Category: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, July 27-29, 2012

June 25th, 2012 — 12:07 pm

Our favorite folk festival is but a month away from us, and though a weekend conflict with the Newport Folk Fest has a few daytrippers struggling to make the right call, for me it’s a no-brainer: after seventeen years of regular attendance, The 24th annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which will once again take place on Dodd’s Farm in Hillsdale, NY on the last weekend in July, is a home away from home, the perfect balance of community and comfort, with music flowing free and some of the best hillside seating this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

This year’s mainstage artists include yet another broad mix of the known and lesser-known, and we’re especially looking forward to seeing a handful of old favorites, including fest regulars Tracey Grammar and The Grand Slambovians, and the triumphant return of both folk-rockers Eddie From Ohio and queer-friendly trio-turned-quartet Girlyman, who we hope will spearhead Sunday’s annual Gospel Wake-up Call. Other returnees will be equally welcome: after wowing the crowd a few years ago with her inimitably girlish countryfolk, Eilen Jewell will be back for a second round; so will sensitive singer-songwriter supergroup Brother Sun, kicking bluegrass quartet Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, suburban roots cacophony Spuyten Duyvil, and singer-songwriters Ellis and John Flynn.

But there’s new delights to be had this year, too. List-toppers include Jubal’s Kin, a young family-founded old-timey-slash-bluegrass trio who we’ve shared here before, and Storyhill, a well-traveled folk duo whose recent appearance on Red House Records Dylan tribute A Nod To Bob Two is gently reminiscent of early Simon & Garfunkel, and whose 2005 covers album Duotones is a perfect slice of the seventies. I’m eager to hear more from the Andrew and Noah Band, whose rootsy Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover below reveals a jammy, sunny groove that seems ideal for the warm hills of Hillsdale. There’s always more than a few delights to be found among the short two-song sets from the 24 artists in Friday afternoon’s New Artists Showcase. And I’m really looking forward to finally catching Rod MacDonald, whose elder statesman status will net him a Friday Night Songswap set alongside Ellis, Holly Near, & Flynn.

Day & camping tickets are available now, and at the gate; Hillsdale, NY is in a perfect natural valley, which trends towards sun, and easily-accessible from New York, New Jersey, and New England; there’s a reason why I write about this festival religiously each year; we really do hope you’ll join us.

But camp if you can: one of the best parts of the Falcon Ridge experience is the endless campground pickings, which start just after the gates open on Wednesday night and run late into the wee hours among the canvas tents throughout the weekend. Several of these are formal enough to attract the big guns; I’ve spent several sleepless nights wandering these micro-venues in my well-spent youth, and note that the rite of passage has also well-served our various first-year visitors and camping companions over the years. Most especially, don’t miss yet another strong Thursday lineup at the Lounge Stage on the hill hosted by Pesky J. Nixon, our 2011 festival’s Most Wanted Emerging Artist winners, and featuring fellow Emerging Artist winners ilyAIMY and Louise Mosrie, and more mainstage artists and emerging singer-songwriters, including the airy harmonies of new Cover Lay Down favorites The Sea The Sea, who just won the new folk contest down at Kerrville.

Check out the full lineup, and pick up your Falcon Ridge Folk Festival tickets here. And don’t forget: if you love live festival coverfolk, you can always get our most recent exclusive all-covers Summerfolk bootleg sampler by donating to Cover Lay Down.

*Full Disclosure: I’m Crew Chief of the Teen Crew at Falcon Ridge, in charge of our “officer’s candidate school for future volunteers.” If you see a bearded guy with a walkie-talkie leading a bunch of kids in matching shirts around the festival grounds, come on over and say hi — I’d love to meet you!

2 comments » | Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk

The State of Folk: Falcon Ridge 2011 Festival Roundup
(covers of Jack Hardy, Adele, The Beatles, Bill Morrissey & more!)

August 3rd, 2011 — 10:14 pm

Two years ago, my annual visit to the folkfields produced a manifesto of sorts, anticipating and acknowledging the blur between old time, bluegrass, folk, and other american roots forms being performed by a rising crop of very young artists. Much of this came from the dual nature of my summer revelry: moving from Grey Fox Bluegrass to Falcon Ridge Folk allowed for a surprisingly consistent journey, and that which I saw in one site, I confirmed in the other.

