With the release last December of the Cohen Brothers feature film "Inside Llewyn Davis," about a young folksinger in the Bohemian Greenwich Village section of New York City back in the early 1960s, it becomes even more poignant to attend area concerts by folksingers who were directly inspired by that time in our popular musical evolution.
The folk music of the 1960s and '70s tends to get baled together into one time, when in fact there were many layers of musical development in that auspiciously formative period we refer to as the '60s, and various evolving genres, including the folk, Top 40's rock, and blues. The 1960s, I'd argue, was a decade that spanned 15 years musically.
The early '60s could be construed as the formative period, when folk music was king and coffeehouses were the place to imbibe and commune at musical celebrations known as "hootenannies."
That was about the time when the young Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village on his quest to search out the ailing Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Carter Family. Dylan also was discovering his own musical identity as all the pieces in his inquiry were encountered and assimilated.
The folk-blues rediscovery was, for many, a key part of that process of discovery, working backward from Dylan, then setting out on a vision quest to get back to the source of the popular music, the folk and blues of soon-to-be larger-than-life characters such as Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt.
The rewards were manifest into a life-long learning style with music at its center, bringing forth what would, in the later part of the 1960s and early '70s, evolve from folk-blues to the electric blues of Chicago, and the folk-rock of young bands like The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, for example.
The Cohen Brothers film takes us back to 1961, the Greenwich Village coffeehouse period. Most of those musicians are gone or inactive now, as signified by the recent passing of Pete Seeger and the passing of an earlier icon of the times, "The Mayor of McDougal Street" Dave Van Ronk (who is a central figure in the film).
We still have a fairly clear picture of the generation of musicians who blossomed and thrived, including Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers, Paxton and Dylan, and an impressionable duo calling themselves Aztec Two-Step, which celebrates 43 years of music making in a concert Friday night at the Avalon Theatre in Easton (8 p.m.).
I asked Rex Flower, one half of Aztec Two-Step, what he thought of the film "Inside Llewyn Davis." Did the Cohen Brothers truthfully reflect those misty musical times?
"I saw and very much liked 'Inside Llewyn Davis,'" said Fowler. "It is a heavy, dark and often depressing film, especially if you're a struggling musician, but the Cohen Brothers are awe-inspiring filmmakers and made an artful 'period piece' about the emerging modern folk music scene just before The Byrds ('Mr. Tambourine Man'), Dylan ('Like A Rolling Stone') and Simon & Garfunkel ('Sound of Silence') ignited the folk rock explosion."
Visiting New York City in the late 1980s, I went looking for the seminal Gerdes Folk City and, by chance, witnessed closing night which, as I remember it, was a show by Aztec Two-Step. There are Bob Dylan bootleg recordings from The Gaslight circa 1962 that you can hear now on CDs.
"The Gaslight and Gerdy's Folk City were still around when Neal and I arrived in New York City in May of '71, but the folk scene was pretty much over by then, recalls Fowler. "Very few people were coming out to hear original acoustic music in the clubs unless the performers were already established."
The Aztec Two-Step duo got lucky one fateful day after arriving in New York.
"Fortunately someone discovered us while we were busking or playing outdoors in Central Park and brought us to Elektra Records where Jac Holzman promptly signed us," said Fowler. "Folk-rock was still a viable radio genre and Jac thought we fit that bill. He was right!"
Holzman had founded what was to become Elektra Records in his dorm room at St. John's College in Annapolis back in 1950. The label blossomed in the rock era, becoming home to artists such as The Doors, Carly Simon and others. Always a champion of folk music, Holzman also signed Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and Josh White. (He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on March 14, 2011.)
"I met (Beat musician) David Amram early on while living in The Village ... and was enamored that he was fast friends with Jack Kerouac. Mr. K had already passed by then but we got to meet, hang out and perform with the quintessential hipster and 'Beat poet' Alan Ginsberg a couple of times in Colorado and Maine," Fowler said.
"Our song about 'The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarity (On the Road),' and taking our name from a Ferlinghetti poem put us in good stead with the genius Mr. G!"
I asked Fowler about his relationship with Seeger. Turns out Aztec Two-Step shared the same manager, the legendary Harold Leventhal (who also managed Guthrie and Joan Baez).
"So many magical songs and seminal moments that defined the modern era of folk music and beyond - The Weavers, McCarthyism, civil rights, the Sloop Clearwater, to name just a few," Fowler said. "These were, and still are wondrous times we live in, and Pete Seeger is, and always will, remain a major reason why."
Don't miss your chance to enjoy folk songs of Simon & Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers, and Aztec Two-Step at the Avalon.
Classic country artists The Oak Ridge Boys play two shows this Friday night at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis (6 and 9 p.m.). The harmony quartet has an Olympic track record for writing hit songs over five decades, including "Bobbie Sue," "Dream On," "Thank God For Kids," "American Made," "I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes," "Fancy Free," "Gonna Take A Lot Of River" and many more.
