Finding folk and roots at festivals

Lucy Kaplansky will perform at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival this weekend

Festivals of folk and roots music

by Seth Rogovoy

(HILLSDALE, N.Y., July 25, 2002) – For the next two weekends, the Long Hill Farm in Hillsdale, N.Y., will be overrun by festivalgoers soaking in the sounds of contemporary folk, ethnic dance, bluegrass and roots music. The multiple stages at this weekend’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and next weekend’s Winterhawk will be graced by nationally-known performers including Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown, Tony Trischka and Chris Hillman, as well as up-and-coming talents like Mary Gauthier, Jeff Lang, Erin McKeown and Kris Delmhorst.

Both festivals boast over 40 scheduled artists apiece, most of whom in addition to performing their own sets will also appear in less formal settings on workshop stages. Both festivals boast enormous dance tents, which really turn out to be separate festivals unto themselves for fans of contra, square, Cajun, swing and family dancing. The family-friendly festivals offer children’s performers and activities, a variety of food and craft vendors, and on-site camping.

Falcon Ridge, whose emphasis is on original singer-songwriters but includes country, blues and dance music, kicks off on Friday at noon with its annual new-artist showcase. On Friday night, the annual Summer’s Eve Song Swap features an all-star round-robin event with Greg Brown, Lucy Kaplansky, Chris Smither and Erin McKeown. Falcon Ridge artists also include David Massengill, Jimmy LaFave, the Kennedys, Nerissa and Katryna Nields, and Railroad Earth.

This year’s Falcon Ridge festival will also be tinged with sadness. Last week, headliner Dave Carter, who was to have performed at Falcon Ridge with his partner and musical collaborator, Tracy Grammer, was stricken by a fatal heart attack after returning from a run in Hadley, Mass., just hours before he was scheduled to perform at the Green River Festival in Greenfield. On Saturday night, in the Main Stage slot when Carter and Grammer were to have performed, several artists, including the Nields sisters and Erin McKeown, will perform a tribute to Carter.

Falcon Ridge runs through Sunday, when Ani DiFranco will bring down the curtain on this year’s festival starting at approximately 6:15 p.m. For more information, call 877-844-7742 or visit

Winterhawk runs from Friday, August 2 through Sunday, August 4, and features an eclectic musical lineup of performers ranging from old-time string bands to bluegrass to Cajun to Celtic to zydeco to country and western to gospel to Texas singer-songwriters. Performers include the Buddy Miller Band, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the Eileen Ivers Band, Einstein’s Little Homunculus, the Gordon Stone Band, Northern Lights, Trainwreck, Stacey Earle and Tarbox Ramblers. For more information, call 888-308-5646 or visit

Many of the performers at these festivals -- at least a dozen at Falcon Ridge and a half-dozen at Winterhawk -- have been seen locally in the past year or two at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, and a few at other Berkshire venues including the Guthrie Center, the Berkshire Museum and the Clark Art Institute. While a large part of the joy at these festivals is just going and making accidental discoveries, here is a selected look at some of the performers to keep an eye out for:

Ani DiFranco (FRFF, Sunday): After several years away, during which time DiFranco has toured across the nation with an ever-growing band incorporating funk bass and Motown horns, the Righteous Babe returns to her old stomping grounds to perform solo. DiFranco is a do-it-yourself success story, garnering nationwide acclaim, cover stories in the top music magazines, and Grammy Award nominations, all while remaining an independent artist who releases her albums – and now with the recent “Render,” films, too – on her own label. But most important, DiFranco continues to produce incisive, well-crafted songs like last year’s “Subdivision” from her double-album, “Reveling/Reckoning,” which artfully drew connections among inner-city decay, suburban blight, and racism, in a catchy, delicate, clarinet- and piano-inflected, four-minute folk-pop tune that in three poetic verses and a chorus packs the impact of a well-reasoned socio-political essay.

Lucy Kaplansky (FRFF, Friday-Sunday): Along with Greg Brown, Kaplansky could well be the embodiment of Falcon Ridge, which is why you will find her with Brown, Chris Smither and Erin McKeown at Friday night’s Summer’s Eve Song Swap as well as in various workshops and in her own mainstage slot on Sunday afternoon. Based in New York’s Greenwich Village, from where she watched the Twin Towers collapse last September 11th, Kaplansky is one of the craftiest songwriters on the new-folk scene, bringing her astute, clinically-trained, psychological insights to her character portraits of unsavory types who lie, cheat and steal. She also writes love songs, and is much in demand for her appealing, country-inflected harmony vocals. Kaplansky will be back in this area when she performs at Club Helsinki on September 6.

Fred Eaglesmith (W’hawk, Friday): Jimmy Buffett’s parrotheads and the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads have nothing on Fred Eaglesmith’s Fredheads – his fanatically-devoted band of rabidly loyal followers who follow him and his ragged band of acoustic rockers from concert to concert. What Buffett’s songs do with the easygoing life of the Gulf Coast and what Bill Morrissey does with small-town New England, Eaglesmith does for the rural America of junk cars, trailers and six-packs. His incisive eye for detail trained on the other side of the tracks – or in the case of songs like “Freight Train,” on the tracks themselves – Eaglesmith lovingly and often wittily portrays life on the blue-collar side of town in catchy, acoustic roots-rock songs that are the unromantic underbelly of the world as portrayed by John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. After Winterhawk, Eaglesmith will be sticking around the area for his gig at Club Helsinki on August 8.

Mary Gauthier (W’hawk, Saturday): Like Fred Eaglesmith, singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier also turns her narrative attention to the darkness on the edge of town. But in Gauthier’s view, a lot more is at stake. Unrelieved by any leavening wit, Gauthier takes a more tragic view, as indicated by her terrific new album’s title, “Filth and Fire” (Signature Sounds), and songs on it called “Walk Through the Fire,” “A Long Way to Fall,” “Good-bye,” “After You’re Gone,” “The Ledge,” and “The Sun Fades the Color of Everything.” In a lesser talent, all this gloom and doom would be too much, but Gauthier’s Lucinda Williams-like vocals and earthy arrangements (the album was produced by Williams’s ex-guitarist and producer, Gurf Morlix) and her Kris Kristofferson-like literary touch and emphasis on spiritual redemption give her songs an organically transcendent quality.

Greg Brown (FRFF, Friday-Sunday): On an upcoming CD, a host of female singer-songwriter talent, including Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco, Iris Dement, Stacey Earle, Gillian Welch and Mary Chapin Carpenter will pay tribute to the songwriting talent of Greg Brown, an indication of the high regard in which Brown is held by his peers. Nothing about Brown’s latest album, “Milk of the Moon” (Red House), will do anything to harm that reputation, either. The album is a gritty, rootsy affair, setting Brown’s love songs in spare, intimate arrangements that emphasize his impossibly deep voice and his wry personality. DiFranco and Brown have toured together and are scheduled to do back-to-back sets on Sunday, making a superstar duet more than a strong possibility.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 25, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

To send a message to Seth Rogovoy
content management programming and web design