Archive for Northwest Music category
The albums are piling up here at Hearth Music HQ, so it's time to do a rundown of some of the great American roots music coming out recently. Check out some of our favorites and read more about each release. Have a listen yourself to be sure we're not blowin' smoke, and if you've got some money, kick it towards the artist to support them!
Jayme Stone. The Other Side of the Air.
Banjo master Jayme Stone is the very definition of an eclecticist (assuming that's actually a word). A far-traveling, passionately curious artist, his musical focus is like the light of a lighthouse: constantly roaming the landscape. In the liner notes for The Other Side of the Air, Stone talks about how this music is "a travelogue. A sonic chronicle of sounds I've discovered over the last two years." Most of Stone's music is a travelogue anyways, but what's interesting is that the new album feels like a real departure from the last album. Whereas the last album, Room of Wonders, was a romp through the wide world of folk dance music, The Other Side of the Air is a much more considered album, and ultimately it's an album of modern classical music, albeit for banjo.
Opening track "Radio Wassoulou" plays with familiar riffs from Malian music, passing the riff around like a joint. In "Soundiata," Stone's banjo ripples with the kind of beautiful ornaments found in West African stringed music, ornaments he no doubt learned while performing and touring with Malian griot and kora player Mansa Sissoko. The melodies on both these tracks are drawn from fieldwork trips to Mali that Stone undertook in 2007. "The Cinnamon Route" reminds me of today's work with banjos in jazz, but most of the material on this album seems more closely tied to classical compositions. The largest part of the album is given over to a four part Concerto for Banjo and Symphony from his longtime friend Andrew Downing.
This is a listener's album, no doubt. The tone and composition here is lush and beautiful and the production work by David Travers-Smith (he also did Ruth Moody's album) really stands out. Slip on this album with a nice glass of wine and plan to expand your brain a bit. That's my recommendation.
Richie Stearns | Rosie Newton. Tractor Beam.
I've been waiting for this one for a little bit now and it doesn't disappoint. Rosie Newtown is a truly monster old-time fiddler, and seems to be at the center of a real scene in Ithaca, New York. I first heard her fiddling as part of the New Young Fogies Appalachian compilation album. Not only is she a marvelously dextrous fiddler, pulling a huge variety of syncopated rhythms out of old-time bowing, but she's also a ferocious fiddler, tearing into a fiddle tune like a lioness tearing into a gazelle. On Tractor Beam, she's playing as a duo with songwriter/clawhammer banjo master Richie Stearns. Stearns is justifiably well known for his work with The Horse Flies, an alternative band with strong folk ties that was huge in the 90s. He's also toured extensively with Natalie MacMaster and Bela Fleck, scored an album for Pete Seeger, and worked with folks as diverse as David Byrne, Tuvan throat singers, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Tractor Beam is a blend of original and traditional, from a fiddle tune Rosie wrote ("Take It or Leave It") to three new songs from Stearns ("Ribbons & Bows", "I Am With You Always", "Tractor Beam"), even a Townes Van Zandt cover, which Newton sings in her pure ballad style. Her voice is high and soft, and crackles with the fragility of an ice sheet. It's beautiful singing! Stearns brings an element of worldliness to the music on this album, with a voice tinged by long experience, and a kind of weariness to his singing that draws in the listener. The traditional material here is rendered impeccably, from the straight-ahead versions of "Say Darling Say" and "Willow Garden" (oh and listen to their harmonies on those songs.....), to the wonderful Clyde Davenport tune "Lost Goose" and the always classic "Trouble in Mind." Stand-out track "Shirt Tail Boogie" features the lost art of clawhammer fiddling (inspired by the great Fred Cockerham), and it's great to hear Old Crow Medicine Show alum Willie Watson ripping it up on the last two songs, Ruben's Train and Hangman's Reel.
All told, Tractor Beam brings a lot of lift and life to the old traditions.
Richie Stearns | Rosie Newton: I Am With You Always (Stearns)
The Abramson Singers. Late Riser.
2013. Copperspine Records.
Following up her stunning debut album, Vancouver, BC singer Leah Abramson (aka The Abramson Singers) has crafted another intricate puzzlebox of an album, weaving vocal harmonies into a dense shroud that hangs over each song. There's a larger ensemble sound with the new album, and guest artists include Rayna Gellert, Jesse Zubot, and Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas. Used to be that Vancouver, BC was the lightning rod folk scene of the West Coast, bringing us groups like the Tanyas, Zubot and Dawson, The Paperboys, Outlaw Social (Pharis Romero's old band) and The Gruff. I haven't seen as many groups coming out of Vancouver these days as I used to, but from this album it's clear that there's still a great scene in the city. Look also to the album from Abramson's friend, Jenny Ritter, and you can learn more about Vancouver's roots scene.
On Late Riser, the songs whisper and twirl across a cracked wintery landscape. Vocal harmonies tense and resolve, and it's clear that Abramson loves to play with the timbre of the human voice. She arranges voices to hocket back and forth, and pairs a deeper voice with a high, almost falsetto voice. She's a sound poet first and a songwriting poet second. It's a great combination that lifts this album way above the herd of other singer-songwriters. Standout tracks include "Jack of Diamonds," which updates the old folk song trope of the gambling rounder, "Deja Vu," which is a gorgeous bit of songcraft,and "Liftoff Canon," which best shows off Abramson's vocal arrangements. Leah Abramson is one of the most eclectic and visioned artists in West Coast roots music and a name you should know.
Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally. House & Garden.
2013. Nell Robinson Music.
I've worked with Nell Robinson before, and she's one of the most positive artists I know in the music industry. That's because she comes to music late in the game, having started performing only in later life after growing up singing informally, so she brings an optimism and a fresh perspective to her work as a roots music singer and songwriter. There's something joyful about going along with someone as they discover and begin to truly develop their talents, and you can hear this magic in Nell's singing and in her songs. Teaming up here with ace bluegrass guitarist and singer Jim Nunally (of John Reischman's band, The Jaybirds), Nell delivers an album that feels like an effortless evening of singing in her home. And though her original home is rural Red Level, Alabama, her current home is near Berkeley and her current songs reflect the sunshine of a California garden. Besides the title of the album, House & Garden, Nell also includes an extra download card in each CD that can be planted in your own garden to grow some wildflowers. Of course, it's now our rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm a bit late writing about this album and I seem to have missed the actual planting season. But 10 winters in Seattle have taught me the importance of thinking back on sunshine-y memories when the clouds roll in, and that's what this album excels at. As Nell and Jim sing in "Life in the Garden:"
"Life is full of many wand'ring pathways
Sometimes you know not where to go
Forget-me-nots in your garden
Will remind you of the places you have known"
Most of the songs on House & Garden are written by both Nell and Jim (with choice covers of Dolly Parton and George Jones), and they make a great songwriting team. "April Fool," "House," and "The Gardener" are both remarkably well-written, intriguing love songs, an all-too-rare thing today in a world drowning in lovesick songwriters.
Nell and Jim have a rare thing indeed, a lovely duet sound that pulls from both of their strengths. Turns out that when you tend your own garden, you can grow some lovely things.
Brian Vollmer. Old Time Music Party.
