A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Folk Music Roundup

I’m pleased to see this new “Great Folks” blog, and happy to be a contributor.  When we started discussing the idea, one goal was to offer fans of the Great Lakes Folk Festival a year-round source of information about the same traditional music artists and genres that are featured at the GLFF.  So my “beat” is to round up news about recent recordings, upcoming concerts, awards, obituaries, and other items about past GLFF performers (and others like them). 

This won’t be a comprehensive listing of folk music news – for that, I suggest reading Sing Out! magazine – but I hope you’ll find my periodic columns helpful in seeking out more of this wonderful music, in person or on CDs, in between GLFFs.


Here are some of the recent albums I’ve been enjoying lately:

Detour (GLFF 2008 & 2011), A Better Place (BlueGrass Ahead) -- I’ve been impressed with Michigan’s own bluegrass band Detour since they started, but was really blown away by their sets at the 2011 GLFF with their new singer, Missy Armstrong.  Most bluegrass bands are good instrumentalists, and some have great singers, but I’m often disappointed by their songwriting.  Not so with Detour, whose mandolin player, Jeff Rose, supplies much of their repertoire with his top-notch original songs.  The band recently released their third CD, with many of the numbers they featured at the last GLFF, and it’s one of the best bluegrass albums I’ve heard in a long time.

Tim Eriksen, Banjo, Fiddle and Voice (self-released) – Tim is not a traditional folksinger by upbringing, but he has absorbed the true spirit of traditional music more profoundly than almost anybody else I’ve heard.  This is a stark, powerful record of Tim’s singing and playing, with some of the songs and tunes he performed at his breathtaking April 2011 concert at the Ten Pound Fiddle.  Available via his website, www.timeriksenmusic.com along with some other self-released discs.

Various artists, The Descendants (Sony Classical) – Alexander Payne’s 2011 movie won acclaim for George Clooney’s Oscar-nominated performance, but for me one of the highlights was the gorgeous soundtrack of traditional Hawaiian music, most of it on slack-key guitar but with some ukulele too, played by legendary greats like Gabby Pahinui, Keola Beamer, Ray Kane, and Sol Hoopii.

Other notable 2012 releases include::

Le Vent Du Nord (GLFF 2004), Tromper le Temps (Borealis) – More lively tunes and French-Canadian songs from this wonderful Quebecois band.

Carolina Chocolate Drops (GLFF 2007), Leaving Eden (Nonesuch) – I haven’t heard the band’s newest release yet, but it’s gotten great reviews.  They’ve had some changes to their line-up and have expanded their sound in some ways, but they’re still rooted in African-American string band music.

Various artists, Foggy Mountain Special: A Bluegrass Tribute to Earl Scruggs (Rounder) – A dozen top banjo players play tunes composed by, or popularized by, the late Earl Scruggs. 

Lonesome Sisters, Deep Water (Tin Halo) – When Ginny Hawker & Tracy Schwarz appeared at the 2003 GLFF, they were accompanied on guitar and harmonies by Debra Clifford.  Debra is in a duo with Ginny’s niece, Sarah Hawker, as the Lonesome Sisters, and they’ve put out a new CD of six original songs (which sound old) plus a few traditional ones.  They’re also working on a collaboration with Riley Baugus for release later this year, and I can’t wait for that.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (GLFF 2010), Sing Me a Song About Jesus (Mountain Home) – Nobody sings bluegrass gospel better than Doyle and his band.


Doc Watson passed away on May 29, 2012, and I’ve posted a separate tribute to him.  It’s been a rough year, since on March 28 we lost Earl Scruggs, who defined the sound of bluegrass banjo as a member of Bill Monroe’s band in the late Forties, then in a duo with guitarist and singer Lester Flatt.

Another important bluegrass banjo player, Doug Dillard died on May 16.  With his brother Rodney, Doug founded the Dillards, a progressive bluegrass band, in the early Sixties.

Boston-based guitar and mandolin player John McGann died on April 6.  John was on the faculty at the Berklee College of Music.  He was a stunningly versatile player, ranging with ease from Irish to bluegrass to jazz.  Among countless gigs and recordings, John accompanied the Celtic Fiddle Festival (Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaître) when the MSU Museum brought their tour to Fairchild Theatre in November 1992.  One of the tracks on the CFF’s first album was recorded at that concert.


The 11th Great Lakes Folk Festival is coming up on August 10-12, in downtown East Lansing!  Pat Power has once again booked a wonderful lineup of traditional musicians, and you can find all the details on the website: www.greatlakesfolkfest.net

You can catch some previous GLFF (and National Folk Festival) performers at other mid-Michigan venues, including:

The Ark in Ann Arbor (www.theark.org):
Friday July 6 – Detour (GLFF 2008 & 2011)
Friday August 31 – Bill Kirchen (NFF 1999)
Monday September 24 – BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet (NFF 2000)

The Ten Pound Fiddle in East Lansing (www.tenpoundfiddle.org):
Friday February 22, 2013 -- Liz Carroll (GLFF 2002)
The Fiddle’s tentative 2012-13 schedule also includes one of the greatest old-time fiddle and banjo players, Bruce Molsky; tributes to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger; Sparky & Rhonda Rucker; the Mid-Winter Singing Festival; and several of my favorite singer-songwriters: Lou & Peter Berryman, Cheryl Wheeler, Bill Staines, and Tom Paxton!  I’ll give more details in future columns.

The Saline Celtic Festival returns to Millpond Park in Saline, MI, on July 13-14.  The line-up includes Eileen Ivers (NFF 1999) & her band Immigrant Soul, among many others.  Info at www.salineceltic.org