LIVE: The Old Songs Festival @ the Altamont Fairgrounds, 6/27/14

Review by Greg Haymes

The recently completed World Cup pits one country against another. That’s what global competitive sports is all about, of course. The music of the Old Songs Festival, on the other hand, brings countries together. It’s a celebration of cultutal sharing, not competition.

The opening Friday night concert of the three-day Old Songs Festival at the Altamont Fairgrounds was a global smorgasbord of music – from Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil and French Canada.

“If the body is a temple, the soul is a bell, and that’s why music is the best medicine I sell,” sang Maya de Vitry of the Stray Birds, a fabulous country trio from Pennsylvania. And the song – actually written about a record store on Jay Street in Schenectady – could very well have served as a sort of unofficial anthem for the 34th annual fest, which has long exhibited a unique and undeniable spirit of community.

in addition to host Bill Vanaver, there were eight performers for Friday’s four-and-a-half hour concert, and each of them played for 25 minutes, which was just long enough to get a good idea of what they do and how they do it, and to leave the audience wanting more. Which is exactly what they got throughout the rest of the fest, as nearly all of the musicians were committed to a full three-day stay at the fest, participating in workshops, dances and mini-concerts all weekend long.

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The centerpiece of the concert was Matuto, a New York City-based quintet that played a joyous hybrid of the forro music of Brazil blended with the sounds of Appalachian bluegrass all-American bluegrass, most notably with “Lazy John,” which also added an element of Louisiana Cajun two-step. Featuring Clay Ross on vocals (he abandoned his cavaquinho after breaking two strings), Rob Curto on accordion and a trio of percussionists, the band quickly won over the crowd and had them singing along and clapping out complex rhythms.

Ukulele virtuoso Stu “Stukulele” Fuchs and bassist Sarah Carlisle kept the Brazilian music rolling with “Benzinho,” as well as some traditional New Orleans jazz (“Bourbon Street Parade”), blues (“Me or Uke Blues”) and novelty songs (an ode to his hometown, “Buffalo in My Soul”). Blues-flavored guitar master Brooks Williams paid homage to early New Orleans guitar pioneer Frank Delandry and dipped into the songbags of Doc Watson, Muddy Waters and Dave Alvin. The Dutch trio of Ankie, Nanne & Tseard offered a triptych of tunes from their full-length historical program, “Henry Hudson & the Half Moon.”

Timothy Mason – who was at Caffe Lena in March with Japanese guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto – led Trio of Poets through a slam-worthy collection of performance-poems about love, sex, death and baseball cards. With an international flair, the concert was bookended by openers Comas (an Irish instrumental quartet, whose lone vocal performance was sung in Flemish) and closers Vishtan, a charming French Canadian trio led by twin sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Glenn Weiser’s review at Metroland

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