2013. Patuxent Records.
The title says it all here, really. Young East Coast fiddler/banjo player Brian Vollmer just picks the hell out of a bunch of great Southern old-time tunes. Honestly, was there really a point where we worried that this music wouldn't get passed on? Seems like my generation and younger have fallen hard for old-time music, and I think most of that comes from a desire for community and connection that goes far beyond the digital flickers of Facebook and Twitter. I know that's what got me into old-time; I just wanted to be part of these great all-night jams! A native of Washington DC/Baltimore, Vollmer's spent 10 years living in and around Asheville, North Carolina, picking up tunes from friends in the area before moving to Ithaca, where he's currently roommates with Rosie Newton (her album's covered just above!). I imagine the two of them probably shared "Lost Goose", a Clyde Davenport tune that appears on both albums. Vollmer actually learned it at Davenport's house, but Davenport got the tune from Dick Burnett of the truly amazing 78rpm-era duo Burnett and Rutherford. Damn it's a great tune. Kudos to Vollmer and Newton for their excellent taste! Other tune highlights on the album include French Carpenter's creepy-ass version of "Elzik's Farewell," a bombastic cover of the Roan Mountain Hilltopper's "Birchfield's Sally Ann," and the intriguing tune "The Green Door," which I'd never heard before. On the one-sheet for the album, they talk about how "this album is a tribute to anyone who has ever caroused until the break of dawn." Amen, brother. Amen.
Brian Vollmer: Lost Goose
Hannah Glavor and the Family Band. Halcyon EP.
I recently saw Hannah Glavor and the Family Band (spoiler alert: actual family band!) perform live at the beautiful Fremont Abbey in Seattle, opening up for Alela Diane, and her music completely impressed me. Her songs are beautiful and atmospheric, but what impressed me was that each note was so carefully considered. She has a powerful songcraft, in the most literal sense of the word. Each song sounds exactly hand-crafted, built in her Portland home, and tested extensively among her family before being brought forth to the crowd. There aren't too many artists these days who can do this, and I think it's really a blend of a natural performer and a master craftsman. Halcyon is Hannah's recent EP, released early this year, and it's just about perfect for a rainy Northwest night like the one I'm writing this in.
Hannah Glavor: Kingfisher
LISTEN to the whole album on Bandcamp!
Levi Fuller & The Library. Social Music EP.
Levi Fuller is a well known fella around Seattle's indie scene. A blogger for KEXP (where he chronicles the strange DJ comments pasted to old LPs), and a community organizer (his Ball of Wax compilations have involved hundreds of musicians and are far-reaching documents of many different NW sounds), Fuller is tied into many musical scenes in Seattle and beyond. His newest release with his band, The Library, is a short but sweet look at the music of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (plus a song from his buddies The Foghorns). Levi Fuller should know the music of Harry Smith's Anthology (I've written about this before HERE). After all, every year he and Greg Vandy (and me too, actually) organize a tribute to the anthology, drawing from an eclectic array of NW artists. What's surprising here is how sensitive he is to the music. He covers the songs here– "John The Revelator," "Dry Bones," "Since I Laid My Burden Down"– in such a way that he manages to tap into the wild heart of each one. His band is electric, and the music drives like a hammer, but this isn't some indie hipster covering old folk music. Levi gets what made these songs special in the first place, and the joy here is hearing his understanding come forth through a different musical palette. Another surprise? His great cover of local band The Foghorns' (no relation to Foghorn Stringband) song "80 Proof," a bleak song about alcoholism that's near perfectly written.
09/26/2013 | comments (0)
This time last year, I was sitting in the light-filled kitchen of an old officer's house in the historic Fort Worden, an old military complex in Port Townsend, Washington that's been converted into the home of the influential arts organization, Centrum. Every year I and 500 friends, colleagues, and fellow traditional music nerds gather around the Fort for the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, filling up old classrooms, dormitories, dancehalls, officer housing, and even elevators with jam sessions, musical workshops, dances, and just plain visits with master musicians. I'll be back again this year on July 4 to enjoy a full day of concerts from some of the best traditional fiddlers in North America. Unlike most music festivals, these artists aren't chosen for their draw or popularity. The Festival sells out most years anyway, so the programmers have the liberty and vision to bring artists most people have never heard of, in fact some are artists who've never traveled outside their local musical communities.
But back to last year. I'm here visiting with Milton Vanicor, the impossibly spry 94 year old Cajun artist. Milton's been a fiddler, dancer, and singer in Louisiana's Cajun Country from the earliest years of the music and the culture's audio history. He was there when Amédé Ardoin and Dennis McGee (one a black Creole, the other a white Cajun) braved a nation intent on segregation to perform AND record together openly. Milton was there for the second coming of Cajun music in the 1950s, playing fiddle in the legendary Iry Lejeune's band. Lejeune came on to the scene when a good number of Cajun artists had converted to the more gentile stringband sounds of groups like The Hackberry Ramblers. A huge fan of Amédé Ardoin, Lejeune exploded with power as a Cajun accordionist, playing so loud that he often drowned out a full electrified band in his recordings. His proto-punk playing brought the Cajun accordion back into everyone's favor and sparked a renaissance of the music that continues today.
It took a while to arrange (Fiddle Tunes is a busy festival!) but I finally found myself in Milton Vanicor's kitchen, eager to learn more about what Cajun music was like in the early days. By any account, he'd been having himself quite the festival, staying up late dancing, jamming and partying, no small feat for a man of my age, let alone a man of 95 years. But Cajuns are made of hardy stock and are not known to turn down a chance to dance and party. Over a cup of coffee, I leaned in to listen to M. Vanicor's stories. Now you can too.
AND I'm happy to say that M. Vanicor is BACK at Fiddle Tunes this year, so head over to Port Townsend THIS Friday for the Cajun dance. Here are the details:
Friday, July 5, 2013
Cajun and Creole Dance
7 pm; Littlefield Green
General Admission $15; 18 & under free
Milton Vanicor, Edward Poullard, Cedric Watson, Desiree Champagne, Joel Savoy, Jesse Lege, and friends
A Hearth Music Visit with Milton Vanicor
Hearth Music: Moi, je parle français. If you speak French, I can understand. Did you grow up speaking French?
Milton Vanicor: Yeah, I can’t speak English hardly. (laughing) We didn’t go to school. I went to 5th grade and that’s it. My daddy couldn’t afford to do that. He had to have us in the field.
What kind of farming did you guys do?
MV: Cotton, corn, sweet potatoes and things like that.
How much land did your father have?
MV: 20 acres, something like that, where he had a farm, maybe 80 acres. That’s what he did for a living.
What town was this in, that you grew up in?
MV: My address was Branch, Louisiana. It was in between Branch and Churchpoint. That’s where both of us was raised, my wife and I. Then we moved south of Lake Charles, from there we moved to Welch. Daddy bought a piece of land there.
Everyone in the family spoke French?
MV: Oh, yeah. My brother, Ellis, he’s the only one left and he can’t read and write. Just work, my daddy had to have him. I did the same. The youngest one, he graduated, so that was one of the ones that went most to school there.
Do you still speak French today? With your family? Do you guys speak French?
MV: Oh, yeah. My boy, Jory, he comes every morning; we don’t speak English at all.
When did you start playing music? When you were a kid?
MV: Yeah, I was about 12 years old, something like that. I had a little stick fiddle.
A stick fiddle?
MV: I couldn’t afford a fiddle and I didn’t even know how a fiddle was, but I had in my mind, a little board that maybe I could make me a little fiddle and play a tune on it.
Did you have other friends who were playing music at that time or family members?
MV: I’d go to the dance and Angelas LeJeune was playing and Amédé Ardoin was our musician at that time, cuz the dances were all house dances.
Were they bals de maison (house dances)?
MV: Yeah, bals de maison, that’s right.. In Eunice, they had a public place, that’s what they called that, they had dances there but my wife wasn’t allowed to go there by her parents. Mom and Dad, they didn’t want that. At the house dances, the mamas would go and chaperone them girls.
That was at the house dances that they had chaperones? So how did you meet your wife then? Did you have to get the chaperone to agree to…?
MV: I went to a dance one time and we looked at each other, I guess, and our date… when you meet a girl at those little house dances and you ask them to walk or to take the wagon [with you], that’s what it was.