This year, though work and other obligations left me unable to attend Grey Fox, I was able to catch more music than usual at Falcon Ridge, thanks to the fine and increasingly mature staff working under me as coordinator of the Teen Volunteer Crew. And though much of what I anticipated in my Falcon Ridge Folk Festival preview post back in June came to pass in my ears (Lucy Kaplansky’s take on Eliza Gilkyson’s Sanctuary, especially, was a highlight, as was the Sunday morning Gospel Wakeup, which had me running to the merch tent for a copy of Susan Werner’s 2007 agnostic gospel folk album), during my time at the various stages and songcircles, a couple of themes emerged, though none so clear as that long-past revelation.

One theme was Time, as – through performance pairings, tribute sets, stage sequence, and the lamented passing of several folk artists – the genuine intergenerationality of the folksinger community was laid bare time and time again. There’s something quite reassuring in the way in which older musicians mentor younger ones, and play alongside them; something wonderful in the way a cover of, say, Susan Werner’s May I Suggest, which has been performed as an a capella tune by Red Molly for several years, is joined on stage by Werner herself for a fourth harmony part; something satisfyingly eternal and vibrant for the music itself in the persistence with which long-time members of the folk underground and mainstage crowds alike continue to work at and take risks with their craft. It’s hardly revelatory, I suppose, to note this, especially at a festival in its 23rd year which is known both for its attention to new and rising artists and for having favorite musicians return by popular demand, but there it is, and I’ll have more to say about this below.

The other theme, or at least a motif, touches on the everfluid and everchanging nature of folk as a genre. With several once-solo singer-songwriters now on mainstage as members of trios (Brother Sun, Red Molly, Red Horse), and with the winners of last year’s Emerging Artist showcases comprising 15 people for four acts, the folk band seems to be making a comeback, spurred, perhaps, by that same genre-blur – after all, though folk is renown for containing singer-songwriter multitudes, most types of music are collaborative by design.

Couple these with the passing of the decidedly one-man-show folk artists Bill Morrissey and Jack Hardy – one during the festival itself, the other since last year – and note that both of these performers continued to struggle for audiences in their final years, in part through duo collaboration with other artists – and it starts to look like the lot of the solo singer-songwriter is shifting, as artistry and craft in the folkscene becomes more about collaboration and play, and less about identity and the solitary voice. It’s related to what we saw last year, in the way some nominally “folk” festivals have broadened their musical base, inviting rock, indie, pop, blues, and other band-based forms in merely to survive in the market. And though even the most cursory look back at the 80′s Fast Folk scene shows the singer-songwriter revivalists which sparked Falcon Ridge singing harmony and playing along with each other on those albums, too, the move towards band affiliation marks a notable shift in how rising artists identify themselves.

These trends emerged early, to be sure. I was more interested than usual in this year’s emerging artist competition, in no small part because of my time spent the night before at the Lounge Stage, a fan-and-musician-run pop-up venue which appeared high on the hill atop the the 10 Acre campground Thursday before fading into the official festival the following morning, and which featured several of last year’s Emerging Artist winners – including the deservedly well-loved crowd favorites, the old-timey rootsfolk band Spuyten Duyvil, who we featured in our prefest post – long-standing folk icons Buskin and Batteau, and a number of the artists who would grace the mainstage the following day for their two-song showcase.

And though several solo acts on the Friday afternoon mainstage run caught my ear – most notably Grace Pettis, who has recently won emerging artist and songwriting contests at both Mountain Stage and Kerrville, and Brittany Ann, who won my heart the afternoon before – it was hard to ignore the fact that there were more groups than ever among the two-song entrants this year, spurred – perhaps – by the prevalence of duos and folk groups among contest winners in the past several years. And many were startlingly good – from ilyAIMY’s punkish, drum-and-guitar driven powerhouse folk to the warm, acoustic folk harmonies of foursome Pesky J. Nixon, hosts of the Lounge Stage, whose two lead voices I am proud to consider friends after our weekend on the hill, and whose next release is scheduled to be a covers EP which is bound to make them a whole new round of fans.

Far be it from me to predict next year’s winners – I tend to consider taste a purely subjective mechanism, and am generous in my allowances for good melody and stagecraft even as others prioritize lyric and the trappings of legitimacy. And I would be hard pressed to handicap, regardless, given that volunteer duties called me from a good half of this year’s fine crop of competitors. But I heard plenty of buzz about these four acts from musicians and fans alike, both before and after their performances. More significantly, I loved ‘em all, and managed to find covers from each, to boot. As a bonus, two of the covers come from Lounge Stage performances from the past two years; listen closely, and I bet you can hear me cheering at the end of the first one.

