Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Me & Folkmusic, Part Seven

By 1966 I had accomplished what Yale wanted me for, so I allowed myself to be recruited by SUNY Stony Brook, who wanted to create a similar laboratory. I went on the grounds that I wanted to influence the Physics Department to develop in a more humane direction.

What I did was to run into the student protests of the late '60s: drugs, antiracism, antiwar, hippiedom and their reflections in the middle-class student body at Stony Brook.

It did give me the opportunity to go to the Newport festival, where I met the lady who would be my first wife. In the 1966 Newport Bob Dylan used an electric band for the first time, sending "folk" careening toward "Folkrock".

I had met Dylan, briefly, in a folk club in London the summer before, where he and I were both "visiting American folksingers". When he did the concert in Festival Hall later that week it was no question who the "star" was. The had oversold my, ticket so I ended up sitting in one of the best seats in the house (Dylan's guest seats) with the young lady who was our mutual acquaintance.

Stony Brook was desperately trying to go from an obscure teachers college to a major player, and we were able to use some of the funds this effort made available to promote some small concerts of folk music. We were, for instance, able to give John Roberts and Tony Barrand one of their first concerts in this country.

About that time there suddenly appeared on the scene a group called the Young Tradition: Peter Bellamy, Heather Wood and Royston Wood. They sang intense arrangements of traditional english songs and ballads with harmonies based on those of the Copper family and medieval church music.
I had just met a young tenor, Bob Stuart, through a Linda Hughes who had a folk music program at C. W. Post college. Linda, Bob and I performed such of the Young Tradition repertoire as we could manage, some from a tape she had of the Watersons, and some of our own arrangements. We sang at a few festivals and, when Linda graduated, she was replaced by my then wife. The group did not last long after that: Bob wanted to do his own songs and I was finding that you can't lead a group from the bass part.

Among the people I met during this period on Long Island were Frank and Anne Warner, their sons Jeff and Gareth, and Jeff's friend Jeff Davis. One of my memorable experiences was being able to sing "The Texas Ranger" while Jeff Davis played the Grayson accompaniment on fiddle.

We managed to have one gathering at Stony Brook that included 85 folksingers and relatives, but relations with my job and my wife soon soured.

Lou Killen had come over to the states in '67 and when he gave a concert at Yale we went over to hear him and meet other friends. They introduced me to Howard Glasser, who had also been introduced to folkmusic in the 40s in New York, gotten fascinated with scottish singing, and was trying to do in Southeastern Massachusetts University what I had been trying to do in Stony Brook.

I went up to the first Eisteddfod in 1971, and attended every one after that until it stopped in 1996. I met my present wife, Sally, there in 1974, moved to her goat farm in Myricks in 1976, and have been here ever since.
From 1978 to 1983 I edited the official publication of the Eisteddfod, Ceilidh Columns, including:

Yankee Ingenuity,
Sage and Hero,
Columns and Fragments, and
Modes and Scales

After 1983 the support for the Eisteddfod had diminished beyond the point where it would support a publication.
Not long after that Sally and I were relegated to a passive part in the organization of the Eisteddfod.

In the mid-80s a young man came to be a pastor at the Methodist Church down the street (which had had no pastor for a while) and he boarded with the lady next door. He came over to visit, (curious about the hippies who had been living in the old Baldwin place for the last ten years) and it turned out that he played banjo and guitar and had been in a folk-rock-gospel band in the 60s.
We introduced him to the style of old-timey gospel and formed, with a couple of the members of the choir, a band that did concerts for church-related affairs. We also did a gospel tune as part of the regular morning service at the Methodist church.
After he left (leaving some uncomfortable feelings and taking a new wife) Sally & I continued doing the gospel song at sunday services, trying for something new every sunday. (That stretches one's repertoire.)
We also put groups together that sang at village christmas programs, but the enthusiasm was waning. When the Methodists reflected the growing conservatism of the time by inveighing against gays we dropped out of the Methodists.

Since the late 80s we have not performed and have followed developments in the folk music scene at some distance. In the mid-90s Sally had serious skull surgery that made it difficult to sing. We had also bought a house on St. Vincent towinter in. This web site and this memoir probably marks my final effort toward promoting traditional folkmusic.
It has, however, been an interesting time.

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