Best of the 5th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival Live Album!

Hello everybody -

Do you have your copy of the “Best of the 5th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival” live album!?  This is a collection of nineteen incredible live recordings made at the 2013 Brooklyn Folk Festival and issued by Jalopy Records.  Performers include John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, The Cactus Blossoms, Mamie Minch and Tamar Korn, Jeffrey Lewis and others…  Order your copy and listen to samples at CDBaby.com.

1. They Sailed Away from Dublin Bay / The Galtee Reel
Joey Abarta

2. Blues Stay Away from Me
Mamie Minch & Tamar Korn

3. Chickasaw Train Blues
Whiskey Spitters

4. When First Unto This Country
Jackson Lynch

5. Catfish Blues
Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton

6. Strawberry Blues
The Down Hill Strugglers

7. The Coo-Coo Bird
John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers

8. Stani Mi, Majchu (Traditional Bulgarian Song) Read the rest of this entry »

The Brooklyn Folk Festival: April 18th-20th, 2014…

The Brooklyn Folk Festival, a co-production of Down Home Radio and the Jalopy Theatre, is almost here!  It’s gonna be an incredible event! – with 30 bands, film screenings, workshops, jam sessions and contests!  Coming up April 18th – 20th, 2014 at the Bell House, a great venue here in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Folk Festival is now going into its 6th successful year.  This year’s festival will focus on Old Time String Band music from the United States and will feature a number of traditional groups and musicians coming to the city from various parts of the South, representing their local traditions, as well as a number of great groups from right here in New York.  We will also have Indonesian Gamelan gong music, Andean music from regions of the old Inca empire, Balkan music, jug bands, blues, jazz, songwriters and more… a huge wealth of talent!

The festival will feature Frank Fairfield and Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, Dom Flemons and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, R. Crumb with the East River Stringband, as well as 25 other bands and performers.  The Brooklyn Folk Festival is modeled on the early days of the Newport and University of Chicago folk festivals and seeks to present an authentic folk festival experience, with a diversity of traditional music, as well as contemporary songwriters, plus workshops, jam sessions, film screenings and the famous Banjo Toss contest!  There will also be a very nice tribute to Pete Seeger with group singing and a family friendly square dance.

Its gonna be fun!  Get your tickets right away!.. visit the festival website at: www.BrooklynFolkFest.com for the compete schedule and ticket information.

- Eli

From the Archives…

Hello everybody,

Well, I’ve been swamped by some other projects – working as ever on the Brooklyn Folk Festival and Washington Square Park Folk Festival, editing a book with the working title, “An Oral History of Folk Music in New York: 1940′s – 60′s,” producing a box set for Dust to Digital Records (more info on that later…), working with Jalopy Records and playing and recording a whole lot with my old time string band the Down Hill Strugglers, as well as teaching, on and on.  Between all that stuff Down Home Radio is on a bit of a hiatus, but look for it to come back strong this Fall!  Meanwhile, I thought I would post up links to some episodes from the archives.  This show has been going on for 8 years, so there’s a lot of great stuff back there!

Here are a bunch of past episode you might like:

Interview with David “Honeyboy” Edwards

Roots of Woody Guthrie

Interview with Robert Crumb

Interview with Clifton Hicks

Interview with George Gibson

A Walk Around Clifftop

Interview with Mike Seeger

The New Lost City Ramblers: 50 Years – Interview with John Cohen & Tom Paley

Best of the Down Home “Awesome Out of Print Records” series vol. 1

Interview with The Otis Brothers

Interview with The Carolina Chocolate Drops

Interview with Pete Seeger – Down Home Turns 1!

Interview with Jeffrey Lewis

Interview with Rahzel & The Roots of Rap

Songs That Inspired Bob Dylan Parts 1 & 2

Interview with David “Dawg” Grisman

John Cohen, Peter Stampfel, Mark Bingham – Live Interview and Performance

Henrietta and Eli Interview Elijah Wald

Henrietta and Eli Interview Joe Hickerson

Henrietta on Pre-Columbian Indian Music of Mexico & Guatemala

Henrietta Interviews Alan Lomax about Leadbelly

Remembering Henrietta Yurchenco – Leadbelly & Woody Guthrie Live on WNYC, 1940!

