Don’t Miss the Brooklyn Folk Festival, April 6-8

Ordinarily I write about the Brooklyn Folk Festival (April 6-8, at St. Ann’s Church) after it happens, but this year I’m previewing it. Maybe that will help sell a few more tickets to what I believe is the old-time event of the year. The festival sprawls across the weekend, with afternoon and evening concerts, as well as lots of side events and jams. There’s food, artifacts, crafts, book signings—all in a historic church.

st. ann's church

St. Ann’s Church is an intimate space, and just right for the festival–unless it gets bigger.

The first festival was in 2009, so this is the 10th anniversary, and there’s an appropriately splendid lineup to celebrate. The big news addition this year is Pokey LaFarge, the retro rockabilly/old-time guy, who will fit right in. The young and enthusiastic folk-rock collective Spirit Family Reunion (with an ecstatic following in Brooklyn) is back, and I’m excited to see Molsky’s Mountain Drifters. Bruce Molsky is the greatest living exponent of old-time country music, bar none.

bill and the belles

Bill and the Belles were a highlight of last year’s event. Their music is a brilliant amalgam of 20s pop with old-time country.

Don’t miss Elizabeth Mitchell, who’s recorded a wonderful overview of the folk repertoire (with kids as backup singers) for Smithsonian Folkways, and just made an album—all in Spanish—with Suni Paz. And the East River String Band would be great, even if the underground cartoonist Robert Crumb (a fanatic prewar music collector) weren’t also on board to play along and paint their covers.

brooklyn folk festival

Yes, there’s folkloric stuff, but it’s not a world music event. But expect a celebration of New York’s many ethnic communities.

Also returning is the miraculous Horse-Eyed Men, a brother act that defies description. Deftly written country-western with a humorous edge? Maybe, but they’d be equally adept skewering techno. I’ve heard good stuff from Wyndham Baird, Jerron Paxton (a wunderkind on multiple instruments) Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues, Piedmont Bluz (a charming husband-and-wife blues duo), Little Nora Brown (who’s what, 12 now?) and Michael Dawes.

John Cohen

John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers meets his young fans.

It occurred to me that the old-time scene in New York owes a lot to two groups, the New Lost City Ramblers and the Holy Modal Rounders. Peter Stampfel of the Rounders was at the Brooklyn festival last year, and fellow traveler Michael Hurley the year before that. New Lost City Ramblers’ John Cohen is a regular, as a member of the Down Hill Strugglers with Brooklyn Folk Festival founder Eli Smith and the great Jackson Lynch.

jerron paxton

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a virtuoso on at least three instruments.

I talked to Smith earlier this week, and he says there are still seats available for next month’s festivities. “I had the idea back in 2008, so I looked to see if there was an existing folk festival in Brooklyn,” he said. “There wasn’t.” In fact, there probably wasn’t another regular folk festival in all of New York, which is pretty shameful considering the city’s past nurturing Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk, Patrick Sky, and many more.

“So we put the first two festivals on at the 100-seat Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, and they sold out immediately,” Smith said. “It was an idea whose time had come.” Indeed.


Acoustic music dominates, but some groups plug in, too–there aren’t rules about it.

The Brooklyn event isn’t just about old-time country, though that’s a lot of it. There’s also music this year from Morocco, Mexico, India, Hawaii and Italy, as well as sea shanties and other musical byways that represent New York as the cultural melting pot it has always been.

meredith axelrod

Meredith Axelrod and the eternal Jim Kweskin. Axelrod featured almost-forgotten songs from the 1910s, and did them justice.

Find out more about the festival and buy tickets at If you come just once, you’ll be back every year, and also attending concerts and workshops at the Jalopy, a New York treasure whose good works should be better known.

Brian Geltner took all the photos, which are from the 2017 festival. Here’s some appropriate video, featuring Eli Smith:

Remembering Sally White (And Her Record Store)

With two partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, Connecticut, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were three partners—one of whom was my twin brother. The two of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.

Sally White

Sally White gets a plaque from Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff in 2013, when her store closed. “When you think about how long I’ve been around,” said White, who was then 84, “how many can say they’ve been around 50, 60 years, doing what they love to do?” (Westport town photo)

We had a plan—we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut—but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport, Connecticut department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz—including albums from players who lived in the area, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).

We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.

