For the Love of Music: A gathering of the vibe
PUTNEY -- This is a celebration of two special places -- separated by 153 miles and a generation in time, but bound together by a web of personal connections and a cool vibe.
More than that, though, this is a celebration of folk music -- broadly defined, multi-generational, deeply cherished and people-powered. It is a celebration of what folk music once was and what it still is today.
This weekend, Putney will be a folk music mecca, as it plays host to a two-day mini-festival that includes a film screening on Saturday night and a concert on Sunday night.
The event celebrates Club 47, the legendary Cambridge, Mass., folk music club that ran from 1958-68, helped launch the career of Joan Baez and introduced fans to many musicians who are now legends.
The event also celebrates the Putney School, where many folk musicians spent their formative years and where much of "For the Love of the Music," a documentary about Club 47, was filmed during four days in the spring of 2011.
"For the Love of the Music" will be shown on Saturday at 8 p.m., in Calder Hall of the Putney School’s Michael S. Currier Center. Admission is by suggested donation of $5.
On Sunday night, Next Stage Arts Project and The Putney School are presenting a folk concert featuring David Amram, Alana Amram and the Rough Gems, Diamond Doves, Stefan Amidon, Haley Reardon, Tim Eriksen and The Trio De Pumpkintown (with Zoe Darrow and Peter Irvine), Erik Lawrence (of the Levon Helm Band) and Ben Vital (brother of John Sebastian). The concert is at 7 p.m., at Next Stage at 15 Kimball Hill. Tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors, available at nextstagearts.org or Offerings and the Putney School.
Never heard of Club 47?
Neither had Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman, the co-producers and directors of "For the Love of the Music," who met as freshman at Boston University in the late 1970s and became friends united by a love of music but blissfully ignorant that they were just a couple of miles from where Club 47 had been.
It was many years later, as Kwait was working on a film with John Sebastian about the early jug bands and their influence on a later generation of musicians like The Lovin’ Spoonful and the Grateful Dead, that he came in contact with Betsy Siggins and first came to know Club 47.
Siggins knew all their was and then some about Club 47, and how it nurtured and energized the folk music scene. Siggins had come to Boston to attend BU in 1958 and quickly found the tiny club at 47 Palmer St., in Cambridge, that had such a big impact.
"The room was about as big as a large closet. ... It was a cozy little place with 80 seats," recalled Siggins, a Club 47 founding member, in a phone interview last week. "It became all-encompassing, and everything we did. I think the most important part of my life was at Club 47. ... We were in the right place at the right time, but we didn’t know it."
Club 47 was the place where BU students Joan Baez and Jim Kweskin, along with Eric von Schmidt, helped launch the folk music revival. Siggins and Club 47 were also instrumental in introducing traditional musicians from other parts of the country -- Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe -- to new audiences in the Northeast.
"I have vivid memoris of the Rev. Gary Davis sleeping on my couch," said Siggins. "We were increasingly interested in advancing our education in music."
Ultimately, Club 47 had to close its doors, as much of a victim of new times as it was a reflection of its times when it started. It was a painful turn of events.
"The old singer in front of one mike was losing its allure," Siggins said. "In retrospect, it was time. In the moment, it was never time."
Siggins went on to run soup kitchens and devote herself to other causes, but she stayed connected to folk music and eventually returned to the scene. literally, to run Club Passim, which stands on the site of Club 47 and is still a singer-songwriter hotspot today.
When she left Club Passim, Siggins wondered what she was going to do with all the stuff she had accumulated from years connecting with music. That’s when she hit on the idea of founding the New England Folk Music Archives in 2009.
"I had been dragging around a plastic bag of reel-to-reel tapes," she said.
Then she connected with Kwait and convinced him to do a film on Club 47. It wasn’t a hard sell.
"I’m very much interested in showing how folk music is a communal music that in a way exists in a continuum," said Kwait. "It is still a very vibrant area (of the music world). Most of these performers are very socially involved. These are some remarkable people."
And for four days in April 2011, many of these remarkable people converged on The Putney School.
As Kwait and Stegman cast about for their Ezzie Films crew to do some of the filming, Susan Brearey, an art teacher at Putney School, friend of Siggins and longtime folk music fan suggested the school as an ideal spot.
The idea was an outgrowth of several folk music-related events and projects that were taking place at the school. The Michael S. Currier Center hosted an exhibit of photographs from the New England Folk Music Archives. In conjunction with the exhibit, the school welcomed musicians for a series of events. First, Tim Eriksen came up to lead an All-School Sing in February 2011. Then came an 11-band folk music mini-fest headlined by Rory Block, followed by a huge event -- a performance by Judy Collins, which drew a huge crowd to Calder Hall.
