On Stage: The Philadelphia Folk Festival has a loaded lineup

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

If you’re in the mood for a lot of music this weekend, then you should head north — to Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville to check out the 2019 Philadelphia Folk Festival (Old Pool Farm, Schwenksville, 800-556-FOLK, www.pfs.org).

This Philadelphia Folk Festival is a music festival that is on a plateau all its own. Now in its 58th year, the festival continues to evolve with the times and, at the same time, maintain its traditional vibe. There is no other festival in the country quite like the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

One of the showcased acts at his year’s festival will be The Mavericks.

Whenever the Mavericks visit the area for a concert, it seems like a celebration.

The Mavericks

The last two scheduled dates by the veteran band have really been celebrations – concerts that celebrate actual events.

Back in December, the Mavericks performed a special concert at the Scottish Rites Auditorium to celebrate Christmas and the celebrate the release of their first-ever original holiday album, “Hey! Merry Christmas!”

This weekend, the Mavericks will be performing a show at the Philadelphia Folk Festival as part of their massive “30th Anniversary Tour” – and it will definitely be a celebration.

The Mavericks – Raul Malo (vocals), Paul Deakin (drums), Jerry Dale McFadden (keyboards), Edie Perez (guitar) — possess an ability to transform any room into a raucous musical celebration, elevating their songs to new heights with the kind of exhilarating performances that have long established them as one of the nation’s best live bands.

The fields of Old Pool Farm won’t be any different – except there is no roof for the band to blow off.

The Mavericks came together in Miami more than a quarter-century ago and immediately built a strong following with their eclectic mix of a wide variety of genres – from rockabilly to standards to cowpunk. The band makes music that is just as accessible and heartfelt as it is passionate and fun.

Despite personnel changes, financial difficulties, internal conflicts, a few periods in limbo and a variety of other challenges, the Mavericks are still going strong 30 years later.

“The decision to do a big 30th anniversary tour was made by all of us,” said Perez, during a phone interview last week. “We started figuring out what is something we could do to celebrate three decades of making music.”

Over the summer and fall, the Mavericks will perform a unique version of their renowned live show that has won over crowds internationally, including appearances at some of the finest venues in Europe, Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

“We’re going to our catalog – from beginning to now,” said Perez. “We’re certainly in a position – luxuriously I might add – to do what we want.

“The travel through time is done musically from our first album to stuff we’re doing today. But, it’s not easy to encapsulate all this in a two-hour show. It’s been a great way for us to come together stronger.

“Raul has a really great sense in figuring out our set list. He knows how well the music from 30 years all gels and fits what we’re doing today. For us, the big part of our business is the touring and we have found a way to make it all work.”

The Mavericks began their career within the punk and alternative music scene in Miami, Florida. In 1991, the band was signed by MCA Nashville, and their first major label release, “From Hell to Paradise,” was released on May 12, 1992.

Their most recent albums are “Brand New Day,” which was released on March 31, 23017, and “Hey! Merry Christmas,” which hit the shelves on November 2, 2018. Both LPs are on the band’s own label Mono Mundo Recordings.

“On hits tour, we go all the way back to our first record and play popular songs from our whole career,” said Perez. “It’s great to be able to play these old tunes with this invigorated band.

“We’re making the music we love to make and taking it to the fans. Right now, the Mavericks are making the best music they’ve ever made. And, we’re playing the old songs with their original arrangements. I know if I was a fan, I’d want to hear the songs played the way they were recorded.

With special staging and a unique narrative, this anniversary show will reimagine the group’s catalog, from their early days in Miami’s punk and alternative scene through their chart-topping years in the ’90s and 2000s and right up to their reunion and creative rebirth.

In addition to telling the story of the Mavericks, the shows will chart the many ways in which they have intertwined traditional Tex-Mex, Latino, Norteño and Tejano music with country, rock ’n’ roll and the great American songbook — a true American story of cross-cultural inspiration.

“We’re going to present our musical history in a way that’s special,” said Perez. “This show is a real production.”

According to Malo, “I’m not one to look back, I never have been. I always want to move forward with our music and look to the future, and our fans want that too — they always respond really well to every new album. But if you can’t celebrate 30 years in such a tough business as the music industry, what can you celebrate?

“I’m proud that we’ve made our mark and it’s good to celebrate that. I think we’ve found the perfect way to mark these 30 years without thinking only about the past and I’m really excited to get out and play these shows.”

Video link for the Mavericks – https://youtu.be/i0haFBXHik4.

While the Mavericks have international influences in their musical DNA, there are many performers at this weekend’s festival that are actually international acts.

Wallis Bird

Wallis Bird is a talented singer/songwriter/folkie/indie rocker who was born and raised in Ireland and now lives in Germany.

Bird is currently touring the states in support of her new album “Woman,” which is her sixth album but first with a domestic release.

Bird may be relatively unknown in the states, but such is not the case in Europe. Since her start in 2006, she has won two Meteor Awards (Ireland’s annual music prize) and the 2017 German “Musikautorenpreis” (Music Author Prize). Bird also has had nominations for Ireland’s equivalent to Britain’s Mercury Prize, the Choice Music Prize.