I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013—a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her—she’d sold records for 57 years!

record store

The “record store” is making a surprising comeback. It’s just CDs nobody wants. (Moody Man/Flickr)

I’m part of the problem. I didn’t get down to Sally’s Place often enough, and I too started getting addicted to digital downloads. Sure, the music was cheaper that way, but nothing replaced talking to Sally in the store about her favorites—Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington. I once bought a June Christy record from her, and to be sure that was a purchase she approved.

Perhaps ironically, record stores are coming back as 2017 turns into 2018. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, Americans are buying LPs again, even as CD sales plunge to the zero point. Around my neighborhood on the Lower East Side, there are five LP-only stories, and nary a one that sells CDs.

Noting this trend, I decided it was time to sell my stash of 1,500 LPs. I called my friends at Academy Records on 18th Street in Manhattan, and they came up and surveyed. As it happened, they offered me a very nice price, but a comparable pittance for my 6,000 CDs. Nobody wants CDs!

jim's records

I’ve been collecting these records for about 50 years. And now it’s time to say goodbye. So long, old friends! (Jim Motavalli photo)

I’ve been collecting those records for 50 years at least. Gone, Lothar and the Hand People, gone the first Velvet Underground (with Nico) record—complete with unpeeled Andy Warhol banana. Gone the battered country music compilation I bought in a drug store when I was 14. The records are mostly rock, country and folk, since I sold the jazz albums years ago. I wish I’d held onto them a bit longer, because they’re five times as valuable now.

I can’t think of another example in which Americans have embraced an outmoded audio technology. It’s like eight-track tapes coming back. Maybe that’s next, because I’m seeing a tentative embrace of cassettes.

I asked John Corbett, the author of Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium (Duke University Press), about the LP resurge. “It’s a boutique thing,” he said. “Rare records are a little more expensive and sought after. Recorded music begs to be accompanied by something—and the square record album format has the space for the full visual art, liner notes and lyric sheets. Records are cool—people like having them.”

Corbett has basically stopped collecting. He’s found most of the holy grails. When he wants to flip through records now, he goes down to his Chicago basement. I asked him if there’s anything he really, really wanted, and he mentioned a super-obscure record (pressing of 10 or thereabouts) by avant-garde British guitarist Derek Bailey. His crazy collector friend has two of them!

Vinyl Freak is a collection of Corbett’s columns from Downbeat, which lasted until 2012. The albums profiled, almost all jazz, and most exceedingly rare, are the stuff of dreams. In a half century of flicking through the bins, I’ve never seen Elmo Hope’s Live at Riker’s Island, Kenny Graham and his Satellites’ Moondog and Suncat Suites, Herbie Fields’ Sextet Live at Kitty’s, or Rufus Jones’ Five on Eight. Of course, I’m nuts enough myself to own (or have owned) about a dozen other entries in the book.

I interviewed Corbett on my WPKN radio show, and used as background music saxophonist Sonny Criss’ Sonny’s Dream/Birth of the New Cool (Prestige, 1968) with arrangements by Horace Tapscott. I’ve never seen another copy of this magnificent big-band album, but Corbett knew all about it—and waxed enthusiastic. I have it on CD, and have no burning desire to also own the vinyl, which I guess is what separates me from the true collector.

I mostly care about the music, not the object. I have 160,000 MP3s, and they’re not too cuddly, but they do have the sounds I want to hear—in a format that makes finding the exact right song very easy.

That’s progress, I guess. Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores, but I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.

Here’s a loving video tribute to Sally, by Claire Bangser:

Back to the Basics: A Portrait of Sally White from Claire Bangser on Vimeo.


Jazz at the Synagogue (During Hanukah)

A hip jazz concert in a synagogue? Why not, for gosh sakes? As jazz shows go, this was one of the hippest, featuring a one-time-only assemblage of top-drawer players assembled for a good cause.

greg wall

Greg Wall wails. Baum is on left, Anderson behind Wall, and Nussbaum at the rear. Absent from the photo: pianist Brian Marsella. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Congregation B’Nai Israel in Bridgeport is the home synagogue for Connecticut native, flautist and composer/arranger Jamie Baum. Playing tenor and soprano saxophone was Rabbi Greg Wall, who knows Baum from the New England Conservatory of Music (where they studied under the late pianist Jaki Byard).

Jazz is a shared language, so adding some seasoned players to the evening’s fare ensured a spicy meal. On bass was Jay Anderson, the veteran of something like 400 recordings (Michael Brecker to Frank Zappa), and a frequent collaborator with the ace drummer, Adam Nussbaum, a Norwalk native. The pianist, Brian Marsella, is an eclectic young player whose debut album is called The Clocks Have Gone Mad.

