A Production of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors

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The Folk Life


A Flying Visit to Falcon Ridge
(Saturday, July 28, 2001)

Photography/Layout by Jamie Downs
Text by John McLaughlin

(All copyrights reserved The Digital Folklife.Org., 20001)

We wanted to try out the big new chip (340 mb) for Jamie’s heavy-duty Olympus, so, spur of the moment as ever, we hopped in the purple Tracker, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s new one, Drum Hat Buddha (SIG 1266) – the one dedicated to Al Grierson – in the machine – "Play that one again, yeah! – George Graham’s right, there is no ‘Hazeltown,’ but jeez ‘Highway 80’ is a mighty fine song!" up 209 from Stroudsburg to Milton, on to I-84 East, Drum Hat Buddha unfolding all the way along – "Do you mind if we hear that one again – ‘This is my home, this is my only home’?" "Yeah, what number is that?" "It’s number seven, ‘The Gentle Arms of Eden,’ oh wow," reverential silence in the car – "This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known," oh yeah! And up into the lovely rolling switchbacks of the Taconic Ridge Parkway, jumped off at 23, heading East still, and here y’are, "Event Traffic Ahead," and crossed the bridge, giving Sonny Ochs a big hug, right over to the Workshop Stage and "A Nod to Bob" (a nod to Red House, but other) already in progress.

But first things first. Her name is Amelia, it was her first gig, at four months, and here she is, being handed off from Dad Dave to Mommy Katrina: Miss Amelia Nields Chalfont:

Is she a beaut, or wot?

Anyway, the music called, as it’s spozed to, and there was Vance Gilbert, baseball hat, front row, two over from ever-smiling John Gorka, Tracey Grammer seated two rows back, Dave Carter standing hatless behind her, and as we got settled on a late afternoon hillside of swaying, singing-along folkies, Vance got up to deliver a rap about his childhood belief that, "If it ain’t black, it ain’t music," from which he’d been delivered by of course Roberta Flack (remember when we believed she wrote Ewan MacColl’s lovesong to Peggy Seeger, "First Time Ever I saw Your Face"?), and then on into Vance's slow and mellow, soul-filled, "Nobody Feels Any Pain," and we were like home again at Falcon Ridge. (Philly, of course, is Grandma’s house – we’ll get to it eventually….) The road just melted away.

Eddie From Ohio – the only band we know named after a percussionist – switched around line-up following Vance – "Hey, Bob?" – with Mike Clem then Julie Murphy wailing on "Don’t Think Twice," a song that’s been in their repertoire for ten years, and Eddie Hartness, hiding behind wrap-arounds, thundering along on a lovely big djembe. The harmonies were as you’d expect from Virginia Soul’s star band, skin-tight.

John Gorka was required to follow them – sheesh – with not "Sad Eyed Lady" – was that a threat or a promise? – but a beautifully mellow, "Girl from the North Country." He got, of all things, some lovely, sensitive accordion – we do not lie -- backup from one of the crowd of musicians on the workshop stage – our apologies for never catching his name – one of Tom Landa’s un-named Paperboys? – his own rich, subtle guitar twining around that mellow baritone – oooh! – and then he stepped aside, for The Nields.

Baseball-capped Katrina and blonde dynamo Nerissa naturally chose something from Dylan’s Desire, where he had Emmy Lou as backup – Nerissa took Bob, and Katrina did Emmy Lou, to a turn -- and they launched into the eerie, weird, "Sister, tonight I’d love to lie in your arms." You wanted maybe serenity? Baby Amelia, meanwhile, was rocked asleep backstage by either Gramma or Auntie Nields, on notice they had to be around for that duty all weekend. Let ‘em be.

Wicked Jeff Lang was up next, all the way from Australia and brought his chops along one more time – remember him at last year’s Philadelphia Folk Festival? -- ripping thro "Outside of Town" on a cutback Gibson with a rainbow strap, borrowed from the great honky-tonk blues-singer, Mary Gautier, who was up next with the anthemic "Forever Young," with that great accordion back-up and a hillside of swaying folkies. See? Falcon Ridge living up to its reputation one more time.