  • Grace Pettis, Scott Mulvahill, and Allie Farris: Rolling In The Deep (orig. Adele)

This was also the year I discovered Jack Hardy, in a roundabout kind of way. As I told his daughter Eva on Sunday, as a second-generation folk fan who grew up in a home populated by Fast Folk recordings and magazines, I had always thought of Jack first and foremost as a mentor to and engine for other songwriters, a progenitor of sorts of the 80′s folk revival. But Saturday afternoon’s celebration of his life and music changed my perspective, introducing me posthumously to the careful craftsmanship of Jack Hardy the musician through a long set of tributes in song and sentiment.

Turns out that Jack – who led week-long songwriter retreats by forcing budding songwriters to write songs for other artists instead of themselves, had little patience for those who thought of folk as a vehicle for popularity, and cared less for performance than most, famously noting “It’s the song, stupid” – was a fine songwriter in his own right. And though I missed seeing him in the prime of his career, thanks to his family, who turned me on to his work through the gift of an early concert album, and the CD recorded by the songwriter collective he ran from his NYC apartment for three decades, I’ve been steeping in his songbook and his influence for a week, and loving every minute of it.

Next year will see one last Fast Folk Magazine, a formal two-disc tribute album for Jack released through the Smithsonian Folkways label: a labor of love from Fast Folk engineer Mark Dann and fellow Greenwich scene standby David Massengill, both of whom considered Jack a close friend, and featuring coverage from a slew of artists influenced by Jack, from Suzanne Vega to Anthony Da Costa, from Christine Lavin to Terry Roche, from Nanci Griffith to Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, and John Gorka. For now, that 24-song tribute and its accompanying pdf tribute to the life of Jack Hardy are ready, waiting for a server which can handle a few months of free access.

As coverlovers, we’re looking to help, and though my camera gave up the ghost early on Friday, we’re also working on acquiring a video of the entire Falcon Ridge tribute as well; in the meanwhile, here’s a quartet of the many surprisingly tender tracks from the forthcoming album, a set which only underscores how versatile and how deliberate a songwriter Jack really was – plus a live track from the Falcon Ridge set borrowed from the ‘Tube, an as-yet unrecorded, unnamed song from Jack’s last years performed by Mary Gauthier, which most present agreed is a masterpiece of folksong bound to find voice in other hearts and hands before it has served its purpose.

  • Mary Gauthier w/ Tanya Elizabeth: Ain’t I A Woman (orig. Jack Hardy)

Finally, a third, related motif: this was the year I had the iPad with me on site, and being plugged in felt pretty weird, even as the crowd texted along with me. Wired technology in the field is a relatively recent phenom – most of us remember when there were pay phones set up – and one of the things I miss about the pre-cellular age is the news blackout that we used to experience while on site. Amy Winehouse may not be on the average folk festival-goer’s playlist, but as a pop icon, her death was a big part of the background buzz during the fest.

But it was news of Bill Morrissey’s passage – delivered between sets, from the mainstage on Sunday morning – which caused a sudden silence in the crowd. Morrissey had his demons: he was known for his drinking, and the weariness of the solo road warrior which caused no amount of stress and desperation in his actions. But as Cliff Eberhardt, who served as pallbearer to this fallen giant of the early movement, noted on Facebook over the weekend, “The casket felt so light. That’s when I knew he was really gone, because if his soul was in there with him, that casket would have weighed a ton.”

Morrissey wasn’t just a well-known member of the Fast Folk-driven era, he was also a headliner at the very first Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, alongside Greg Brown, Shawn Colvin, John Gorka and others. As such, though he had shown neither body nor soul at Falcon Ridge for over a decade, he belongs here, in our festival review, part and parcel of our consideration of the passing of the first revivalists, even as they make way for the next generation of folk bands and singer-songwriters who benefitted from their leadership and guidance, their music and craft.

