Falcon Ridge Folk and Noppet Hill Bluegrass: A User's Guideby Seth Rogovoy
(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 24, 1997) -- Don't let the name fool you. It may be called the Falcon Ridge "Folk" Festival, but it's virtually impossible to generalize about the music that will be played there this weekend. About the best thing that can be said with any certainty is that whatever preconceptions one has about what constitutes "folk" music will be dashed by a weekend spent at Falcon Ridge.
For the most part, the performers on the mainstage are singer-songwriters or bands that write their own material and primarily play acoustic-based music on guitar -- people like Greg Brown, Cheryl Wheeler, David Wilcox and Janis Ian, all of whom will perform together at Friday night's Summer's Eve Song Swap.
But every rule proves the exception. Thus, Dee Carstensen, one of the hottest acts appearing this weekend, plays harp. June Rich is a full- fledged rock band. Northampton-based Salamander Crossing is a modern-folk group disguised as a bluegrass outfit. Martin Sexton is nearly as much a jazz singer as he is folk, and Les Sampou's original music is deeply rooted in blues. Pianist Bob Malone is new-folk's answer to Dr. John, and Dan Bern could well be new-folk's answer to Beck. And no one will mistake Dar Williams's brand new, fully-produced, alternative-pop album, "End of the Summer" (Razor and Tie), for "folk" music. "Kumbaya" it ain't.
There are always surprises in store for unsuspecting listeners, too. I hadn't even planned to listen to Ani DiFranco a few years back at Falcon Ridge, but accidentally got caught in front of the mainstage during her set, where I stood utterly transfixed for the next half-hour, totally amazed at my discovery, which I couldn't wait to share with the world at large. (DiFranco is in Europe this month, but will be at Tanglewood on Aug. 4, when she warms up the crowd for Bob Dylan.)
It was at Falcon Ridge where I saw the Nields first really jell as a band, and where I bumped into John Gorka tuning his guitar in the parking lot while harmonizing with Patty Larkin and the Story. None of those people will be at Falcon Ridge this summer, but others will, undoubtedly including some who will impress as much as these few did in past years. And the new artist showcase, which begins Friday at noon and runs until about 6, is destined to introduce future mainstage performers. In fact, it's written into the contract, because each year, Falcon Ridge surveys the audience to see who they are most excited about, and then invites the winners back to perform the next summer.
The three-day Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is billed as a "Community of Folk Music and Dance," and for good reason. In some ways, it is two festivals in one. While the mainstage performers might get the greatest share of the media attention, in fact Falcon Ridge is also a thriving folk-dance festival. Some 2,000 visitors come to spend most or all of their time on the 8,000-square-foot, all-wood, tent-covered dance floor.
From morning until late at night, bands of all types play a variety of music, including Cajun, zydeco, swing, world-beat, contras and squares. There are beginners' workshops, special family and gender-free dances, and over a dozen acts, including Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Ralph Sweet with Wild Asparagus, and Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie, to keep people on their feet throughout the weekend.
Beyond the mainstage and the dance stage, Falcon Ridge also offers song swaps, crafts, a family stage -- look for the Berkshires' own Roger the Jester here -- spoken word performers, kids activites, storytelling and comedy. On the workshop stage, mainstage performers get loose and informal on topics this year including "Funny Tunes," "The Songwriting Process," "Ladies Sing the Blues," folk music on the Internet, and a tribute to Laura Nyro.
What you need to knowThe Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is at the Long Hill Farm on Route 23 in Hillsdale, N.Y., from July 25-27. Day tickets or weekend passes, with or without camping, are available. Early entry today into campgrounds is available with a three-day camping ticket. Gates open at 10 am on Friday; music starts at noon. Music starts at 11 am on Saturday and Sunday. For ticket prices or more information call 860-350-7472. Falcon Ridge is on the World Wide Web at www.FalconRidgeFolk.com.
NOPPET HILL BLUEGRASS FESTIVALIn its second year, the Noppet Hill Bluegrass Festival boasts three top national acts. The Del McCoury Band, a Grammy nominee and winner of six awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) last year -- including entertainer of the year, instrumental group of the year and male vocalist of the year -- performs on Saturday and Sunday. The Lynn Morris Band, led by the 1996 IBMA female vocalist of the year, who also garnered the award for best song, "Mama's Hand," plays on Saturday. And the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Bluegrass Band rounds out the festival with an encore appearance on Sunday.
Also appearing at Noppet Hill are such top regional and local bands as Lanesboro's own Bear Bridge, Blue Diamond, Heartwood, Lost Wages, North Star, Northern Bound and Stringtown. On Friday night, the Noppet Hill Band, featuring local musicians including Robert Fraker, Alice Spatz, Mike Bouley and others, will perform.
What you need to knowThe Noppet Hill Bluegrass Festival is at Steele Farm in Lanesboro, from July 25-27. Gates open today at noon. Music begins Friday at 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 11 am, with round-the-clock "field picking" -- the impromptu, amateur jam sessions that are often the highlight of bluegrass festivals, and which are sometimes visited by the pros -- expected throughout the weekend.
Tickets are available for individual days or as a three-day pass including camping. Steele Farm is on Bailey Road, accessible from Route 7 or from Route 43 via Brodie Mt. Road. For more information call 413-499- 2805. Noppet Hill is on the World Wide Web at www.berkshire.net/~noppet.
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