• SPECIAL  ANNOUNCEMENT

    THE NEW FOLKWORKS

    January 1, 2020 will mark FolkWorks’ 20th anniversary! We started out as a hard copy newspaper with 15k distribution, and have morphed into an online resource with over 400k hits/month! Our website offers news about artists and the arts, CD reviews and other articles of interest. FolkWorks supports mature and new talent through concerts, dances and festivals that both entertain and educate. Our Calendar has become the “go to” source for folk/roots events in SoCal. Our columnists are a resource for artists and their audiences with topics ranging from commentary to history and folk tales. The popularity of this part of our work forms the basis of an exciting new phase of FolkWorks.

    In keeping with our rapidly changing world of broader access to information, and technology that enables wider communication, our focus will be to provide a pathway for geographic expansion, interactive programming and collaborative support and exchange. To attain these goals, our plan is to:

    • grow our audience by moving to a statewide, west coast or national platform
    • develop curated access to the FolkWorks’ calendar, which will provide event and venue producers, artists, agents, teachers, and educators the ability to directly enter events. Event details could contain detailed descriptions, photos, links, maps, and calendar exports
    • continue and expand our columns as blogs, with the ability to easily add new writers
    • partner with individuals, formal and informal groups, and organizations that share our vision of a centralized source for events, featuring a variety of traditionally based folk/roots music, dance and art to a large audience.

    We want to thank all of you in the community who have made FolkWorks possible. Please support our new adventure by becoming a FolkWorks member, or renewing your current membership. We will soon have a button on the website for one-time donations.

    We welcome your thoughts, ideas and contributions as we move toward a bold New FolkWorks.

    Read more: SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

    PASSINGS

    COLUMN OF THE WEEK

    January-February 2020

    An Ode to the Coffeehouse

    By Chris Wilson

    CoffeeAccording to the National Coffee Association, USA, legend tells us that it was Kaldi, a goat herder in Ethiopia, who discovered coffee. No, he didn’t find a Starbucks in the forest and order a double soy latte – he didn’t even find it as a beverage. Apparently, as the story goes, he noticed that his goats were eating the berries of a particular tree and then not sleeping at night. While it would seem to me that there is nothing more distressing to a goat herder than insomniac goats, rather than attempting to solve this problem, the herder “Kaldi” told the local Abbot.

    Read more: AN ODE TO THE COFFEEHOUSE

    FEATURE ARTICLES

    2020 NAMM BAMM

    By Nowell & Annette Siegel (Living Tree Music)

    NAMM 2020As usual most of our time was spent in the acoustic section of the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show at the Anaheim Convention Center. This is Hall E on the bottom level.

    We were impressed with Troublesome Creek out of Kentucky. They make guitars, mandolins, using walnut, maple (domestic) and other nice woods. They had a mandolin built with help from a “Loar era” specialist for a mere $9,600.

    Read more: 2020 NAMM BAMM

    Yes, Virginia, There Is an ERA

    By Ross Altman, PhD

    ERALeague of Women Voters Applauds Virginia for Ratification of ERA

    RALEIGH, NC, January 15, 2020 – The League of Women Voters of Wake County (LWV-Wake) applauds the state of Virginia upon its ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia is now the 38th state to have ratified the ERA, which meets the threshold for adoption of an amendment under Article V of the US Constitution…

    Read more: YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS AN ERA

    NAMM 2020 - Adventure in Anaheim

    By Art Podell

    NAMMI was determined to approach my visit to the annual event methodically, so I decided to walk the perimeter of the huge lower chamber that housed the acoustic division of the exhibit and examine all the booths that lined the walls. Then, row by row, I would check each section to see what attracted my interest and jot it down. According to my plan, at the end of each row, I turn right, go to the next row, and walk the opposite direction to the end of that row.

    Read more: NAMM 2020 - ADVENTURE IN ANAHEIM

    CONCERT REVIEW

    STEEP CANYON RANGERS AT PEPPERDINE

    LISA SMITH WENGLER CENTER FOR THE ARTS - SMOTHERS THEATRE - FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2020

    SWEET DREAMS AND FLYING MACHINES…

    Ross Altman, PhD

    Steep Canyon Rangers“The streets of Rome are filled with rubble...” were the first words out of Steep Canyon Rangers mouths. Considering how the evening ended it was more ominous than I could have known.