Here’s a cover or two from Bill, both solo and with his old friend Greg Brown…plus apt tributes from fellow Fast Folkie Lucy Kaplansky, who was all over Falcon Ridge 2011, and Mark Erelli, an inheritor of the dream who grew up at the fest, working his way from the volunteer open mic to his current stature as mainstay of the modern movement. Perhaps next year, we’ll hear more tributes for the man who could wring poignancy from the tiniest moments, making every moment seem like the world. In the meantime, here’s to the folkworld: its numbers may be dwindling, and its edges blurring, but it’s still the place we call home.

3 comments » | Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk

Festival Coverfolk 2011: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, July 22-24

June 26th, 2011 — 01:08 pm

Regular readers know: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is my home away from home, my happy place. An oasis amidst lush green farmland, nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Hillsdale, NY, its four stages, dance tents, camping areas and vast vendor zones rise from the mist each summer to take over the alfalfa fields of Dodd’s Farm, where they serve as much as 15,000 visitors with a cornucopia of music, food, fun and friendship.

This will be our fourteenth year volunteering at Falcon Ridge. In that time, my wife and I, and our friends and campmates, have risen to become Crew Chiefs, appointed caretakers and leaders of the various tasksets and zones which best match our talents. Our little campsite has grown, in size and reputation; the white picket fence which marks its site is well-known, and all who stop by for beer and companionship are welcome to join us at our table.

We have raised our family there, watching each year as the children gain more and more confidence and comfort in the fields, honoring that with the freedoms we give them: to be out of sight and mind for hours upon end, to wander with impunity among the tents and their trusted denizens. We have found a family, too: of fellow fans, and like-minded volunteers, who come each summer to throw their shoulders and hearts to the wheel alongside each other.

And though the world we help create every summer on the third weekend in July is but a temporary one, the community it sustains is eternal, and we in turn are sustained by it, throughout the cold winters, and the darknesses, the hard times and the shared celebrations, the late night facebook sessions which provide the faintest of echoes of the place that we carry in us.

It is my favorite place on earth. To be able to build it up each year is a privilege and an honor. And though the music that brings us together is but a spark, the impetus for the loving community that follows, it is to the music that we turn today – for without that music, there would be no Falcon Ridge.

As with many festivals, Falcon Ridge visitors this year will benefit from a general slump in ticket sales for solo acts across the genre line. Names like Solas, Greg Brown, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, which would ordinarily be out of the price range for a festival beset by weather woes and low ticket sales in past years, appear as headliners alongside mainstage mainstays and fan favorites like Red Molly, Mary Gauthier, and Susan Werner. And two relatively new folk supergroups – Brother Sun and Red Horse – will perform as trios, with the latter combination of John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky, and Eliza Gilkyson holding down the coveted Friday night closing set in the round, even as individual members of both groups will surely also find their way onto the workshop stage.

Indeed, though Falcon Ridge always digs deep to find the right mix of music, this year’s list of performers is truly a masterwork. Some of this, of course, is due to fan influence: the funky, full septet sound of newcomers Spuyten Duyvil – named after the very northern tip of Manhattan Island, where the Harlem River flows into the Hudson – will be but one of four acts brought back by popular demand after last year’s impressive turn-out for the Friday afternoon emerging artists competition; joining them in the rotation will be Chris O’Brien, a solo singer-songwriter whose voice and energy crackle on stage, and fellow winners The Folkadelics and Barnaby Bright, both of whom come highly recommended.

The festival’s reputation for providing music both central to and along the boundaries of folk is well-deserved, and well-represented in the schedule. Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, the east coast quartet who wowed us at this year’s Joe Val Bluegrass festival, will be there to represent the grassy side of folk. Festival faves Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams will once again be present to wow us with their psychedelic folk rock late into the night. And alongside returning acts Seth Glier and Dan Navarro, this year will also see a reunion of folk duo Buskin and Batteau, a well-known and highly influential pair who have been appearing as soloists and sidemen for many years.

Here’s the usual mix of temptation, a preview sampler to whet your whistle, with covers both of and from this year’s featured artists. Listen, and then act now to order your tickets for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. And if you come – when you come – look for us by the white picket fence. You can hear the music from there; you can be the music, too.