I didn’t ask them if they rehearsed, but they’re all so busy that if they did, it was only once. But this is jazz, and the evening—bringing out a full crowd during Hanukah—came off flawlessly. And for a good cause, too.: the synagogue’s music program, and the Irving Moorin Memorial Scholarship Fund. Launched in 1971, the fund “grants a yearly award to a high school student from one of the schools in the Greater Bridgeport area who, but for the award, might not be able to attend college.”

Michael Moorin described the fund started in his father’s memory and even sat in on timbales. That particular piece was of Jewish liturgical origins, I gathered, but was done up in Latin jazz style. Playing congas was Andres Forero, whose day job is as a drummer for the hit play Hamilton.

Actually calling Hamilton a “hit” is a little like saying “Like a Rolling Stone” is a pretty nice song. It’s a mega-smash, and for that reason—and for the sake of the scholarship—Forero was able to raise an additional $4,000 for four show tickets (with backstage benefits).

Jazz doesn’t inspire frenzied ticket bidding, but it’s music for the ages. Jaki Byard’s “Strolling Along” was a good opener. Baum has kept up her devotion to the compositional side of Professor Byard with her Yard Byard project. Nate Chinen wrote in the Times of that aggregation, “The music was all Byard’s, played lovingly and a bit loosely…Most of the songs in the first set were fine examples of standard form gone just slightly haywire. The absence of a pianist in the group is good strategy…”

yard byard

Baum’s Yard Byard carries on the Jaki Byard experience.

Wall is a fiery player with a big sound who reminds me of the young firebrands who upended this music in the 1960s—a touch of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a sprinkle of Pharoah Sanders, a dash of Coltrane, but all flavoring his own thing. On records, he spices that thing up with electronics, but has been more straight-ahead in previous live performances I’ve caught.

The mainstream jazz influences mix with Jewish devotional elements in Wall’s playing. Skewed one way, that results in klezmer, but Wall is more in the tradition of one of my favorite musicians—clarinet player Anat Cohen.  In 2002, Wall released From the Belly of Abraham, with Hasidic New Wave and Senegalese master drummers Yakar Rhythms. It was named one of the 10 best CDs that year by Jazz Times magazine. A recent world music project is the pan-cultural Unity Orchestra.

Honoring the fathers, Wall brought out one of Kirk’s most memorable compositions, “Bright Moments,” the highlight of a 1973 double live album.  I used to sign off my letters, “Bright Moments.” Here are some of Rahsaan’s personal bright moments:

“Bright Moments is like . . . eating your last pork chop in London, England, because you ain’t gonna get no more . . . cooked from home. Bright Moments is like being with your favorite love and you’re sharing the same ice cream dish. And you get mad when she gets the last drop. And you have to take her in your arms and get it the other way.”

My favorite:  “Bright Moments is like hearing some music that ain’t nobody else heard.” That’s definitely a Bright Moment for me too.

bright momentsI enjoyed a suite of songs about light, appropriate to Hanukah—represented by a lighted menorah on stage. Baum (a Guggenheim winner and McDowell Colony denizen) got a spotlight on Hubert Laws’ “Shades of Light.” She’s a cooler, more cerebral player than Wall, and always has one ear out for how her playing fits into a larger arrangement.

Nussbaum has great control of dynamics. He’s not a flashy player, and definitely doesn’t have the biggest kit on the block, but he’s expert at bringing the music to a boil. Wow, I’m using a lot of food metaphors here, aren’t I?

Nussbaum, the composer, was represented by a gorgeous melodic number I think was called “Insight/And Light.” He’s yet to release a solo album, despite appearing on countless CDs, but that’s about to change with The Lead Belly Project, which is coming out in the New Year on Sunnyside.

Both Wall and Baum brought in arrangements of Beatles songs, “With a Little Help from My Friends” (her) and “Norwegian Wood” (him). What impressed me is the way both versions were about teasing out the jazz in these exquisite pop melodies. Believe me, jazz can pander to pop, and it often does to Lennon-McCartney. Marsella really excelled on this medley.

That’s about it. Nussbaum’s product is here. He’s going to be on my WPKN radio show in February, and back with Wall and other friends (including Fairfield County guitarist Bill Bickford) at Westport 323 January 11. Wall plays there regularly with a shifting cast. Check here for the schedule.

