Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ramblin' and jammin' at Jalopy Theater's Brooklyn Folk Festival

By Stephen Witt

(Published in the 5.7 issue of 24/Seven)

I knew a man Bojangles and he danced for you
In worn out shoes
With silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants,
The old soft shoe
He jumped so high, he jumped so high
Then he lightly touched down

- Jerry Jeff Walker

At its best, folk music has always been filled with story songs about people and places. Plenty of these songs are expected at the 1st Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival, Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 at the Jalopy Theater, 315 Columbia Street in Red Hook.

The show is the brainchild of Eli Smith, a banjo player and radio show host, who has been involved in the city’s thriving folk and antifolk movement for several years.

“There is a folk revival going on in Brooklyn right now with a lot of talented young performers coming up on the scene,” said Smith. “The Brooklyn Folk Festival is the first chance for all of these performers to be featured at the same time and place under one banner.”

Smith also booked the festival so that it features a mix of the best young talent from Brooklyn’s exploding folk music scene as well as luminaries from the generation that made the 1960’s folk music revival.

Among the older folk musicians performing include Grammy Award winner Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders, and two-time Grammy nominee John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers.

Some of the younger talents featured include The Dust Busters, Blind Boy Paxton, Elizabeth Butters, Alex Battles, Feral Foster, Hubby Jenkins, The East River String Band and Mamie Minch.

Smith also booked international folk music including Sana Ndiaye, who will perform traditional West African music of the Jola tribe on the Ekonting, the closest African predecessor instrument to the American banjo, and Semilla, a Mexican folk music collective.

Smith said several bars around the borough feature folk music, but the Jalopy Theater is becoming the go-to place for the burgeoning scene.

Every Wednesday, a lot of performers show up, where they play together, cross paths and it becomes a real breeding ground for the scene, he said.

Smith said the rest of the week, Jalopy features live music, sometimes with a cover charge.

“The level of interest among New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites, in old music, people playing banjos, ukuleles, fiddles, mandolins, has been building for some time,” he said.

Smith said he always thought there was a Brooklyn Folk Festival, but after Googling it and finding out there was none, he decided to organize it with the hopes of making it an annual event.
“People are in the mood for it, the performers are making themselves known and the scene has grown to a point where it needs a festival,” he said.

The Brooklyn Folk Festival is co-sponsored by Down Home Radio & The Jalopy Theater. The festival costs $10 per day or $25 for 3 days, including the afternoon workshops.


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