As an added bonus: last year’s shift from a 4-day to a 3-day festival may have been a necessary response to finances, but with the hill opening Wednesday, the Falcon Ridge camping area has already developed a reputation among campers as the place to be on Thursday, thanks to several privately-run, coffee-house, artist, and small-label-sponsored stages which pop up along the grassy hilltop. This year’s “highlights on the hill” will include a preview of Chris O’Brien and Spuyten Duyvil’s mainstage sets, regional favorites from across the country, and mainstage acts from Falcon Ridge festivals past and present, including Buskin & Batteau, Anthony da Costa, and We’re About 9, many of whom have graced our house concert series in the past year. Here’s a sample schedule, and some favorite covertracks from the latter trifecta, to entice you to arrive early, too.

59 comments » | Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk

Contest Coverfolk: WIN 2 passes to Falcon Ridge, July 23-25
featuring Dala, Jimmy LaFave, The Brilliant Inventions, and more!

June 6th, 2010 — 10:50 pm

Edit, 6/30: Congrats to Dean Marshall, this year’s randomly-selected FRFF ticket winner! Enjoy the festival, Dean – we’re looking forward to seeing you on site!

Festival season is upon us once again, and though upcoming obligations will keep me from some of my regular haunts this year, it would take an honest-to-goodness apocalypse to keep me from the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, our absolute favorite summerfest, which takes place July 23-25 in the above-pictured hills of Hillsdale, NY, just over the Massachusetts border.

And you can join us too, thanks to the good graces of long-time Festival artistic director Anne Saunders, who has provided us with a pair of all-expenses-paid camping passes to pass along to one of our lucky readers. It’s a $300 value, including three days of music, five days of camping, and contra dancing and hillside tent-shows until the wee hours…and all you have to do to WIN is to leave a comment at the bottom of this entry before the clock strikes midnight on June 20th.

As noted earlier in these virtual pages, Falcon Ridge is slimming down a tad this year, but the lineup remains strong, with a solid mix of old favorites and newcomers, including previously-featured singer-songwriters Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka, and Red Molly, newcomers Chester River Runoff and The Andrew & Noah Band, and festival faves Cheryl Wheeler, We’re About 9, Ellis, Vance Gilbert, Gandalf Murphy, Tracey Grammer, and Nerissa & Katryna Nields. As is our practice, the following offers an introduction to a few as-yet-unfeatured artists; read on for tunes and artist featurettes, and be sure to leave your name and email address in the comments for a chance to join us in the fields come the last weekend in July.

Popfolk girl duo Dala will be making their first appearance at Falcon Ridge this year, quite likely in a headline spot Friday or Saturday night where previous years have featured Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco, and you better believe I’ll be front and center when they hit the stage. Originally scheduled for last year’s festival until a scheduling conflict caused them to cancel at the last minute, these young women, who met in their high school music class and have been best friends ever since, are the real deal: pure, exquisitely mixed alto and soprano, with a delicate hand on the guitars and a sense of poise and presence honed by eight years on the road together.

By all accounts, the Canadian duo is one of the biggest rising stars on the popfolk circuit, one that has been sweeping the major festivals this year, including a mainstage set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, and a gig at the WUMB Boston Music Fest just today. But I’ve been eager to see them live for a few years now, ever since I first heard the pair on 2008 Neil Young tribute Cinnamon Girl, and I’m just as eager to get my hands on their newest project, a live CD/DVD entitled Girls From The North Country, which features the songs of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, and others, performed by Dala and equally undersung Canadian girl groups Oh Susanna and Good Lovelies. If you like soaring and sweet two-girl harmonies – and who doesn’t, really – then let this act be the tipping point that gets you on the road this summer.

I keep meaning to come back to Jimmy LaFave here on Cover Lay Down: I’ve seen the almost painfully broken-voiced Texan multiple times on the circuit, and whether he’s channeling hope or despair, his honest, soulful delivery never fails to drill deep into my psyche. The red dirt roots-rocker and soulful balladeer will be all over this year’s festival, appearing mainstage alongside Gilkyson, Gorka, and Cheryl Wheeler as part of the annual Friday Evening Song Swap, tearing up a solo set, and attending at least one workshop stage collaboration, and I couldn’t be happier: the man covers Dylan better than anyone, really, and I can think of no finer way to help you see it than to offer this mini-set, collated from his long and fruitful career.

Last, but certainly not least: Falcon Ridge is notoriously tardy about releasing their full schedule, but after 22 years, it’s a given that Friday afternoon on the ‘ridge will be given over to the Emerging Artists Showcase, where new acts compete for a chance at a mainstage gig the following year. Past winners include some incredible artists, from Meg Hutchinson to Red Molly, but last year’s fan-selected showcase winners are an unusually strong, talented, and diverse group; having been blown away by all three at this year’s preview tour, I’m proud to recommend their work to all.

