It is customary for the January column of any publication or blog to offer some retrospective on the year gone by. We will forego that exercise, but will point out that the structure of this web site allows you to scroll down to previous month’s articles, and when you get to the bottom of those displayed, there is a “previous entries” tab which will take you back to the beginning. Explore.
What we will do this month is go further back in time. The very first MFS “newsletter” was published in November/December of 1981. It included a calendar listing for those two months, and a couple of things are worth noting. One is that Nowell (spelled incorrectly in the calendar) Sing We Clear was produced in the Dublin Church, and this past December (this time with the correct spelling) this same event appeared on the MFS calendar (if memory serves, Nowell in 1981 was produced by Steve Avery, who was the proprietor of Deacon Brodie’s Tavern in Dublin). The other is that the same evening Stan Rogers was finishing a three-night stand at the Folkway in Peterborough, Gordon Bok was playing in Nelson. These two musicians had some things in common, including deep resonate voices, and many songs having to do with the sea. The two giants met for the first time at a house party in Nelson following their respective concerts, and we were fortunate to be there and witness a hearty embrace.Continue reading »
It’s not surprising that Leslie Vogel’s new CD, Papa’s On The Housetop, is a whole lot of fun. Leslie is a singer, accordion and keyboard player for the bands Tatoo and The Folksoul Band, both of whom know how to really find a groove and bask in it. Leslie is also the director of the Greenfield/Wilton (NH) based Youth and Community Fiddle Orchestra. Her daughter Liz sings with the hot Celtic band Annalivia. All of these troops are called into action for this recording, as well has her daughter Becky and sister Rosalinda, both great singers. So you can think this is something of a family affair, but don’t think for a minute that nepotism gets in the way here. On the contrary, Leslie couldn’t have done better in her choices for musicians on this recording (and she can certainly take some credit for where some of the musicians are today).
This recording is big fun to listen to – the kind of CD that would have been in demand for road trips when my kids were kids. That said, it plays just wonderfully for adult ears too – the arrangements are tight and lively, the songs are pretty and energetic, and when the album is over you just might feel that the world is a little bit better off. It’s a real spirit-booster.
Folks in the Monadnock area might think they are enjoying the CD because they know some of the players, or have heard them perform. But send this to your friends and relatives in LA or Atlanta and they’re just as likely to appreciate it.
Dudley at Newport (from footage by Murray Lerner, courtesy of David Millstone)
People have fond memories of their cultural past. Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1960’s and 70’s can recall a musical era that was very rich and formative. And there’s a fair amount of good documentation so that the spirit of those times can be appreciated: my children (at 25 and 22) have a working knowledge of musicians and songs from then: indeed my son was just effusing about the song-writing genius of Bob Dylan (we’re both particular fans of Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, considering it to be among the top ten songs ever written).
As folk music threatened to become mainstream (which didn’t quite happen, see Folknotes September 2009 ), the Newport Folk Festival became an important event in the northeast. The festival was started in 1959 by George Wein, Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, and Oscar Brand. Wein had already established the Newport Jazz Festival, and and both soon become an annual barometer of the state of their respective arts. In this pre-Internet area the festivals provided a networking environment for musicians, and a forum for presenting new material and the thrill for audiences of hearing live performances from a wide range of musicians all in one place.
