college in Minnesota and they started an independent majors program and I went to them with a proposal that I wanted to go where the banjo lived. I wanted to hitchhike around the Appalachian South and meet banjo players. And they granted me this three-month independent study which I’m still on 50 years later. I never went back I just fell in love with the music and the people and the land and all the stuff that was a part of that.

Coming out of academia, as a student, they put you in a little room for 45 minutes to an hour and they have a professional teacher who will sequentially lay out something that you have signed up for and you focus on that to the exclusion of everything else.

When I found myself sitting in someone else’s living room with a banjo in my lap, this person was not a professional teacher. I had to learn how to do a whole different kind of learning. I also found out that it wasn’t banjo playing to the exclusion of everything else in the world. This person was a farmer, or a teacher, or a mailman, or a coal miner or a retiree. And it was simply part of their lives.

And also banjo player tended to hang out with other musicians to make music. So it wasn’t long before I was messing around on the fiddle and the hammered dulcimer and autoharps and mountain dulcimers. I dusted off my piano playing from when I was a kid.

It helps to not have a job! And be young and don’t have any responsibilities like kids or spouses or anything. I just learned and played all day.  And there was also no “no” in my vocabulary. I was open to everything.

 

“In fact, I have a 12 string guitar that is a sister to Pete’s guitar.”—instrument John McCutcheon will be playing in Harrisburg on April 26th

 

FOLKMAMA: Which instruments that you learned through these experiences do you still play? What will you be playing during the Harrisburg concert on April 26th?

 

JOHN: I’ll have a couple of different kinds of guitars because I’m promoting my recent album “To Everyone in All the World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger.”So I will have a 12 string guitar [which Pete Seeger played] in addition to a 6 string guitar. In fact, I have a 12 string guitar that is a sister to Pete’s guitar. I’ll have a banjo of course and fiddle and autoharp. They’ll be a piano there for me and I’ll play the hammered dulcimer.

 

FOLKMAMA: So getting back to your time in the South for a moment, I’m curious how you were received during this odyssey that you were on to learn about southern old-time music. Others like David Holt, and certainly many folklorists and collectors have done a similar thing. Did people in the Appalachia areas that you visited look on you as an outsider? Were musicians there willing to share?

 

JOHN: Well, southern hospitality is no myth. It is simply because people were brought up properly to be polite and to be hospitable. I think part of it is that I had the right attitude. I didn’t go in as a missionary and I wasn’t trying to sell them anything. I wasn’t trying to rob them of anything and I realize as I look back on it now, that I was blessedly without preconceptions.

You have to understand that this is like the early 1970s. And everyone’s picture, especially in the Appalachian south, was caricatured by the Beverly Hillbillies and Deliverance and Little Abner and Hee Haw. And not only did I not watch much television, but I knew that that was all bullshit. And it was just stereotyping for the purpose of making money and making people laugh. So I didn’t come with any expectations. I didn’t expect people to be toothless rubes, and they weren’t.

And ancillary to that there had been a cultural change in the south due mainly to technology as I said the people that I spent time with had learned from their elders. But their kids were not interested. They wanted to play rock and roll. They didn’t want to play this old fashioned stuff. Many of them in their later years came back to it, as you tend to do when you get older. You tend to appreciate where you came from. I think people were flattered that I was interested in their music and wanted to learn how to do it.

 

“These songs that have been worn smooth and beautiful on a thousand tongues before mine taught me a lot about storytelling and my place in the world”—the influence of traditional music on John McCutcheon’s songwriting.

 

FOLKMAMA: When I look at your music when now consists of a very huge body of work, I see that you are very influenced by American folk music, but you are best known as a songwriter. When did you first start writing songs?

 

JOHN: I started writing when I started playing. And I wrote lots of stuff, lots of really horrible songs! But it was paying attention to traditional music that became my guide. This old music has endured in a way that few modern songs could ever do. And these songs that have been worn smooth and beautiful on a thousand tongues before mine taught me a lot about storytelling and my place in the world.

And I also hung out a lot with people who came out of the tradition to write songs. People like Hazel Dickens and Utah Phillips and Jean Richie and people who were thoroughly skilled in traditional music and loved and played it almost better than anybody. But who also wrote songs. And I jean Richie’s case especially, she wrote them so perfectly, that most people don’t think of her as a songwriter. They can’t tell which of her songs is an original, and which is traditional. That was my class.

 

“You can’t pick up an elementary school music book and probably half of the songs are in there because Pete Seeger reintroduced them into the American vocabulary.”—on Pete Seeger

 

 

 

FOLKMAMA: Your latest album featured the music of Pete Seeger and now you are doing a series of concerts showcasing the music of Pete Seeger. Why do you think Pete Seeger was so significant in the folk music world? What has made him so beloved?

 

JOHN: His reach was incredibly broad. He was part of that New York scene back in the 1930s and 40s when Leadbelly was there and Woody Guthrie moved to town in February of 1940. There were all these people who played folk music and were also active in politics. You have to remember that this is still the Great Depression. And you’re trying to figure out, “How did this happen?”, “How can we prevent this from happening again?” and “How do we get out of here?” And you had coming in the most sweeping changes in history via the New Deal which lifted us out of the Great Depression. And you had people who thought what is considered Left Wing now was a viable alternative. So you had a lot of musicians who were going out and playing at labor rallies and anti-war rallies, and doing the kind of stuff that people still seem to be doing today. But this had never really been done before.

