Swiss Treat
Music of Omaha

Music to Warm Up To


On a cold winter night, there's nothing like a bit of roots music to help warm things up. Last night, I made my way out to Jalopy: a performance space/education center/vintage instrument store near the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in Red Hook. It wasn't full, and I was by far the youngest one there, but that all just added to the sense that I'd stumbled across something pure and special, like a cozy tavern along a dark country road.


Ken Waldman, who splits his time between New Orleans and Alaska, played the fiddle, recited poems, and told stories about the 49th state, where he laid claim to being "the best fiddler for 1,000 miles" - though by his own admission, that isn't saying much in a state where 650,000 people live in an area twice the size of Texas. Waldman, who was joined onstage by Charlie Shaw (guitar) and Eli Smith (banjo), moved to Alaska when he was 30, having just started to play the fiddle; by the time he was 40, he was known as "Alaska's Fiddling Poet." "You can do anything in Alaska," he told us. "I suppose that explains Sarah Palin." 

After a break, Peter Stampfel took the stage for his regular monthly gig at Jalopy. Stampfel, who helped found the psychedelic-folk group Holy Modal Rounders back in 1963, was one of the leading lights of the Village folk revival; critic Robert Chrsitgau is on record as saying: "Next to Bob Dylan, Stampfel is the closest thing to a genius that scene produced." Stampfel sings at the top of his lungs in a nasal, high-pitched voice that is something of an acquired taste; you can get an idea of his sound from this number on the soundtrack to Easy Rider
Stampfel was joined onstage by seven of his friends, of all ages and backgrounds (including, most conspicuously, Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers, who played at the Park Slope Jamboree back in September.) During their set break, I had a chance to chat with Stampfel, and asked him what he thought of today's live music scene. "It's better than it's ever been," he said. "There are so many talented musicians here that can play all types of different music. It's really great to see." 

Stampfel closed out the night with a fun, lively cover of "I Will Survive," which got a few chuckles but was good for perspective: it's been 30 years since the Gloria Gaynor hit topped the charts in 1978, at which time Stampfel had already been performing for 20 years. I'd say he's earned the right. (More pics after the jump.)

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