Linda (Milton's daughter): It was a buggy.
MV: The buggies, we got that later. The wagon was the only vehicle that we had and then, the buggies came out and my daddy bought me a buggy. That was almost a Cadillac.
Linda: He was a stinker too when he was young. Tell him the story about the bus, Dad. The bus driver. You gotta tell him the story about the bus driver. That’s too funny. (laughing)
MV: I went on a wagon to school. That’s how I started school, on a wagon. This old lady that would drive with the buses, there was a team. Then, the Model T’s come out and they had a bus with the Model T and she had one of my uncles teach her how to drive that thing. Then, she started driving that thing and picked the kids up and she drove that bus. It was the first time, her having something like that, whenever she turned corners, she go down our country road and she bogged down. It was all dirt roads. She’d bog down and she’d say, "All right, y’all get out and y’all gonna push me out. And when we’d heard her say that, we’d pull and whenever she’d say, "Push," we’d pull and whenever she’d say, "Pull," we’d push. We didn’t want to go to school and that’s the way we’d do it. (laughing)
So how did you meet Iry Lejeune?
MV: When Iry came to my house, he was hitch-hiking. He’d play maybe for a dollar at a restaurant in some town, he’d hitch-hike to go elsewhere and stop maybe at a bar. If you’d tell him, "Play, I’ll give you a dollar," he’d play. If you’d tell him, "I’ll give you 2 dollars," he’d play. It didn’t make any difference to him... He came to my house dirty, dirty clothes, poor thing. He said, "I’ve come to ask you if I could stay with you." And I told him, I said, "You’ve got to ask your cousin, my wife." She put her head down and she said, "I guess so, Iry." She was a good person. So, we got him some clean clothes and he stayed at my house and that’s when we started The Lacassine Playboys and we had a band. Me, and my brother and R.C. (R.C. Vanicor) and my nephew. It was all family, my brothers. There were 3 brothers and then, my brother-in-law and Iry. The Lacassine Playboys. It was a good band... I went over there and recorded with them. We did it in the house with tapes and somebody would interfere with it and we’d just erase it and do another one. That’s how we made those records. We’d play almost for nothin’. We’d go and get maybe $6 a man. It was kind of a lot of money in them days, but at the most I had, the big dances, maybe $12. I played a while with them and then stopped and then, that’s when I started building a house.
Was he really popular, Iry, when he played music? Were there a lot of young dancers who came out?
MV: He was popular, Iry was... He'd play in nightclubs. Before my time, it was house dances only but it’s changed. He’d start playing in nightclubs...
But it changed during your time. It used to be house dances and then, when Iry started playing, it became more dance halls?
MV: Yeah, it started slowly. They had maybe one or two that we knew about. It started a lot. We played in Basile, in Eunice and all over, Lafayette. But then, in the time that it was real good, that’s when I stopped and started building houses. I didn’t think that I could make enough money to live like I wanted to. I quit.
Did your wife approve of you going out to do all of these dances?
MV: No. She did approve it but she didn’t like it. And then, I didn’t like it. She’s a very, very good person, very good. I’m not going to say that she was the best in the world, but she was one of the best in the world. I had a good wife and we were very close. She died 4 years ago. She had died January 3rd; she had died June 3rd. If she had lived until January 3rd, it’d been 72 years together, 72 years. We were very close, very, very much.
Linda: Here’s the wedding ring that he gave her when they got married.
MV: She got sick; she was very close; she didn’t want to lose my sight. If I’d go places, my daughters’d come and stay with her... We were very close.
I’m that way with my wife. We met when we were in high school and we’re the same way. We don’t like being apart too much. I understand. So, Angelas LeJeune, that was Iry’s dad, is that right?
Linda: Explain how he was kin to Mama and Iry; they were first cousins.
Milton: That was my mom’s uncle.
Linda: Let me explain the family tree here a bit. My mama’s parents were : Laurent Bellard and Ernestine LeJeune. Ira’s mom and daddy was : Agnes LeJeune and her name was Lucy Bellard. So, my grandpa and Ira’s mother were brother and sister and Ira’s daddy Agnes LeJeune and my grandma Ernestine LeJeune were brother and sister, so the children born from those two couples were double first cousins. They both had the same grandparents, paternal and maternal.
MV: Iry and my wife were double first cousins.
Linda: So Angelas was Iry’s and my mama’s great uncle.
So, did Angelas play with Amédé Ardoin? Did they play together?
MV: Oh, no. Angelas had a band and that was one of the hottest musicians they had in Louisiana... I knew all of those musicians, you know? I saw them, some I didn’t see but maybe one time, but Amédé Ardoin, when I was a little boy, my daddy let the young kids have his house for a dance. He said, "I’ll let you have the house for a dance, IF you get Amédé Ardoin." I knew him very well. One of my cousins would go get him in Crowley and bring him to the house. My daddy would ask him to go get Amédé early, like on Saturday night, and he said, "I want to hear him with not a lot of noise like at the dance." He’d play around 4 o’clock, something like that... he’d play for my daddy a little bit before the dance. I was little; I remember my mom would cook something good and my daddy had a big, old table with these homemade things and mama set the table and we’d go eat, the whole family. Then, she had a table to wash her dishes because there was no cabinet at that time, we didn’t have no sink or nothin’ like that because we had no electricity or nothin’ like that. My mom would have a… they call that a bassin à vaiselle, a bassin à vaiselle (wash basin). And they had that little table; it was a square table and Amédé wouldn’t come and eat with us and I didn’t understand that. I’d see him eatin’over there and us was at the table but he wouldn’t do it himself. That was his decision.
He wasn’t comfortable?
MV: He said, "I’m black; I’m sittin’ over there." And I think about that very often, that poor man could have eaten with us. My mom and my daddy, they didn’t tell him to go eat there, because they were good people, they were very good people, but that’s where he wanted to be and she fixed him a good plate of food and go bring it to him and he was just as happy as he could be. For himself, his decision was to eat not with the whites. Little kids, sometimes they can’t understand that. But anyway, I learned it quick that the blacks didn’t mix with the whites and then, I grew up and I understood what was going on, like when they didn’t use the same bathrooms.
Did he play by himself for the bals de maison? Or did he have people he’d bring with him?
MV: 'tit fer.
Ti fer [Cajun triangle]? He would have someone who would play ti fer?
MV: Yeah. Whenever he come play at my house, Tanzy would get the 'tit fer, the one that went and got him. Everybody played 'tit fer at that time (laughing)
What was Amédé like? Was he very quiet or was he real friendly or talkative?
MV: Oh, he talked a lot.
What was he like when he was playing for a dance?
MV: I remember. My mama had that table and she’d take that table and put it in the front room and put it out there in a corner and then give him a chair and he’d get up on the table and they had 2 chairs on that table. It’d be up high, you know?
He’d be up on the table on a chair? Really?
MV: Yeah. And he’d play and then they had 2 chairs, one for the 'tit fer and him with the accordion. I remember him playing and somebody else’d take the 'tit fer–because they had a lot that played the 'tit fer–and there was dancing over there and he’d make out a song about Tanzy. That’s the way he’d go.
He’d make up the song?
MV: Yeah, he’d go like, (singing) "Hey, Tanzy, moi, j’connais t’es apres t’amusé. Ey-yi-yi, moi, j’connais t’es apres t’amusé.» You know, he’d go like that. He’d make out his words, like, "Tanzy, we’re having a good fun." And he was dancing and all that and he’d make a song and it would work.
So, did Iry ever meet Amédé Ardoin?
MV: Iry? Iry, no. He was too young.
Did you teach Iry a lot of music? Did you teach him a lot of the tunes?
MV: No, no.
He was already playing when he came to see you?