But simultaneously to all this and lost in the hoo-ha, was that Pete Seeger was also going into the Library of Congress Folk Music Archives what today is the American Folklife Center and unearthing what we call American Folk Songs. And making recordings of them. You can’t pick up an elementary school music book and probably half of the songs are in there because Pete Seeger reintroduced them into the American vocabulary. I realized that when I was a boy scout, that many of the songs that we sang around the campfire were reintroduced to us by Pete Seeger. He was really reintroducing us to ourselves. He was making these songs that were sitting in archives something dynamic an alive and pertinent. Now we can listen to ‘Old Dan Tucker’ ‘Froggy Went a’ Courting” as something that is just a part of our everyday vocabulary, but it didn’t used to be and it wasn’t that long ago.

Her put out the first folk music albums for children. And of course he was right there in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement, he was at the vanguard of the Environmental Movement. And he wasn’t just showing off. He went down and worked in Mississippi and Alabama.

And that was one of the interesting things about that album that I got when I was 14 years old ‘We Shall Overcome.’ It was filled with music from the Civil Rights Movement and a lot of the stuff had just been written. And now we look back and say, “Tell me the songs that you remember from the Civil Rights Movement” and a lot of them are on that album.

He just seemed to be the guy that showed up. He lived his principals, he stuck his neck out. He had great skill and great courage. And as I often tell my songwriting students, not one remembers you just because you are a great artist, people remember people with guts.

He was a very shy man. He was never very comfortable with his notoriety. He came alive when he got onstage because he got everyone involved. He really downplayed his notoriety, but he was willing to use that notoriety to mentor.

 

“Through the years he was a great friend and great mentor, and a great teacher to us all and a wonderful guy to play music with.” —on having Pete Seeger as a friend

 

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe the friendship that you had with Pete Seeger”

 

JOHN: He came up to me early on and gave me ideas and suggestions and warnings and through the years he was a great friend and great mentor, and great teacher to us all and a wonderful guy to play music with. He was really fun.

 

FOLKMAMA: How did you meet?

 

JOHN: I was playing at a festival somewhere and I came out on stage to do my little show and there was Pete sitting in the audience. And I think if you talked to a lot musician that was not an unusual thing to find. He was the guy who stayed in the round robins until the last dog was dead. He was always interested in hearing new people and taking the pulse of what was really going on. He was energized by young people and as he became the obvious elder he was generous with gifts. But he was also a wonderfully whacky thinker. He used to call me up and say, “John, I got this new idea “or “I saw you do something and I want you to explain it to me.”

 

“I realized that it was an album I’ve wanted to make for 50 plus years. They are just songs that [Pete Seeger sang} that I’ve always loved” —on John’s latest album “To Everyone in All the World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger.”

 

 

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about the album of Pete Seeger songs that you recorded.

 

JOHN: It’s sort of a third of a trilogy. Back in 2012, I did an album in honor of Woody Guthrie’s 100th anniversary of his birth. And in 2015 I did another album citing the anniversary of the death of Joe Hill. So when I was doing that album I thought, “Well this is getting to be kind of a pattern. The next thing is obviously going to be honoring the 100th birthday of Pete Seeger.”

I thought it would be much more daunting to pick the songs that I wanted. But they really kind of came to me in a flash. And I realized that most had been songs that had kind of marinated with me since I was a kid. In fact, there is only one song on the album that I learned as an adult.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a recording session with an absolutely clear idea of the arrangements. I just knew how I wanted people to understand the song.  It’s all going to be about the vocals.

So I realized that it was an album I’ve wanted to make for 50 plus years. It’s songs that I learned from him, and some are songs that he wrote.  But like songs ‘Guantanamera’ he didn’t write. But he certainly was singularly responsible for popularizing. And then there were some iconic songs that I felt that I had to do ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’ because that’s was the one that was blacklisted by CBS on the Smothers Brothers Show. Probably ones that people would know are ‘Turn, Turn,Turn’ and ‘If I had a Hammer’. They are just songs that I’ve always loved.

 

“I’m amazed at how enthusiastic audiences have been about singing along—people really have a connection to a lot of these [Pete Seeger] songs.”

 

FOLKMAMA: Tell me what people coming to your April 26th concert should expect.

 

JOHN: I’ll probably do half the album during the course of the concert and what’s really fun is the singing that happens. I mean, I’ve always done singing in my concerts, if you grow up figuratively at the knee of Pete Seeger it’s something that you cherish. What you learn from the very beginning is that the audience is very good at this—they just don’t get asked to do it very often. But it’s something really different that happens—something that I’ve been thinking about all year. I’m amazed at how enthusiastic audiences have been about singing along—people really have a connection to a lot of these songs.

And I also think in these really fractured times, that the fact that a bunch of strangers can come into a room and create something really beautiful, is so antithetical to our culture right now. It feels really good and people long for it.

 

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SFMS presents Tracy Grammer & Jim Henry Feb. 2, 2019 in Harrisburg, PA. An Interview with Tracy Grammer.

