Question: Why did Red Hen cross the road?
Possible answer: To get to the other side?
Well, not exactly.
Red Hen might be a new name on the Nippertown acoustic music scene, but the four faces are certainly familiar. And they’ve crossed back and forth across the road quite a number of times over the years.
Perhaps you know fiddler Jane Rothfield and bassist-guitarist Allan Carr from their days together as the duo Atlantic Crossing. And the duo of guitarist Linda Schrade and banjo man David Kiphuth are well known on the local folk scene as well.
The flaxen-haired folksinger Mary Travers died on Wednesday at the age of 72, after a long battle with leukemia. She was the queen of ’60s folk music scene, one-third of the most successful folk group of the day: Peter, Paul & Mary.
Here’s a clip of PP&M singing the classic “If I Had a Hammer” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963:
Travers had strong ties to the Capital Region. Her parents met while working as journalists for two competing Albany newspapers – her father Robert at the Times Union and her mother Virginia at the Knickerbocker Press (before becoming the Knickerbocker News).
The two were married and moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Mary Travers was born. But shortly thereafter, the family returned to the Capital Region, where Virginia took a job at the Schenectady Gazette and Robert worked at the Schenectady Union-Star.
Champions of the peace and civil rights movements, as well as other social and political causes, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers sang from the heart with great passion.
“Sometimes a song is too relevant,” Travers sadly observed by way of introduction to Pete Seeger’s classic anti-war anthem, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” during one of PP&M’s final Capital Region concerts at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady in 2004.
Lisa Atkinson died in her San Mateo, California, home on Saturday, May 9 after a long illness. She was 51 years old.
Lisa Atkinson performing at Don Quixote's International Music Hall, Felton, CA, 2007
Lisa was a favorite performer on Albany’s folk music scene back in the ’80s. While based in the Capital Region, she recorded the single “She’s Got Secrets,” as well as the full-length album “Pack Me in Your Suitcase.”
She was also an award-winning children’s music performer, who recorded three albums for Albany’s A Gentle Wind children’s music label – “I Wanna Tickle the Fish,” “The One and Only Me” and “The Elephant in Aisle Four.”
“A Celebration of Life” will be held in her honor from 2-5pm on Saturday, August 29 – which would have been Lisa’s 52nd birthday – at the A.S.K. Arts Center at 97 Broadway in Kingston.
The duo – featuring longtime Nippertown music scenemakers Michael Eck and Tom Lindsay – used to play together way back when in a cool band with the cool name Chefs of the Future (with a tip of the hat to Jackie Gleason and “The Honeymooners”). They also released a cassette-only album under the not-quite-as-clever name of Mike & Tom. Or was it Tom & Mike?
Anyway, after a long hiatus, Lindsay emerged from his musical retirement a few years ago, once again teaming up with Eck, whose ongoing musical career also currently encompasses solo gigs and the jug-dobro-mandolin chair in Ramblin Jug Stompers.
As the Gospel Train, they focused their repertoire on a century’s worth of American spiritual and religious songs that spanned the Civil War to the Civil Rights era.
But then they started branching out. They put together a program of Civil War-era songs that they titled “Lincoln and Liberty.” Then they assembled an evening of classic Carter Family songs, “Wildwood Flower: Songs of the Original Carter Family.”
And now they’ve developed another theme program: “American Favorite Ballads: The Songs of Pete Seeger,” which they’ll be launching with a free CRUMBS Nite Out performance at The Linda in Albany on Thursday (August 27).
So the duo of Lindsay and Eck decided to change the name of the duo to the Lost Radio Rounders in order to envelope all of the various programs that they offer. They will, however, retain “The Gospel Train” as one of the programs, rather than the name of the twosome.
Like good wine, some musicians just seem to get better with age.
And that’s certainly the case with singer-songwriter Chris Smither, who served up a wealth of wonderful blues and folk songs to a sold-out crowd of fans at Caffe Lena on Sunday, August 16.
Ironically, most people still know Smither best as the author of “Love You Like a Man,” which Bonnie Raitt recorded way back in 1972 for her “Give It Up” album and made into something of her signature song.