The Connecticut-based Irving S. Moorin Charitable Trust is here. It would be a very worthy cause even if it didn’t bring quality jazz to liven up winter on one of the longest days of the year.

Here’s some nice video from that night. The performance is their version of Byard’s “Strolling Along”:

Nicki Parrott: A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening

If civilization has come up with a better way to spend an evening than a good dinner (including wine) with a floor show consisting of master musicians performing standards from the Great American Songbook, I don’t know what it is.

nicki parrott

Nicki Parrott: a double threat on vocals and stand-up bass.

The other night I was at Sarah’s Wine Bar in Ridgefield, Connecticut to see the triple-threat act of Australian-born singer/bassist Nicki Parrott (pronounced Par-OTT), clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski (one of the best in the world), and sparkly pianist John di Martino.

Parrott, who was resplendent in a little black dress, lives in Connecticut now so this was a local gig for her. Peplowski, who’s always working, had just flown up from Miami that day (though he seemed fresh). And di Martino was catching a 2:30 a.m. flight to Bangkok. This kind of mobility is necessary for today’s peripatetic jazz musician.

The three recorded an album together for a Japanese label–all Carpenters songs. Here they are on Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love With You”:

Parrott (a ringer for the actress Kirsten Dunst) could be anybody’s stand-up bassist/vocalist, and indeed, after making the big leap to come to the U.S. and study with Rufus Reid, she fulfilled that role with the late Les Paul for years. But now she’s stepping out front, most recently with an album tribute to the great Blossom Dearie. They aren’t far apart stylistically, though Blossom’s voice was higher.

From that repertoire, Parrott gave us “Rhode Island is Famous for You,” via Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and Cole Porter’s “Give Him the Ooh-La-La.” Parrott, a happy singer of sublime taste, could put this stuff over with just her bass, but with multi-instrumentalist Peplowski and di Martino in the house the whole affair swung like a watch chain.

Nicki Parrott and Ken Peplowski

Nicki Parrott and Ken Peplowski, having a good time. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Parrott sings the songs straight, but she’s a fine scat singer too. Peplowski is best known on clarinet (and played some trills that were out of this world), but he was excellent on tenor, too, especially on ballads where he had some of the breathiness of both Ben Webster and Stan Getz.

Other highlights included the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh vehicle “Walk a Little Faster,” Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You” and, from the great Burton Lane and Frank Loesser, “The Lady’s in Love With You” (featuring a strong bass solo and Peplowski back on clarinet).

nicki parrott

Parrott in full flight. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never fallen in love with Ella Fitzgerald’s take on Sam Coslow’s “Mr. Paganini” (though it was a big number for her), but Parrott got through it as painlessly as possible.

Here’s another video, this time an instrumental version of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” with Peplowski on tenor:

The Sarah’s Wine Bar Jazz Masters Series is worth checking out if you’re anywhere near Connecticut. Up next on January 28 is a duo of Mark Shane, piano, and Terry Blaine, vocals.

In Maine, Lobster Rolls, VWs, and Bert and I

Bert and I records are an acquired taste, but nothing could better epitomize Maine. It’s comedy, but with a unique regional twist that makes the spoken word almost like music. The Maine accent is so thick that anthropologists are undoubtedly baffled by it.

bert and i

Bob Bryan (left) and Marshall Dodge were Bert and I, seen here in 1981.

Island Port Press, the publisher, calls the first album, Bert and I … And Other Stories from Down East, “perhaps the most important comedy album in New England history.”

Bert and I were the late Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan. The characters are fishermen out of Kennebunkport whose boat is the Bluebird (and later Bluebird II). The routines, adapted from classic Maine jokes, were recorded in the 1950s and ‘60s and released on locally available LPs. In the next two decades, they spread far and wide, making Dodge and Bryan into minor celebrities.

cadillac mountain

The view from Cadillac Mountain. (Jim Motavalli photo0

To give you the flavor, 85-year-old Arnold Bunker “from Bailey Island way” goes to court, and is asked if  he’s lived up there his whole life. “Not yet,” he replies. Deadpan, of course.

VW Atlas

The made-in-USA VW Atlas is competing in the highly competitive large SUV class. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I picked up a Bert and I record in downtown Portland yesterday. It was a Maine thing to do. I needed a shot of that extra dry Maine humor. I was in the lobster state for a drive in the smooth running Volkswagen Atlas and Tiguan SUVs. The auto company eschewed the customary press conference about the wheelbase and engine options—that had already happened—and instead just gave us the keys and a map of Maine, from Portland to Bangor.