Turn, Turn, Turn – Pete Seeger Is Gone

justpete

Today we honor Pete Seeger, the first and greatest of modern folk musicians. Pete did it all. What great talent and vision. We won’t see his like again.  Included here are a few film clips of him over the years that I think are really good.  Click Here to hear an interview I did with Pete in 2007 for Down Home Radio.

Pete Seeger invented being an urban folk singer in its modern incarnation.  All the strands that we see around us today he in a lot of ways did first, the traditional, the popular and progressive sounds, the political.  Pete was among the very first (maybe first?) people in the modern era from outside the tradition to learn thoroughly very traditional banjo playing and ballads from records, field recordings and firsthand sources in the South, and although initially an outsider ultimately give back to the tradition. He also played popular and classical music on the banjo and was very well versed in African-American music and 12-string guitar playing learned directly from Leadbelly among other sources.   He built on his experience of Woody Guthrie’s songs and style to make his own protest songs in an early modern singer-songwriter style which he invented and which also paved the way for later “Folk-Rock” stylings.  And as he broke through into the mass media with his band The Weavers and as a solo performer, Pete really invented the genre of “Folk Music” as a category within the field of Popular Music as a whole.  In fact, Pete’s father Charles Seeger, a founder of the field of Ethnomusicology, wrote on the subject, saying that in the modern era, folk and popular music would meld as isolated, local and traditional communities were brought under the influence of mass communication and rapid transit.

In the many pieces now being written in the press about Pete I often see it said that he “was a champion of justice, civil rights and the environment.”  That is very true, in addition to and in conjunction with music he was a committed and extraordinary social activist.  He was also a life long socialist, and someone who had a deep sense of compassion, fairness and respect for all people and communities.

His activities in the Civil Rights Movement, Peace Movement and Environmental Movement I have seen widely discussed.  But a major part of Pete Seeger’s legacy and the foundation of his identity as a musician and cultural worker, is his crucial involvement in and commitment to folk music.  Somehow this aspect of his life, which was of a piece with his other convictions, seems to be poorly understood in the mass media and is somehow always mentioned only in passing.  Pete Seeger CARED about folk music – music with a long history, made and perpetuated by regular rural people, played in a rough style and dealing with topics and gritty realities that pop music would never touch.

["To Hear Your Banjo Play" - 1947 - narrated by Alan Lomax and featuring a young Pete Seeger and the only footage of Woody Guthrie in his prime.]

Pete Seeger personally did the fundamental work that popularized the repertoire and created the social context for folk music to persist in our modern mass culture society. For instance, in 1939 Pete operated the recording machine for Alan Lomax as he recorded the great banjo player Wade Ward, absolute bedrock recordings for anyone interested in playing real traditional old time banjo music.  But its much more than that…

First off, Pete Seeger invented the concept of “pop-folk,” with his band the Weavers, teaming up on their early records with producer Gordon Jenkins (who also worked with Frank Sinatra, etc… for Decca Records) to create a hybrid music of songs from the folk repertoire in a pop style that was usable by the mass culture industry of the time and became extremely popular. And secondly he pioneered the idea of mass group singing at concert events.  Pete literally sang together with millions of people over the course of his career.

Pete did the hard touring, taking him away from his wife Toshi and family, starting in the 1940′s and continuing for decades, that created from scratch the audience for Folk Music in modern post WWII America. Much of his work over the many years has been with children, at schools and summer camps, a field which few popular entertainers particularly in the early days, would touch.  These children grew up and became the folk music audience and folk musicians of the 1950′s, 60′s and on…

Urbanized or suburbanized people were and are used to experiencing music passively as commercial consumers of CDs, radio, etc.  Pete’s mass group singing at his concerts gave people who had lost a personal connection to making and experiencing music, a way to connect, feel good about their musical selves and be a part of a community.  He gave back to so many people, at least on a basic level, the chance to sing and make music together, a vital part of being human, even as “progress” has worked to alienate and isolate us.  Most were content to sing with Pete at the concerts but many many people also went home and picked up instruments and pursued making music themselves more proactively at different levels.