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
Jeff Lange


Lucy Kaplansky, one of the stars of the Red House release, Nod to Bob, from which this workshop borrowed its name, sang the Dylan song she does on the compilation, "It Ain’t Me Babe" next, in a whispering, deliberately dragging version, sweet fiddle and accordion backup – who is that guy? -- that caught the crowd by surprise – none of Dylan’s desperate and disowning wail – with incredible effect on some of the people on the hill; after the workshop, she was seen consoling a happily weeping fan, for whom this version spoke volumes. The power of music, the whole point of the workshop.

Dave Carter was up next, with Tracy following on in her faded blue overalls, going right into "Angelina," which they drew into a happy waltz, trading off pretty little guitar breaks with a lilting fiddling, the late afternoon sun slanting downhill, spilling on to the stage in golden light -- and then, somehow, turned the tune into one of those ominous modulations that got to the heart of Dylan’s genius. Just magic. (No, it’s not on Drum Hat Buddha, so that’s not where it came from – just that basic intuition, y’know?) These guys.

Poor Marc Erelli had to follow them, kidding the crowd about wanting Vance Gilbert’s hair, Jimmy La Fave’s sunglasses, pleading extreme childhood for not going back in the Dylan book to Blood on the Tracks, instead opting for some "Late Dylan," from Oh Mercy’s "Shooting Stars," in a really nice Ellis-Paul voice that displayed his fine taste in models and repertoire, accompanying himself on his own neck-rack harp.

Marc Erelli
Tom Landa and The Paper Boys

And then came The Paperboys, tuning up the flute to satisfaction, and then launching into a surreal jigs-and-reels version of "All Along the Watch Tower" that got the crowd bouncing once more. For some people, anyway, Dave Gossage’s brilliant flute drove the set, reminding us of Clannad’s "Nil sen la" improvisations in Switzerland, so many years ago it’s not even funny, but it was a wild scene by the time it whirled to an end, Tom Landa bouncing around across the stage in from of the ensemble, snare drums rattling along in back.

The crowd was ready to rock; Chris Williams could only say, "Shoot," or similar vowel, and get Eddie back on for a mournful double-djembe version of "You’ve Gotta Love Somebody" that kept spiraling up and up, Jody Gill laughing delightedly at the side of the stage as she signed the lyrics for the band and hillside, Vance Gilbert on his feet with John Gorka, Chris lining out the song for the audience, every social service worker in three counties spiritually up and clapping along (Jamie down near the right side of the stage, pressed up against an amp, taking it all in as she struggled happily to stay in place—yeah!)

Chris Williams with Vance Gilbert and Mary Gauthier dancing behind
Jimmy LaFave
Marc Erelli, Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka (behind) Chris Williams
Marc Erelli, Mary Gauthier, Tracy Grammer, Dave Carter, John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky

Back to a semblance of sanity onstage, as Jimmy La Fave, performer’s ID slung backwards, started off "I Shall Be Released," sitting down, as the penultimate song, the huge Dylan-loving crowd on the hill soon joining in with the crowd on stage. Then right on into "Everybody Must Get Stoned," the hillside on its feet, singing and clapping, the performers trading off ad lib Falcon Ridge lyrics ("They’ll stone you when you’re walking on the bridge/They’ll stone you for comin’ to Falcon Ridge/ I would not feel so all alone…" and Vance going on into "They’ll stone you when you’re sittin’ in your tent/They’ll stone you for being with someone whom you didn’t meant," classic Dylan if he’d thought of it), and on and on until the crowd finally let themselves and the stage crowd go tripping and stumbling off for dinner.

The food at Falcon Ridge, of course, is amazingly good -- the best burritos outside of Oaxaca, fresh fruit on a skewer in a big paper cup, chilled green tea to wash it down with – and we wandered along the row of craft tents, taking in the sights and sounds (the Dance Tent people never heard of dinner – they are genuinely scary dervish types).