    Read more: STEEP CANYON RANGERS AT PEPPERDINE

    GRAMMY NOMINEES

    FILM AND THEATER REVIEW

    STING AT AHMANSON IN THE LAST SHIP

    WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2020

    Gideon’s Trumpet

    By Ross Altman, PhD

    The last shipSting brought the Royal Family to the Ahmanson Theatre last night—Opening Night—while the Queen nonchalantly dismissed Harry and Meghan from her “royal family.” The last words of his Royal Family were “We build ships!” a slightly unauthorized curtain call by Gideon Fletcher—he of “Gideon’s Trumpet,” from my title—the prodigal son who returns home after 17 years at sea to find his old flame Meg has all but died out.

    Read more: STING AT AHMANSON IN THE LAST SHIP

     

    FULL CALENDAR

    MUSIC       DANCE

    TODAY'S CALENDAR 2/18/20


    MUSIC


    NO EVENTS TODAY



    DANCE


    NO EVENTS TODAY


    RECURRING EVENTS


    MUSIC


    6:00pm - 10:00pm AGOURA HILLS SONG CIRCLE & POTLUCK (SONGMAKERS)

    third Tuesday

    Agoura Hills (Contact via Songmakers website)

    Agoura Hills, Agoura Hills , CA 91301

    Steve Berman 310-699-5755 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    7:00pm - 11:00pm OULD SOD TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC SESSION

    every Tuesday

    The Ould Sod

    3373 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA

    Michael Eskin 619-284-6594 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    7:00pm - 10:00pm KEN O'MALLEY DUO

    third Tuesday

    Finn McCool

    2702 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

    310-452-1734


    DANCE


    8:30am - 11:00am LEISURE WORLD FOLK DANCERS

    every Saturday

    Club House 1

    Leisure World, Laguna Hills, CA

    Florence Kanderer 949-425-8456


    10:00am - 12:00pm ISRAELI & INTERNATIONAL FOLK DANCING

    every Tuesday

    La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center

    8450 La Mesa Blvd., La Mesa, CA

    Rina Dalyot 619-462-8155 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    10:30am - 12:00pm UNIVERSITY OF JUDAISM

    every Tuesday

    UNIVERSITY OF JUDAISM

    5600 Mulholland Dr, Los Angeles, CA

    Natalie Stern 818-343-8009


    11:15am - 12:35pm SANTA MONICA CITY COLLEGE ISRAELI DANCING

    every Thursday

    Santa Monica College Clocktower

    1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA


    1:30pm - 3:00pm MOUNTAIN DANCERS

    first & third Tuesday

    South Pasadena Woman's Club

    1424 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, CA

    John Meursinge 626-355-9220


    6:00pm - 8:45pm CERRITOS FOLK DANCERS

    every Tuesday

    Cerritos Senior Center

    12340 South St., Cerritos, CA

    Wen Chiang 626-303-2761 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    6:30pm - 8:30pm TROUPE MOSAIC

    every Tuesday

    Gottlieb Dance Studio

    9743 Noble Ave, North Hills, CA

    Mara Johnson 818-831-1854


    7:00pm - 9:30pm CABRILLO INTERNATIONAL FOLK DANCERS

    every Tuesday

    Balboa Park Club

    2150 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA

    Georgina Sham 858-459-1336 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    7:30pm - 11:00pm CALTECH FOLK DANCERS

    every Tuesday

    Caltech Dabney Lounge

    1200 E California Blvd, Pasadena, CA

    Nancy Milligan 626-797-5157 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    7:30pm - 10:30pm TUESDAY GYPSIES - INTERNATIONAL

    every Tuesday

    Culver City Masonic Lodge

    9635 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA

    Marian and Jim Fogle This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

     

TITLE: BANJO DIARY: LESSONS FROM TRADITION

ARTIST: STEPHEN WADE

LABEL: SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS

RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 11, 2012

Stephen Wade Paints His Masterpiece

By Ross Altman

Banjo_DiaryIn May, 1979 a 26 year old musician in his hometown of Chicago opened a newly-minted one-man show with the intriguing title: Banjo Dancing, or The 48th Annual Squitters Mountain Song, Dance, Folklore Convention and Banjo Contest…and How I Lost. It was a farrago of traditional banjo tunes and songs, clogging and storytelling from Appalachia to Brooklyn. I happened to be teaching high school there at the time, where I had moved to become the next Steve Goodman or John Prine, and went to see it. It was the greatest night I have ever spent inside of a theatre—and the star, creator and just barely containable ball of energy on stage was Stephen Wade.