 Interview with Tracy Grammer by Chris Milsom

Acclaimed contemporary folk music star Tracy Grammer brings her springwater-clear alto voice, perfectly intoned violin, and percussive and delicate guitar playing to Central Pennsylvania for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Saturday, February 2, 2019, at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Grammer rose to prominence as half of the “postmodern, mythic American folk” duo Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer. Between 1998 and 2001, they released three internationally celebrated, chart-topping albums featuring Carter’s mytho-poetic Americana songcraft. In 2002 they toured with Joan Baez both as featured artists and as her band mates. Their rise in the music world ended in July 2002 when Carter suffered a massive heart attack and died at age 49.

Determined to honor their trajectory and keep Carter’s songs alive, Grammer stayed on the road, releasing several solo and archival recordings, including Little Blue Egg, which was the number-one most played album on folk radio in 2012 and contained that year’s number-one most played song.

She is currently touring to celebrate the release of Low Tide, her first album of original songs. Co-produced with long-time touring partner and multi-instrumentalist Jim Henry, who will appear with Grammer in the concert, the album was released January 19, 2018 on Grammer’s own label.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available at http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/TracyGrammer.html or by telephone at (800) 838-3006. To learn more about Tracy Grammer visit her website at http://www.tracygrammer.com.

Recently, Tracy spent some time sharing her thoughts with Susquehanna Folk volunteer interviewer Chris Milsom.

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It occurs to me that you are about the age now that your music and life partner, Dave Carter, was when he suddenly passed away in 2002 while you were on tour together.

Yes, turning 50 was a trip.  Turning 49 was scary because I was like: this is how old he was? This is unthinkable. I feel like a spring chicken. I was only 34 when Dave died.  Then when I got to 50, it was very disconcerting, strange, and sort of tragic in its own way.  Then I thought, alright, it’s ok, I am still here, my heart is still beating.   I hadn’t realized that I had been hanging onto this fear that I was going to share the same fate for 16 years.  So, then it was like, now what? What am I going to do with the gift of my remaining years?  It seems like a small miracle that I live longer than he did.

I had this sense when I met him that he was either going to die young or live forever. It’s kind of both in a way.  He did die young but he left all this music behind and there it is, your “little tiny” contribution that will go on without you.  It’s very interesting, the whole trip.

Probably the most helpful thing anyone told me was that it took them about 5 years to start feeling like themselves again.  At first, I was like, the heck with that!  On the other hand, I relaxed into those 5 years and let it be. When I hit the 5 year mark, I checked with myself and said,” self, do you feel better now?”  I could say “yes”. I do feel like I came around.  I definitely felt like, that 5 years was a window I could work with.

I want to congratulation you on the success of your 2018 release Low Tide. It is ending up #9 for folk albums on the Folk DJ List for 2018.   I am so impressed with the powerful songs you have written and the process you took to get to those songs.   What is that you want to tell us about that?

Well, what I can say is that pain is really good for creativity.  It is such a deep well. There are so many levels to it, right?  There is the feeling level of it, you just have to sit there and feel it.  But it doesn’t have to be just pain.  If you can cultivate a curiosity about anything you are going through, there are just levels and levels of art you can make from it.  It can be any emotion or sense of wonder or boredom or grieving. This is what I am learning to do. This sort of seems to be what my life is teaching me, to just sit with whatever comes and see what it has to offer. Sort of turn it over in your hand like it is a little stone you are trying to see what it’s made of.  You hold it up to the light and get to know it, taste it and smell it and not really be in resistance because once it’s here, you can’t have it not be here.  This has been sort of my meditation.

The songs on Low Tide come from that kind of attention, to a period of time in my life when I was going through a bunch of stuff. They really have nothing to do with Dave, in spite of what some people think.  They are really more specific to a particular relationship and time.  Then there is the song about my Dad, a healing song.  (Tracy’s father died of cancer in 2013. They sometimes had a difficult relationship and he was very sick before he told her he was dying, passing away before she could see him in person)

So, just the process of sitting with things and being curious about them and letting them move you into art. That is sort of my big revelation with Low Tide, that capacity.  It is a very different relationship to my music career than singing Dave Carter songs. In that realm, I have a creative foot in it but not the same.  I make it pretty and presentable and make it alive, of course, for Dave Carter fans but it’s not quite the same as pulling from your own self as a source.  It was quite the trip, I will say that.

 I can believe that! So, you wrote these songs 4 years ago and now you are out there touring in support of this album.  I wonder as you are performing them now, how have things changed for you?  Do you feel differently about any of them now?  Do you sing them differently?  How does this move you through a place you were 4 years ago?

They do, they are starting to feel different.  Partly what happens when I am writing, I am letting stuff come through that I don’t necessarily understand.  I have a daily writing practice I have been doing forever. I write longhand for at least an hour every day.  I am really comfortable with my voice and the flow of words.  I take a playful approach to it.  When I sat down to write those songs, it was sort of like conjuring. I just let them come through.   It they sounded pretty, or made me cry a little or if they just felt right, I let them go but I didn’t necessarily understand them.  So, the process of singing them, and performing them and seeing how audiences react has really taught me what they are about.  So now, I feel like when I deliver these songs, I can go a little deeper with them.   On the surface it may seem the same as a year ago, but my feeling about them is different.   I understand myself a little better and understand my muse a little better.

