The Canadian group Sheesham & Lotus & Son – playing at the Old Songs Festival this weekend at the Altamont Fairgrounds – describe themselves as “at once ancient and refreshingly new.” They dress old timey and play fiddle tunes, ragtime, good-time blues and use old time vocal harmony applying “old techniques and new sonic ideas presented to the audience in a bombastic and friendly fashion.”
I can remember as a college student during the ’60s “folk scare” being totally put off by the movement’s reticence to accept fresh ideas for music that at the time was slavishly copying decades-old songs and resisting new technology and even original songs. Dylan’s going electric and San Francisco going psychedelic pushed the academic attitude off the table, and today anything goes. Sheesham & Lotus & Son are a Canadian group that, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, are revising a style of music popular in the ’20s and ’30s that largely has been forgotten with the revisionist popularity of delta blues and modern folk idioms.
As Sheesham Crow explains it, there is no utility in resisting a euphonium or trumpet in an old timey band. “If I walked across the holler, and I happen to bring an accordion, (my friend) wouldn’t say, ‘Wow, I’m playing old time. You can’t play that accordion.’”
“The thing that bugs me is the gentrification of old time music. You can lose some of that crusty, wild energy that comes from the real old time music.”
(clockwise from upper left) Molly Andrews, Genticorum, Lea Gilmore and The Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble
The Old Songs Festival returns to the Altamont Fairgrounds in Altamont for its 33rd annual fest from Friday-Sunday, June 28-30.
Old Songs is a family-friendly festival of folk, traditional, Celtic and world music and dance, known for its relaxed atmosphere, interactive sessions and workshops, hands-on experience and participatory nature. In addition to the daily main stage concerts, there are 120 daytime workshops given by performers. Workshop schedules should be available in early May. Also featured are a juried craft show, food and instrument vendors and a fun-filled children’s activity area.
All-fest three-day tickets are $105; students & seniors $95; youth (ages 13-18) $55; children 12 and under FREE. Single-day tickets and camping are also available.
Here’s the schedule of performers for the main stage concerts at the 2013 Old Songs Festival:
On Day Three of the annual Old Songs Festival at the Altamont Fairgrounds, the main stage concert didn’t kick off until 3:30pm, but there was a lot of music going on way before that all around the festival grounds starting at 9am.
One of the key ingredients of Old Songs is the myriad of group workshops and spotlight performances on secondary stages throughout the day with many of the weekend’s headliners – including John McCutcheon, Archie Fisher, Hugh Pool, Pat Wictor, etc. – available for a chat or some impromptu instruction.
But when the main stage concert kicked off on that hot Sunday afternoon, the crowd was already sitting there in their seats and ready for the line-up of performers leading into the finale of the evening’s performers.
I scanned the program for my first visit to the Old Songs Festival and realized that I was in for a lot of walking. The day’s events, workshops and concerts required a lot of movement around the Altamont Fairgrounds if I was going to get a real idea of just what kind of gathering was the 32nd Old Songs Festival.
With about 10 different events happening every hour in different locations, I knew I would sample many artists’ particular work in the rather broad field of folk music.
First, I was drawn to the sound of many voices singing choir music in the Sheep Barn. Peter and Mary Amidon were leading well over 100 singers through a participatory workshop in sacred singing. The voices were richly layered, and it sounded like church on a beautiful morning, despite the metal exhaust fans in the ceiling, which seemed to add to the music in a rustic way.
One of the many wonderful things about the Old Songs Festival is that you don’t have to encourage the audience to sing along. In fact, participation is really what the fest is all about.
The 32nd annual Old Songs Fest kicked off on the Friday afternoon with a performance of “Four Seasons, Four Years – The Civil War: A Musical Journey” by an all-star collection of 11 of Nippertown’s finest folk musicians. Hammered dulcimer virtuoso Bill Spence introduced the two-and-a-half hour performance by asking the crowd to hold their applause til the end of each act due to the length of the show. A nice try, but, of course, it just didn’t work. Following each of the first half-dozen or so songs – including Reggie Harris’ soulful rendition of “Go Down Moses” and Dan Berggren’s rousing “A Trip on the Erie” – the audience spontaneously burst into applause, in part due to habit, no doubt, but mostly because the performances deserved cheers, and the crowd just couldn’t seem to hold back.
And while the Old Songs Fest features a daily main concert on Friday and Saturday evening as well as Sunday afternoon, at least half of the fun of the fest is wandering through the grounds and discovering all sorts of wonderful, unexpected music and fun at the many, many workshops, classes, mini-concerts, jam sessions and informal get-togethers that take place all throughout the daytime. You can go here to find a complete schedule.
But if you’re just interested in the main stage concerts, here are the line-ups for each of the three days:
This year marks the 30th annual Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music and Dance, and the fest is still going strong. It takes over the Altamont Fairgrounds from Friday-Sunday, June 25-27, and there’s a wide array of performances, workshops and just plain old fun on tap.
It’s a family-friendly fest with a relaxed atmosphere, interactive sessions and workshops and lots of opportunity for participation. In addition to the three main concerts, there are 120 daytime workshops conducted by performers, as well as a juried craft show, food and instrument vendors, and children’s activities.
Here’s the line-up of performers for the big, main-stage concerts:
The music flows all day long and most of the night, too, at a variety of workshops, mini-concerts, song-swaps and of course campground picking, as well. You can get the whole schedule here.
As for the major concerts each day, here’s the line-up:
FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 7PM
Lissa Schneckenburger Trio
Little Toby Walker
Nanne & Ankie and the Hudson Crew
Double Decker String Band
MC: George Ward
SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 7PM
Josh White, Jr.
Jez Lowe & Kate Bramley
MC: Bill Vanaver
SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 3:30 PM
Bill Smith & Don Woodcock
John Roberts & Tony Barrand
Jimmy & Ada McCown with Red Hen
Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen
Lou & Peter Berryman
MCs: Bill Spence & Roger the Jester
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