One place I had to stop at was Robert Corwin’s portable gallery of photography from thirty-plus years of folk festivals, drawn there by the magnetic image of a braided Joni Mitchell, legs entwined, chin on hand, at Newport, 1969. What can you do? Ah well….

After the dinner break, Jamie disappeared up the hill, to scout for new shots of the lineup – Mary Gauthier, Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings, The Nields, Dar Williams, and Eddie from Ohio – and I found myself a handy bench, huddled under a big black towel to keep warm next to a nice big PA speaker placed strategically in the corner of the food-tent, near the ambulance tent and the CD tent – are we talking prepared? – and got some extra bonuses, in the form of some unexpected sights – Maura Kennedy in the most amazing striped pants and non-matching striped shirt, hair gone cockatoo – Meredith Thompson bouncing happily along, Chris elsewhere – Gene Shay entertaining Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings at the next table with some hysterically bad jokes, I think – and, of course, after night fell, the hillside erupting into cell-phones and sparklers at Dar’s command, to awe the Nields at the sight of the true Falcon Ridge, you betcha, me too, looking uphill at them from behind the Main Stage tent. Wotta view. Wotta sound system – thank you, Klondike Sound!

Mary Gauthier
Mary Gauthier opened the evening concert with some lovely honky-tonk country music, in that weary, powerful wail that bespeaks forty miles of bad road and cars with bad transmission. Her band is straight-ahead road-house perfect, rock-steady percussion, pedal-steel/dobro fill-ins. Having come up with, as she triumphantly proclaimed, a perfectly sleazy rhyme for "cigarette" ("kitchenette") – "one that Bob didn’t come up with!" – she went on into "Camelot Motel," about two sad sacks who’d met in an online chatroom, "Outlaw" and "Fallen Angel," (remember Dave Barry calling the computer "CB radio with typing?"), and a chorus that wept along with them, "Cheaters/Liars/ Outlaws and Fallen Angels, / Lookin’ for the grace from which they fell." No mercy – she followed on with a song for Carla Faye Tucker, "Little girl lost, /Her world full of pain," and from that, into one for Eddy Shaver, Billy Jo’s son, "The Merry-Go-Round," blues for a boy touched by "heroin and Father Flanagan." Simply merciless beauty.

The title cut from her second CD, Drag Queens and Limousines, a paean to "Nuns in blue jeans/poets and AWOL Marines, /They all are my friends" -- an absolute definition of the Beat? -- was followed by a tough woman’s new song, "You are not my love/ Just ‘cause I let you touch me/don’t mean I’ll let you stay," and then one for Howard Randall, Anne Saunders’ partner in Falcon Ridge, "I love country music like Alice in Chains," proclaiming "sexual satisfaction turned into a chicken fight…" and finally a great rockabilly lead-out, showcasing her band, the crowd well-taken care of by an expert performer.

Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings followed, after a little "Arkansas Traveler" sound-check. Their Nashville/Berklee School of Music background soon showed, in a beautiful but achingly slow, "Tear My Stillhouse Down," and then a waltz-time "One Little Star," before they picked up the pace a little with one of those gospel plaints, "I Wanna Sing that Rock-and-Roll" ("I wanna ‘lectrify my soul"), and then Gillian’s poker-faced admission that, as a relative banjo neophyte – three years – she still hadn’t seen the hoped-for stampede of "chick banjo players" – it’s a pretty PC crowd, is Falcon Ridge – leading into yet another beautiful but slow gospel song, "I Want to See the Rock of Ages," featuring once more their close harmonies and this time Gillian’s frailed banjo. Their new CD ("Out next Tuesday – when all CD’s come out") was featured with a fascinating a song with a chorus that had, embedded in it, "Who caught the katy and left me a mule to ride," sounding nothing in the least like Taj Mahal. "I was Thinking Tonight of Elvis" has a lovely series of images that, for me, catch Elvis perfectly – "Just a country boy/Put on a shirt his mother made/And then he shook it/ Like a Harlem queen…/ Like a Holy Roller…" Like a midnight rambler…/Like you never seen." The closing song of their planned set, "Red Clay Halo" -- would Tommy Thompson have loved to sing this one? -- had the announcer bring them back for an encore, "I Am An Orphan Girl," which, of course, brought the reminder that both O Brother Where Art Thou and the live Ryman concert, Down from the Mountain, both featuring Gillian and David, were available up the hill, for everyone who, like us, couldn’t stick around for the Sunday morning gospel call and hadn’t had enough of it on Saturday night. Lovely singing and note-perfect pickin.