I do occasionally think to myself, if you keep singing “Hole”, which is basically: I am never ever going to get married, how are you ever going find a partner?  One wonders to what extent one is casting futures one doesn’t really want by repeating the same message over and over again.  Maybe in the next batch of songs I will look at things from a different perspective.

It is very like me all my life to be just a tad tragic. I have what I call the “Blue Gene”, a depressive streak that I think I inherited from my father and grandmother.   Not so much anymore, since I turned 50 and got free of that fear of dying. The Big Exhale, ha, ha.

Well now, since you have this daily writing practice, I’m assuming you are writing more songs?  It took you 4 years to get from writing those songs to putting out Low Tide, your 11th release but the first one of your own songs.  Where are you at with your next project and how are you feeling about things?

The writing I do is not songs, it’s just flat out journaling.  It’s like a meditation.  It’s the first thing I do in the morning. After getting my latte, I sit down to write and I don’t usually remember what I write.  I am planting seeds and see it as tending my rows not knowing what may grow. I sometimes underline words as I write that I want to come back to later. I am messing around with language which I think is fun.

What I am preparing to settle into is some memoir work which has been long neglected.  I started this in 2007 after taking a memoir class, writing a chapter here and a chapter there.   I was in a writer’s group for about 4 years when I lived in Pennsylvania but stopped when I moved to Greenfield, MA.  Luckily, the success of my fall tour will allow me to take this winter off from performing so much so I can get working on this project.  I am ready to dig into my journals from 1998 up to about 2012, the 10 year mark (of Dave’s passing) and see what I’ve got.

As far as the next album is concerned, my hope is to come out with something in 2020. Low Tide is good for another national tour. I will be taking it out again in the fall. Making Low Tide was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to doing the next album.

You tour with some pretty amazing musicians and will be coming to the Susquehanna Folk Society show with Jim Henry.  What do you want us to know about him? 

I have known and played with Jim Henry since 2003. He was with me for my first big tour after Dave died.  He has been my stand by guy.  He is a fantastic multi-instrumentalist. He is also a songwriter and producer and a podcast host and just wrote a book called “50 Pro Tips for Musicians”. He can do it all, was Mary Chapin’s guitar player for a while.

Jim and I have spent so many miles and shows together, we have a really great balance. Jim is the perfect counter point to my dark side with his funny banter and good stories. Also, when he comes along, I get to play my violin more which my fans always enjoy hearing.  People can expect a lovely multi-instrument show with funny stories and a real lovely sound. Jim is a great harmony singer.  This is my preferred presentation, the duo with Jim Henry.

I was wondering about that, which format you prefer, solo, duos, or touring with a larger band?

Actually, I really like solo shows and I like touring with Jim Henry.  When you are solo, you have a slightly more intimate, more direct contact with the audience.  It’s more of a conversation. When I am with Jim Henry, it is more of a show.  We are involving the audience, also, but we have a thing that we are doing.  It’s my impression, and I could be completely wrong that the shows with Jim Henry might have a broader appeal.  Some folks like Jim’s stories, guitar players nerd out on his gear, there’s just a little more for everybody.  We have been doing it for so long that it is seamless for us and super fun.

You mentioned that with the Jim Henry shows, you get to play your violin more.  Is that your preferred instrument?

You know, I spent so many years touring, just me and my guitar that I am more up to speed on the guitar at this point, but I played violin all my life and I do love violin and of course, I played violin and mandolin with Dave.  That’s how I got my start in folk music. That’s who I was.

It will be interesting as you continue on this journey of “who am I and what am I really doing?” which instrument you will gravitate toward.  Maybe that violin will be popping up more in your future?

Well, I did buy myself a looper recently because I was starting to feel self-conscious about not playing violin on the solo tours. This way, even on the one-woman tours, I can start with guitar or the violin and play the other instrument over it, without getting all excessive about it.  I know that many people groan when they hear the word, looper, but I think there is a tasteful way to do it. I think it is a super creative tool.  I won’t be doing it on this tour, though, because I haven’t practiced with it enough yet to feel comfortable using it in a show.

I don’t like playing the violin unaccompanied and I thought this would be would be a way for me to play it more because my fans actually bought me this violin.  Yes, in 2004; I think it was the first crowd funding exercise ever.  Somebody from Michigan heard that my old violin was having problems with tone and started a Pay Pal donation site and in something like 3-6 week’s time they had raised $10,000!  So, I thought, Ok I guess I am getting a new violin. This was before Facebook. This was email.  This was really hand to hand grassroots stuff.  Now, I show up for my solo tours and my fans will ask “where is that violin we bought you?” so that is another motivation to learn the looper. It seems appropriate.

Wow! That is amazing! What a testament to you and your fans.

The last thing I wanted to ask you was about your cat, Miss Kitty, who you described in your interview with Artie Martello as a “lifesaver” for you.  Does she travel with you on your tours? 

She does! Miss Kitty went on the fall tour which lasted 6 or 7 weeks.  She is an old girl now, at almost 17. She is very content to sit in the back on her pillow. She is great in the hotels and rides on the luggage cart. She doesn’t come to the shows.  That’s a little bit too much stimulation for her.  She is a great companion and it really is quite grounding to have a little someone to take care of on the road.  You can really get lost in your head out on the road traveling by yourself.

