By Brenda Hillegas
Well, we’re clearly drilling into your head the importance of the Philly folk festival – we devoted the entire issue to it! If you still aren’t convinced, meet the artists performing throughout the weekend. Trust us, what you’re about to read should get you pumped. Grab a highlighter and make note of who you want to see, then tear these pages out and take them with you.
A.A. Bondy: A folk/alternative artist from Birmingham, Alabama. His debut album was produced in a barn near his house in upstate New York. He played Bonnaroo last year and one of his songs, “Killed Myself When I Was Young,” was featured on the TV series (and soundtrack for) Friday Night Lights.
Amelia Curran: A singer/songwriter currently living in Nova Scotia. Her 2006 album, War Brides, was nominated for two East Coast Music Awards (Folk Recording of the Year and Female Solo Recording of the Year). She won a 2010 Juno award in the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year category. Curran is also a playwright and actor whose plays have appeared in various fringe festivals.
Annie and the Beekepers: Formed in Boston and inspired by New England’s winters. The band is now living in Brookyln (natch). Their songs consist of bass (double bass, actually), cello, acoustic and electric guitar, banjo and viola…just to name a few. They have some time off after the Folk Fest and then they’ll be headed to the UK in the fall.
Blame Sally: Four female singer-songwriters from San Francisco who have been recording together for the past decade. They stand out as solo artists who seem to be collaborating on their many albums. Their new live CD was released in July. Their website lists all the possible “theories” on how these four girls met. They name drop a lot of important artists…we hope one of the theories is valid!
Bonnie “Prince” Billy & the Cairo Gang: Billy was born in Louisville, KY and has been known to sing Americana, folk, roots, country, punk and indie rock. He’s had various film roles over the last twenty years and has also dabbled in photography (he shot the cover of Slint’s 1991 album Spiderland). On his latest album, he collaborates with the Cairo Gang, who channel 1970s Britain and folk/indie rock.
Butch Ross: He swears his traditional tunes don’t sound too traditional. The dulcimer is his weapon of choice – a fretted string instrument that’s plucked. Thanks to the device, he received a full ride scholarship for a grad degree in folk studies and has been able to tour all over the world performing. He resides in Chattanooga.
Chris Smither & the Motivators: Last year, Smither recorded his 11th studio album, which was inspired by a trip to the Netherlands. He’s also inspired mostly by the blues and folk music, modern poets and philosophers. He made his first appearance at the Philly Folk Fest in 1969.
Erin McKeown: Multi-instrumentalist and folk rock singer/writer. She released the first of her eight albums on her own label. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been cited as an influence on her music, which consists of pop, swing, folk, rock and electronic sounds. McKeown spends a lot of time touring with artists such as the Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Josh Ritter and Andrew Bird.
Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams: They’re sometimes described as the hillbilly Pink Floyd. Each year they hold a Hillbilly Pirate Ball. Lead vocalist Joziah Longo was raised in Philadelphia and a number of the band’s songs are influenced by the city. Their tune, Alice in Space, is often considered a Mummers song.
Giving Tree Band: Formed by two brothers whose bloodline connects them to the Spanish conquistador who discovered the Mississippi river! Their admiration for nature shows in their music. The Fink brothers also have a penchant for adventure and it’s no surprise to hear about Benjamin Franklin or Jesse and the James Gang in their lyrics.
Iain Matthews: With a mix of rock and roll and folk, Matthews has performed since the 1960s as a solo artist and the front man for five bands. He grew up in England and played with several minor bands during the Brit-pop music invasion. Also in the 60s, Matthews was recruited to be the male vocalist of Fairport Convention, a band that still records today and is widely regarded as the most important group in the English folk rock movement.
Jah Levi & The Higher Reasoning: Classified as roots, reggae, and a jam band. They are a musical expression of love and humanity. Jah Levi is the son of a record producer and world renown folklorist. Levi (who has performed with Ziggy Marley, Bob Dylan, and Peter Gabriel to name a few) and his band are versatile enough to perform all genres of music at a moment’s notice.
Jeff Tweedy: He’s the leader of Wilco and received two Grammy awards with the band. As a solo artist, Tweedy plays acoustic music and his vocal style has been compared to Neil Young. His first exposure to music was through gramophone records that his siblings left behind when they went to college.
Justin Rutledge: A Toronto-based alt-country singer and songwriter. He has toured the US and Europe with artists like Kathleen Edwards, Blue Rodeo and Dolly Parton. In college, he studied English literature and modern poetry, even becoming the editor-in-chief to a University of Toronto journal. Music overpowered, though, and Rutledge released his forth album earlier this spring.
Lee Harvey Osmond: A band formed by guitarist and vocalist Tom Wilson of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, with a few members of Cowboy Junkies and Skydiggers. Their sound is woodsy and channels the likes of The Band and Lou Reed. The group performed over 75 shows in the US, Canada and France last year.
Malinky: A Scottish folk band which formed twelve years ago. With many similar bands on the scene when Malinky debuted, the stood out due to their concentration on traditional Scottish songs. Along with the fiddle, cello, and guitar, this group adds a cittern and bouzouki to the mix. They’ve been called one of the greatest traditional Scottish bands and are constantly touring across the globe.
Marc Silver & the Stonethrowers: Bluegrass music straight from Philadelphia. The band is new to the scene, forming around three years ago. Since then, though, they’ve opened for many national acts including Bela Fleck, Chuck Prophet and Moe. As a group, they have a traditional song style, which includes Appalachian fiddle, jazz and folk.
