The Ghost of Music Past
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.
Both festivals experienced shifts of fortune. In 1971 the Folk Festival went dark for several years. It started up again in the mid 1980’s, but nearly went under when their producing company fell into financial difficulties. Founder George Wein regained control of the festival for 2009, and the lineup included co-founder Pete Seeger (who had recently celebrated his 90th birthday).
While we hope that both the Folk and Jazz Festivals continue on a successful journey, another recent development provides us with a door to the past. Wolfgang’s Vault, an online concert archive, has acquired tapes from both festivals (going back to 1955 for the Jazz Festival). These recordings are gradually being made available as digital downloads for sale. The Jazz Festival archives include performances of Ahmad Jamal, Count Basie, Thelonius Monk, and many more, with many of the segments being 30 minutes or more. At this time the Folk archives have yet to be posted, but we look forward to some treasures very soon.
Most contra dancers who have been buffing the floors of the local town halls for a few decades are familiar with the name Ralph Page. Ralph made his home in Nelson, then later Keene, and he traveled around the world teaching and calling contra dances. By today’s standards he was known as a stern taskmaster, but his legacy reflects the positive influence he had on keeping the tradition alive. Every January folks gather at the University of New Hampshire for the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, now in it’s twenty-third year. You can go just to have a grand time dancing, but you just might come away with a bit of history as well. The event’s bi-line, “The Spirit of the Past, with a Vision for the Future” speaks to not just the relevance of this event, but to things like Wolfgang’s Vault, and many other resources and organizations who recognize the importance of moving into the future with an awareness of the richness of what has come before.
The mission of the Monadnock Folklore Society is to increase the visibility of folk dance and music events in southern New Hampshire, provide new venues for performers, and provide educational services in the folk arts to the community . We don’t operate on the same scale as the Newport Folk Festival, but since 1981 we’ve presented many concerts, some with returning musicians, and some new acts who we want to bring to the area as well. December is the month where we focus on the tradition of the tradition. For 35 years Nowell Sing We Clear has been performed in the Monadnock region. For the last several years MFS has provided the sponsoring support for this, and we are so pleased to be continuing this year with a performance in Dublin on December 11th. This is an event rich in music, seasonally meaningful, and also incredibly entertaining. Much in the same spirit, MFS presents the Nelson Solstice Party, which includes performances by local musicians, and other events of a surprise nature. This is a wonderful social event, and it’s a benefit for the Johnny Trombly Scholarship! $5.00 to attend, and treats for the dessert potluck are always appreciated.
On behalf of the MFS Board of Directors, thanks to everyone to attended any of our events this past year, and especially those who have supported the Johnny Trombly Memorial Scholarship. We look forward to 2010 being another great year of music and dance in the Monadnock Region.
For information about The Other Way Back, please send an email to David Millstone.
Just as we go to “press”, we have learned of the passing of Liam Clancy, the last of the Clancy Brothers, who began enriching the New York folk music scene in 1956. I wore down the grooves of my one Clancy Brother’s album in the early 1960’s – that particular album featured a back-up banjo player named Pete Seeger. It doesn’t take much for me to conjur up their rich harmonies and their lusty voices full of joy and determination. Well done, Liam.