[Pete sings out against the Vietnam War on the Johnny Cash show with his song "Bring 'Em Home."]

What a talent.  That was what allowed him to breakthrough and operate in the visionary way that he did.  Pete Seeger had so much talent it was stunning.  He was completely unlike any other figure or “entertainer” in the field of American popular music.  He was and is the only person in the popular consciousness who cared about folk music, really knew what he was talking about in a very serious way and took that understanding to the stage in his performances.  He played at colleges, summer camps, big venues, benefit concerts, radio and television, everywhere.  Pete Seeger was also a founder of the Newport Folk Festival that presented so many great traditional artists and is also inextricably linked to the first and greatest independent record company devoted to American Folk Music, Moe Asch’s Folkways Records.  Without Pete, who knows if Folkways could have survived all these years?  He recorded dozens and dozens of albums for them, which remain among their biggest sellers, and have given them so much needed revenue over the years when most of their amazing recordings did not.

Pete was an intellectual and a theorist, as was his father, and was very widely read.  He also made films, field recordings and started the magazines People’s Songs and then its successor Sing Out! where he wrote columns, published songs and engaged in dialogue and journalism for years.  He produced and hosted the amazing television program “Rainbow Quest” and has also written several books, song books and banjo and guitar instructional manuals.

Pete Seeger is much more than a protest singer, although he was certainly that and in great form.  He was incredibly proactive and prolific.  When did he sleep?  In the few times that I got to meet and spend some time with him I found him totally unassuming, uninterested in stardom in anyway, without ego and yet extremely charming and compelling.  He was indeed very tall and slim, he had small eyes, a ready crooked smile, he drank buttermilk and even at an advanced age seemed youthful in a way.  You realized immediately upon talking with him that he was extremely smart, focused but also a serious dreamer, whose ideas many felt were impractical!  But a lot of them caught on in big ways… I think its possible to say that without Pete those of us working in the field of folk music today might not be here at all.  If folk music means something to you, then Pete Seeger lives on.

Here is a very good article that is worth reading from the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/a-folk-revivalist-who-used-his-voice-to-bring-out-a-nations.html?_r=0

Here is a photo of Pete Seeger with Geoff and Lynette Wiley, owners of the Jalopy Theatre, New York’s best folk music venue, and myself at a Woody Guthrie tribute event at Brooklyn College in 2012.


Here is an excellent interview with Pete Seeger on the news program Democracy Now!

Here’s  a very nice piece about Pete Seeger written by Jeff Place, the archivist at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings: http://www.folkways.si.edu/PeteSeeger


Jon Pareles wrote two very nice pieces for the New York Times:
Using His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s
Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94

And here is a good piece on the origins of the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which was another one of Pete Seeger’s great gifts to us all: https://portside.org/2014-01-29/we-shall-overcome-honoring-pete-seeger

Notes On “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Notes On “Inside Llewyn Davis”
(If you have not seen the movie, be warned there are spoilers below)

The Coen Brothers’ new film,  “Inside Llewyn Davis” is set in the Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1961 and is very loosely based on or inspired by the autobiography of the great folk singer Dave van Ronk.  I’ve been following the film closely because my band the Down Hill Strugglers has a song on the soundtrack album.  I also produce the Brooklyn Folk Festival, Washington Square Park Folk Festival and work at the Jalopy Theatre, the current home for folk music in New York City, and have always had an interest in the history of folk music in this place.

Now that the film is out in theaters and getting lots of press, people associated with the world of folk music here in New York have become very interested and are scrutinizing it because it is the first film to represent us and a seminal time in our history on the big screen.  I was born in Greenwich Village in 1982, so I certainly was not there in 1961, but everyone who I know who was there has serious criticisms of the depiction of that time and place as represented in the movie, regardless of whether they like the story and the film itself.  I think these criticisms are best made in Terri Thal’s (Dave van Ronk’s first wife, also his manager) article that was recently published in the Village Voice (at: http://www.villagevoice.com/authors/terri-thal/).