Thanks so much for your time, Tracy.  We all look forward to seeing and hearing you in a few weeks.

 

Chris Milsom lives in Wrightsville, PA.  A bass player, dubbed Mrs. Bobby, she and her beloved singer-songwriter husband, Joe, aka Robert Bobby, performed as a duo until his death in March 2018.

 

The Honey Dewdrops on Sunday, January 6th (Rescheduled date).

THE HONEY DEWDROPS come to Harrisburg for a Sunday, January 6, 2019 concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society. The concert will be held 7:30 PM at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg.

The Honey Dewdrops are comprised of a young, multi-talented husband-wife duo, Kagey Parrish and Laura Wortman. Their sound is characterized by compelling, earthy harmonies – so tight that they often sound as if one person is singing in two compelling voices. Both sing lead and harmony, play acoustic guitar. In addition, Parrish plays the mandolin, and Wortman plays banjo and harmonica.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22.

Tickets are available at http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/HoneyDewdrops.html, by calling (800) 838-3006 or at the door.

We had the opportunity recently to speak to Kagey about the duo’s name, what kind of music they are likely to play during the Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert, and the group’s songwriting.

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FOLKMAMA:  How many years have you and Laura traveled together as The Honey Dewdrops?

KAGEY: It’s been 9 years now, going on ten. We’ve had a nice long run. There are a lot of bands that don’t make it to their 10th year anniversary! We met in college and played together in the one-time-only rock band. The band didn’t last, but we found that we really liked playing together, so we started doing that first and then became a couple later.

FOLKMAMA: I like your name, it’s pretty cool. It reminds me of some of the old bands that used to play in the early days of radio. Where did it come from?

KAGEY: You know that Uncle Dave Macon, one of the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry was nicknamed the ‘Dixie Dewdrop’. I always kind of liked the sound of that! For us we liked the idea of a name that tied us to the past but also conveyed a sense of place. We were living in Scottsdale, Virginia at the time and there was this inn there called the Dew Drop Inn. It was actually the place that the Dew Drop Inn in the TV show ‘The Walton’s’ was patterned after. So that was the ‘Dewdrop’ part and the ‘Honey’ was because we are married, as in a ‘honey-do-list!’

FOLKMAMA: When I think of your band and your overall sound, I think of you as singer-songwriters who are choosing to play their music within the framework of an old-time sound. You are clearly creating new music, but I’m interested in hearing about your inspiration for framing it the way you do.

KAGEY: Both Laura and I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we were very influenced by the music around us. For us, the traditional sound really works.

First off, the duet style of singing has been so present in American folk music—there are tons and tons of recordings. For me, the idea of two voices together in harmony accompanied by guitar or banjo opens up so many possibilities. It’s an uncomplicated, stripped-down style that produces a real clarity of sound that has the ability to resonate with listeners really deep down. But although we’re taking cues for older recordings, we are very interested in putting our own signature on what a duet sound can be.

We also play tunes too. We play some traditional ones like ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’ but also some that we’ve written ourselves. Laura plays clawhammer banjo and guitar, and I play guitar and mandolin. I especially love playing fiddle tunes on guitar and mandolin.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me a little about your songwriting–the content, as well as the process.

KAGEY: We like to write songs that feel real to us, songs that reflect what’s going on and help us to make sense of the world. You know we were talking a moment about traditional music. Some of our themes are not too different from past struggles written about in old folk songs. Times change, but in some ways, they are still the same.

Here’s an example. Recently we were driving through West Virginia and we could see the devastation to the land that was caused by pipelines coming through. It reminded me about the destruction that was caused by coal mining that Hazel Dickens wrote about so many years ago. It seems like we are destined to repeat history and there is no shortage of tough stuff to write about. Our challenge when we are writing is to look at current human experiences and look for the good—try to make some sense of life in a deep spiritual way.

I usually supply the lyrics, the story line and I give it to Laura and she handles the melody. Sometimes she does both. Our process is pretty open-minded. There have been some other musicians that have covered our stuff which we are pretty happy about. It’s just really good to get the music out there.

FOLKMAMA: I’m glad that you mentioned the story line. When I hear your music I really think of storytelling because your songs paint such vivid images. Storytelling used to be considered a folk art but now it’s everywhere—The Moth Radio, Snap Judgment, story slams, etc. Do you think that the current emphasis and interest in storytelling has helped to broaden the appeal of your music?

KAGEY: Actually, I think it has. It’s given us a more genre-bending identity and allowed us to play in a wider variety of places. What we look for in a venue is that they are welcoming to a quieter, more message-driven style of music. It doesn’t have to be a folk venue.

FOLKMAMA: You’ve really gotten your original music out there with four strong studio recordings, the latest being Tangled County. What’s next?

KAGEY: We’ll have a new CD out next year and actually we’ll be playing some music off the new CD at the Fort Hunter Concert on November 15th. It’s called Anyone Can See and it’s a little bit of a snapshot of how the world looks to us right now.

Thursday, September 20th Corn Potato String Band play in Harrisburg, PA!

