Digging the Folk in WRJ

image_079How refreshing to enjoy folk music in a non-high stakes environment.  Stopping by the Tuckerbox Café on Friday night, I grabbed a tall latte, took a seat close to where Phil Singer and Laurianna Jordan were harmonizing, and relaxed.

The pair worked through a few of Phil’s songs, which recall the music of classic folkies like Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs.  All the while, a steady stream of friends, family and curiosity-seekers milled in, quickly filing the street-facing performance space, then the large seating area adjacent to the food/coffee counter.

Marianna McKim joined Phil and Laurianne for a well-chosen mix of covers.  Their tasty version of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” took its cues from the duet Emmylou Harris did with Don Williams on her “Cimarron” album.  They also did a nice job with Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”

Then Marianna played solo – too bad I wasn’t able to hear all of her set, but what I did catch was quite enjoyable, including one original about love gone wrong.   A moment of perfect synchronicity occurred at the end of McKim’s rendition of   Jean Ritchie’s “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Any More,” when a train whistle moaned as if on cue.

It’s just the sort of scene I was counting on when I wrote about Tuckerbox earlier this week.  It’s not Club 47, but it’s a pleasure to be able to actually listen without the music getting drowned in conversation.  The only noise came from behind the counter (the espresso machine sounds like a prop from ”Brazil”).  People mostly paid attention, and those that were talking did so in hushed tones.  To my delight, it was mostly about the music.

The Tuckerbox Folk Series happens every Friday from 6-8 PM at Tuckerbox Café, located in White River Junction at the corner of North Main and South Main.

Local Rhythms – Folk Scene Gets A Nice Boost

singout19711Well-rounded though the area music scene may be, there’s a dearth of places hosting singer-songwriters.

A lot of local venues seem to exist between two extremes.

On the one hand, there’s quiet jazz, a perfect background soundtrack for dinner conversation; on the other, blues and rock, typically delivered after 9:00 PM to energetic crowds – designed to stoke thirsts and fill dance floors.

Not that I’m complaining, but having spent my Wonder Bread years listening to Jackson Browne, Carole King and James Taylor, there’s nothing more exhilarating to me than witnessing an artist who can quiet a room with nothing more than their voice, a guitar and the thoughts in their head.

“Pour your simple sorrow to the sound hole and your knee,” wrote Joni Mitchell.  Through some kind of alchemy, these private thoughts become universal emotions.

It’s magic.

With that in mind, I welcome the arrival of a weekly acoustic music series at Tuckerbox Café in White River Junction.

Singer-songwriters perform every Friday night from 6 to 8 PM; there’s a rotation of five performers.  It’s the brainchild of Norwich folksinger Phil Singer.

The location, which opened last June, “has a real lively folk vibe,” enthuses Singer.  ”The overstuffed leather couches and chairs remind me of the Ohio coffeehouses I used to play back in the day.”

Featured performers include Marianna McKim, who performs this week with a player to be named later, musical curator Ford Daley and his partner Elaine Gifford, area mainstay Betsy Stewart, folksinger Cindy Geilich, and Singer & Jordan, Phil’s duo with Laurianne Jordan.

The latte and scones operation is an offshoot of Tip Top Café, and is located just down the street from the American bistro-styled restaurant at 1 South Main Street – right in the heart of the vibrant WRJ arts scene.

It’s a classic “door closes, window opens” scenario, considering Elixir’s closing last month.

Singer attempted to organize a similar effort for a few months last year, trucking in coffee and snacks to the Hotel Coolidge, but the chemistry wasn’t right.

Undeterred, he and his friends kept making music while they waited for another opportunity.

“Up to now, we’ve been meeting in one another’s houses because of the scarcity of venues for acoustic music,” he says.

But the times, they are a-changing … for the better.

What else is happening?

Thursday: John Gorka, Four Corners Grille – Gorka writes literate songs, rooted in place and time.  “Houses In The Field” looks at the costs of progress; on “Bottles Break” he crawls inside the mind of a local denizen who wants nothing more than “to buy this town and keep it rough.”  “Mean Streak” would have been a smash hit if John Mellencamp recorded it. I could go on, but you should see him and get it for yourself.

Friday: High Ground Band, Electra – These country rockers have a big following at area clubs like Shenanigans and KJ’s (where they perform next Friday). They’re also a charitable bunch – for the second year in a row, High Ground will perform their original song,  “David’s House,” during their opening set at that organization’s annual benefit (Lebanon Opera House, December 3) – Mark Wills is headlining.

Saturday: Pete Merrigan, Seven Barrel Brewery – I know, I frequently pick this man’s shows. What can I say? I’m a fan.  But this is the first time in my memory that he’s performed at this wonderful West Lebanon brew pub, which I still love even though I can’t have a cigar there any more.  Pete’s a permanent resident now, though he’s sneaking down to Tampa/St. Petersburg in early December for a couple of shows.

Sunday: Jeremy Milligan Quintet, Hooker-Dunham – This group plays moody, hard to pin down jazz influenced by Bela Fleck, Tin Hat Trio and other iconoclasts.  Which is perfect for this smallish Brattleboro performance space, which routinely welcomes left of center talent.  His songs (streaming on Milligan’s MySpace page) insinuate themselves, lurking in the background until some clever interplay between clarinet, accordion and guitar pokes above the surface.

Tuesday: The Blasters, Iron Horse – In the 1980’s this rocking combo was equally at home sharing the bill with Black Flag or Queen.  They specialize in uncompromising, high-energy roadhouse music.  Bands like the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Los Lobos found success with this sound, while the Blasters stayed a bit under the radar – though not for lack of talent

Wednesday: Duane Carleton, Center Street Saloon – This singer/songwriter plays upwards of 300 gigs a year in and around northern Vermont, including weekly appearances at this Rutland pub.  He reminds me of John Mellencamp, with energetic songs about working class concerns.  I’d love to see him play a bit closer to the Upper Valley, but for now, this is as close as he gets.

Finally, for retirees & swing-shifters – The Claremont Middle School hosts a free performance by multi-instrumentalist and world music authority Randy Armstrong