Here’s a classic “you can’t get there from here” Bert and I routine, “Which Way to Millinocket?”

I actually know the way to Millinocket, because I was there a month ago, and wrote this story about the town’s devolution since its mill closed. This trip, along coastal Maine in the VWs, highlighted how the state is somewhat schizophrenic these days.

VW lobster car

The VW lobster car was encountered at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The prosperity of Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor (ice cream shops, fine lobster dining, yoga studios) are sharply contrasted with the hardscrabble economy of the state’s interior. The literature here is Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine, which captured the mobile homes and the cars rusting in the yard. Living in places like that is made much harder when the few good jobs—at places like the Northern Paper mill in Millinocket—disappear.

Here’s another classic Bert and I story, from the first album:

Even along the coast, Maine today is oases of prosperity joining vast stretches of making do, of antique malls and lobster pounds. Even downtown Portland looked a little seedy to me, full of hard-eyed men smoking cigarettes. But I stopped for a bite at the welcoming Local Sprouts Café, whose window informed me that Black Lives Matter and that immigrants were, most emphatically, welcome. I appreciated the “Take Back the Tap” message, which was enforced with a big jug of tap water and plentiful cups. The food was great wherever we ate in Maine.

red's eats

Everybody wants the lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Maine has its own indigenous music, of course, and slotting in neatly next to Bert and I is the folk of Gordon Bok and Cindy Kallet, who have played together. Bok, born in 1939 out Camden way, has a lovely baritone and on 34 albums sings mostly about Maine and the traditional approach to fishing. Kallet is a great singer and songwriter, and I once told her she could have been another Joni Mitchell. She laughed it off.

VW Atlas

The Atlas can swallow a lot of luggage.

Another Maine folk great is Anne Dodson. I once told her she could sing disco. She laughed it off. All these folks are on the herb-tea-and-brownie coffeehouse circuit. I recommend Dodson’s Tranquility Grange album.

Did you ever notice that Maine bookstores sell a lot of Stephen King? I appreciate the state’s antique/book malls. The Big Chicken barn is worth visiting.

Big Chicken

Maine’s Big Chicken antique barn has something for everybody, including lots of auto shop manuals.

The Tiguan and Atlas are worth considering if you’re looking at big and medium-sized SUVs. They’re comfortable, reasonably responsive, and surprisingly affordable. I wrote about them in more detail here.

Maine’s an intriguing state. It’s being convulsed by change, but also benefiting from it. Tech firms and four-star restaurants are coming in with new jobs, but maybe not enough to make up for those lost in logging and paper making. The accents that made Bert and I so special aren’t heard all that often anymore—the state is full of those immigrants welcomed at Local Sprouts, some of them from neighboring states—but it still has a wicked sense of humor.


Way, Way Back: Roochie Toochie and Oldtones 2017

NORTH HILLSDALE, NEW YORK—Performer after performer said from the Oldtones stage that this is their favorite summer festival, and it’s easy to see their point. Oldtones Roots Music Festival is run by and for musicians, and features the very best in old-time country, as well as a healthy sidelight in its racier offshoot bluegrass.

Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings

Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings love props. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Every festival has its stars, and at this one it was Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepherd Kings, explorers on the trail of the old weird America. Roochie Toochie goes way, way back, even before the historic recordings of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927.

roochie toochie

It’s 1910 again, a time when a person felt naked without a fez. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Roochie Toochie focus is on music recorded on wax cylinders, and the group’s new album is even recorded that way. The cartoonist R. Crumb has maintained that electrical recording ruined music as we know it, so here’s his band. The group—made up of crack musicians, with multi-instrumentalist and singer Aaron Jonah Lewis a standout—has a repertoire of the half-heard songs from a nearly vanished era. And they perform them with a verve and theatricality that recalls vaudeville and makes something ancient new again.

mary ann

Mary Ann enjoys the old-time music. At Oltones, chairs matter. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Highlights included “3000 Years Ago,” which featured costumed crusaders in the audience; “My Isle of Golden Dreams,” with tiny bubbles adding the Don Ho effects during the Hawaiian sections (Hawaiian guitar was an early American music craze); and “Doing the New Lowdown,” which I recall “Hotlips” Page covering ably. Here’s the group on video with “Ragging the Scale,” Edward B. Claypoole’s ragtime recording from 1915:

The group, wearing red fezes, is highly visual. Singer/fiddler Lindsay McCaw took over to demonstrate “17 (period) Dances in Two Minutes,” and there were live Egyptian priestesses and gorillas roving around. See them if you can. The group is currently touring Maine, from whence springs ukulele ace Tim Findlen.