However, there are a few things going on in “Inside Llewyn Davis” that I haven’t seen discussed or really made plain anywhere so far.  One important point is that in the film the Llewyn Davis character (actor Oscar Isaac) sings nearly all traditional songs (all but one, which was written to be very traditional-like) and that even more than his dour personality and ill-luck, seems to doom his career and chances of earning a living as a musician.  The songs he sings are arranged and performed in a 60’s folk-like style but his repertoire, which in the film he tries hard not to compromise, is a meaningful and traditionally based one.  Here is a quote from Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker magazine (at: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2013/12/09/131209crci
_cinema_lane
), which I think misses the point:

“And here’s the thing, the masterstroke of the movie: Llewyn is very good, but he’s not great. The Coens could have made a film about a genius, just waiting to be dug up like a diamond. Indeed, in the closing minutes we see and hear the young Dylan at the back of a room. But Llewyn is a semiprecious stone, and that is the half-tragedy of his life.”

The character Llewyn Davis is in fact “great” by the standards of the music in the film, but he’s not a genius or not worthy because he’s not churning out his own hits and chooses to sing great old rural songs.  Llewyn’s musical style is very similar to that of his friends Jim and Jean in the film who are making it commercially, as I say the only real difference is that he does not write any of his own songs and the ones he does sing are sad morbid old songs and ballads, as so many great traditionals are.  His character sings in a way that is rather ungussied up but with the earnest and angsty quality which came out of 60’s folk music style and continues on today.  In real life there was significant difference between Dave van Ronk’s music and the real Jim and Jean’s music, although they both represented a 60’s style.  Van Ronk’s style was very individual and gritty, inspired by his interest in early Jazz and blues music, where as Jim and Jean’s was more generic “Folk” music of the time, although well played.

At one (anti-)climactic point in the film, Llewyn Davis sings a beautiful old ballad called “The Death of Queen Jane” which must be meaningful for him at that time given the context of the plot.  Davis has just found out that he has a child he didn’t know about because an ex-girlfriend carried her pregnancy to term.  He sings the song, which is about the Queen of England who dies in child-birth, but brings her baby into the world alive, as an audition for the Albert “Bud” Grossman promoter character in order to try to get a good gig or management, but Grossman replies, “I don’t see much money here.”  Is the song too sad, disturbing or hard to follow?  Is it too unoriginal?  Probably all of those things!  Llewyn Davis did not write the song, it is hundreds of years old and comes from a different place, but it strikes me as the viewer that the song must be very meaningful to him at that time in the film.  We are left wishing Llewyn had sung something more up, less sad, maybe original so that he could have gotten the gig, but instead he sang something that was pretty out there and maybe truer to where he was at than some song he could have tried to write…

Llewyn Davis’ repertoire as taken partly from the repertoire of Dave van Ronk and presented in the movie is very interesting and with further examination into its sources shows in a nutshell many of the strands that came together to make the folk music world of that time and place.  Davis’ music is related to my own field of “Old Time” music not so much in terms of his style in the film, but definitely in terms of several of his songs; “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” (also known as “Been All Around This World) is a great banjo song originally field recorded by folklorists who located traditional banjo players Rufus Crisp and Justis Begley in Kentucky, and also recorded in a popular version by Kentucky banjoist Grandpa Jones.  How did it get to the Village?  Which was Dave van Ronk’s source?  I don’t know.  Rufus Crisp, a possible source for “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” was also one of our sources for the song “The Roving Gambler” which my band recorded for the film’s soundtrack album.  Crisp was one of the very first Southern traditional banjo players to inform the playing and repertoire of New York musicians through his Library of Congress field recordings and visits by Pete Seeger, Stu Jamieson and others.  “The Death of Queen Jane” is a medieval English ballad collected by venerated folklorist Francis James Child and published in his seminal books of balladry.  The film gives scant coverage to rural folk songs in a rural “old time” style, and no coverage to blues music that was being learned and played in the Village at that time.   Only the woman who plays autoharp and sings a Carter Family song badly gives any nod to the presence of old time music, which was being played by a number of people at the time, including the New Lost City Ramblers. Read the rest of this entry »

Grow The Brooklyn Folk Festival

To fans and supporters of the Brooklyn Folk Festival,

We hope that you enjoyed last year’s, 5th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival. Many of you have been friends of the Festival from the beginning, and we truly appreciate your support. We hope you have enjoyed watching the festival grow from a small event, into a substantial yearly showcase, drawing bands from New York City and across the nation.