The group is fully reconstituted with lifelong musician fans, pushing forward the legacy of one of country music's most successful and revered acts. Whether creating a rootsy remake of a White Stripes tune ("Seven Nation Army"), or re-recording their own hit songs for a new generation, these Oak Ridge Boys are poised to strike gold again (as in 12 gold records), and platinum, too.
The Oak Ridge Boys have gospel roots, as evidenced in their backing vocals for Paul Simon on his hit "Slip Sliding Away." They've also recorded with George Jones, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe and Ray Charles.
"Back when we were struggling in the early 1970s, Johnny Cash encouraged us," remembers Richard Sterban in the band's Web bio. "He booked us on his show in Las Vegas, and he paid us too much money. But his belief in us was the most important thing. He sat us down and told us, 'Boys, you think it's rough right now, but there's magic in the four of you. I can feel that magic. I know there is magic there. Don't break up.'"
And they're still here!
Other concerts this Friday night include a Beyonce & JayZ dance party with Carter vs. Carter at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore (9 p.m.), sensational Philly band Dr. Dog at the 9:30 Club in Washington (sold out 8 p.m. show), Boombox featuring Zion Godchaux (son of former Grateful Dead band members Keith and Donna Godchaux) at the U Street Music Hall in D.C. (8 p.m.), acoustic blues player Rory Block at Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel (8 p.m.), and Irish band Solas is at The Barns of Wolf Trap (8 p.m.).
The folk and country music continues with a performance at Rams Head On Stage on Saturday by Alabama musician and songwriter, and former Coral Reefer Band member Mac McAnally (8 p.m.). Mac has stories to tell with each song he plays in concert these days. His tales stem from growing up near and working at the famed Muscle Shoals recording studio as a house band guitarist and piano player.
Early on Buffett and Hank Jr. recorded Mac's songs, as have Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley, to name a few. He's recorded with Little Feat, Ricky Scaggs, George Strait and Roy Orbison. McAnally's accolades include induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and six years in a row as the Country Music Association's Musician of the Year.
Other Saturday shows this week include the Clockbreaker CD release party with five bands performing at Rams Head Live! (7:30 p.m.), the indie band called Bethesda is at the Avalon Theatre in Easton (8 p.m.), blindingly nimble fingered and psychedelic bluegrass musician Larry Keel plays Gypsy Sally's in Washington (9 p.m.), RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles comes to the Warner Theatre and Southside Johnny plays at Wolf Trap with his acoustic cover band The Poor Fools (7:30 p.m.).
British blues guitarist Davy Knowles (Back Door Slam) appears in a band with singer Larry Braggs (13 years with Tower of Power) at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on Sunday (8 p.m.). Davy stole the show at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival a few years ago performing his electrifying British style blues-rock. Awesome player!
And The Chieftains play their sole area St. Patrick's Day show at George Mason University's Concert Hall this Sunday (4 p.m. family show). These six-time Grammy Award-winners have uncovered centuries of Irish song and made these traditional works their own winning countless fans.
The Chieftains have spent decades spreading the gospel of Irish music while collaborating with The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Doc Watson and Luciano Pavarotti (and they have performed for both Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II).
You're invited to an evening with American Idol (season 9) star Lee Dewyze on Tuesday at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis (8 p.m.).
And Wednesday is going to be a dazzling night of Earth, Wind & Fire tunes at Rams Head On Stage from the tribute band known as In Gratitude (8 p.m.), while mysterious emo act The Neighborhood regales the sold-out crowd at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore (8 p.m.).
Plus, 11 piece indie rock band Typhoon appears at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night (7 p.m. doors).
Thursday, March 20
Get ready for some electronic punk rock from Mindless Self Indulgence plus Kamikaze Kupcakes, and The Bunny The Bear at Rams Head Live! next Thursday (8 p.m.).
Or you can take in a relaxed, free and casual performance at the Avalon Theatre from the U.S. Air Force Rhythm in Blue jazz ensemble (7 p.m., no tickets required).
Also next Thursday, enjoy the electric guitar genius of critically acclaimed British bluesman Matt Scofield as he returns to Rams Head On Stage (8 p.m.).
At Twins Jazz in Washington, get an eye and earful of the Jazz Band Masterclass bands featuring founder and saxophone player Jeff Antoniuk next Thursday (7:30 and 10:30 p.m. shows). The concerts feature Jazz Band Masterclass groups under the direction of respected jazz artist educators: Antoniuk, pianist Fred Hughes and bassist Amy Shook.
JBM helps gifted adult musicians get "out of the basement and onto the bandstand." Musicians learn and play in combos, the way jazz was meant to be played. In the past eight years, the Jazz Band Masterclass organization has spawned many successful bands. The musicians playing this concert have advanced to the semi-pro category. Three bands will play a selection of American jazz each night with teaching artists sitting in.
St. Patrick's Day celebrations continue next Thursday night with a wonderful Masters of the Celtic Harp program at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis featuring none-other than New Age sensations Patrick Ball and Lisa Lynne, plus Swedish folk player Aryeh Frankfurter (7 p.m.).