MV: The only one that I was playing the fiddle before him is my brother, Ellis [Ellis Vanicor]. Right now, he’s better than me. (laughing) He’s playing.
I didn’t realize that. Is that right?
MV: He’s playing; he’s playing every Sunday. And then they play the CFMA thing and some restaurant at Hayes that he played there every once in a while. He plays pretty much here and there.
Did he keep playing with Iry after you left the band?
MV: Yeah, he did. He played with Iry when I left the band. Not too long after that, he kind of quit playing. He had a grocery store and he quit and then, on down the line, he started playing with Shorty LeBlanc. He played there for a while.
So, what was Iry like? You said he was almost like a hobo, he was traveling around?
MV: No, no, he wasn’t like a hobo. He was just blind and by himself. That’s the only way he could get a little bit of money.
He was a really powerful musician. When I hear the recordings, he’s so loud and powerful on the accordion. Was he really good, for the time?
MV: Today, his records that he made, all of his songs, all of the musicians play more of his songs than any musician that I know of. Dewey Balfa, he plays the fiddle but his brother played the accordion and they took a lot of Iry’s songs to play. Just listen and you know. All of those songs they make today, there’s something of Iry’s songs, you know? Not all of them but I’m saying, the most.
Why is that? What is it about his music do you think?
MV: He’s good, he’s good. ‘Course it’s getting good now but it’s still going, like some musicians, they play Iry’s songs and they don’t know the words, and they just sing it and they don’t know the words but the tune is there. But all of the musicians, they use his tunes a lot, a lot, a lot.
Did he have a really strong personality?
Linda: Did you tell him the story about the coke boxes? That’s what he wants to know. What kind of personality he had.
MV: Well, when we had that little band, the Lacassine Playboys, we were me and my brother Ellis and Orsy, and my brother Asa and he’d play sitting down all the time. He was blind and one night he said that he would have liked to been as high as me and my brother who was playing the fiddle. He wanted to be as high as us. Then, we took some of them coke boxes and we stacked them up until, with a chair on it, he’d be high as us. We were playing and he liked to tap his foot, but he was too high. We were playing at Jones Bar, I’ll never forget that, and Orsy said, "We’re going to fix you up." And so we did with those boxes and put the chair up there and he got up there and he started playing the accordion. He was playing the Lacassine Special, he recorded that, you know.
Of course, it was very famous.
MV: And brother, he could play that. I'll tell you that. And he was playing that Lacassine Special. After a while, those boxes started moving a little bit and I saw where them things were going to fall. I started tellin' R.C., and he shook his head no and he kept going and playing and after a while, after a while, that chair was going backwards and BLAM! fell right on that bandstand. And he held his accordion. My brother Ellis said, whenever he tells the story, he said he never did stop playing but I believe that he stopped a little bit!
(laughing) A little bit!
MV: I believed he stopped a little bit, but, anyway, let’s say he didn't stop, (laughing) and he was playing the Lacassine Special on his back and all the people that were dancing, they crowded the bandstand to see him play that. That was somethin’ else! (more laughing)
I don’t want to take too much more of your time. Maybe I could just ask you though… I’d love to know.. You grew up with the old house dances, from the very beginning of the music, did you ever think that the music would end up like it is today where fiddlers can fly all over the world and play festivals everywhere in the world?
MV: Never. No, no, no. I thought it was going to stay just like it was.
Do you still recognize the music and the culture that you grew up with? Or has it really changed so much that it feels different?
MV: Oh yeah, yeah. It changed a lot, but… even like the other night, I was playing with Joel [Joel Savoy, young master Cajun fiddler], we were gonna play that old-time music, they liked that. I’m telling you that now, they like that very much. You know that!? I don’t have to tell you. You hear about it yourself.
Many thanks to Milton Vanicor for being so willing to visit and talk about his life in Cajun music.
For more reading on Iry Lejeune's legacy in Cajun music, try the book Iry Lejeune: Wailin' the Blues Cajun Style. On sale at County Records.
For more reading on Amédé Ardoin, check out our No Depression article on The Ardoin Family and the recent Tompkins Square reissue of Amédé's music.
Les Amies Louisianaise is a group made up of members of Milton's family. Check them out HERE.
Milton Vanicor In Action
07/01/2013 | comments (3)
We're back again with our annual guide to the hugely humongous Northwest Folklife Festival, this Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-27, 2013. This is the largest community music festival in the nation, with (last I checked) 800+ bands, 25+ stages, and so much music and dance that it's physically impossible to see even a small fraction of the things you'd like to see. Now, some people like to wander around the festival, a shawarma and a cold lemonade in their hands, but I'm the kind of type that goes looking for something or someone new and amazing to discover. So I went through the schedule looking for cool things you might otherwise miss. Here's the:
HEARTH MUSIC GUIDE TO THE NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL 2013
All of these picks and more are selected on the Hearth Music Folklife Schedule. Feel free to check it out and copy our itinerary!
American Standard Time. Sponsored by No Depression + BECU
Monday, May 27, 3:30-6:30
Fountain Lawn Stage.
This is definitely the coolest show at Folklife this year, so put this sucker on your calendars folks!! Greg Vandy is the host of The Roadhouse on KEXP and he also runs the blog American Standard Time. That's where he premieres his beautifully shot mini-docs on roots artists like Frank Fairfield, Jerron 'Blind Boy' Paxton, Alela Diane, John Cohen and the upcoming one he's doing on The Crow Quill Night Owls. Vandy does amazing work, bringing top-flight roots bands to Seattle via KEXP and his blog and his showcase at Folklife will be star studded.
The Crow Quill Night Owls. 3:30pm.
The Sumner Brothers. 4:00pm
The Slide Brothers. 5:00pm
The Sojourners. 5:40pm
In addition to mad-genius jugband The Crow Quill Night Owls and Canadian barn-rockers The Sumner Brothers (both of whom we've worked with and written about before), Greg's bringing out two groups to represent African American traditions that don't often get covered at Folklife: gospel quartets and sacred steel. The sacred steel group is The Slide Brothers, key players in the recent movement to take Southern sacred steel guitar playing out of the churches and on to concert stages. It's a huge coup to get them at Folklife and a chance to catch a little heard tradition of American music dead-center in the festival. The second group, The Sojourners, are a trio of men living in Vancouver BC that Greg saw at Folk Alliance. Here's some more info on The Sojourners and their new album:
The Sojournersare a traditional African-American gospel trio that bring powerful instrumentation to their rich harmony singing. They were founded in Vancouver BC after a meeting between Canadian roots country singer Jim Byrnes and Vancouver gospel singer Marcus Mosley. Byrnes asked Mosley to pull together some friends and Mosley brought Will Sanders and Ron Small together. All involved loved the sound of this new trio, and Byrnes dubbed them The Sojourners. On their latest album on Black Hen Records (Byrnes' label too), The Sojourners dive deep into the repertoire of African-American sacred song, supplementing their powerhouse vocals with roots blues from Black Hen label founder and Canadian folk icon Steve Dawson and some lush soul influences as well. It's a compelling sound that works because of the faith and authenticity in the vocals; all three singers were established church singers before joining up, though they each hail from different parts of the US (Chicago, Louisiana, Texas) originally. On their new self-titled album, some of the highlights include a moving cover of Rev. Gary Davis' classic "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a great version of Los Lobos' "The Neighborhood,"and a hard-rolling cover of the popular spiritual "Brother Moses Smote the Water." This is classic gospel music done very very right. They're gonna be great onstage at Folklife!