This year’s Brooklyn Folk Festival will be held at the Bell House, which was also our home for last year’s Festival. The 6th Annual Festival is scheduled for April 18th-20th, 2014 and will feature 30 bands over three days, playing American and world folk music, along with workshops, film screenings, jam sessions and the world-famous Banjo Toss Contest. Tickets will be available soon, stay tuned to www.jalopy.biz or www.brooklynfolkfest.com for more information.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Brooklyn Folk Festival 2010  Brooklyn Folk Festival 2011

The Festival has been and wishes to remain the nation’s largest folk festival set in an urban area; right here in the heart of New York City. The festival is curated by folklorist, musician and author Eli Smith in partnership with the Jalopy Theatre and exhibits the very best underground and nationally recognized talent in the field of Folk Music, including blues, bluegrass, old time, songwriters, jug bands, gospel music, klezmer, Mexican, Balkan, African and Indonesian folk music and more. In the 1960’s the greatest yearly gathering for folk music took place at the Newport Folk Festival on a farm in Rhode Island. Today we want to keep the yearly focus of the vibrant new folk music revival squarely here within the borders of Brooklyn. This will keep the festival accessible for New Yorkers and visitors from out of town, and help keep Brooklyn the heart of the contemporary revival of interest in folk music.

We are starting early in order to find a home for the 7th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival, to be held in 2015. We will need your help to secure a larger location for the festival as it continues to grow in size and scope.  The festival has already been recognized by sold out crowds, the press, and folk music artists themselves as a “magical event” which stands out with clarity and vision against a backdrop of noise. In addition to finding a location, we wish to invite and confirm notable acts and artists to join the festival.
Brooklyn Folk Festival 2012
  Brooklyn Folk Festival 2012

For all of these reasons we are asking you to support the Brooklyn Folk Festival.
We are asking for your donation to help us plan and secure Brooklyn Folk Festival 2015! The Festival is a non-profit event, and your donation is tax deductible.

Donations can be made out to our fiscal agent, Fractured Atlas with our account # 11-3451703. Checks can be sent to 315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn NY 11231.

You can also follow the link at the bottom and make your secure tax deductible donation online.

As a thank you gift we are offering the following rewards:

Folk Hero – $1000: 3 three-day passes to the 2014 festival, 10 tickets to any shows at Jalopy Theatre and a complete line of Jalopy LPs and CDs.

Founders Circle – $500: 2 three-day passes, and four tickets to any show(s) at Jalopy Theatre

Benefactor – $250: 2 three-day passes to the 2014 Festival

Friend – $100: 1 three-day pass to the 2014 Festival

Supporter – $50: BFF t-shirt and BFF 2012 and 2013 Live Albums on CD

Yours,

Eli Smith, Lynette and Geoff Wiley and the Friends of the Brooklyn Folk Festival.s, I support The Brooklyn Folk Festi!

Make a secure online donation

Brooklyn Folk Festival 2012

Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” Soundtrack

Hello everybody,

 I’m pleased to announce that my old time string band the Down Hill Strugglers has a song on the soundtrack album to the new film by the Coen Brothers, “Inside Llewyn Davis.”  Its track #8 on the soundtrack album, a great old folk song called “The Roving Gambler” that we first recorded a couple of years ago for our Folkways record.  We are joined on this song by our great friend, mentor and ofttimes bandmate John Cohen (of the New Lost City Ramblers).

The film is really good.  It’s set in the Greenwich Village folk music scene in 1961 and is loosely based on parts of the autobiography of the great folk and blues singer Dave van Ronk.  Its great to see the Coen Brothers do another folk music based movie as a kind of followup to “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” although the films are very different.

