Saturday morning, I woke up sweating and switched on the radio to the sound of the Mayor cautioning people to stay indoors till 9pm, Sunday. The heat advisory, collided precisely with the Big City Folk Festival. Well, why start listening to City Hall now?
It was already really hot. I hoped anybody would show up.
With all of this in mind the weekend was a great success. We had great crowds and performances I want to say a huge thank you to E.W. Harris for running the sound for two days outdoors, in this unbearable heat. 23 acts. ( 23 instead of 24 as Jim from Kansas, somewhat ironically, getting stuck in Bethel, NY.) All of the acts were great and it was what I hoped it would be. Two days of hanging out with friends celebrating, community and music.
Valdaniel Martins kicked things off at 1pm on Saturday with a set that included, guitar loops, trumpet and even tin -whistle. Valdaniel is a great supporter of the scene so much so, that he had no problem with being asked to go first, as he was so excited to see the other performers play. Next up was Pittsburgh’s Paul Tabachneck. I know Paul for years. In fact he played the original Big City Folk event, before it had a name, Wednesday Night Song Club at Mr. Dennehy’s on Carmine St. I know him so long that I probably could almost forgive him for facetiming during his performance. Alright, alright, owing to the very recent birth or his first daughter, alright, okay, I will forgive it. I won’t mention it all. All jokes aside Paul had very graciously agreed to switch his Sunday slot to Saturday and ducked out of work to do the gig. That background does make it much easier to understand why he might be keeping an eye on his phone. Paul clocked in a great set before dashing back to work. Hopefully nobody there is reading this.
Ryan Morgan‘s performance was intensified by our awareness that he is leaving for Honduras next Saturday. He included Casey Black’s ‘Big Ideas’, it being Casey’s birthday, and Elton John’s ‘Mona Lisas and Mat Hatters alongside his own stuff. Ryan is a great writer, singer, raconteur and friend. I will miss having him around. “I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you”.
Lanusa is an intricate guitar player with great vocal melodies. A real sonic breath of fresh air on a humid afternoon. She was followed by Belfast born, Boston based, Colin Campbell. Colin was one of first people I met in NYC. It was my first time hearing him do a set since he moved to Boston. He finished his set with an exquisite version of the Amazing Pilots’ ‘Distracted Kid’. “You wouldn’t believe it, the friends that I have made since I’ve been laid low”. I said to Colin afterwards, that song really hit me in the spine, I was just imagining music as the illness, and the friends we have made through it!
I have seen Adam Cohen of the Morning Sea perform solo many times, but Saturday was my first time seeing him with the band. They were great and brought some needed energy to the day. By this point I was on my 20th pint of water. Dolphins Don’t Love is Don Paris Schlotman ( Sky Captain’s of Industry) latest project. It was my first time seeing them as three piece with Danny Cambo on keys and Phil Harris on drums. Their FB page says they make “textual rock noises” and whilst I am not sure what that means, I wouldn’t disagree. I’ve always enjoyed Don’s lyrics too.
Sterling Rhyne has an incredible voice which she accompanies with sparse, precise, finger picked guitar playing. Everyone in the courtyard was extremely quiet and respectful during her set. She was great.
Up next was the Travelers. The Travelers have a weekly Friday night residency at the Confession Box and these guys have been known to play for up to 9 hours there! Within the allocated 30 minutes, they brought some feel good harmonies and grooves to the courtyard.
Maude Gun are a world unto themselves. Go see them. Their often chant-like songs invite you to believe in the cult of Maude. Many a listeners was willingly lead in. O.M.M.
E.W. Harris ( Sky Captains of Industry) took a break from the sound desk to sing a set of his own songs. He was later accompanied by his brother Phil ( who also played with the Travelers and Dolphin’s Don’t Love) and Mathew Cranstoun. E.W. Has a great voice and boundless imagination. Singers are often described as other worldly, both E.W.’s writing and singing could be described as such. E.W. will be opening for me in Cork city next month. He has a new limited edition album coming out to coincide with his European tour.
We played after E.W. Harris. Warren Malone joined us on guitar for the first time in ages. It was so hot and sweaty that I had serious difficulty keeping my glasses on and I think partially owing to the heat, I started most songs far faster than they are on record.
When I got home Saturday night, I felt nauseous from the heat. I worried that I might not be able to do the next day. I drank an electrolyte that my brother out-law ( My sister’s boyfriend, an emergency nurse) left at our place years ago, and took a cold shower. I had an interrupted sleep. Having drank about 30 pints of water, I was “fulla pish!”
Still, Sunday morning showed up, and I did feel infinitely better than I had the night before. I drove over to E.W. And picked him and drove together to Long Island City again. I hardly ever drive in the boroughs. Until now most of my driving has upstate or getting in and out of the city. You see the city differently from a car. I apologised to E.W. for stopping abruptly at an orange light, “Doesn’t matter, yesterday you sped up for each of them.” A pretty good metaphor for my state of mind on Sunday compared to Saturday. Saturday, I had been feeling stressed, hoping everything would go smoothly and people would show up. Saturday went so well, that I went into Sunday far more relaxed.
