Home on the road – Rockwood Taylor

Lynne Taylor and Charlie Rockwood Farr met in a band and bonded over a love of touring. A recent phone interview with the duo, who perform as Rockwood Taylor, fittingly occurred as they drove down a long stretch of Ohio highway, and was punctuated by sightings from the road. 

“Oh, look, the ‘Hell Is Real’ sign!” exclaimed Taylor as they passed a famous billboard on I-71, reading from it as they passed, “How will you spend eternity?”

Their ultimate destination was The Purple Fiddle, a West Virginia hill country venue that’s a perfect fit for the pair’s mix of Shovels & Rope rusticity and singer/songwriter emotion. After a show there, it’s back to Newburyport, where they both live, and a celebratory release party for their first record together, Finding Home.

The EP’s four songs brim with melancholy and remembrance. “Heading Home” is a co-write set in the twilight of living, but there’s a fondness in the narrator’s resignation: “It’s been a good life, now I’m headed home,” he sings. 

“It’s sad but restful, an old guy sitting on the porch playing his guitar,” Farr explained. “We built the song around that and came up with some imagery of what his life would be. It’s melancholy, but whatever happens in life there’s the next step. It’s going back home, end of life reflecting – I was trying to look at that in a positive way.”

The EP’s title came after the collection was done. They realized that although the songs were about dusty memories, like “You Remember Me,” written by Taylor about her childhood piano, or escaping, as in Farr’s train song “Steel Wheels,” each was connected to home; both as an ideal and a place. 

“I’ve lived many lifetimes in one life, musically as well,” Taylor said. “I started out in a punk band, I’ve done all kinds of rock, bluegrass, alt country – it’s always this constant search for home, and that’s where the title came from. It’s interesting to me how that sort of presented itself organically.”

Even the wanderlust that causes them to tour whenever they have the chance is reflected, Farr said. “We’re finding home in all kinds of places on the road.”

Moving between the frenetic energy of punk and the gentleness of what they do now isn’t a stretch, Taylor insists. “When you think about it, folk music is really punk music,” she said. “It’s simple chords, direct messages, and if you want to go back to the protest and social commentary in folk music, which is where I come from, that’s what it is in punk.”

The two have played Newburyport Brewery many times, from when they were the rhythm section of Liz Frame & the Kickers to their time in other bands, like the punky, now defunct Halo and the Harlots, and River Valley Ramblers, an ongoing bluegrass band comprised of teachers at the charter school where Taylor works. 

Still, the release show is extra special. “It’s gonna be great to play one of our favorite local venues as Rockwood Taylor, and release the EP to our friends and fans; that’s what we’re looking forward to,” Taylor said, adding gleefully, “andwe’ve got t-shirts! It’s my first time having a band t-shirt.”

The shirt, like the albums’ cover, is adorned with a woodcut of a high flying bird carrying the band’s name on a banner in its beak, gliding past a setting sun. Drawn by local artist Patrick Pollard, it’s a wonderful depiction of the duo’s outlook. Pollard is, coincidentally, currently exhibiting his folk art at the Brewery.

For the release show, Rockwood Taylor will be joined by a percussionist, “and some other guest artists,” Farr said.

A Fan’s Show

Gretchen Klempa

Though Joel Greer isn’t a musician, he has an excellent ear for music. Coupling that talent with a dogged determination to share his love of local and regional talent with others led to Summit Indie Fest. The all-day event, in its second year, offers a multi-genre array of performers from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and far away as New York. 

“For lack of a better term, I’m a professional appreciator of music, but I was never able to play,” Greer said by phone from  his home in Lawrence, Mass. “I thought that curating a music festival would be a good way to introduce a little bit of art into the world.”

Greer’s criteria for what to book is personal. “Let me find bands that I’d drive a long way to see on a Monday or Tuesday night,” he said. “It’s not about ticket sales, but more about following my heart [and] I also targeted bands that I consider under-appreciated.”  It’s a wide ranging lineup – ten acts, playing on two stages, inside and outside Portsmouth Book & Bar, from afternoon into the evening. 

Kingsley Flood is slated to close the show. They’re a Boston Music Award-winning band fronted by Naseem Khuri, a modern day Woody Guthrie with a keen contemporary eye, as evidenced in their 2018 album, Neighbors and Strangers. On one song, “Fifth of July,” the child of Palestinian immigrants sings, “call me a trespasser and untrue, and I’ll tell your history better than you.”

One of Greer’s favorites is Troll 2,  also hailing from Boston – Jamaica Plain, to be precise. He likes the folk punk band’s mix of social awareness and offbeat spirit. “They have a fun saying – ‘when you come see us, we play music and you fall down.’ They never play down to a venue; they set their own atmosphere, and it’s so infectious.”

Brooklyn-based Def.GRLS sports a fun, lo-fi, ‘shrooms and surfing sound that fans of early B-52s records will gobble up. “The genre bending trio is impossible to pigeon hole,” a press release said, calling them “perpetually oscillating between the irreverent, macabre, hilarious and heartfelt.”  

In 2018, Gretchen & the Pickpockets brought a soulful, brassy sound to the festival. This year, lead singer and keyboard player Gretchen Klempa returns with her own quartet. “She’s really great solo, with a really talented bunch of musicians backing her up,” Greer said. “The vibe is really cool.”

For straight up rock and roll, look no further than Carissa Johnson, whose full throttle approach recalls early aughts Boston bands Aloud and Damone. In 2017, the singer/guitarist won Boston’s highly competitive Rock & Roll Rumble and capped the year with a Boston Music Award win for Best New Act (she received four BMA nominations in 2018).

Asked which bands he’s most excited to have at the festival, Greer named As The Sparrow – “they’re large, it’s a full sound and they’re really top notch songwriters” – and The Wolff Sisters – “fantastic country folk” – and added he’s also a big fan of the downtown bookstore, coffee/craft beer bar, and performance space that’s hosting Summit Indie Fest.

“I wanted a venue that could really add to the event,” he said. “I approached Book and Bar because I know what a quality place it is and what an intimate setting it can be – so many big festivals lose their intimacy. I also know they totally believe in the arts too.”

Proceeds from  the event will help build a music program at Team Summit, the youth development program Greer runs in Lawrence, but he’s quick to point out Summit Indie Fest isn’t a typical charity event. “It’s a music festival first; no baskets or 50/50 raffles,” he said. “My mission is to gather in the spirit of philantrophy, and share our love and passion for music.”