It is practically superfluous to mention the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, when Bob Dylan introduced the electrified sound that ushered in the Folk-Rock era, but it is worth noting that was also the year that Dudley Laufman brought a group of contra dancers and musicians (including our own Harvey Tolman) to the festival. This event is nicely documented in David Millstone’s excellent film, The Other Way Back. It is not known (and not noticeable in the footage) whether Dylan might have been one of the dancers, but if he was paying attention he would certainly have appreciated the charismatic Tamborine Man of the contra dance scene.Continue reading »
Barefoot Through The Music is a new recording from Terry Landis, who has been gracing the Monadnock Region with her singing for many years. Terry’s voice is at once urgent and soothing, providing a sort of audio massage. I’ve been listening to her perform live for many years, almost always in various configurations with other musicians, and indeed one of her gifts is her ability to engage with both vocal and instrumental collaborators, bringing out their best, and setting a strong foundation for the song she is singing. This is really fun to watch in a live performance, but it’s also well-conveyed in this recording. This album features vocal support from Carol Raynsford and Nadine Laughlin, keyboard, bass and production from Danny Solomon, and Terry’s sons Ezra Landis on guitar and Owen Landis on percussion.Continue reading »
In the last Folknotes we talked about the popularity of folk music in the early 1960’s. We noted the fact that the British invasion of rock and roll marked the beginning of a decline in this popularity, and cited a recent Pew Research Center survey that didn’t even include folk as a category.
Shortly after we wrote this article Mary Traverse died, and even mainstream media published stories about how Peter, Paul and Mary had been instrumental (as well as vocal) in making folk music more popular, and most articles also referenced the subsequent decline.
Also, at just about this time, I downloaded the most recent version of iTunes, and was surprised to see that on iTunes radio, “Folk” was no longer offered as a category. I was eventually able to find my favorite station, WUMB, listed under college radio, but I got the message: Apple (a very innovative trend-setter) no longer considered folk music to be significant enough to have a place of its own. Continue reading »
“Here, smell these” said my wife, handing me a bouquet of freshly picked Freesias. I inhaled deeply, but experienced no olfactory sensation. Just a couple of weeks earlier I was savoring the Summersweet that graces my front steps, and earlier in the season my daily walk brought me past purple lilacs that had a most seductive impact. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with my overall smelling mechanism, but the Freesias somehow did not engage me. This suggests that such things are more than just a matter of taste or conditioning. Perhaps it’s a brain chemistry thing.
I recall a situation (decades ago) when my day job involved a large room and lots of cubes. The employees had something of a free hand in how things worked, so we decided at one point to allow people to play recorded music in the room. There was a cassette player, and folks would bring in mostly Top 40 compilations. As it turned out, this was in the 1980’s, so the experience was not that nourishing. One day I decided to put in a tape of The Chieftains. I knew that most people in the room were probably not aware of their music, but I was so enamored of it myself that I was sure once they actually heard it, they would share my enthusiasm. I don’t recall that there were any direct complaints, but I could tell that it was a lead balloon, and not a Led Zeppelin , situation.
Clearly a large part of appreciating is cultural familiarity. But perhaps on some level each of us has (or does not have) biological or neurological components that affect our ability to experience certain kinds of music positively. It’s a curious concept which is best debated by scientists, or over a few brews in the local pub, probably with the same conclusions.
In many respects, August is a month without a holiday, or at least a day of generally recognized significance, in our culture. Some months the holidays are global: the solstices in December and June, with the former being linked with the more high-profile Christmas. Others are specific to our country, such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. But once that first week of July is over there is not much noteworthy until we (or at least some folks) get to have a day off from work on, of all things, Labor Day.
Of course, people do seek causes for celebration and acknowledgement of more targeted interests. For what it’s worth, August is National Catfish Month, which might be particularly exciting to traditional musicians who are playing Nail That Catfish to a Tree. This is clearly a Southern tune, but we New Englanders like to indulge ourselves once in a while.
The first Saturday of August bears the distinction of being National Mustard Day. This event is officially sponsored by Mt. Horeb (Wisconsin) Mustard Museum which we highly recommend, even though it is only remotely connected to folk traditions in the Monadnock Region.
If either the ingestion of mustard, or listening to the Catfish tune inspires some podiatric activity, August 6th is Wiggle Your Toes Day.
August happens to be the birth month of two national folk heroes, Annie Oakley, and Davy Crockett. But as far as we know, not too many people in these parts get too excited about this. What we do get excited about is community, and throughout the summer (July and August) towns throughout New Hampshire have their Old Home Weeks and Old Home Days. The tradition is to some degree unique to New Hampshire. The story begins with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. As word spread about the option of farming without rocks in the fertile midwest, folks began packing up and leaving New Hampshire towns. This emigration continued through the century. The Civil War saw many young men leave, and while many lost their lives in this conflict, others were enticed by places they had seen, and did not return.
