Category: David Bowie

Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, August 4-7
(with Peter Mulvey, Heather Maloney, Tom Rush, Patty Larkin & more!)

June 18th, 2016 — 3:31pm

We founded our family on the spirits of close community and adventure: it’s in our wedding contract, and one of the main reasons my wife and I both work in education is to ensure that our calendars include time to wander together. But nothing looms as large in our ongoing pursuit of the live and immersive than our annual excursion to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which this year celebrates its 28th anniversary August 4-7 at Dodd’s Farm in Hillsdale, NY, just over the border from Great Barrington, MA, at the foothills of the Berkshires.

Founded in 1988 to celebrate and sustain the nascent singer-songwriter revival, Falcon Ridge has come to embody the ideals of the modern folkworld, in which fans, artists, concert and radio hosts, and others who live their lives grounded in the diverse ideals and soundscapes of folk come together to celebrate the breadth of the movement, the music, and the community they engender. As ethnomusicologist and regular FRFF attendee Liz Carlisle wrote in her 2006 undergrad thesis on the fest,

As a well developed “state” into which “citizens” opt in, FRFF is not just summer camp for a bunch of delusional, idealistic folk music enthusiasts (folkies)…Indeed, the real-ness of FRFF is at the crux of its symbolic power. The common goal of those who attend is to make the folk music ideal – a vision of shared power and creation, uninhibited personal expression, and general acceptance and love – real through a successful music festival.

Reaching this goal every year can be a challenge, especially in a world where smaller music festivals are falling apart around us – both Clearwater and Gathering of the Vibes have been cancelled for this year, due to a combination of factors that inevitably include financial concerns. But thanks to that efficiency, and a core cohort of volunteers and organizers who work tirelessly year-round to maintain and sustain the place they love, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest continues to offer the best of both the world of intentional community, and the world of folk.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 12.41.31 PMThis year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest mainstage and workshop stage performers include the usual mix of well known names from three generations of American folk, representing a broad tent, from solo singer-songwriters like Tom Rush, Patty Larkin, Vance Gilbert, Matt Nakoa, Heather Maloney, Eric Schwartz and Peter Mulvey to folk rock, world music, psychedelic, country rock, Americana, and other genre-busting bands and folk supergroups like The Felice Brothers, The Gaslight Tinkers, Brother Sun, Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes, and The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Well-populated contra dance and children’s stages run throughout the festival, too, and up-and-coming performers play regularly alongside colorful tye-dye, jewelry, henna tattoo parlors, and African drumset sellers in the vendor area, and stalls selling everything from Caribbean goat stew to ice cream, sweet and savory crepes.

Camping at Falcon Ridge isn’t mandatory; only about a third of the attendees each year choose to stay overnight in the fields, and my parents – neither of whom camp – have always found themselves both fully welcome and fully sated by their own experience. But if you can do it, living on site is highly recommended. The sense of community on the farm is palpable and sweet; I have yet to meet a camper who did not discover their own site “family” in their first few hours on the farm, and wandering camp-to-camp brings an evening’s delight, full of laughter and food-sharing. Those who play and sing are always welcome to join in. And, as a bonus for nightowls, the music at Falcon Ridge continues into the wee hours in the campgrounds, where a half-dozen regular formal songcircles and stages like The Budgiedome and Pirate Camp bring together mainstage performers and up-and-coming name-brand performers from the coffeehouse circuit.

Although officially Falcon Ridge doesn’t start until Friday, August 5, Thursday offers its own special pre-fest charm, with a shaded farmer’s market and tasting day on-site that offers the best of local breweries and wineries, dairies and farms. And there’s music, too: some of the best music I’ve seen at Falcon Ridge in the past 4 or 5 years has been presented or previewed on The Lounge Stage, a one-time campsite stage that found it’s way into the main festival grounds to avoid a thunderstorm two years ago, and has since become an officially sanctioned festival-within-a-festival housed under the Dance Tent. Performers for this year’s Lounge Stage have not yet been released, but their ability to select and combine mainstage players and rising stars together for intimate sessions in the round makes the Lounge Stage a must-see; past performers include Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, We’re About Nine, John Gorka, Irish Mythen, Pat Wictor, Pesky J. Nixon, Caitlin Canty, Buskin & Batteau, hosts Pesky J. Nixon, and more.

One last note before we get to the music: while Falcon Ridge needs paying patrons to survive, as alluded to in Carlisle’s thesis, it also needs volunteers, and this year’s volunteer pool is currently thin, far below the needed thousand it takes to run the place efficiently. Volunteers get two solid meals a day, free access to campgrounds and the festival itself, and the warm satisfaction of helping build and maintain a crucial cultural locus of love and music, all for the price of a staff t-shirt and a few four-hour shifts throughout the long weekend; if you’re interested in joining up, head over to the volunteer website, and stake your claim for a spot on one of our crews.

Either way, we’d love to have you – and we’re sure you’ll love it, too. So click through below for a 21-track collection of coverfolk from a set of artists who together represent the breadth of modern folk music and the promise of an intentional nation. And then, if you can make it happen, save the date, and register now – as a volunteer or a paying patron – for the very best fest around. We’ll see you there.

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview, 2016
[now available in mixtape format!]

Artist-centered and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk features and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to patrons like you. Coming soon: new and newly discovered tributes and cover collections take on Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, American tradfolk and more, plus our usual plethora of artist and songbook features as the summer kicks in!

Comment » | Darlingside, David Bowie, Felice Brothers, Festival Coverfolk, Gaslight Tinkers, Heather Maloney, Matt Nakoa, Mike + Ruthy, Peter Mulvey

RIP: David Bowie, 1947-2016

January 11th, 2016 — 5:22pm


I was never really a huge David Bowie fan. But as a child of the first MTV generation, it’s hard not to recognize and respect both man and myth.