The Corn Potato String Band will make their grand return to the Susquehanna Folk Music Society stage when they appear on Thursday, September 20, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn located at 5300 N. Front Street in Harrisburg, PA. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $10 Students, and $20 Susquehanna Folk Music Society members.

For tickets and information visit https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3594138

The band has delighted audiences with their driving fiddle tunes and harmonious singing across the US, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and India. In addition to being champion fiddlers, they play banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin and deftly handle many different old-time styles including ballads, “ho-downs,” country “rags” and southern gospel, specializing in twin fiddling and double banjo tunes.

As those that went last year found out–onstage they are infectious, fun, and VERY entertaining! Aside from humorous songs and stellar musicianship, we’ll also get a chance to see a “cranky” (scrolling picture show) and some flatfoot dancing!

We had the chance to learn more about the band during a chat with band member Aaron Jonah Lewis (updated for a 9/17 interview)

_______________________________________

 

FOLKMAMA: What can people expect to hear when they come to a Corn Potato Soup concert?

 

AARON: We play old-time music in a broad sense.  You will hear old-time Appalachian tunes, Country Rags, Mexican Polkas, Early Country and some Western Swing.  We like to dig up beautiful and unique songs and instrumentals from the 1920s and 1930s.  You will definitely hear something you haven’t heard before, and if you have heard it before, we might do it differently.  We recently have been featuring “Classic Banjo” which is a style of music that comes from the 1890’s-1900’s.  The banjo music of that era has a ragtime feel and reminds you of silent movie music, which is why we have our own scrolling picture show to accompany a couple of the banjo pieces.  We also can’t get through a show without letting Lindsay do some flatfooting.

 

FOLKMAMA: How did all the members in the band meet?

 

AARON: We all met for the first time at a Spaghetti Dinner in Richmond, VA, where our mutual friend was hosting a variety show.  None of us remember it, so the second time we all met was at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV.  Lindsay and some friends recruited Aaron and Ben to play Klezmer music for a latke party.

 

FOLKMAMA: How did the band get its unusual name?

 

AARON: The Corn Potato String Band got its name in the tradition of band names that evoke a bucolic setting with a suggestion of gaiety.  We have since realized that it gives us the tagline:  “The Ears and Eyes of America” which is kind of fun and weird at the same time.

 

FOLKMAMA: Tell me a little bit about the band members—specifically what they bring to the band.

 

AARON: Aaron is the Brains, Ben is the Face and Lindsay is the intestines.  Aaron and Ben played in a bluegrass band in Richmond for a long time.  They love to play fast and have great chops on fiddles and banjos.  Lindsay is a puppeteer but when she met up with Aaron, who is her household companion, she always wanted to be in a band.  She has managed to sneak some cranky shows and the occasional novelty song into the Corn Potato repertoire.

 

FOLKMAMA: Are you all full time with the band, or do you have other projects?

 

AARON: We are not a full-time band right now.  We do have other projects.  Ben Belcher plays with the Hot Seats, based in Richmond when he can. Lindsay and Aaron play and tour with Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings.  Aaron also performs solo and plays with several other bands in and around Detroit and some Chicago and New York-based projects when he can.  Lindsay continues to make puppet shows and works with puppet companies in Minneapolis and Vermont.

 

FOLKMAMA: Tell us about any CDs which you have recently made. (Which concert-goers may want to purchase!)

AARON: Our latest CD is called: “Good Job Everybody” and features a little of everything we do.  Highlights include a double fiddle polka, an old country song about UFOs, an original double-banjo “stomp,” and one of our favorite novelty songs about drinking too much from 1928.

 

Our three previous CDs are currently out of print but they are available on our website http://www.cornpotato.com. We will also have a couple of Aaron’s CDs from other projects available: Square Peg Rounders’ “Galax, NYC,” an all-instrumental album of traditional fiddle tunes played with fiddle, banjo, and guitar, and lots of flair, and “Wild Hog,” an experimental/traditional album of classic old-time songs and tunes played with fiddles, banjo, guitar, and bass, in the style of old-time musicians who also love who also love free improvisation.

Tėada, from Sligo, Ireland to appear March 18th in Harrisburg (tunes, music + dancing)

“One of the most exciting traditional groups to emerge in recent years” Irish World

Coming from Sligo, Ireland the band Tėada (the word means “strings” in the Irish language) has achieved worldwide acclaim for its ability to stay true to the timeless, expressive force of traditional tunes inherited from previous generations of great Irish musicians.

Midstaters can experience Tėada in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 18, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., at Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. The five-piece band expands to seven for this event with champion step-dancer Samantha Harvey and legendary singer and musician Séamus (SHAY-mus) Begley.

Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3050248)

Téada first appeared in 2001 on Irish television, led by County Sligo fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada. Though still in their teens, the young musicians were driven by the timeless, expressive force of music inherited from previous generations.

The band was quickly cheered for “keeping the traditional flag flying at full mast” (The Irish Times). “A fresh force in Irish music” said Earle Hitchner in the Irish Echo, and Irish Music Magazine described them as “the strings that bind…a young band with a deeply authentic sound [at] the cutting edge of the next generation.”

“We try to capture some of the rawness and individuality of the solo artist tradition, within the dynamic of a full band,” says Mac Diarmada.