The Sojourners: Brother Moses Smote the Water
Friday, May 24, 7:30-10:00pm
The crusties and folk punk kids have been a big part of Folklife for about the past decade, I'd say. There are some killer musicians in their ranks, and some remarkably creative ideas on how to bend folk traditions to a new generation focused on digital grassroots resistance like the Occupy movement. Rogue Folk is a showcase of the best of these groups, some traveling up from California to participate (and to spend time street performing!). Blackbird Raum is the king daddy of the scene and a totally compelling group to watch live. They're all hardcore trad music fans as well, and contra dancers too. I'm looking forward especially to Matador. This darkfolk trio out of Santa Cruz has a mesmerizing sound, half clashing-strings and ominous fiddle lines from Dorota and half eerie spacial vocals from Dorota and guitarist Matthew. Their music would fit well with the unsettling writing of Polish author Jerzy Kosinski. Their last album, The Taking, sounds like a cross between an acoustic black metal band and a street performing folk singer. Great combo and they'll surely be very interesting on stage!
Matador: The Dispossessed
The Gembrokers. 8:10pm
Blackbird Raum. 9:30pm
Maple Folk Showcase. MC'd by Devon Léger of Hearth Music.
Saturday, May 25, 11:30am-3:00pm
Northwest Court Stage.
Yours truly will be MCing this fun showcase of Northwest bands with strong Canadian roots. Here at Hearth Music, we love any kind of Canadian roots music so this is a special treat for me.
Samanthan & Tom Braman. 1pm
La Famille Léger. 1:40pm.
Canadian Celtic stalwarts Blackthorn will be back this year for a popular show, as they've long been a fixture at Folklife. My own band, La Famille Léger (made up of all the folks who run Hearth Music), will be playing French-Canadian music from all over Québec and Eastern Canada. Lovely father/daughter duo Tom and Samantha Braman (guitar/fiddle respectively) will be playing fiddle tunes inspired by the Cape Breton repertoire (see our review of the new album from Sami Braman's teen trio The Onlies HERE). New French-Canadian ensemble Podorythmie will close out the show, maybe with some crankies! But for now I'd love to talk about the young woman opening the show: British Columbian Celtic fiddler Kierah.
Saturday, May 25, 11:30am
Northwest Court Stage.
Growing up the youngest of seven children in British Columbian stonemason family with strong Irish historical roots, Kierah must have felt a real need to stand out, and stand out she does with her newly released album. It's not just her technical prowess as a traditional fiddler that makes her new album, Stonemason's Daughter, note-worthy, it's her touch with the old tunes and her taste for composing new ones. On the set "That Dang Paddy Ryan," Kierah reins in the speedy fiddling and tucks into two great Irish tunes, reveling in the back beat that so rarely gets drawn out of that music. Her sets of Scottish Cape Breton tunes are wonderful as well, which is worth noting; Cape Breton fiddling is just about the trickiest tradition of Celtic fiddling to pull off. Her original tunes are great as well, not sounding totally derivative of traditional tunes, but sounding grounded enough in the tradition to be fun to play for most other fiddlers. The album was produced by Adrian Dolan, the fiddler/multi-instrumentalist from The Bills (who's also touring with Ruth Moody) and he brings a subtle hand to the album, giving Kierah's fiddling a powerful backing that really completes this package. On the set of original tunes "Granville Island Espresso" he whips himself and guitarist Adam Dobres (also from Ruth Moody's band) into such a frenzy that the track becomes pretty epic. It's not usual to hear acoustic traditional music kicking this much butt. Stonemason's Daughter appears to be Kierah's third album, since she's been fiddling and recording since she was just a kid. With this new album she's matured into one of the best young Celtic fiddlers in Western Canada and a name to watch.
Kierah: That Dang Paddy Ryan
Fisher Poets on the Road
Saturday, May 25, 6:30pm
SIFF Cinema Narrative Stage
The Northwest's tradition of fisher poetry is sadly underreported, though it's a rich and vibrant living tradition that anyone can experience at the annual Fisher Poet's Gathering in Astoria, OR. Fishermen (both men and women) gather during this festival both on stage and in impromptu pub sessions to tell stories of their lives of commercial fishing and to recite beautiful, hard-bitten poetry from the Northwest seas. Fisher poetry is one of the American occupational poetry traditions, along with cowboy poetry, logging poets, trucker poets, and probably others. Any profession that requires long periods of time spent in silence is perfect for creatig poetry, and this is the story I heard about the formation of Northwest fisher poetry is that the long journey from Washington and Oregon ports to the Alaskan fishing grounds is the root cause. As fishermen trundled along burning diesel to get North, they wrote poems and read poems over the CBs. Of course, today's fisher's poets aren't just constrained to writing about the sea; Oregon poet Clem Starck writes poems about chainsaws and carpentry, even laying concrete. But what he shares with other fisher poets (and occupational poets) is a gift for transforming the hard machinery and cold work into something beautiful.
At Folklife, fisher poet Pat Dixon has organized a panel on Commercial Fishing Work as part of Folklife's 2013 cultural focus on labor and labor traditions. He's bringing Clem Starck, maritime singer Mary Garvey, and the wonderful fisher poet Sierra Golden, an Alaska fisherwoman. Golden's a deft and powerful poet and I really hope she gets a chance to tell some of her poems. Check out a few samples HERE.
Check out Pat Dixon's excellent site that features the best fisher poets with sound and video samples:
In the Tote
Giddy Up: Country Roots (sponsored by BECU)
Sunday, May 26, 6-9pm.
Fountain Lawn Stage.
There's quite the movement today in Seattle of what's being called "Ballard Ave Country Music." This means young, sometimes hipster-ish bands that play traditional and roots country or indie music inspired by country roots and perform along the bars of Seattle's heavily gentrified Ballard neighborhood. Places like The Tractor Tavern, Conor Byrnes Pub, and even The Sunset can be hopping over the weekends, full of folks with PBRs and a need for a serious dose of twang. And there's some pretty great music coming out of this scene, of course. Top of the heap, in my eyes, is the Annie Ford Band. We've written about Annie before, and I definitely think she's one of the best roots musicians in Seattle. New to us were The Ganges River Band and Country Lips.
Country Lips. 6:15pm
Annie Ford Band. 7:00pm
The Ganges River Band. 7:45pm
Ole Tinder. 8:30pm
The Ganges River Band sure kicks off their new single, "I Am Your Man," right. They pour on the buckets of pedal steel twang, and lay back into a classic country kind of song about holding on to fleeting love. They don't seem retro for the point of being retro, just honestly enamored by the sound and feel of old-school country music. Their Bandcamp page labels them "a rowdy Texas country band currently living in Seattle," but it looks like the band is the brainchild of Ballard resident A.P. Dugas, who's been turning out intriguing alt-country songs in Seattle for a little while now. The Ganges River Band have just released their first self-titled album, and with songs like "I Am Your Man" and the absolutely excellent "Six Bottles of Wine" leading it off (Stuck out here in Houston/day dreamin' about leaving/But I'm doing fine.../On six bottles of wine) this is a great signifier of the deep county roots along Ballard Ave these days.
Country Lips are the perfect kind of band to see at Folklife. I didn't immediately gel with their Bandcamp music, but I totally fell in step when I saw their live KEXP videos. They're a raucous crew, a seeming pastiche of Ballard Ave types tied together with a lot of alcohol and a love for hardcore twang. The vocals are engaging, the instruments are picked hard, and the band seems to be having a load of fun. It's gonna be a helluva great time hanging out with these bands on the Fountain Lawn. You should try your hand at a country two-step!
Northwest Stringband Throwdown.
Sunday, May 26, 6-9pm.
Fisher Green Stage.