It was still a roasting hot day. I remained utterly relaxed despite Jim from Kansas’s no- show. This was very unlike Jim, so I was a little worried about him. I also knew that he was playing at Bethel, at some Woodstock commemorative event the night before. I suspected that might be an easy place to get stuck.
I was right, he has missed his lift out of there. He might still be stuck? ( Hope to see you in Woodstock Saturday Jim!)
First up instead was Imran Ahmed. Imran has a cool, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed feel to his songs and he had a load of fans and friends show up early to support him. An unusually chatty Chris Michael began his set with a cover of ‘Slip Sliding Away’ and also featured a gorgeous rendition of Nancy Griffin’s ‘Trouble in the Fields’. Chris debut album, ‘Elvis and Marlon Brando Scream Love and Peace Into the Darkness’, comes out in September. A firm favorite on our scene, this is probably the most eagerly awaited album of the year for many of us.
C- kay and the Professor came up next. Ryan Morgan summed it up best, “All her songs sound like they are radio hits, she should be writing for Rihanna.” C- Kay used to work at the Path Cafe and it was great to see and hear herself and Eric ( the Professor) again.
Warren Malone. Anyone, who has even passively been following my music for the last few years will likely have heard Warren’s music by now. He is such a good singer that sometimes, the singing over shadows his guitar playing and writing. Warren did a really great set, and I found myself again, noticing that he is also a guitar player. I was amused when he invited E.W. To sing harmonies with him. As E.W. had asked me a few days earlier, from a sound perspective, to make sure that any surprise guests were not a surprise to him. He finished with a great version of ‘In My Time of Dying”.
Richard McGraw. I was surprised to see Richard arrive with an electric guitar and a case of pedals. Having only seen him play acoustic. I met Richard at the Sidewalk Cafe open mic during my first summer here, over 10 years ago. He sang a song called, ‘Natasha in High School’ that night, and I have been a fan ever since. Rich did super mellow for Rich set, stripping off his shirt half way through it, he finished with Cohen’s Hallelujah. I love Leonard Cohen. Most of the time I would say he is my favourite songwriter. However, I am sick to death of people covering Hallelujah. ( Probably because I hosted and open mic for years.) That said, Rich’s version was fresh and weird in a great way.
Lara Ewen curates the Folk Art Museum Free Music Fridays. I have performed there many times and she and I have been friends and fans of each other for years. I was delighted to hear her include a new song in her set as she frequently feels the need to apologise for not having new material. Lara is one of those people who makes things happen. As such I knew she would also be a good candidate to go around with the tip jar. No pocket was left unturned.
A little earlier, I overheard Jasper’s mother whisper to him, “You better play some happy songs”. To be fair, after the trifecta of sorrowful mysteries, Warren, Rich and Lara back to back, we were fairly deep in the misery at this point of the day. Jasper Lewis was in quirky chatty form. He began with “High Strung Poets” from his album, ‘The King Of Ideas and The Weirdo Kid’ and had the crowd singing along to many of his songs. If your reading this Jasper, you also forgot your harmonica and CDs. I have those and will release them to you for a reasonable ransom.
Jo Kroger and taken a 4am flight from, I think she said, Indiana, to be back in time for the Big City Folk Festival. You wouldn’t know it from her set. A consistently popular performer she did great.
St. Lenox was up next. Previously I have only seen St. Lenox perform solo with prerecorded tracks from phone or ipad. For the festival he was joined by a drummer and guitar player. St. Lenox ( Andrew Choi) is one of my favorite lyric writers. His writing frequently, surprises me. Which is of course, a compliment.
When I was in school I was a huge fan of Irish band Rollerskate Skinny. Their song ‘Speed to My Side”, still pops into my head about once a week. I met their singer Kenneth Griffin last year. He told me I had voice like a mountain, after sharing some songs with him and Declan O’Rourke and Those Sensible Shoes in the Scratcher one night. In light of my love for Rollerskate Skinny and August Wells, that remains my favourite compliment of the past few years. I digress, what is this a review of a f’n memoir?
August Wells comprises Ken on guitar and voice and John Rauchenberger on piano. It was so hot at this point, but they had the audience in the palm of their hands and not for the first time this weekend, I felt both proud and privileged to be there. They have a new album coming out in September too, ‘Madness is a Mercy’ ( FIFA records).
Youth In A Roman Field
Youth In A Roman Field have played Path, and Big City Folk nights at Vivaldi in the past. Fronted by Claire Wellin ( who some may recognise from the play, ‘Once’ ). Their website describes them as a “bastardized string quartet” and that’s as good a description as I can offer. Energetic, fun, indie, folk, pop. They brought a great crowd, energy and musicianship. I even say a guy on the neighbour’s apartment roof bopping along.
Again, thanks to E.W. , The LIC Bar, all the musicians and everyone who showed up.
Thanks Anthony Mulcahy/ Mulography for the great photographs.
Next Big City Folk Events?
Thursdays at Confession Box August 18th featuring Phil Harris, August 25th featuring Jo Kroger.
Safe Haven Songs at the Irish Haven last Tuesdays of the month
Big City Folk Song Club at Vivaldi returns last Wednesdays of month from September.