"If you're going to play Old-Time music, you're best off not taking yourself too seriously." - Tom Paley
I don't know exactly when or how my twenty-square block area of Brooklyn became a destination for American roots music, but it's a treat be taken on a musical journey without even having to leave the neighborhood. This past Saturday, the 11th Annual Park Slope Bluegrass and Old-Time Jamboree took up residence at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture with an all-day series of workshops and films, followed by nearly five hours of live concerts. A crowd of 100 or so jammed into a 19th century parlor on Prospect Park West to hear acts from both near (NYC's Bust Down, Lightning in the East) and far (New Hampshire's American Flyer, Virgina's David & Linda Lay.) Most folks knew the words to every song; a few danced in the aisle. It was enough to make one wish for the Saturday night socials of our parents and grandparents.
The highlight of the evening was a reunion of The New Lost City Ramblers, who made their debut 50 years ago at Carnegie Hall, joining the New York folk music revival that also gave birth to The Weavers, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, among others. Original members Tom Paley (guitar) and John Cohen (banjo) were joined by fiddler Bill Christophersen, playing an hour-long set of Old-Time favorites that had the room spellbound. It's not every day history comes to visit you in your own backyard.
After the show, I bumped into Matt Winters, whose Sunday morning Moonshine Show on WKCR-FM has been a staple on my radio for more than eight years. Whatever little I know about American roots music, I've learned from him. (He's also the reason I ended up shuttling between Tanglewood and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival last July.) Matt told me he's made the trek from Morningside Heights to every Jamboree for the past 10 years, leaving me more-than-a-little embarassed that this was the first time I've managed to show up. I'm sure it won't be the last.
The roots music continues next weekend with the 5th Annual Park Slope Country Music Festival at Southpaw on both Friday and Saturday nights, featuring Alex Battles & The Whiskey Rebellion, The Defibulators, Jack Grace Band, the M Shanghai String Band, and more. Tickets are $10 each night.