Chuck E Costa‘s uplifting singer-songwriter folk is utterly gorgeous, as is his delicate voice; the below Mark Erelli cover is a solid choice for him, but truly, in person, sans production, his songs go straight to the heart. Local up-and-comers Swing Caravan deconstruct, craft and cover lighthearted, stunningly talented acoustic swingjazz, and their in-the-aisles performance at last year’s festival was one of my personal highlights. Hilarious harmonizing duo The Brilliant Inventions write bold-yet-tender indiepop songs that sound like a cross between the Weepies, Guster, Ben Folds, and Fountains of Wayne, and I’ve been absolutely blown away by their beautifully produced debut Have You Changed; the live cover below speaks well of their stage presence, but doesn’t begin to do justice to their real live sound, so I’ve broken ranks to include an original title track today. Listen, then come out and see for yourself why I’m utterly in love with this year’s showcase winners.

  • The Brilliant Inventions: Man In The Mirror (orig. Michael Jackson)

Of course, these songs and artists are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Among other artists previously on Cover Lay Down, and appearing at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival:

Like what you hear? Want in? Leave a comment below with your name and email address to enter to win a pair of full-fest camping passes for this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival!

1,303 comments » | CONTESTS, Dala, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk, Jimmy LaFave

Pre-Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, July 23-25
featuring live tracks from Falcon Ridge Folk Fests gone by!

May 23rd, 2010 — 10:02 am

Running a music festival in this economy is a real challenge, but after a weekend with friends and co-coordinators of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, I’m proud to announce that once again we’re rarin’ to go for yet another wild weekend of singer-songwriter, folk rock, world music, and folk-pop. Add in the proverbial mix of friends, vendors, kid-friendly fare, hilltop up-and-comers in the label and coffeehouse-sponsored tents all night long, and dancing ’til the wee hours, and as always, Falcon Ridge 2010 is shaping up to be the best time I’m planning on having all summer.

Sure, there’s a few changes in the works. Most notably, after a few years trying to sustain a four-day fest, the festival will be returning to a three-day format, Friday through Sunday – though camping will continue to open on Wednesday afternoon, which should lead to a nice mellow day of pickin’ and grinnin’ before the bands kick in. But this year’s lineup promises a strong mix of familiar faces and new bands, from Cheryl Wheeler, Tracy Grammer, John Gorka and Jimmy LaFave to Red Molly, Dala, Ellis, and Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams – who I am assured will close either Friday or Saturday night with a slammin’ set in the dance stage.

As with every year, the Festival will also feature the winners of last year’s Emerging Artist Showcase, and I’m thrilled to announce that, once again, the fans and judges have chosen a delightful cross-section of bands and solo artists. To cap off our own planning weekend, showcase winners The Brilliant Inventions, Swing Caravan and chuck e costa will play a house concert for us this afternoon, and having heard the latter two artists in the aisles last year, I’m very much looking forward to hearing them without all the noise from the passing crowd. And though I’m running too close to deadline to wait to post, you can be sure if they’ve got any strong covers under their guitar straps, you’ll be reading and hearing more about them as the festival grows closer.

We’ll have a pair of three-day camping tickets to give away in early June – a $300 value, just for playing along – along with some favorite studio tracks from this year’s performers for all comers, so check out the full schedule, and start shuffling your schedule now to make sure you’re free to join us in Hillsdale, NY, July 23rd-25th. in the meanwhile, here’s a set of live tracks from Falcon Ridge Folk Festivals gone by to tempt you towards making the pilgrimage.

live from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, 2003

live from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, 2005

live from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, 2007

live from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, 2008

live from Falcon Ridge Folk Festival 2009

Like what you hear? Check out the full lineup, and then pick up your Falcon Ridge Folk Festival tickets here…or wait a week or two for your chance to win two full-fest camping passes worth $300. And don’t forget: if you love live festival coverfolk, you can get our exclusive Summer ’09 17-song bootleg sampler by donating to Cover Lay Down.