Also during this time the railroad facilitated the temptation to escape the harsh New England lifestyle for the Midwest, and eventually sunny California. By the end of the century many small New Hampshire towns had practically disappeared, and Governor Frank Rollins asked the New Hampshire Board of Agriculture to support the concept of “reunions,” where those who had left would be encouraged to return and visit.
Today towns throughout New Hampshire and New England pull out all the stops to provide a week of special activities and celebrations.
Nelson (global headquarters for the Monadnock Folklore Society) will have its Old Home Week starting Sunday, August 9th. Visit the Town of Nelson web site for more details, but we do want to highlight the Nelson Folks Coffeehouse on Saturday, August 15th, at 7:00 PM at the Town Hall. This will feature a wide variety of Nelson-based performers, and of course it’s free. If you are interested in performing, please send us an email and we’ll connect with you on the details.
Just before Old Home Week officially launches, we are pleased to have Dudley and Jacqueline Laufman for the Nelson Second Saturday contra dance on August 8th. Dudley’s name is historically synonymous with contra dancing in Nelson. Older dancers will welcome the opportunity to hear him again, and younger dancers are encouraged to come and get introduced to this legendary figure. Dancing starts at 8:00, and thanks to a local benefactor, admission is only $2.
Cape Breton fiddler and composer Jerry Holland has died after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 54. Holland died Thursday night.
Holland was originally from Boston. As a boy, he travelled to Cape Breton in the summer with his family. He moved to the island permanently in 1975. He performed publicly for the first time at age six — a year after he started to learn the fiddle. He performed on the John Allan Cameron Show from 1974-1977, and played stages around the world. Over the years, Holland earned a reputation as one of the finest composers and players of Cape Breton-style music.
Jerry was a great friend to the Monadnock Folklore Society, and performed in the Nelson Town Hall on several occassions, most recently in April of 2008. His presence reinforced the Nelson – Cape Breton connection that has been nourished by Harvey Tolman and Roger Treat, both regular fiddler’s at the Nelson Monday Night contra dance.
Farewell Jerry – thanks for the tunes, and for your great spirit – may it soar freely now.
Thunderous applause hoots and hollers of contra dancers echoed in the vaulted ceiling of this gracious space, known as the Stone Church at the Brattleboro, Vermont contra dance on Sunday June 14th
Dancers were showing their appreciation for fiddler Perin Ellsworth-Heller and pianist Arthur Davis, two extraordinary young musicians (ages 14 and 16 respectively), and their mentor, Mary Lea.
Adding to the excitement of the evening was the fact that Perin had just been selected as the recipient of the 2009 Johnny Trombly Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship, sponsored by the Monadnock Folklore Society, provides funding for an individual under the age of 18 to study traditional music. Continue reading »
Back in the mid 1970’s when I first began playing the piano for contra dances, it was an unwritten rule that the dance would go until midnight. When the Monadnock Folklore Society sponsored its first Saturday night dance series in Nelson, and later in Greenfield, this was not even something that was discussed – of course it would go until midnight. A while later as I began playing further afield I was surprised to find that some dances ended earlier, and of course we would scoff at the softness of those dance communities who did not have the stamina to hold out until the bewitching hour. These days around here it’s rare to see a dance go this late, and even a well-attended high-energy evening scheduled to go until 11:00 or 11:30 tends to fade in the last hour. What has become of us!
I recently attended a lecture by Alan Rumrill, director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, about the Power of Water – specifically the influence of Granite Lake on the settlement and development of Munsonville (which is a suburb of Nelson). The talk took place in the Chapel-by-the-Lake in Munsonville, and a summary and pictures that Alan provided can be seen on the Town of Nelson website.
In his lecture Alan included some discussion of the building we were in, which was originally built to serve as a church. Continue reading »