Later that year he took the show to Washington, DC at the Arena Stage for a three-week run. Ten years later, when the show closed, Wade was standing on top of the record for the longest-running off-Broadway play in America. Over twenty years later and it is still one of the top five.

Like Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Wade knew the show couldn’t go on forever and had an uncanny knack for knowing when to leave the stage—when it was still a mega-hit. Problem: he was still only 36 years old and had the rest of his life to live. Since leaving Squitter’s Mountain Wade has continued his deep exploration and excavation of American traditional music, in the process becoming the impresario of the banjo’s long and winding road into the hearts of several generations of young admirers of its original masters like Uncle Dave Macon, Hobart Smith, Pete Steele, Doc Boggs, Doc Hopkins, Virgil Anderson and Wade Ward. Stephen Wade has also produced several albums of his own to document not one but all of their respective styles, as well as the hard-driving three-finger bluegrass style that grew out of it and led to Earl Scruggs, who oddly enough was the first banjo player to inspire Wade to pick up the instrument. What was odd about it? That Wade did not devote himself to bluegrass, or like other virtuosos such as Bela Fleck, pursue experimental sounds that grew out of bluegrass and led to “world music.”

Stephen Wade - Catching the Music
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdfIaF3VnCU)

Check out this hour-long WETA-TV documentary on musician Stephen Wade. Catching the Music

Stephen Wade took the reverse path: starting with modern banjo techniques he assiduously buried himself in the vaults of the Library of Congress (the reason he chose to bring his show to Washington, DC in the first place) and started to retrace the route the banjo had taken from the African-American slave and minstrel show culture it spawned to the white mountain minstrels in the 1920s and 30s when the banjo first made its way into modern recordings.

Starting out in Chicago was particularly fortunate for the journey he embarked upon. At Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music Wade became, with Fleming Brown as his mentor, a student of the revival of early folk banjo. In particular Brown introduced Wade to the music of Hobart Smith, whom they regarded as the best traditional old-time banjo player of all. In 1963, when Wade would have been just 10 years old, Fleming Brown taped nine hours of Hobart Smith’s repertoire in a home recording studio that may be the most significant single recording session in the world of old-time music.

In Brown’s later years he bequeathed the entire collection to Wade, who, after Banjo Dancing closed, went back to where he had left off in 1979 as Fleming Brown’s most dedicated and determined student. He transformed the music on those tapes into his next show: In Sacred Trust: A Celebration of the Music of Hobart Smith. Wade also oversaw the tapes’ release as Hobart Smith: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes.

Shortly after, he also released two albums reflecting the wider range of his traditional repertoire that evoked his long-running hit show: Dancing Home (a solo banjo album which one reviewer described as the most beautiful solo banjo album ever made) and Dancing In the Parlor. Just as meaningful was his 1997 Rounder release—A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings selected, edited and annotated by Stephen Wade. This essential record embraces the entire range of traditional music, as well as spoken word samples of preaching and brief commentaries from informants as well—it is the best single introduction to the riches of the Library of Congress Folk Music Archives. To highlight just one piece it includes Pete Steele’s legendary 1’27” performance of Coal Creek March. The virtuoso banjo instrumental, recorded by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax on March 29, 1938 in Hamilton, Ohio, is enhanced by Wade’s notes, which tell us that Steele practiced many hours to prepare for that one and a half minute claim on immortality. He also recounts the story behind it, from Lomax’s original field notes, as this remarkable tune grew out of a mine disaster in Coal Creek, Tennessee in which 600 miners were killed. A marching band came to play for the dead miners even as they were being taken out of the drift mouth of the mine, and that’s how the tune got started. When you listen to Steele’s propulsive driving ascending and descending banjo arpeggios—in a unique tuning made for this one particular piece—you suddenly have a whole unforgettable human portrait and dark drama in the foreground—the music takes on meaning that gives it a scope well beyond the pure instrumental. Perhaps that knowledge of folk music’s interconnectedness with American life and history is what keeps new generations wanting to retrieve it and make it available to the next. They aren’t just notes on a page, or even just notes on a recording—they are the lifeblood of human beings and together make up what Stephen Wade refers to as “an American musical mosaic.”