David Rawlings
Gillian Welch

While the next act was doing a sound-check and tuning up their electric guitars, the announcer thanked the Brennan Family and especially Mr Bob Brennan, Falcon Ridge’s Max Yasgur, who brought the house down by reminiscing about an incident featuring some young girl who’d had a good ol’ time in a Cinderella coach set up last year – especially when he called her to stand up and identify herself – "I saw her earlier tonight!" I was beginning to shiver in the unexpected night air; some lad in a 4-H t-shirt strolled past, enjoying a large ice-cream cone, and I huddled under my big black towel, thanking the powers that be I wasn’t squatting on the hillside, digging in for the late show…. You get old soon, you get smart after, as the Dutchies down in Kutztown say….

And then The Nields, and a roar from the hillside, even as they worked through initially muddy speaker sound, the voices drowned under the drums and guitars, and then that unearthly wail! Nobody else does a wail like that! Kids were skipping around the backstage entrance, waiting for their idols to come back, as "Jeremy Newborn Street," with a nice flute solo from Katrina, ran on almost immediately from the opening song,as a gigantic big-head puppet in a short skirt wobbled past on its/her way uphill for a better view, and the Nields had taken the show right away.

Jeremy Newborn Street

Narissa sings Snowman

Their first show since March – they announced Katrina’s pregnancy to the folks last year by calling them up and asking sweetly if they could meet them at Falcon Ridge and hold their new grandchild, which is as cute a way of doing it I ever heard – they went on into "I’m a Snowman," with again that incredible Nields’ wail that trademarks them at once – nobody else has a voice like that! – and a rock concert had come to Falcon Ridge, no problemo, the guys were all over the stage, the guitar and drums turned ‘way up to eleven.

This was their CD release party, for the new live 2-CD, cut at The Iron Horse in Northampton, right before maternity leave, and this was Amelia’s first Nields show, right? -- so they were ready to kick out the jams, with the help of their old friend, Dar Williams, who joined them onstage for "Jennifer Falling Down," and Susan Werner, who joined in with piano and harmonies on "I Have Known You By a Hundred Names." Of course, "Good Girls Make the Rules," including a chilling recital of their Yuletide paean to Winter’s passing – on a bloody cold July night, yet -- but all too soon it was time for the massed choir of friends of the Nields – for the closer, "Keys to the Kingdom," ("and give yer tax refund to something great!"), and they were offstage to the baby, happily wired by the welcome back to live performance – "It’s like going from zero to a hundred, all at once!" and we got to stretch, get some coffee, and wait for it.

David Nields
David Chalfont

Here she came – fresh from "Austin City Limits," pushing the big-time, happy to be back home among fellow-folkies, a new live CD at The Iron Hose, Boston and New York City at the CD tent, ready to go, and "Calling the Moon" a capella and then with Carol Steele’s djembe falling in behind her -- Falcon Ridge’s own – Dar Williams. An ode to the installation artist who influenced her generation in college and then hooked up with this musician followed – "I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono" – with a Falcon-Ridge-pleasing rap about Yoko’s billboard, "War is Over if You Want It" (where else but at Falcon Ridge would the crowd get it about the wobbly syntax, c’moan Jimmy?), and about finding an obscure environmental cause to mail your tax rebate check to, and then into a lovely version of "If I Wrote You," with Carol Steele’s pure harmonies tracking her.

