Falcon Ridge festival redefines folk
by Seth Rogovoy

(HILLSDALE, N.Y., July 29, 2001) - You could easily have wandered onto the grounds of the Long Hill Farm on Sunday afternoon and thought you were at anything but a folk festival. Sure, it was clear that some sort of musical event was occurring and that thousands of people were enjoying it on a picture-perfect day.

But maybe you arrived while Texan Jimmy LaFave was on the main stage with his band playing what easily could have passed for some Chuck Berry- or Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired rock ‘n’ roll. Or maybe you wandered onto the grounds while Susan Werner was singing some of her Broadway-styled cabaret-pop while accompanying herself on electric keyboards. Maybe the first sounds you heard were the Nields and performing a wild version of the B-52s’ dance hit “Love Shack” backed by a couple of go-go dancers who in real life are better known as singer-songwriters Lucy Kaplansky and Maura Kennedy, or Erin McKeown delivering a masterful, solo rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “You Mustn’t Kick It Around,” or some of Entrain’s relentlessly-percussive jam-rock.

This was a folk festival?

Indeed it was, and if a four-hour stretch on Sunday was any indication of what the music over the course of the three-day event was like - and there is no reason to believe the rest of the weekend’s sounds were any less eclectic - then it’s time for the term “folk” to be revisited, redefined, or maybe retired.

Just about the only kind of music you wouldn’t have heard at Falcon Ridge was some of the more hostile, aggressive, violent genres of contemporary rock music. You would have heard some jazz, in some of the more improvisational moments when Erin McKeown duetted with Australian guitarist Jeff Lang, or when Susan Werner used her deep, rich alto to deliver her tune, “Maybe If I Sang Cole Porter,” written in the style of Porter and sung with as much jazz panache as anything by Diana Krall.

You would have heard country in a gorgeous, twangy duet by Lucy Kaplansky and John Gorka, recreating the classic sounds of the Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris harmonies on “Grievous Angel,” and vintage bluegrass performed on banjo by Bryon McMurry of Acoustic Syndicate. You would have heard a gorgeous Appalachian air by fiddler Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth, followed by some Irish dance tunes by Tom Landa and Shannon Shaunders of the Paperboys.

Some of Joe Giacoico’s instrumentals on his harp-guitar would have certainly reminded you of classical music, and if it didn’t then Carbone’s version of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” certainly would have if you knew Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo,” which was inspired by the old-time melody.

You might have caught Kevin So’s contemporary version of Gil Scott-Heron’s funk poetry, or Jeff Lang’s bluesy, anti-gun rap song, “Too Easy to Kill,” or Deirdre Flint’s comic novelty about the life of the modern single woman. You might have heard Jimmy LaFave’s soulful, gospel-infused version of Bob Dylan’s “Emotionally Yours,” or Susan Werner’s gospel-infused “Tall Drink of Water,” with its echoes of Ray Charles and Georgia on its mind.

If you listened very closely, you would have heard that some of Jimmy LaFave’s rock ‘n’ roll was actually Woody Guthrie dressed up in Chuck Berry clothing, and that Mark Erelli’s soulful balladry was actually a rendition of a John Hiatt tune. You might have caught some Dan Fogleberg or David Wilcox influence on up-and-coming singer-songwriter Chris Williams, or marveled at Beth Amsel, whose performance on a workshop stage was like seeing a young Dar Williams except one with a better, richer voice. Some of Susan Werner’s punchier guitar songs harkened back to the Joni Mitchell school, perhaps by way of Shawn Colvin and Patty Larkin, but her new song, “Big Big Car,” displayed a trenchant wit all its own with couplets like “Size is righteous/Size is good” and “Almighty is how it feels/Driving a one-storey building on wheels.”

And all that was just in a four-hour stretch on Sunday. Other performers who were scheduled to perform throughout the weekend included Gillian Welch, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Vance Gilbert, Jian Ghomeshi of Moxy Fruvous, Dar Williams, Eddie From Ohio, Kevin Welch and numerous dance bands.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Aug. 1, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]

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