Film crews arrived in April 2011 and transformed Calder Hall, temporarily, into a coffeehouse. There, the directors interviewed musicians, including Tom Rush, David Amram, Peter Rowan, Jim Rooney, Ellis Paul, Eriksen and others. During down times, the musicians jammed together and welcomed young students from Putney School into their jam sessions. They also joined the students at the school’s own coffeehouse.
Performers and students alike dug the vibe of getting together and playing music, teaching and learning songs in an open, inclusive, multi-generational setting.
"It was a Club 47 moment in that respect," said Stegman.
"I had some 14-year-old come up to me and say, ‘Man, you rock!’ I think that’s one of my finer accomplishments," quipped David Amram, a legendary composer and musician, whose work has spanned many genres and styles (he has been in residence at the Marlboro Music Festival, worked with Dizzy Gillespie, jammed with Vermont Jazz Center favorites Attila Zoller and Howard Brofsky and even wrote a song in tribute to the Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street in Brattleboro).
He also happens to be a proud alumnus of The Putney School, having gone from 1944-48, where his musical gifts were nurtured by Norwood Henkel ("he loved Bach and hated jazz"), and he found enjoyment in the farm chores as well.
"I always wanted to be a farmer and a musician," said Amram in an interview Tuesday.
His musical career includes the soundtracks for "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Splendor in the Grass" and a list of collaborators that includes Jack Kerouac, Rudolf Serkin and everyone in between.
"I always thought of the Brandenburg Concertos and Bix Beiderbecke as being in the same spirit," said Amram, now 82 years young and busy as ever.
He was pleased to reconnect with the Putney students and glad that at least one of them thought he "rocked."
"I was happy to see the school encouraging folk music and jazz and rock music, as well as Bach," said Amram. ‘They didn’t make the mistake of thinking music all had to be one thing. Š All different genres of music have a place together in harmony. When you’re celebrating the beauty of genres you’re celebrating the beauty of people."
That idea seems to have taken hold at The Putney School, where music is thriving and where students, who often come with well-developed classical and jazz chops, have caught the folk spirit.
Case in point are Sam Talmadge, Rose Payette and Emma Walsh, three 17-year-olds who will be opening Sunday’s concert at Next Stage.
"We’ve been established for about five days," said Talmadge, of the trio who call themselves 3 Degrees North. They will be playing French-Canadian and Celtic tunes on cello, guitar, piano, flute, violin and mandolin.
Trained in other genres, all three came to folk the way it usually happens Š someone showed them the way.
"It’s a lot about the fiddle tunes themselves, but it’s also just the community. The personal aspect of folk music is really important," said Payette.
Music to the ears of the makers of "For the Love of the Music," who wanted to create a film that didn’t just put Club 47 into a time capsule but told the story of its legacy and connected it to what’s happening now.
"We did not want this to be a bottled little moment of nostalgia," said Stegman. "There are incredibly talented musicians that are plying their trade in little clubs all over again, and now it happens virtually and in social media."
With new names like "world music" and "Americana," and in newly evolved musical hybrids, folk music is alive and well, the filmmakers say.
Still, some of the essence of "For the Love of the Music" is that it captures an important bygone era.
"What struck me about this story is really a Camelot element. Club 47 was a moment in time as much as a physical place," said Stegman.
"For the Love of the Music" is a special record of that time, aided beautifully by rare, archival recordings culled from the plastic bag of reel-to-reel tapes Siggins had been lugging around for years. The film includes never-before-heard recordings of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez,
Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur and Mel Lyman. It also features performances by Judy Collins, Antje Duvekot, Meg Hutchinson, The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Geoff Muldaur, Ellis Paul, Hayley Reardon, Jim Rooney, Peter Rowan, Tom Rush and Jackie Washington Landron. It has interviews with Baez, Collins, Rowan, Rooney, Rush, Siggins, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Taj Mahal, banana, John Byrne Cook, Debbie Green and more. It is narrated by Peter Coyote.
Ideally, the film will stand as a document both of what was and will always be.
"It always benefits the next generation to know about the Vietnam War, the struggle for women’s rights, the struggle for civil rights, and all those things were happening all around us," said Siggins. "It’s about how you can stand up and make a noise, and it can be heard, and how it’s more pleasant if you do it through the music."
"For the Love of the Music" made its debut in April 2012 in Boston and has since made the rounds at film and folk festivals, garnering enthusiastic, warm and fuzzy responses. Plans are to release the DVD perhaps by this fall, as well as a CD of some of the music. Kwait is also working on a documentary about Tom Rush which should be ready for viewing in the fall.
For more information about the film, visit www.loveofthemusic.com.
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