Just across teh way from the Country Roots show, the humble little Fisher Green Stage will be throwing down with four up-and-coming Northwest stringbands. Led by the hard-driving Seattle alt-grass band The Warren G. Hardings (who put on a killer live show), these bands come from as far afield as Portland and feature a variety of styles from bluegrass to jamgrass to alt-country to hardcore old-time. I'm especially excited about The Porterbelly Stringband. I was sad when the excellent NW alt-time band Nettle Honey broke up, but it turns out two members of that band have made it into Porterbelly with the addition of young fiddler Noah Frank. I don't know too much about them, but looks like they've been playing the underground square dance scene in Seattle, which means that they can play hard. Audio tracks on their Facebook page are damn promising, including a nice romp through the classic "Billy in the Lowground" and a nice old-time tune I hadn't heard before: "Old Buzzard." Banjo player Johnny Fitzpatrick, one of the Nettle Honey guys, sounds hot on these tracks, blazing through some three-finger picking that matches Billy in the Lowground's fiddling note for note. This band's gonna be hot on stage. I can just tell!
Wide Open Spaces, sponsored by BECU.
Monday, May 27
Fisher Green Stage, 1-3:30pm
I have no idea what this show is supposed to be about or why the name, but sometimes these are the best shows at Folklife. And as I ran down my list of awesome Hidden Gems and New Discoveries at Folklife, I realized three bands on that list were in this show. So dang, this is the place to be Monday afternoon before you head to the American Standard Time show!
Pepper Proud. 1:00pm.
Tara Stonecipher. 1:40pm.
Br'er Rabbit. 2:20pm.
Blvd Park. 3:00pm.
NEW DISCOVERIES & HIDDEN GEMS
part of the Wide Open Spaces show.
Monday, May 27, 1pm
Fisher Green Stage.
Folk singer Pepper Proud has been indeed making Seattle proud recently, mainly off the force of her powerful acoustic performances and her gorgeous debut album, Riddles and Rhymes. And I do mean gorgeous. Pepper's voice has the gentlest bit of twang, a remnant of her West Virginia homeland, and the subtlest sense of fragility. It's a voice that pulls you in instantly. The kind of voice that makes you lean in a little closer to catch every word, to enjoy every moment. She's a great songwriter too, which is no small feat. "Fishing Blues" was the first song I heard from her via the beautiful YouTube Ballard Sessions of Seattle filmmaker Eratosthenes Fackenthall. It's a beautiful folk song, indebted perhaps to the old fishing blues songs, or maybe just connected to that old sepia-tinged country image in my head. It's a song about fishing for treasure in everyday life, a song whose first verse could almost be taken from an innocent children's book, but there's also a twinge of the sadness of growing up in the song. It's part of her larger tropes in this album that blend the sweet and whimsical with the sad and slightly bitter. There's a hard edge riding just underneath Proud's music and that's what makes it so interesting. Everything sounds like fragile gossamer, driven by Proud's crystalline voice, but it's like washing your best wine glass by hand. It's a beautiful object to be sure, but there's an underlying level of fear in knowing that one wrong move can cause it to shatter, cutting open your hand. That tension between beauty and danger is the core of Pepper Proud's music and one reason she's so compelling.
Tara Stonecipher & The Tall Grass.
part of the Wide Open Spaces show.
Monday, May 27, 1:40pm
Fisher Green Stage.
Eugene songwriter Tara Stonecipher rides that perfect line between singer-songwriter lyricism and country twang. It's always a sweet combination, since it balances out the weaknesses in both genres. If you get tired of the freer-form melodies of singer-songwriting, the delicious country harmonies pull you back. And if the snare-driven backbeat and thump-a-thump bass of country begins to wear, the more expressive lyrics will bring you around. Stonecipher sounds remarkably mature and confident for releasing a debut EP with her band The Tall Grass (as in Tara Stonecipher and The Tall Grass), and that's part of what makes her worthy of attention. Really it seems like she's beginning to master two different worlds, a pretty mighty task. Her song "Dogs" is a perfect example. She's got the cresting vocal break that defines country singing, but the song as a whole is an affectingly emotional journey through a break up. Not sure how the dogs factor in, but I'd definitely like to listen to it a few times more just to find out. That's the sign of a good song and a good songwriter. You get a little lost in their songs.
Tara Stonecipher & The Tall Grass: Dogs
part of the Wide Open Spaces show.
Monday, May 27, 2:20pm.
Fisher Green Stage.
Br'er Rabbit bill themselves as "Folk-Stomp Americana" and that's just about right. 30 seconds into the first song, "Roller," on their new EP, and I defy you to keep from stomping along. There's an infectious joy to their music, certainly helped by the liberal use of ukulele and tambourine, but also by the sunny vocals of singer Miranda Zickler. These are just the kind of sunny vocals we need in the midst of a rainy Northwestern summer. Formed by brothers Nathan and Zach Hamer, Br'er Rabbit has a definite Lumineers vibe going on musically, which I like a lot, but seem to have a stronger folk foundation than the Lumineers. They've also got the taste for a singalong, a fine key point in any roots band, and the songs on their EP are all delightfully singable. Nathan, Zach, and Miranda are all excellent singers, and there's nothing better really than finding such a fun folk band amongst folks so young. There's an underpinning of traditional music, but I love the fact that they're clearly in this to have a great time. This kind of abandon is at the heart of true folk music and it's at the heart of Br'er Rabbit's music as well.
Br'er Rabbit: Roller
Friday, May 24, 7:20pm.
Northwest Court Stage.
Three of the best and brightest young folk and Celtic musicians in Seattle teamed up to make The Onlies. I know these kids well and they've got that wonderful, boundless enthusiasm of youth, and it shows on their second album, Setting Out To Sea. They've matured considerably since their 2011 album (which was great too), and they've expanded the sound of the group to feature multiple fiddle arrangements (all three are excellent fiddlers), some original songs and tunes, and a growing confidence in what was before just a way to have fun with friends. They've been learning this month from acclaimed songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello as part of the innovative youth music project More Music at the Moore, and it's clear that they're taking their musicianship and craft more seriously than ever. They've been getting great press too and may even have a West Coast tour getting put together. Each of The Onlies, Riley Calcagno, Samantha Braman, and Leo Shannon, are still in high school, so it's hard to believe that they sound this polished at such a young age. I had a Celtic band when I was in high school, and though we had an absolute blast playing music, I can assure that we didn't sound anywhere near as good as these kids. The tunes on Setting Out To Sea range across the Celtic traditions, from renditions of Irish tunes like Rakish Paddy and Lord Gordon's Reel, to old-time, Cape Breton, and French-Canadian tunes. Original tunes, like Sami Braman's "December March," rub shoulders with traditional tunes and rollicking fiddle tunes are slipped into songs and run through with obvious glee. A beautiful new Scandinavian tune by Ola Bäckström, "I'm Not Fed Up With the Pacific Ocean," benefits from winding harmony lines in the fiddles, and Liz Carroll's twisty tune "Half Day Road" gets a great treatment. Jeez, if they're whipping off Liz Carroll tunes at this age... Sigh. Kids these days!
The Onlies: Grey Owl
Hank Bradley & Cathie Whitesides.
Friday, May 24. 8:20pm.
Alki Court Stage.
Hank Bradley is one of the best old-time fiddlers on the West Coast, and probably in the US, though he doesn't get the recognition he really deserves. He was a seminal figure in the early folk revival old-time boom, and his bootlegged cassette mixtapes of old 78s influenced a lot of people as they were handed around from friend to friend. He's also a powerful tune composer. I've been in classes with him teaching tunes he's written and I can say he does things with traditional old-time fiddle tunes that I've never heard or conceived of before. For years, Hank and his partner Cathie Whitesides have also been performing traditional Greek and Balkan music. They'll probably do mostly this at Folklife, and it's a trip to hear how they can mash the odd and intense rhythms of Balkan music with the drones of old-time fiddling. Hank's his own master class in traditional fiddling, so step up and get some wisdom from a true master!
The Family Carr.
part of the Global Contra Dance.
