The drive up Taconic Parkway on Saturday morning was pretty, in a green, clear, temperate way. After an hour and a half, I got foxhole religion. Please, God, give me anything. A big rock. A billboard for North of the Border (Pierre says, "Komm zee me, m'sieur!") A pair of Chuck Taylors hanging from a tree. Anything to break up this interminable niceness. And after an hour and a half of the efficient, pretty festival, I was starting to have similarly curmudgeonly thoughts. I began to fear that everyone else there was community minded and fun-loving and devoid of any previous exposure to irony, dark wit, or complexity beyond "He sure can play fast." I was wrong; there is much to love about Falcon Ridge. Yes, nice attracts bland: the woman who hears a baDOOMba stage remark about PMS and SCREAMS with laughter, then turns to her significant other and says, "That was funny." Aside from performers who pandered to this ilk, there was much onstage to stimulate intelligent interest. Consider
Moxy Fruvous -- a sort of musical acrobat troupe with a lot of sunshine in their harmonies. Yes, the guys in Moxy are zany; yes, they sing the Dr. Seuss stories of our collective childhood; but they also juggle social commentary and musical humor with scary skill. They did two encores for a crowd, twothirds of which had never heard them before. People moshed, in a communitarian way, to "Dancing Queen." Expect Moxy back next year.
Martin Sexton was the buzz of the festival. Who created this guy? Is he made for the folk circuit or what? He's this year's Susan Werner: he's young, he's pretty, he's smart, he's got a folkysounding name, and he's at least competent. From the small sample I got of his bluesy singing, he's more than competent. And at Falcon Ridge you could get his face on a button for free.
Last year's Susan Werner, Susan Werner, is holding up nicely. I didn't stick around for her full set 'cause I've heard her twice in the past month, but I could hear her from my campsite. There's more to her than poise and a big voice; she's showing more heart in her music these days, and she's fueled up her guitar chops to match her voice.
The big surprise for me was
Vance Gilbert: specifically, finding out that Vance Gilbert is black. Knowing that largely white folk audiences share my discomfort at noticing his race, Gilbert jokes about it -- a lot. Too much. And he doesn't have a killer voice like, say, Martin Sexton, but he works it -- and succeeds. He's an excellent songwriter, but he also chooses great cover material: he did an a cappella song he'd learned from June Tabor that hushed the crowd, but then he had us laughing within seconds. It's a roller coaster ride well worth taking.
Susan McKeown and the Chanting House had the unfortunate luck to follow Nancy Tucker, whose final number was sung while gargling. I suspect the crowd didn't know what to make of the Chanting House's subtle Celtic jazz at first, but they learned. McKeown was likewise savvy to the audience mood, adding in just enough of her lighter material to keep the energy level high. Then she picked just the right moment, near the end of her set, to reel 'em in with "Who Knows Where the Time Goes." The band didn't do an encore (as Moxy and Tucker, just before her, had done), and the crowd didn't seem to need one. But at the merchandise tent, people were snapping up Bones. "There's nothing else?" wailed one mid-20s guy. "There should be T-shirts! There should be buttons!"
I didn't stay up for Sloan Wainwright (yes, Loudon's sister), but I bought one of her tie-dye T-shirts. I missed The Nields, but everyone was talking about them and, likewise, about Catie Curtis. The workshops were entertaining and well attended; the concessions were more sophisticated than most; the dance tent rocked with a series of great bands like Wild Asparagus.
The performers mingled with the ordinary folk; I kept seeing familiar faces and realizing I knew them from CD booklets. Falcon Ridge was full of that sort of down-home pleasantness that gives American folk a bad name, leavened with the intelligence and soul that give it its continuing power.
-- Pamela Murray Winters (Arlington, VA)