The soundtrack album is set for release on Nov. 11th and the film itself comes out in mid December.  Other musicians on the album include the amazing and versatile Punch Brothers, Marcus Mumford (without his Sons) and noted folk singer Justin Timberlake.  The album was recorded and produced by T Bone Burnett.

More information is available at the Nonesuch Records website, and you can hear the whole album at NPR’s website.

The Harry Smith Festival

Hello everybody,
  Look out for the 6th annual Harry Smith Festival, coming up this weekend in Milheim, PA!  Should be a great event, I’ll be there with the Down Hill Strugglers and John Cohen…  For more information take a look at their facebook page.

The Down Hill Strugglers Take to the Road


Hello everybody,

The Down Hill Strugglers are taking to the road again this Fall. Look out for us in the Eastern half of the United States!  We have 10 shows across 7 states – including several show in New Orleans and an appearance at the St. Louis Folk and Roots Festival!  Hope to see ya somewhere out there…

See our website: www.DownHillStrugglers.com for more information… here are the dates:

Tues. Sept. 24th - Bowling Green, OH
The Happy Badger
331 North Main St.
Show time: 7-9pm
They serve food, but BYOB/Wine.
$10

Thurs. Sept. 26th – Louisville, KY
The Greenhaus
2227 South Preston St.
Showtime: 8pm, opener TBA
$5

Fri. Sept. 27th – Champaign, IL
Techline Studios
307 South Locust St. Champaign, IL 61820
7pm opener – Flatville Ditch, we go on at 7:45pm.
www.folkandroots.org

$10

Sat. Sept. 28th
– St. Louis, MO
St. Louis Folk & Roots Festival
Urban Chestnut Stage 1-2pm
Grandel Theater Square Dance 4-6pm
See: www.folkandrootsfestival.com for tickets. Ralph Stanley headlines.

Sun. Sept. 29th
– Eureka Springs, AR
Chelsea’s Corner Cafe
10 Mountain Street
2 sets 7-10pm
No cover!

Thurs. Oct. 3rd – New Orleans, LA
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
925 Camp St.
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Lobby Atrium of The Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Stephen Goldring Hall
$10
www.ogdenmuseum.org

Sat. Oct. 5th – New Orleans, LA
Allways Lounge
2240 Saint Claude Ave.
with Yes Ma’am and the Drunken Catfish Ramblers
10pm
www.theallwayslounge.com

Wed. Oct. 9th – Athens, GA
The Globe
199 N. Lumpkin St.
Showtime TBA
Opener TBA

Thurs. Oct. 10th – Carrboro, NC
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
8pm – Hushpuppies open
9pm – we go on
$6 member advance, $10 advance, $14 day of show
www.artscenterlive.org

Sat. Oct. 12th – Baltimore, MD
Creative Alliance – us with John Cohen (of the New Lost City Ramblers).
8pm with opening set by Walker and Jay

“John Cohen joins this talented young band to perform old time music…while excerpting his documentary films on Appalachian music…”
$20, $15 mbrs & stus.
Maryland State Arts Council’s Cliff Murphy hosts a Q & A.

http://www.creativealliance.org

The Union Makes Us Strong

There is Power in a Union
New from Down Home Radio host Eli Smith:

Hello everybody,

My friend Peter K. Siegel and I have just released an album of Union and Labor songs that we’ve been laboring over for some time.  It came out great!  It features a number of old standards of the American labor movement, as well as several that are not well known but are really good and interesting songs.  Many of the songs were penned by old IWW (Wobbly) song writers, including several by Joe Hill.  The songs are rendered in an old time string band sound.

The album features Peter and myself, joined on a number of songs by Andy Statman, Craig Judelman and Walker Shepard.  The album also features really nice liner notes – a 20 page booklet with an essay written by Cliff Conner, lots of pictures, etc.

We really tried to make a high quality album that sounds great and is accessible to people, so that these great old labor songs might live again.  If you are interested the album is available in all the usual ways – Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby, stealing, etc….  We hope you will enjoy!

Solidarity Forever…

- Eli