Folk trios are back in style
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 8, 2003) – At least as far back as the Kingston Trio, running through Peter, Paul and Mary, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Nields in their original trio format, the trio format has been a perennial favorite in folk. If the crowd’s opinion at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is any indication, then three-part harmony folk groups are back in style.

Last year’s top three audience favorites at Falcon Ridge included two trios – We’re About 9 and Girlyman -- as well as one old-fashioned singer-songwriter, Rachael Davis, all of whom will be at Club Helsinki on Thursday, May 15, as part of the sixth annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview Tour.

We’re About 9, the top votegetters in last year’s poll of showcase artists at Falcon Ridge, acknowledge the influence of Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Nields, as well as Cry Cry Cry, the superstar folk trio of Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky and Dar Williams. Group singer-songwriter Brian Gundersdorf recalls Shindell both vocally and in the strong narrative bent of his writing.

The Baltimore-based group was also nominated as best contemporary folk group in the 2002 Wammie Awards. In addition to Gundersdorf, who majored in music at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the group includes Katie Graybeal and Pat Klink, both from Towson University outside of Baltimore.

Nate Borofsky is outnumbered in Girlyman by Tammy Greenstein and Doris Muramatsu, who have been friends since second grade and who performed as a duo, The Garden Verge, since 1996. When Borofsky, an acclaimed performer who won the 2001 Boston Music Award for best singer-songwriter, wound up renting an apartment with Greenstein and Muramatsu in Brooklyn, the three discovered an affinity for harmony singing, and Girlyman was born.

In addition to the group’s serious material, some of which deals with gender issues as alluded to in its name, the trio has a penchant for singing self-styled calypso/doo-wop fusion and for rendering “Rock Me Amadeus” in German.

Second-generation folk musician Rachael Davis, who grew up in Cadillac, Mich., the daughter of traveling folk musicians who toured with her parent’s group, Lake Effect, starting at age eight, rounds out the festival preview tour. The depth of her experience and ease with a variety of genres shows on her album, “Minor League Deities,” whose original songs range from jazz tunes to banjo-blues to spirituals to pop-folk.

In her last year of high school, Davis attended Interlochen Arts Academy in Northern Michigan, which also counts among its alumni Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), folksinger Anne Hills, and pop-folk star Jewel. Davis is also a winner of the best new singer-songwriter award from the Boston Music Awards.

This year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will take place at the Long Hill Farm in Hillsdale, N.Y., on July 24-27. Tickets to the festival will be available at next week’s show.

The busy weekend at Helsinki kicks off tonight at 9 with reggae band The Black Rebels, followed tomorrow night with folk-blues singer-songwriter Chris Smither, with opener Colleen Sexton warming up the crowd at 8:30. On Sunday, BerkFest headliners The Slip, featuring brothers Brad and Andrew Barr on guitar and drums, respectively, and Marc Friedman on bass, slip into Helsinki at 9 for a rare, all-acoustic, groove-jam session.

Inner Orchestra

Speaking of groove, tonight at 10, the Inner Orchestra – Northampton’s answer to Tower of Power – plays its brass-heavy mix of funk, Latin and modern jazz at La Choza Cantina in Pittsfield. The group’s four-piece horn section includes trumpeter Adam Scott, trombonist Benjie Messer, alto saxophonist Michael Pisapia, and tenor saxophonist Emiliano Garcia.

Rounding out the group, which formed in the late-1990s among students at Hampshire College who studied jazz and arranging with noted jazz educators Andy Jaffe and Yusef Lateef, are bassist Ben Goodale, guitarist Michael Daves, and drummer Justin Tomsovic. The all-instrumental group recently released its first CD of new compositions, “All at Once.”

Tomorrow night, La Choza presents the Bathroom Floor Band, an acoustic group that in its electric guise is better known as Max Creek, the legendary granddaddy of New England jam-bands.

Laurel Masse

Laurel Masse, a founding member of the jazz vocal group Manhattan Transfer, leads her quartet – featuring guitarist Mark Dziuba, drummer Bill Goodwin and bassist Tim Ferguson – at the Castle Street Café on Saturday night at 9. The Hudson Valley resident, who now hosts a monthly, live jazz program on WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network, is equally at home applying her four-octave range to Celtic ballads, spirituals, Quaker hymns, art music and jazz standards.

Beat the Donkey

On paper, Beat the Donkey is a 10-piece percussion ensemble. But in reality, the ensemble is the musical and performance palette for percussionist, composer and theoretician Cyro Baptista. One of the most in-demand percussionists in the world, Baptista straddles the mainstream to the avant-garde, having worked with the likes of Paul Simon, Melissa Etheridge, James Taylor, Sting and Wynton Marsalis as well as Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno, John Zorn, Marc Ribot and Trey Anastasio of Phish.

On his CD, “Beat the Donkey” (Tzadik), Baptista mixes Brazilian and Latin music with jazz, punk, hip-hop, electronica and just plain weird music. In concert, Baptista’s ensemble adds a theatrical element of whimsy as well as dance to the mix. Beat the Donkey is at Pearl Street in Northampton tomorrow night at 8:30.


Rooney is a hot, up-and-coming band in the vein of the Strokes, playing melodic pop-rock songs unabashedly recalling the New Wave of the early-‘80s. The Los Angeles-based quintet claims the Beach Boys and ELO as influences, but as heard on an advance sampler from its upcoming, eponymous debut album, due out on May 20, its keyboard and guitar crunch and arch vocals bring to mind the Cars. The group, which has already toured with Weezer, the Strokes, the Vines and the Donnas, and which knows its way around a Beatlesesque hook, bookends the Berkshires early next week with shows at Pearl Street in Northampton on Tuesday and Valentine’s in Albany on Wednesday.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 9, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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