Mickey Clark & the Blue Norther: Born in Kentucky and set up in Nashville, Mickey Clark has done shows with Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffet, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles. In 1974, Bob Dylan even praised him in a Rolling Stone interview. After hiatus, Clark started to perform again in 2004.
Mike Cross: Although he never received mainstream success, Cross has a strong fan following at his many performances across the United States. He’s known for his humorous songs and can play a variety of musical genres, showing off his skills with guitar, fiddle, Irish jigs and storytelling.
Natalia Zukerman: Acoustic, folk rock and blues. Her style also sounds jazzy and a bit country. With ever-changing sounds both vocally and on guitar, you will notice the layers in her music. Zukerman grew up in Manhattan and was raised on classical music.
Nudie & The Turks: A Canadian band featuring fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, and steel guitar. The band decided in 2006 to follow Willie Nelson’s Maritime tour, busking for people going into the concert. Willie’s percussionist started to join them a few tours in and after a while, they met the right people to get where they are today.
Richard Thompson: A British musician highly regarded for his guitar techniques. His songwriting has earned him a Lifetime Achievement award from BBC radio and his songs have been recorded by talents such as R.E.M., Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Shawn Colvin and the Blind Boys of Alabama. He debuted as a member of Fairport Convention.
Shannon Whitworth: She’s a founding member of the quartet The Biscuit Burners. The praise for her songwriting and voice have carried over into her solo career where her strong and pure lyrics capture the attention of everyone nearby. She’s been compared to Neko Case, Patsy Cline, and Billie Holiday.
Sonos: An L.A.-based a cappella sextet. Their debut album includes songs by Radiohead, Sara Bareilles, Fleet Foxes, Bjork, and the Jackson 5, among other bands. The group met while they were all studying music at various California colleges. Between studying jazz, opera, and acting/performance, they know how to keep an audience alert.
Spinning Leaves: Traditional American music with a bit of psychedelic folk. The duo met four years ago and started singing together immediately after. One half is a Pennsylvania native and the other authentic Kentucky heritage.
Subdudes: In 1987, four musicians got together and assumed they’d be playing a one-time gig. Ten years later, they were still performing. Now, they get together occasionally for reunion shows and still create new music together. They have a pretty heavy tour schedule this summer.
Susan Werner: Born in Iowa and moved to Philadelphia to earn a Master’s degree in voice from Temple. Her original plan was a career in opera but soon became inspired by the acoustic guitar. She plays gospel, jazz and folk, and her newest album tackles themes of religion and faith.
Sweetback Sisters: A honky-tonk band from Brooklyn. They enjoy singing country songs that debuted before they were born, channeling the golden era of country music and the silver screen. But, they also take on country music in a new way.
Taj Mahal: A widely-recognized blues musician with two Grammy awards to date. Taj Mahal has recorded in the blues, pop, R&B and rock genres, and he’s collaborated with people like Eric Clapton and Etta James. His tour schedule this summer includes a lot of blues festivals in the US and Canada.
Treasa LeVasseur: An eclectic artist filled with blues, funk, rock and even some country. This Canadian native’s voice has appeared on many recording projects and her original songs/collaborations have been heard on radio and television throughout Canada.
Trina Hamlin: Acoustic, blues and folk rock from New York, NY. Hamlin can play guitar, harmonica and piano, both backing up her rich voice. She has also written and co-produced five albums on her own, performed to sold out crowds and with artists like the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco. The former Late Show with Conan O’Brien has featured Hamlin, and her songs have been chosen for many television movies and shows.
Vienna Teng: A Taiwanese-American pianist and songwriter based in NYC. She incorporates classical piano and a cappella into her folk and pop stylings. Her influences were from her parents’ record collection – Mozart, Simon and Garfunkel. Teng has a degree in computer science and has also performed on David Letterman.
Ben Arnold: The first singer-songwriter to be signed to the local Ropeadope record label. Arnold has toured the US and Europe as a solo artist and with his live band, as well as with David Gray, Ryan Adams and Ben Folds.
Mason Porter: A local favorite and three-piece band specializing in a blend of folk rock, bluegrass, and country among other genres. The band came together after many late night jam sessions and now consists of upright bass, mandolin and guitar.
Tin Bird Choir: Described as alt-folk barn rock. Tin Bird Choir is a husband and wife duo backed by two other local musicians. They have been playing together for over ten years, throughout the backwoods of Pennsylvania, pubs in Scotland, and all the way up to Boston.
Dave Quicks Trio: Quicks, of the bands BurnDown All-Stars and Princes of Babylon released his first solo album last December with the help of members from the aforementioned bands. The blues infested rock songs evolved from years of unpolished tracks.
Tania Alexandra: A Colorado native residing in Philadelphia, Alexandra has done it all – songwriting, movement, session vocalist, arranger, etc. She blends her vocals with her piano/keyboard skills and has played many venues throughout Philly and the Lehigh Valley. In 2004, she was able to perform at the Albuquerque Film Festival.
Johnny Miles: Born and raised in New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. The folk rock he produces with his band is music for music’s sake. Miles is not one for emphasizing the importance of image and sales when it comes to his songs. He writes what he wants and hopes his audience comes together by finding joy in his music.
Ryan Tennis: Winner of the Philadelphia Songwriters Project of 2010. Next up for Tennis: touring as Shawn Colvin’s opening act. He performed his first show in San Diego and has been compared to the sounds of Paul Simon and James Taylor. Tennis has performed all over Philadelphia, as well as places like Costa Rica, Sydney, Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
The Fleeting Ends: From the Upper Darby suburb of Philly. The band’s sound is made up of American roots, classic British (their debut album covers The Smiths) and new wave bands. This year, the band performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.