But Smither is actually at the top of his game right now, and one of the highlights of his performance on Sunday evening was a mesmerizing rendition of “Leave the Light On,” the title track of his most recent album.
Long one of Nippertown’s most colorful, charismatic and talented musicians, Bert Sommer is getting some long-overdue respect.
Sadly, it’s nearly 20 years after his death in Albany, where he spent the final seven years of his life playing solo and with such bands as the Fabulous Newports and B.W. & the Poor Boys around town at clubs like Quintessence and Doc McCutcheon’s.
But 40 years ago, the 20-year-old Sommer made his concert debut in front nearly half a million people at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
(Sleeping Giant Records, 2009): You don’t have to be a mountain man or woman to enjoy this collection of Adirondack folk music. If you’ve done any camping or hiking in New York State’s great mountains (or even if you’ve just admired the majestic view on postcards), you’re likely to feel connected to this music. Embracing the outdoors and the simple charms of homespun tunes, three of the area’s most beloved songsmiths – Dan Berggren, John Kirk and Christopher Shaw – team up for the first time on this album.
Well, actually, the trio is only playing together on seven of the album’s 17 tracks, but you get the idea because the rest of the selections are duos or solos.
Berggren’s focus is songwriting. While the majority of the tunes are traditional, Berggren contributes a half dozen of his own tunes to the disc, including the captivating spoken word tale of the “Cremation of the Old Floyd Place.”
Kirk’s focus is on the instrumental end of things. The CD showcases the multi-talented player’s considerable skills on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and flute, as well as some fancy clog-dancing percussion on the French Canadian medley of “Reel St. Joseph/Mason’s Apron.”
Shaw, meanwhile, is the strongest vocalist of the bunch, and it’s a shame that he didn’t step up to sing lead more often here. Still, “Ballad of Blue Mountain Lake” is the album’s highlight, and it has more to do with Shaw’s knack for insightful narrative singing than it does with the contributions of such high-profile special guests as Rory Block and the Band’s Garth Hudson.
Put these three veteran musicians together, though, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as evidenced by the deeply heartfelt a cappella offering, “River Driving.”
A few other special guests drop by to add their own seasonings to the mix, including the Finest Kind’s Ann Downey (who steps up to sing “Log Driver’s Waltz”) and fiddle phenom Cedar Stanistreet (who teams up for Kirk for another of the album’s best tracks – the achingly gorgeous twin fiddle lament “Be Thou My Vision”).
The best music is the music that you make yourself – a communion with with friends or strangers. But if you can’t make your music, this might be the next best thing. Come gather ’round the campfire.
Dan Berggren, John Kirk and Christopher Shaw (and Cedar Stanistreet) will celebrate the release of “North River/North Woods” with a concert at the Ndakinna Education Center in Greenfield Center on Saturday, August 15, as part of the ongoing Down to the Earth performance series.
A multi-talented musician, as well as a key folk music archivist and scholar, Mike Seeger died at his Lexington, Va. home at the age of 75 on Friday, August 7. He died of an aggressive form of cancer known as multiple myeloma.
He was the half-brother of folk legend Pete Seeger, but Mike Seeger carved out his own place in the world of folk music in 1958 when he and his friends John Cohen and Tom Paley formed the New Lost City Ramblers.
The Ramblers’ three-CD box set, “50 Years: Where Do You Come From? Where Do You Go?,” is slated for release on Tuesday, August 25 on the Smithsonian Folkways label. The set will feature a half dozen previously unreleased tracks.
Seeger’s recording career spanned a half century, not only as a musician, but also as a producer and engineer who recorded the likes of Dock Boggs, the Country Gentlemen and Sam McGee. He recorded and produced “American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style,” in 1957, the first long-playing bluegrass album ever released.
More recently, he played autoharp on the multi-Grammy Award-winning Robert Plant-Alison Krauss album, “Raising Sand.” And he was scheduled to perform at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Saturday, July 25, until his illness made it impossible to travel and he was forced to cancel his appearance.
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