Eli Smith (pictured above-right, with guitar) founded his Down Home Radio Show back in 2006, with the intention of providing a home for bluegrass, folk and old-time music on the Internet. This past weekend, he took the show on the road to Red Hook's Jalopy, for the first annual Brooklyn Folk Festival. Over three days, Smith presented some 20 bands, including afternoon workshops and daytime jam sessions (at the next-door Moonshine.)
Smith's encompassing vision of "folk music" was on display when I stopped by the festival on Saturday night. Senegalese singer Sana Ndiyae played the Ekonting: a kind-of banjo which looks like a stick (without frets) stuck in a gourd. He spoke about his journey from Senegal to America: "Before I came to this country, I never knew what stress was," he told us. "People say English is the universal language, or maybe French. No. The universal language is music." As if to drive the point home, they closed their set by engaging the audience in a beautiful, soaring call-and-response: "I feel good! Sharing love everyday! Africa!!!"
Pat Conte, a veteran player who played with his fiddle tucked into his
chest heart, followed with a series of old-time tunes from Appalachia, including "Grey Fox," "Piney Ridge," and "Bonaparte’s Retreat," which was familiar to my ears as the theme from "Hoe-Down," from Aaron Copland's Rodeo. Alex Battles (who has made his own contributions to the Brooklyn roots scene with his monthly CasHank Jamboree and the annual Brooklyn Country Music Festival) went for the drunken-clown angle, playing banjo in sunglasses and a straw hat. "It would be good if I could get the key right in a song I wrote," he complained in his shredded, beer-soaked voice.
Elizabeth Butters was disarming in her 50's getup and dippy voice, playing bluesy-folk tunes on slide and standard guitar that were as dark as her disposition was sunny. And Smith's own The Dust Busters - Jalopy regulars - played jug band music that rollicked like a session, with Smith on vocals and Craig Judelman dancing a mean fiddle. (Apologies to Feral Foster and John Houx who closed out the night, but it's a long way back on the B61. More pics below.)