Saturday, May 25, 12:00pm.
Kevin Carr's one of my favorite fiddlers and an all around great guy. For years, he's been teaching fiddle at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, and he's always quick to help anyone starting out on this difficult and demanding instrument. As fiddler, his style draws from many different traditions–and he's one of the few fiddlers I know who's proficient and respected in each of these traditions–but always manages to sound like his own. There's a lilt to his playing, a lift, and there's also a joyful quality to his ornamentation. His playing is beguiling to me, and I've sat with him at about a hundred sessions over the past decade or so, always enjoying myself immensely. Throughout the time I've known him, he's always played music with his wife, Josie Mendelsohn. Josie's a wonderful piano player (guitar, spoons and fiddle too!) and a great soul as well, so they make a great team. In fact, Josie was a member of the Good Old Persons back in the day with Laurie Lewis! Kevin and Josie tour the Northwest playing contra dances and concerts and Kevin's a wonderful storyteller and bagpiper too. For such a talented duo, it's a true joy to see that their love and passion for music has been passed on to their kids. It hasn't always been an easy road of course–it never is growing up with a lot of expectations from parents and friends that you'd become a musician as well–but the spark was lit in both kids, Molly and Daniel Carr and they've joined with Kevin and Josie to make The Family Carr (great band name btw!).
For Molly, it all clicked into place during a trip to Galicia. Kevin had been going to Galicia for years and learning the music, and Molly found the same comradery there that kept drawing Kevin back. She stayed for a while, and formed a killer young band called As Faiscas. On the new album, Molly sings some beautiful songs, including the Galician song "Canto de Monzos," which includes a beautiful tune on the Galician bagpipes (gaitas) as played by Kevin. Daniel Carr weighs in as well with a charming cover of "Sail Away Ladies," and Josie and Molly's haunting version of the French-Canadian song "Je Sais Bien," is another highlight (this song appears in Josie's indispensable book of French-Canadian songs published by Mel Bay). Kevin sings as well, leading up a fun version of the great old-time song "Wild Hog In the Woods." As mentioned, the album wanders across incredibly diverse ground, as Appalachian old-time tunes rub shoulders with French-Canadian dance tunes learned from old masters and wild Galician tunes join hands with Irish trad session pieces. It's all a lot of fun and a great window in the kind of diverse world of folk music that my generation enjoys today thanks to the hard work of the first folk revival. It's also a great window into the joy of making music as a family.
The Family Carr: Wild Hog in the Woods/Elzic's Farewell
part of the Team Up for Nonprofits Show
Saturday, May 25, 1:00pm.
Fountain Lawn Stage.
Bradford Loomis came as a surprise for me. I thought I knew the Seattle roots music scene pretty well. And it's not like he's unknown here; in fact, he's quite well known from his many performances at Seattle roots shows. It was, again, the video from Eratosthenes Fackenthall's Ballard Sessions that converted me to his dark Americana music. This was the video:
It starts off nice and simple, with a beautiful, heartfelt folk song, but by the end he's practically wailing! I got ahold of his new album, Into the Great Unknown, and it's in a similar vein to this video but with a full backing band and some gorgeous harmony singing. This is what Americana should sound like today, and too often does not. These are expertly crafted songs that owe a huge debt to the historic roots of American music but refuse to be bound by any stuffy idea of tradition. They can flip over into a killer mainstream country sound that would put plenty of wannabes in Nashville to shame, but they can also flip back to an old-school tent revival shout. And best of all, these songs are singable and hummable and just plain fun to listen to. Pay attention folks, this guy's going places!
Bradford Loomis: See You On the Other Side
FOLKLIFE HOT TIPS
Folklife's an insane event, but these hot tips will guarantee you have the best possible time.
-Volunteer for a shift. Folklife runs on about a thousand volunteers, so they need help. Go to the second floor of the Center House to sign up. Usually you get cool jobs. But the real thing you get is a participant button. Which leads me to:
-The Participant's Lounge is the best part of Folklife. Located just next to the new skatepark, the participant's lounge is where all the performers go to hang out all weekend and jam up a storm. It's a magical place with free drinks, cheap beer, good conversations and fascinating musical encounters. It's everything that's great about Folklife and you can only get in with a participant button.
-Get Inside if it's hot and you're tired. Folklife's exhausting on hot days and the crowds are insane. Get inside for an indoor theater show and you can sit down and feel a million times better. I recommend Center House Theater. It's the best listening space at Folklife and when I worked there we'd always throw the coolest and strangest bands in there. Also try the Folklife Cafe.
-Get your beer at the Northwest Court. The crowds are mellower up there and you can singalong to sea chanties.
-Give Folklife your damn money. Folklife runs off a few hardy, overworked souls and it doesn't charge at the gate. That means anyone in Seattle can experience not only some great music and dance, but the cultures of the folks who live around them. That's an amazing mission that deserves some of your bucks.
-Enjoy the street performers. This is actually like a second festival wrapped up in the first one. Street performers range from crusty jugbands to little kids with violins to dudes who staple dollar bills to their chest. It's awesome.
05/22/2013 | comments (1)
Kickstarter videos can be a difficult thing to produce. It's hard to ask your friends, fans and colleagues for money, so invariably they seem a bit a forced. But as Kickstarter's become the main way not only to support recordings and touring, but also to interact with fans, the Kickstarter video has become a central statement for an artist.
So with that in mind, I hope you'll check out the charming and intriguing video from Portland songwriter Leo J (of Leo J. and the Mêlées). His Kickstarter utterly won my over. He's looking for funds to support a cross-country bicycle trip to sing his own folk songs, which are pretty excellent, but also to gather folk songs and stories as he traveled to make into podcasts under the name Common Place: new world folk tales. He labels this project: Folklore Podcast - Folk Music Tour - Bicycle Pilgrimage. Check it out:
I was intrigued by the stories he mentions here in the video and by what exactly he's looking for while he bicycles around American communities. So I reached out and he had a very nice response:
"Basically, what I'm looking for, Devon, are stories of folklore, modern and traditional. Stories that give identity to a place and its people. Stories that are hard to believe and difficult to prove, but have gained a sort of mythical weight. Stories that you can't find on Google. Stories that are so embedded in a place that they can only really be told there. Stories of change and culture that comes directly from a relationship of a people to the place they live and not from some outside force with its own motivations.
Ultimately though, I just want to tell engaging, touching tales and I imagine the criteria will shift as I see what I come across. I'm very interested in the shifting and churning that goes on in this country: locals vs outsiders, folk culture revivals, urban sprawl, immigration and what it means to the way we relate to each other and the land around us."
Check out his Kickstarter and kick him some bucks. He's got 48 hours left. Good luck, Leo, and be sure to hit us up when you start posting some of your story podcast! For now you can listen to his new album which we've been really enjoying:
PS: Thanks to my buddy April at Common Folk Music for hipping me to this!
05/14/2013 | comments (0)
I first heard Washington State songwriter Nathaniel Talbot at a songwriter's showcase in the Triple Door's Musiquarium lounge. He was playing with Jeffrey Martin (who's already done an Inside the Songs HERE) and Anna Tivel (who's schedule for an upcoming Inside the Songs). What a great trio of songwriters right here in our own backyard! Nathaniel's songs were intimately rooted to the earth, tied to the cycles of nature, and somewhat mystifying. So when I approached him to do an Inside the Songs with Hearth Music, I wanted to hear about his connections to the natural environment. Turns out he's an organic farmer on nearby Whidbey Island and works his love of the land into his songwriting. Here he talks about his new release, Here In The Fields.
Inside the Songs with Nathaniel Talbot
Tell me more about your work farming in the Pacific Northwest and how this informs your music!