1,155 comments » | Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, July 24-27 (The Nields, Patty Larkin, Martin Sexton, David Massengill)

June 18th, 2008 — 12:21 pm

Gas isn’t getting any cheaper, so now that you’re back from the confusingly-named fields and stages of Bonnaroo, where Ben Folds retired his lush, hushed cover of Bitches Ain’t Shit (see Fong Songs for a great live-from-Bonnaroo recording), it’s time to start looking at a few festivals closer to home. For us, this means our own stomping grounds, here in the American Northeast. And for my money, there’s no better festival around than the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, a four-day, four-stage extravaganza of music, dancing, and live music that takes place in Hillsdale, NY, on the last weekend in July.

Falcon Ridge tickets won’t sell out for a while, but if you’re like me, you’re going to need some time to air out the camper and clear the calendar. Without further ado, then, here’s a short feature on the festival itself, followed by some sweet covers from a few artists not to be missed.

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival isn’t the biggest Northeast music festival, not by a long shot. The Falcon Ridge camping population hovers far under ten thousand; on a good year, total festival attendance doesn’t rise much past fifteen thou. To me, this is a bonus. Where the bigger New England folk festivals such as Philly and Newport are often too crowded for me, Falcon Ridge is intimate, as festivals go, with a community feel that’s rare for a major festival.

This intimacy is as much a product of design and business model as it is a function of size. The place is entirely volunteer run, which means about a tenth of the people there have more than just a visitor’s stake in the place; the mood that results is relaxed and full of cheerfully shared ownership. There’s a Family stage and a Dance tent, in addition to Mainstage and Workshop stages, plus the usual and plentiful booths and services that make any good festival a full-body experience; these spaces interact effectively, with room to move, and no sound spill from one stage to the next. The camping areas nestle right up against the grassy mainstage amphitheater; after hours, small-label and indie artist performances continue in privately owned tents up on the hill until dawn, where you can see mainstage artists in a makeshift coffeehouse setting.

Falcon Ridge is perfect for cover lovers, too. The best set at the festival is the annual two-hour tribute show, where as many as ten different artists and groups cram onto the workshop stage to perform the songs of a single artist in an in-the-round format; in years past, I’ve seen Beatles tributes, Dylan songs, and Guthrie tunes here, but no matter the tribute subject, the performers always have a great and infectious time. In fact, though the mainstage is plenty impressive, I spend the lion’s share of my music-watching time at this small second stage, which features intimate performances from mainstage-caliber artists throughout the daylight hours — most often in small groupings, which providing a rare opportunity to see two or three of your favorite folk artists play for, and with, each other.

Falcon Ridge celebrates their 20th anniversary this year, and to make it special, they’ve come up with a full set of festival favorites that span a broad definition of folk, from old-school folkies Janis Ian and Jack Hardy to up-and-comers Joe Crookston (heard recently on Songs:Illinois) and singer-songwriter-cellist Lindsay Mac (who does an amazing version of Bill Withers tune Use Me). Other crowdpleasers include a plethora of contradance bands, and the ever-popular folkrock bands Eddie from Ohio, Railroad Earth, The Strangelings, Lowen and Navarro, and Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams.

The core of the festival performance is singer-songwriter folk, of course, and this year’s roster is impressive. Regular visitors to Cover Lay Down will find it familiar, too; we’ve previously featured a great many performers from this year’s Falcon Ridge 20th anniversary extravaganza, including John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson, Lori McKenna, Chris Smither, Dar Williams, and folk trio Red Molly, who first came together on-site. (Note: In order to tempt you into joining me on-site this year, archives for all these performers will remain open until the festival has passed us by.)

But such artists are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; the Falcon Ridge roster is rich with talent. Later this week, in honor of their new album’s June 24th official release date, I’ll have two *exclusive* label-approved tracks from appalachian folkgrass quintet Crooked Still, who will appear at Falcon Ridge on Thursday this year. Today, we feature the coversongs of a few other great and often undersung performers who will grace the stage at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest.

Though the songwriting talents of both male and female folksingers are increasingly touted with equal merit, for some reason, as a default mode of analysis, the folkworld tends to celebrate male musicians for their stringwork, while female singer-songwriters are known for their voice. Boston-based folk artist Patty Larkin has spent her career trying to challenge that curious bias, both as a solo artist and as a member of the short-lived quartet Four Bitchin’ Babes, and she’s got the chops to prove it: Larkin trained in Jazz guitar at the Berkeley College of Music, and her fretwork and picking style has been praised by many throughout her quarter-century of performance.