"Spring Street," her revulsion at the gentrification not only of SoHo, where artists can’t afford the loft-space, but now of Northampton, where a similar fate seems to be over-taking a once-pretty little artists’ town, gone New Age, followed, drum-laden; and then "Afterwards," off the recent Green World (Razor & Tie) CD, and then the choric, "That’s What I hear," before she called up her old friends The Nields ("Nerissa’s the blonde one!"), and she asked the hillside to show her their lights, for Katrina and her sister, so they would appreciate the rolling hills of Iowa – the audience would be the rolling hills, or perhaps Grand Tetons, for Katrina—and away they went, a magnificent, swaying display of cell-phone lights and 4th of July sparklers, leaving the sisters in awe onstage.


What a family of friends and artists! And then to the anthemic, "I Will Not Be Afraid of Women," and a closing series of thank-yous to the hillside, to the Kennedys, to Susan Werner, to the Nields, as the rolling music was drowned at last in a standing ovation for Dar. Some show, fer sure, so far…

Eddie From Ohio was set to go, in near-record time, bouncing to attention under the lights, yelling a happy "Eee-whoo!" to the crowd, rumbling swiftly into "Stupid American," and then "Not Eddie’s Concubine" – a different Eddie – getting call-and response from the manic hillside, before pausing for Julie Wells Brown to yell a triumphant, "Hello Falcon Ridge!"

The title cut from the new CD, Quick (Virginia Soul VSR 007) – it carried us home, the way Drum Hat Buddha brought us up to the Berkshires – was explained as their plan for World Domination, Albert Einstein for youse bright guys up North here, and NASCAR for us guys from down South – and they had the audience by the time the race-cars thundered past.

They then explained, to the children up past their bedtimes, that while it was by now so cold that they’d had to have one of Mr Brennan’s mules killed so they could warm their chilled hands inside, it was not the good mule from Shrek – a relief to all of us, who by now were looking around for that gutted mule to warm us too – and promised they’d sing glory and praise in the morning, even for the pagans among us, of whom there probably were not a few, and then segued sweetly into their song about those loving couples – "trying sushi/
Riding bikes…" who argue only tongue in cheek, who’re making babies "who grow up nice," married people who "love their children/They are loved back…." – incredibly sweet sarcasm that spasmed its objects, uphill and backstage, pushing the PC envelope hilariously ( wait for "Let’s Get Mesolithic," here it comes). But Julie Wells Murphy’s sweet song to little Liam, her son – "Little Man" --followed, to break the tension for people born without a funny-bone, and more music from the new CD intervened, before they went right up to and maybe over the line for Falcon Ridge, with "Let’s Get Mesolithic" – "When drummers were gods," evoking Utah Phillips’ line about men’s groups "Dragging yer scrotum through the underbrush" – and they passed on quickly to the sweet-voiced, "O Brother I Will Carry You," as the hour – and the Apollo Theatre hook – drew nigh.

Eddie in the Afternoon

Robbie, Julie and Mike harmonizing

Right on into "Candido in America," from Quick, after a roaring demonstration of Eddie’s percussive skills, and then, finally, "Tom Burleigh’s Dead," an Irish singalong for a grandfather caught in the crossfire at Harper’s Ferry – no martyr, just another happy drunk, EFO irreverent to the end -- and the cheering, singing crowd trooped down from the hill and followed us, over the bridge to the parking lot and so to bed.

Well, eventually. First we had to retrace out steps – Rte 23 to the Taconic Ridge Parkway, I-84 West across NY to Milford, PA, down along the Delaware on Rte 209 – I mean, ‘way, ‘way off the Falcon Ridge map, you can’t even find it from what they give you, the Poconos don’t even exist from ‘way up there -- Eddie from Ohio all the way just recycling through the CD player all the way.... Sure, there was a whole Sunday series of workshops and concerts for those of you who’d planned ahead with tents or motels within thirty miles of the campground. Us, we was happily bushed, and the camera was almost full, not to mention the little Jack Kerouac spiral-bound notebook. If you want any more, you gotta sing it yourself. See ya in Philly? OK. Whew.

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