Nathaniel Talbot: Two years ago I uprooted myself from the Portland music scene to pursue a career in organic farming on Whidbey Island. An interest in growing food had been creeping inside me for several years. I grew up on a 8-acre, mostly-forested homestead tucked in foothills of the Cascades, so perhaps the move north stemmed from a deeper desire, not just to farm, but more generally to rediscover a land-based way of life, as an adult, on my own terms. This was in no way a music-based decision. In fact, I had already began to accept that a move to a small, rural community and a commitment to a career in agriculture would likely result in an end to my musical career as I knew it. But it hasn’t worked out that way. If anything, farming has only cranked the heat under my musical kettle, so to speak, opening up vaults of new lyrical themes and imagery. The basic acts of hoeing, harvesting, and evening driving a tractor allow space for my mind to arrange and rearrange new musical ideas, play with lyrics, and if nobody’s around, sing aloud to myself.
My songs have always been strong reflections of the landscape in which they were written, both natural and urban. It seems natural to now be weaving the images and stories of farmers, their fields and surrounding communities into the music. But more importantly, moving beyond the immediate subjects of the songs on this record, I think this album signifies a strong maturation in my general approach to storytelling... In “Here in the Fields” I think the stories, for the first time, played a dominant role in helping sculpt my songwriting. As I grow and evolve as a farmer, I’m inadvertently uncovering stories that are too rich to ignore. The interactions of humans with their land base, in my opinion, provides some of the most interesting, tragic and underrepresented, raw subject matter for songwriters to work with, especially in the folk tradition.
Jamestown was inspired by a very basic ecological observation. Why do crows and ravens, while exhibiting such strong physical similarities and genetic relatedness, occupy such different niches both in the natural environment as well as human folklore? Crows are the weeds of the city, thriving and multiplying from refuse of human civilization, while ravens are generally relegated to the wilderness, or at least areas where the natural world has been partially spared. This very simple relationship between wildlife and their preferred environments helped launch "Jamestown," essentially an accelerated narrative of the shaping of the American landscape via westward expansion. It serves as somewhat of an overview for the album, setting the tone by which some of the later songs get to further explore this theme in detail. There’s no agenda here, no attempt at delineating right from wrong, just a broad statement that what we have done as farmers, loggers, miners, engineers, etc. to forward our own basic condition has unequivocally left the natural world a profoundly changed place. As a side note, on the farm I often get to observe both ravens and crows interacting in concert in my own semi-natural farm landscape, but I think that’s fodder for another song.
“The Great Levee”
I guess when spoken aloud, the phrase “soil erosion” doesn’t sound like the most poignant topic for a folk song. But I think that if we allow ourselves to dig beneath the rather emotionless or cursory first impression, I think there’s a lot there to explore. In fact, the loss of topsoil has arguably affected human civilization more than war, disease, or any other like phenomena, combined (whoa). As a new organic farmer I’m learning that careful soil management is paramount to long-term growing success, and as I become more attuned to it, I see of the consequences of soil neglect around me more and more. “The Great Levee” is an attempt to shine a bit of light on this arena, while at the same time illustrating some of the social dynamics that have helped accelerate our global loss of soil. The song takes of the form of a somewhat playful parable, occurring in no specific time or place. “Bucket by bucket-full we will carry…the clay back to it’s home on the hill.” This has actually happened, and continues to happen, in farming regions all over the world where the erosion has reached extremes. At the risk of sounding too academic (I know we’re supposed to be talking about music here…) I’d encourage folks to check out the book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, which helped shape some of the ideas in this tune.
The Pacific Northwest empire was built by the logging industry, an industry that over the course of a mere century voraciously gobbled up over 90% of our native forests while simultaneously stripping itself of it’s own future. By the early ‘80s, when I was born, many small logging town like Edison, WA were already reeling from a decline in our forest lands, and then came the ‘90s when the Spotted Owl controversy and Northwest Forest Plan finally put a halt to what little clear-cutting opportunities remained (at least on certain federal lands). A lot of these towns never really recovered from this bust, and you can still see the impact as you drive through the economically depressed foothills of the cascades where I grew up. But Edison had a more interesting fate, seizing on an opportunity for tourism development, blended with a dose of art, slow food, DIY hipster culture and organic farming. When I first stumbled into this little town I was completely charmed and fascinated by its revitalization, which from talking to some locals, seemed to emerge out of a very intentional effort to create a way of living independent from any corporate industry. I hope their dreams last longer than those of their predecessors, as it will take something stronger that a house of cards to survive whatever economic storms the future inevitably holds.
03/01/2013 | comments (0)
Ben Fisher is a wonderful songwriter, performer, and all -around great guy. But he's also a masterful street performer (or busker), and this is a very fine art as I've discovered. For a while there was a video going around of world-class violinist Joshua Bell failing as a busker on the NYC subway. Everyone said this was an example of how great music is mostly ignored by the unwashed masses. BULLSHIT! It's an example of how difficult it is to make any money if you don't know how to busk. No one, I repeat NO ONE , can stand on a street corner and watch the twenties roll in just by playing amazing music. Nope, you have to connect with your audience, and connect with an audience that's moving rapidly past you. You have to stake out the perfect corner, judge all the sightlines, and reconfigure your music, singing, and playing to break through the sounds of the busy street. You have to endure rainy/windy days, indifferent masses, and even thieves just to make some money for the day. But the best buskers can rake it in and have a great time in the process.
Ben Fisher is one of those buskers in Seattle, a town full of buskers. Sure, he plays at Pike Place, where busking is carefully controlled by a central agency and where there's a historic expectation to see great buskers. But he also plays on University Avenue, one of the grimier parts of Seattle and the home of the real buskers. He plays farmers markets and anywhere he thinks a crowd might gather. He knows how to busk and he respects the art.
In honor of his current Kickstarter campaign, we asked him to break down the Do's and Don'ts of great busking.
Ben Fisher's Busking Do's and Don't's.
1) Don't ever let a dollar bill blow out of your case, down the street, never to be seen again. Yes, it's just a dollar, but you're going to feel crummy about it all day. Run your ass after it.
2) Don't assume that someone you often play in front of doesn't like your music because they don't tip you or talk to you. There's a guy that I've been playing in front of for years, that I'd recognize anywhere. I've never said a word to him, and I've never gotten a dime from him, but last week he came up, dropped a wad of ones in my case and asked if I knew any Ryan Adams songs. There's no rhyme or reason to much of busking.
3) Don't buy produce the day before you busk at a farmers market. If you're lucky, vendors will drop everything from beets to kale to apples to carrots to 'special' fudge in your case.
4) Don't leave your harmonica within arms' reach of a toddler. They will play it.
5) Don't play the same song more than once during the same busking outing. Learn some more songs.
6) Don't scoff at change. It adds up.
1) Do bring strings. For the love of God, bring extra strings. When you're busking, you're playing loud, and it's inevitable that you're going to pop a string once in a while. My record is five strings in a two hour period. Bring extras.
2) Do get out there when it's overcast/raining. There won't be as much competition, and sometimes people are even more generous in nasty weather.
3) Do bring your CDs with you. Though there are some spots you can't sell them, like the bus tunnels, on a good day you can bring in as much money from selling CDs as you can from tips.
4) Do say 'thank you' when something drops into your case. If you've got a mouth full of words because you're in the middle of a song, give a little bow or a smile or something. So many people walk by you without giving a rip. Make the ones who appreciate you know that you appreciate them as well.
You can find out more about Ben and enjoy some more of his life musings via this Inside the Songs Feature we did with him a few months ago.
Ben's Kickstarting to raise funds for his new full-length album. It's kind of like digital busking! Drop some money in his bitmapped hat. The fund drive ends March 10, so help him out!
Ben Fisher Kickstarter
BUY Ben's previous albums on Bandcamp