An offshoot of Roochie Toochie, Corn Potato (“the eyes and ears of America”) is more in the old-time country vein, though it also swerves into the international music styles that are the forte of fiddler Aaron Jonah Lewis. He was incredible all weekend, in many different configurations.

Bill and the Belles

Bill and the Belles harmonize with style–the style of the 1930s. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Some of the best festivals feature groups you’ve never heard of, but discover at the event. I’d seen Bill and the Belles, at the Brooklyn Folk Festival, and they were a major find, too. Singer Kris Truelsen is a musical historian, and produces old-time radio shows at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in the aforementioned Bristol. As a singer, he mines the intersection of 1930s pop—that smooth, smooth sound—and country. Belles Kalia Yeagle and Grace Van’T Hof complement the sound with smooth harmonies and, especially, Yeagle’s ace fiddle playing.

Easy-Ridin' Papas

TheEasy-Ridin’ Papas. Bix would have recognized the trumpet solos. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Easy-Ridin’ Papas duo added pop/jazz touches, too, because they combined guitar with muted trumpet (in a style that Bix Beiderbecke would find archaic), and Hoagy Carmichael and Bob Wills tunes were featured. Kazoos came out. It went down easy.

The Downhill Strugglers

The Downhill Strugglers take old-time into the city–as the New Lost City Ramblers did. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I’m a big fan of the Downhill Strugglers, a group intimately connected to the Brooklyn old-time scene and the Jalopy Theater there. Eli Smith, who plays banjo, runs the Brooklyn Folk Festival, and Jackson Lynch, one of the best fiddlers and a vocalist who recalls Charlie Poole at his raw best, frequently performs there. Here are the Strugglers on video, performing “Show Me the Way to Go Home”:

The group digs up a lot of rare songs, sourced from old 78s one presumes. An old sentimental cowboy song (a buckaroo saves the boss’ daughter from a rampaging bovine, but dies in the process) sounded to me like the source material for Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” Stranger things have happened. Windham Baird of the Wild Goats later performed an old tune called “Palms of Victory,” which Bob Dylan turned into the practically unchanged “Paths of Victory.”

Run Mountain

Run Mountain in full cry. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Speaking of Baird, he joined with Lynch later on the side stage to sing “I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape,” based on the rare recording from 1926 by the Nugrape Twins—about whom very little is known. But it’s a great ad for grape soda. Moonshine Holler, which sometimes adds a member and becomes Run Mountain, is also wonderful at reviving little-heard material.

baird and lynch

Jackson Lynch (left) and Windham Baird perform “I Got Your Ice-Cold NuGrape.” (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Strugglers frequently perform with John Cohen, formerly of the New Lost City Ramblers—their predecessor in urban old-time. Walker Shepard completes the band on a variety of instruments. Here they are essaying “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” on video:

Little Nora Brown

Little Norah Brown, channeling Ola Belle Reed. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Bluegrass was well represented at Oldtones with Karl Shifflett and Big Country Show, plus The Feinberg Brothers and David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. I missed the Bash Bish Bluegrass Band. A highlight of Shifflet’s set was “Lonesome Road Blues” a la Snuffy Jenkins, from banjo player Brennen Ernst. What a player, with a great swing feel. Later he switched to guitar and began playing like Django on “Lady Be Good.”

The Wild Goats

The Wild Goats: original Americana and old stuff, too. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Wild Goats, formerly Dubl Handi (but now with a tuba), were delightful. Banjo player/singer Hilary Hawke is writing her own (very good) songs now, and still digging into the tradition. Baird gave her some sage advice: “If you tune with that capo on, you’re going to get fret wear.” Musicians, take note.

The Foghorn Stringband

The Foghorn String Band played for the square dancers. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Other valuable players, heard in different combinations, included Tamar Korn (who must have heard Sophie Tucker at some time in her life), Caleb Klauder, Reeb Willms (the latter two making up a great duo), and the wonderful Jesse Legé—the Cajun contingent, along with Chas Justice and the Revelers.

Tamar Korn

Tamaa Korn and her pickup band. (Jim Motavalli photo)