But Larkin’s no one trick pony, either. Her songwriting is witty and wise, and she’s got a perfect note of longing in her voice that can melt the coldest heart. Though she’s drifted a bit label-wise, most recently landing at Vanguard, in the right production environment, her talents shine like a beacon. These two covers provide the perfect setting for this rare folk trifecta.

My father took me to see appalachian dulcimer player and storyteller David Massengill way back in the eighties, at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA; it was one of my earliest experiences with folk, and it was, truly, a revelation. Massengill is best known in the folkworld for his role in starting the Greenwich Village cooperative which spawned the Fast Folk scene that revived folk music in the seventies and eighties; he hasn’t been terribly prolific over his long career, but he is an amazing performer and songwriter in his own right, a culture vulture with a wry critical eye and a warm voice, full of humor and poignancy about everything from gritty urban immigrant life to vivid, fanciful dreamscapes in which tourists visit the New York sewers, Jesus escapes from a mental hospital, and history’s greatest villains gather for a dinner party.

David Massengill will be performing at Falcon Ridge as part of a duo with fellow Fast Folk granddaddy Jack Hardy; here’s two covers from him, plus Cover Lay Down fave Lucy Kaplansky doing a great rendition of one of his best.

I recently discovered that Martin Sexton lives right around the corner from my sister-in-law, which makes sense only if you assume that such miraculous bluesfolk and that perfect mellow weight-of-years voice are best honed in the middle of absolute nowhere, Massachusetts. Sexton started off in the early nineties as a Bostonian busker, where he sold 20,000 copies of his demo out of his guitar case, but despite being named artist of the year by the National Academy of Songwriters way back in 1994, and, more recently, having one of his songs featured on Scrubs, this incredible songwriter and guitarist with the multi-octave jazz-infused vocal style remains just under the radar.

Though my favorite tunes from him are light and airy as a Leo Kottke tune, despite his rural residence, Sexton can play it up funky and fast, too, with a catchy urban sensibility that’s off the charts. And he’s just incredible live. While we wait for his next album to go platinum, here’s both sides of Martin: a delicate live version of Amazing Grace worthy of Jeff Buckley’s dreamiest, and a bass-heavy high-production take on Billy Preston’s infamous Will It Go Round In Circles. Plus a great Christmas tune, just for the hell of it.

It took me a while to get into the nasal, warbly, oddly Nordic vocal harmonies of local authors, folk teachers, and singer-songwriter duo Nerissa and Katryna Nields. But most people who like their unique sound really like their sound, and I can see why: the sisters, who first began playing Falcon Ridge years ago as part of folk rock group The Nields, write surprisingly poignant, deeply intelligent tunes about the weirdest subjects, and perform them with bouncy spunk and aplomb and a surprising tenderness. Plus, there’s something about any sibling pair singing harmony that just melds perfectly. Here’s a cover of and a cover by the Nields, the better to showcase both their songwriting and their performance. PS: Don’t miss their kid’s stage set.

Want in? Tickets for Falcon Ridge are available through the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival website; if you’re camping, act soon, because four day camping passes invariably sell out a few weeks before the gates open. If you’d like to attend totally free, come volunteer* — we’re always looking for a few more folks willing to help out! A few hours of generally enjoyable teamwork each day gets you free music, free food throughout the festival, access to great camping spots, and that feeling that comes from being a part of something wonderful. Contact Volunteer Coordinator Barbara Jesse for more.

*Full Disclosure: I’m Teen Crew Chief at Falcon Ridge, in charge of our “officer’s candidate school for future volunteers.” If you see a guy with a walkie-talkie leading a bunch of kids in matching shirts around the festival grounds, come on over and say hi — I’d love to meet you!

Today’s bonus coversongs are a bit ragged, but I couldn’t resist: they were recorded in 2005 at the annual Sunday morning Falcon Ridge Gospel Wake-up Call — another of my favorite Falcon Ridge traditions — and everyone who is singing here will be at this year’s festival, as well. Add a warm and sunny summer morning, a great spot on the hill, and that feeling of community that can only come from having woken up in a field full of cool people you love, and you’re practically there.

1,181 comments » | cry cry cry, David Massengill, Eddie From Ohio, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Festival Coverfolk, Lucy Kaplansky, Martin Sexton, Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Patty Larkin