The original quartet is now often a septet with Seamus Begley, the elder statesmen of the group. From a famous musical family in County Kerry, named 2013’s Traditional Singer of the Year (Irish TV TG4), Begley brings a deep trove of songs as well as fiery accordion playing and wit.

Téada’s most recent release, In Spite of the Storm (Gael Linn, 2013), follows a string of acclaimed albums on the Green Linnet and Compass labels, and the first to feature Begley. “One of the outstanding releases in recent memory,” raved Daniel Neely in The Irish Echo. “Another typically thoughtful and thought-provoking excursion from a band still hungry for tunes– and, belatedly, for songs,” added Siobhan Long in The Irish Times.

The American tour is supported in part by Culture Ireland, a branch of the Irish government promoting Irish arts worldwide. For more information on the band visit their website at teada.com

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

To listen/watch Teada visit these sites:

AUDIO

In Spite of the Storm: https://teada.bandcamp.com/album/ainneoin-na-stoirme-in-spite-of-the-storm

VIDEOS

Song with Seamus Begley https://youtu.be/W2_-oHPm5C8

April Verch and Joe Newberry, December 7th, in Harrisburg!

April Verch and Joe Newberry, both respected folk music performers in their own right, will come together for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Thursday, December 7, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be held in The Gallery at Appalachian Brewing Company located at the 50 N. Cameron Street in Harrisburg.

Expect to enjoy some music of the season along with songs, fiddle tunes, and lively step dancing!

With all the success that each of them they have had, Verch and Newberry have never forgotten the roots of their music, the connection to members of an audience, on the dance floor, to the community sparked by a good song. Their collaboration is fueled by their kindred passion for bringing people together to celebrate traditional music.

Verch grew up listening to her dad’s country band play for dances in Canada’s Ottawa Valley. She started step-dancing at age three and fiddling at age six, and decided early-on that she wanted to be a professional musician. Joe Newberry is a Missouri native who has played music most of his life and a frequent guest on Garrison Keillor’s 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. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

We recently had a chance to talk to both Joe and April about the traditions that each of them loves, and how their music intersects.

________________________________

FOLKMAMA: Can you each tell me a bit about your early years and the folk music that you grew up with?

APRIL: I grew up in the Ottawa Valley in Northeastern Ontario, and I learned the style of fiddle playing and step dancing from that area. One of my best influences, especially in my early career, was my dad. He played old classic country music and he used to listen to the Wheeling, West Virginia radio. He was a big fan of that style.

It was really cool to find out that Joe had sort of a similar experience. My dad grew up listening to music from the states, and where Joe was in Missouri, people were listening to the radio from Canada!

JOE: I grew up in the Ozarks and then later moved to Central Missouri. Folks there liked to joke that they only things separating Missouri from Canada was a barbed wire fence! So like April said, fiddlers in central Missouri would listen to those late night clear channel broadcasts. So the tunes that we played in Missouri were really are a lot like Canadian tunes.

I think it’s because the settlement patterns in Central Missouri and the Ottawa Valley were so similar. We both had some Scots Irish, German and French immigration.

FOLKMAMA: I hadn’t realized that so many different groups settled in your area April.

APRIL: When I was growing up learning these traditions I was always told about the lumber camps, logging was the main industry when the area was settled. And the first immigrants brought the stories, and music, and dance from their homelands. The first settlers primarily working in the lumber camps were Irish, Scottish, French, German, and Polish.

FOLKMAMA: So I’d like to hear a little more about the Ottawa Valley style of dancing. The Rose Lehrman Arts Center just had Cherish the Ladies and they had three dancers performing with them. Two of the dancers were Irish step dancers, but the third was the Ottawa Valley fiddler and step dancer Julie Fitzgerald. And right away I could see a big difference between her dancing and the two Irish step dancers. She was much looser, more fluid. So maybe you could describe the Ottawa Style dancing a little bit to us.

APRIL: Usually when people just see me step dancing it reminds them of Irish step dancing or maybe tap or clogging. It was a wonderful opportunity that you had to see Irish step dancing and Ottawa Valley dancing side-by-side because the differences are subtle and difficult to describe.

And really the Ottawa Valley style has changed so much. There are a lot of contests in Ontario for the style so people are always looking for new influences and new steps to bring in. I feel like what Julie does is different then what even I grew up with. She’s younger than I am, so she probably has a lot more tap influence. When I first started touring and left home, more and more tap was coming in at that time. So it’s continuing to evolve really quickly.

FOLKMAMA: What kind of reaction are you getting to your performances together, especially those audience members that have never seen you as a duo?

JOE: We have gotten a really strong response so far, right from the first show that we did together in October, 2016. It’s funny. People came up to us at that first show and said, “Where’s your CD?” And so we went into the studio a month and a half later and recorded our first CD. And as you do during holiday time for stocking stuffers, we will have them available.

FOLKMAMA: I see both of you as being very dynamic performers, visually, as well as in other ways. I’m thinking part of it is just the chemistry as well as the music.

JOE: April and I both work with other folks. She has the great April Verch Band and I play with Mike Compton and also with some of the original members of the Red Clay Ramblers. We have a mutual friend, and she kept saying to me,” Boy you sure would play great with April.” And Janet was saying the same thing to April. In the meantime people heard about it and we actually got a few dates before we even got started! And so it’s like, “Well OK, here it is! We better step to it.”