Bowie’s songbook was potent, his influence as immense as his chameleon-like persona. A deliberately unreliable narrator who found universal truths in imagined worlds, he mastered the video form early, the better to spread the music, paving the way for today’s YouTube world. He spent a lifetime recording and touring on the strength of over a hundred charting singles in a career that spanned five decades.

And fittingly, two years ago, his song Space Oddity served as soundtrack for the first music video created in outer space.

So when David Bowie passed on this morning after an long struggle with cancer, just days after the release of Blackstar – his thirtieth studio album, counting soundtracks – we took a quick dip into the archives. And sure enough, there it was: our very first Covered In Folk feature, from way back in December of 2007, covering the songbook of Ziggy Stardust himself.

In memory of Bowie, then, whose songs populate our weirdest dreams, today we resurrect and rebuild that feature, adding several new and newfound recordings to the list of covers that follows. May the man himself live on through the music, as all great men.

The recent penchant towards folk interpretations of songs from the popworld is really nothing new. After all, though modern folk music has turned its eye towards confessional songwriting and urban poetry, and quite often away from its agrarian roots, traditionally, folk music is not so much about the rural as it is populated by the music of the folk, which quite literally means whatever is popular in the eyes and ears of the people.

Instead, we might suggest that it was inevitable that folk music change its tone once radio and the recording studio changed forever the hum lingering in the ears of the populace. As a result, we have urban and anti-folk, folk rock and folkpop, subgenres of folk music which often share the same production values as pop music of today. And we also get a heck of a lot of songs from the radio entering the cover repertoires of folk musicians themselves.

How else can we explain the prevalence of David Bowie covers “out there”? Certainly Bowie is nothing like folk — his stylistic pose and chameleon-like personality are antithetical to the authentic and direct relationship between artist and audience that characterizes folk music. Neither is his broken-glass poetic imagery and trope terribly folk, though I suppose one could make a case for the odd science-fiction motif as resonant with the same audience as modern folk music, and surely some of today’s choice cuts reveal some storysong structures and cultural journey motifs common to much folk music.

A few years ago, when Dar Williams asked her fan base to vote on which song she should record, Bowie’s Starman won by a landslide. I suppose it goes to show us: part of what has always made folk music folk music is the way it tries to connect with the audience. And if this means a reflection of the classic rock radio that permeates our culture, or a shared recall of that late-seventies or mid-eighties childhood, ears glued to the shimmery radio glamstars of those last pre-MTV days, then who are we to question the origin of the ultimately authentic, earnest songs and reinterpretations that result?

Today, a few choice covers from the surprisingly vast spectrum of David Bowie songs performed by folk musicians, available track by track or as a one-shot download. Play ‘em in public to watch two generation of cool kids smile as the songs in their heads come back to life, stripped down and stretched out, in spades, in style, and in beauty.

  • Dar Williams: Starman
    This Bowie-esque popfolk cover from urban folk goddess Dar Williams was produced and distributed solely via Dar Williams’ fanbase; they own her albums, and so should you.
  • The Gourds: Ziggy Stardust
    Alt-country bluegrass boys The Gourds bring their signature hoot and holler, swagger and twang to this cover, originally recorded for a March 2003 CD insert in Uncut magazine and now available on french-produced Bowie coveralbum Bowiemania.
  • M. Ward: Let’s Dance
    Though I usually prefer the stripped down nature of in-studio covers, the slow atmospheric layers of this produced version, off Transfiguration of Vincent, really set off M. Ward‘s rough-hewn vocal style.
  • Leaf Rapids: The Man Who Sold The World
    Grungy, gothic dreampop cover of a song made famous by Nirvana, and then transformed again by Leaf Rapids, the Manitoba-based husband and wife duo whose Handsome Family cover we celebrated in our 2015 lost coverage roundup just last week.
  • Seu Jorge: Rebel, Rebel
    No modern exploration of Bowie’s influence on folk would be complete without at least one selection from Seu Jorge‘s wonderful, delicate Portuguese translations of the canon, produced as part and parcel of the narrative arc for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou under the inspired direction of Wes Anderson.
  • Hezekiah Jones: Ashes To Ashes
    Hezekiah Jones, “a collection of Philadelphia-area artists orbiting around the songwriting talents of one Raphael Cutrufello”, originally recorded their sweet, creaky waltz-time banjo-and-harmony cover of Ashes To Ashes for a compilation that never came to be.
  • Keller Williams: Under Pressure (orig. David Bowie/Queen)
    Keller Williams is typically playful in this live take on Bowie/Queen collaboration Under Pressure, but listen carefully – under the surface, the song takes itself seriously, and ultimately, so does Williams.
  • Solotundra: Sound And Vision
    Lo-fi alt-country from Italian minimalists Solotundra, who use doubled voices and a guitar drone to replicate this mostly instrumental piece from Bowie’s equally minimalist, equally lo-fi 1977 album Low.
  • Dan Hardin: Heroes
    It’s hard to find folky covers of Heroes, though the song seems to have become a staple of the hard rock cover circuit, but YouTuber Dan Hardin reins in the angst, dampening the fire without losing the tension.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell: Kooks
    Fave kindie-folker Elizabeth Mitchell put this delightfully cheery cover on her 2012 album Blue Clouds, where it soars alongside a full complement of other gentle lullaby transformations.
  • Danny Michel: Young Americans
    A slowbuild backporch slackstring folk-blues; the storysong of an American awakening. My absolute favorite Bowie cover. Ladies and Gentlemen, Danny Michel, from beautiful tribute Loving The Alien: Danny Michel Sings the Songs of David Bowie.

Comment » | David Bowie, RIP

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