That brings us to his current project—a new Smithsonian Folkways’ album called Banjo Diary—Lessons From Tradition, which is being released in tandem with the publication of Stephen Wade’s amazing new 500-page compendium by University of Illinois Press—The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. The book (reviewed separately) opens up the world of these classic old-time musicians who influenced and inspired Wade to carry on their music and life stories.

This exquisite album demonstrates the lifelong durability of Wade’s musical sources, past banjo masters of frailing and of two- and three-finger styles which he has both thoroughly assimilated and recreated in ensemble arrangements that give them a lush grandeur that transcends their original string band and bluegrass underpinnings.

Here is the track listing: 1) Cotton Eyed Joe; 2) Train 45; 3) Arcade Blues; 4) Uncle Buddy; 5) Cuckoo’s Nest/Temperance Reel/Hop Light Ladies; 6) Home Sweet Home; 7) Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down; 8) Old Country Stomp; 9) Rocky Hill; 10) Little Betty Ann; 11) Cuckoo Bird; 12) Alabama Jubilee/Down Yonder; 13) Santa Anna’s Retreat; 14) Twin Sisters; 15) Wild Bill Jones; 16) Little Rabbit/Sheep Shell Corn; 17) Berkeley March/Under the Double Eagle; 18) Hand In Hand.

Sounds like a traditional old-timey record so far, does it not? So what’s new? As French philosopher Blaise Pascal once replied to the same question, “The arrangement is new.”

In various combinations for each track Wade is accompanied by a stellar cast including Mike Craver, Russ Hooper, Danny Knicely, James Leva and Zan McLeod on respectively pump organ, piano, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, Dobro, and bass. Quoting from the back cover, “This diary tells of an education written indelibly in a musician’s heart. 58 minutes, 44-page booklet with extensive notes and photos.”

Wade relies on Mike Craver’s almost circus-like pump organ texture to create his folk version of a wall of sound that holds together many of the tunes and songs he has chosen. He also lets other musicians shine as much as his own banjo sparkles—Danny Knicely on mandolin and bass, James Leva on fiddle, Russ Hooper on Dobro, and a great flat-picker Zan McLeod. The pump organ’s distinctive and evocative atmospherics pull you into a sense of not just listening from a single point of entry but rather of taking a journey into a land you may once have imagined but only now been able to realize. As familiar as Wade makes this musical territory sound, trust me—you haven’t been here before—at least not in any old-time or bluegrass group I have heard. It has flourishes of remembrances of things past—such as John Herald’s seminal guitar flat-picking in The Greenbrier Boys, or Mike Seeger’s neo-primitive fretless banjo solos in The New Lost City Ramblers, or even Roscoe Holcomb’s high lonesome tenor vocals. But Stephen Wade’s arrangements are so seamlessly integrated, and his fellow musicians so accomplished, that as Coleridge once defined great poetry, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You soon realize that you are listening not just to great folk music, but to great music that has elements of folk in it, like Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. And though it never leaves folk music behind, it pulls it into new territory that has awaited this great explorer like the Pacific Northwest awaited Lewis and Clark.

Both the connection to tradition and its compelling surpassing may be seen immediately on picking up this record—on the lovely cover photograph, where one of Stephen Wade’s early banjo heroes and mentors Virgil Anderson looks you proudly in the eye with his right hand curled over the banjo head, while standing just next to him with his left hand curled around the banjo neck to complete the illusion of one banjo player is a young Stephen Wade—with his eyes shyly closed and a mischievous smile, dreaming, as Yeats described his voyage in Sailing to Byzantium, of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Masquerading in these early days as a student who wanted merely to master and carry on the tradition, in this late masterpiece, Wade has finally stepped out of their long shadow and clearly become the original artist whose inclusive vision holds both in his hands. Yes he honors, ennobles and celebrates the past, but make no mistake, the man whose banjo this has become has followed his own drummer. Ever in search of sources, Stephen Wade has become a source.

Ross Altman’s upcoming performances:

Saturday, September 15 at 2:00pm – (With Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College ) Tribute to Woody Guthrie during the centennial of Woody’s birth at the Allendale Branch of the Pasadena Public Library, 1130 South Marengo Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91106.; for more information call (626) 744-7260 or visit

Both events are free and open to the public.

Friday, September 28 at 7:00pm - (with San Diego folk musician Paul Svenson) Benefit for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. House concert in Garden Grove. For information visit www.AU.org

Ross Altman may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.