FOLK MAMA: I saw your clips from Celtic Colors, which were fabulous. Is that the biggest festival that you’ve done together or have you done a string of them?

APRIL: Gosh, it does seem that we’ve done a lot in the short time that we have been together. Celtic Colors was one of our first performances together. I think we had only played a handful of shows before then. We have played a bunch of theaters and listening rooms and some other festivals and we’ve got  a lot of things coming up overseas next year and so I think that’s part of what we like about it is the variety of different venues and audiences that we are able to connect with.

FOLK MAMA: What should people expect to hear when they see you?

JOE: The thing that strikes us and the thing that strikes our audiences is that we are having a ball! And when you start from that point it just goes on from there. In our holiday show especially. Folks will hear original songs that April and I have both written–we both like telling an old story a new way. We love writing about this time of year.

FOLKMAMA: How much holiday music will you play and how much of your standard repertoire?

APRIL: It will depend a little on the night, how we are feeling and how the audience is responding. As Joe said there is a blend of vocals and of instrumentals and the dancing and so sometimes even though a fiddle tune is called “Christmas Eve” it’s still a fiddle tune. Adding some holiday songs just makes sense to us. It’s something that we grew up with this time of year.

 

Corn Potato String Band, Oct 15th, 2017. Hbg, PA

The Corn Potato String Band will make their first appearance on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society stage when they appear at on Sunday, October 15, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn located at 5300 N. Front Street in Harrisburg, PA. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $10 Students, and $20 Susquehanna Folk Music Society members. For tickets and information visit http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/CornPotatoStringBand.html.

The band has delighted audiences with their driving fiddle tunes and harmonious singing across the US, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and India. In addition to being champion fiddlers they play banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin and deftly handle many different old-time styles including ballads, “ho-downs,” country “rags” and southern gospel, specializing in twin fiddling and double banjo tunes.

Onstage they are infectious, fun, and VERY ententertaining! Aside from humorous songs and stellar musicianship, we’ll also get a chance to see a “crankie” (scrolling picture show) and some flatfoot dancing!

 

We had the chance to learn more about the band during a chat with band member Aaron Jonah Lewis.

_______________________________________

FOLKMAMA: What can people expect to hear when they come to a Corn Potato Soup concert?

AARON: We play old time music in a broad sense.  You will hear old time Appalachian tunes, Country Rags, Mexican Polkas, Early Country and some Western Swing.  We like to dig up beautiful and unique songs and instrumentals from the 1920s and 1930s.  You will definitely hear something you haven’t heard before, and if you have heard it before, we might do it different.  We recently have been featuring “Classic Banjo” which is a style of music that comes from the 1890’s-1900’s.  The banjo music of this era has a ragtime feel and reminds you of silent movie music, which is why we have our own scrolling picture show to accompany a couple of the banjo pieces.  We also can’t get through a show without letting Lindsay do some flatfooting.

FOLKMAMA: How did all the members in the band meet?

AARON: We all met for the first time at a Spaghetti Dinner in Richmond, VA, where our mutual friend was hosting a variety show.  None of us remember it, so the second time we all met was at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV.  Lindsay and some friends recruited Aaron and Ben to play Klezmer music for a latke party.

FOLKMAMA: How did the band get its unusual name?

AARON: The Corn Potato String Band got its name in the tradition of band names that evoke a bucolic setting with a suggestion of gaiety.  We have since realized that it gives us the tag line:  “The Ears and Eyes of America” which is kind of fun and weird at the same time.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me a little bit about the band members—specifically what they bring to the band.

AARON: Aaron is the Brains, Ben is the Face and Lindsay is the intestines.  Aaron and Ben played in a bluegrass band in Richmond for a long time.  They love to play fast and have great chops on fiddles and banjos.  Lindsay is a puppeteer but when she met up with Aaron, who is her household companion, she always wanted to be in a band.  She has managed to sneak some cranky shows and the occasional novelty song into the Corn Potato repertoire.

FOLKMAMA: Are you all full time with the band, or do you have other projects?

AARON: We are not a full time band right now.  We do have other projects.  Ben Belcher plays with the Hot Seats, based in Richmond when he can. Lindsay and Aaron play and tour with Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings.  Aaron also performs solo and plays with several other bands in and around Detroit and some Chicago and New York based projects when he can.  Lindsay continues to make puppet shows and works with puppet companies in Minneapolis and Vermont.

FOLKMAMA: Tell us about any CDs which you have recently made. (Which concert goers may want to purchase!)

AARON: Our latest CD is called: “Good Job Everybody” and features a little of everything we do.  Highlights include a double fiddle polka, an old country song about UFOs, an original double-banjo “stomp,” and one of our favorite novelty songs about drinking too much from 1928.

Our three previous CDs are currently out of print but they are available on our website http://www.cornpotato.com. We will also have a couple of Aaron’s CDs from other projects available: Square Peg Rounders’ “Galax, NYC,” an all-instrumental album of traditional fiddle tunes played with fiddle, banjo and guitar, and lots of flair, and “Wild Hog,” an experimental/traditional album of classic old time songs and tunes played with fiddles, banjo, guitar and bass, in the style of old time musicians who also love free improvisation.

 

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