One of my favorite folk festivals is the Greater New Bedford Summerfest, located amongst the cobblestone streets of the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park in New Bedford, Mass. The festival always has an eclectic mix of outstanding performers in mostly intimate settings (of the seven stages, only one has a large seating capacity - the four other outdoor stages are quite small, and the two indoor settings also provide an up close and personal experience). Even more notable is the festival's commitment to both contemporary and traditional folk music, and even more unusual is the way the festival mixes those performers together in imaginatively themed "workshops" that often have musicians with a variety of styles and backgrounds together on stage at the same time.
Before the two full days of the festival, there is an opening evening concert at the main stage; this year headlined by Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, together with the band Annalivia, and the duo of Pete and Maura Kennedy. The Kennedys were filling in at the opening concert for the Australian group, Women in Docs, who had to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency. Maura noted that in honor of Women in Docs, she had dusted off her old, bright red Doc Martens to wear that evening, and then she and Pete launched the music with a Women in Docs song "I Recall." (See Video Below)
From there, Pete and Maura featured songs from their brand new CD, Closer Than You Know (their first together in four years). Highlights of the set included the very catchy "Rhyme and Reason" and a new version of the ancient murder ballad "Maddy Groves" where they were joined by the two fiddlers and the guitarist of the band Annalivia.
I first heard Annalivia at the Folk Alliance conference in February, and was excited to hear them at greater length in New Bedford, and was not disappointed. The band, featuring Flynn Cohen on guitar, mandolin and vocals, Liz Simmons on vocals and guitar, and fiddlers Marial Vandersteel and Emerald Rae, plays a mix of Celtic and American fiddle tunes and traditional songs as well as original music. Their tune sets are exciting and high energy - and there is nothing like that twin fiddle sound. Other highlights of this set included a Simmons original, "Deepest Water" and their version of "Bright Sunny South," a song from the perspective of a Civil War soldier that Flynn Cohen, who sang lead, got via the legendary Dock Boggs. Finally, they did a great version of an ancient traditional ballad, "John Riley," where they were joined by the Kennedys, and which had a suitably moody, atmospheric electric guitar solo from Pete Kennedy and a great mandolin solo from Flynn Cohen. (See Video Below)
The evening was capped off by Peter Yarrow, who began his set with a singalong on "Music Speaks Louder than Words," which he had taught the audience before the entire concert had started. He then told stories about Mary Travers before dedicating "Leaving on a Jet Plane" to her memory. He then expounded at length on his passion of recent years, the "Don't Laugh at Me" school programs against bullying that he has been promoting around the world. After singing the song of the same name, he launched into a medley of "This Little Light of Mine," "This Land is Your Land" and "Trouble in Mind," which segued back into "This Little Light of Mine." From that point on, he said the show would be requests, and there were a lot of shouts from the audience, leading him to ask the audience member to pretend they were in school and raise their hand.
After engaging a number of people in a conversation (and showing just a bit of a Groucho Marx persona at times), he then satisfied an audience clearly imbued with nostalgia for the early '60s, when Peter, Paul and Mary burst onto the scene exactly five decades ago. Highlights included "Day Is Done" and the inevitable "Puff, the Magic Dragon," where he invited children to come up to the stage - (he later expanded the definition of children to under 35, but there were a few who ended up on stage who were double that). He did have a 12-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl sing portions of the song solo and had sweet chats with both of them. He said to the 12 year old, "I wrote this song 50 years ago, and you know ALL the words. How can this possibly be?" to which the boy replied, "I watched a video!"
Pete and Maura Kennedy and Annalivia joined Yarrow on stage for "Blowin' in the Wind," which featued a gorgeous Pete Kennedy guitar solo, and then Pete and Maura joied Yarrow in the encore of "If I Had a Hammer," where Maura REALLY belted out the words. I noted that the three of them stood around the mic in the same configuration that Peter, Paul and Mary once did, and Maura with her long, straight, albeit dark and not blonde, hair, did bring back certain memories. This set was far from the most musically accomplished performance of the festival, but that wasn't the point, which was to give people the feelings they had when they first heard Peter Yarrow with Peter, Paul and Mary, and from the audience reaction, it was a glowing success in that regard.