“My first record was an EP in 2006,” said Bird, during a phone interview Wednesday from a tour stop in Washington, D.C. “My first album was ‘Spoons’ in 2008. Since then, I’ve been releasing an album every two or three yerars.”

Her “New Boots” album came out in 2009 followed by “Wallis Bird” in 2012, “Architect” in 2014, “Home” in 2016 and “Woman.”

“My new album ‘Woman’ will be coming out on September 27,” ssaid Bird. “I made 70 per cent of the album in my home studio in Berlin. I started recording this way with my last album. I just bring the band there.

“The other 30 per cent I did with my co-producer Marcus Wüst at his studio, which is called Altezigarrenfabrik. I bring the vibe and he brings the magic.”

In July, Bird released “Salve,” the second single off her forthcoming album. “Salve” is a raucous nod to Bird’s soulful heritage and musical upbringings.

According to Bird, “My dad was a big soul and rock man. I’ve been floating soul vibes my whole life. It gets me deep down, for sure. ‘Salve’ warns us about social media’s more poisonous effects.”

“Salve” follows the release of  “As the River Flows,” a track that is dedicated to Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee whose body was photographed in 2015 on a Turkish beach.

“I was born in the east part of Ireland,” said Bird. “My parents had a pub in Enniscorthy in County Wexford.

“Music has been with me since I was born. My mother said that I was dancing in the womb. I was whistling before I could talk. When I was six months old, my father gave me my first guitar. From the day he gave it to me, it never left my side. It was my favorite toy — and it still is.”

Her guitar playing was put in jeopardy when she was very young.

Born left-handed, she lost five fingers of her left hand in a lawnmower accident when she was 18 months old. Four were sewn back on again.

“At least I got four of the five back on,” said Bird. “I’m left-handed except when I’m playing tin whistle or opening jars. I play right-handed guitar upside-down.”

Perhaps Bird’s greatest asset is the ability to deliver a dynamic live performance.

Most artists can’t sustain the kind of energy levels that Bird exhibits on stage. Every performance is characterized by an almost startling passion — one that frequently leaves Bird breathless and her guitar strings shredded to pieces with bloodied fingers to match.

Her refreshingly honest, self-effacing manner has endeared her to audiences of every kind. This weekend, audiences at the PFF will get to experience it first-hand.

Video link for Wallis Bird — https://youtu.be/4HWYqdUV5GE.

The Young’uns

Another act from the British Isles that is just beginning to make an impact in the states is The Young’uns.

Just as election season is heating up in America, British folk trio The Young’uns are set to bring their unique brand of social commentary to U.S. venues for the first time this summer.

Named “Best Group” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards two years in a row (2015 and 2016), they will introduce their trademark harmonies, honesty and humor to American audiences, commencing with their debut appearance at the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival.

The Young’uns are an English folk group from Stockton, County Durham, England. They specialise in singing unaccompanied — and they perform traditional shanties, contemporary songs such as Billy Bragg’s “Between the Wars” and Sydney Carter’s “John Ball”, and original works including “You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street” (alluding to Stockton’s reaction to a Benefits Street television crew) and “The Battle of Stockton” (on a 1933 clash with Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts).

The three members of The Young’uns are Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, who met as teenagers and encountered folk music as underage drinkers in a local pub. They enjoyed the music and returned to the Stockton Folk Club.

“Michael and Sean have known each other since they were three,” said Eagle, during a recent phone interview from his home in Sheffield, England. “I met them when I was 17 at a pub in Scotland called the Stockton Folk Club.

“Being a folk club, they would go around and have people in the bar sing songs. When it got to us, they said – there’s the Young’uns, let’s have them give us a song. We sang this one verse we knew from a sea shanty – and that’s how we got our name.

“We loved the folk club scene. You perform without instruments and sing old songs, shanties and songs about something that happened that day. We kept going back week-after-week.

“That was in 2003. Our first real gig was in 2005 – at that same club. Our first album was ‘To Hell With Pirate John,’ which was recorded live at a shanty gig called Pirate Johns. There were only 100 copies made of that album.

“Our first studio album was ‘When Our Grandfathers Said No’ in 2012 when we had been professionals for six years. That’s when we gave up our day jobs.

“Prior to that, we’d be finishing the day job, leaving the office and going down the motorway to play a gig. Then, we’d be right back in the office the next day. So, we decided to give it a go as a band full-time. We’ve kept doing U.K. tours and now we’re touring the states for the first time

The Young’uns are best known for their largely unaccompanied story songs that are at once poignant and humorous — some of them ripped straight from news headlines. Their 2018 album. “Strangers,” has been described as “a protest album that is pointed and forceful.”

“We see it more as social conscience rather than political,” said Eagle. “Social issues are a focus and we look to have a positive focus. Our songs are about ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

“When we perform, it’s not just about the music. It’s about chatting, telling stories and having fun. Our songs are about positive focus and having fun.”

Video link for The Young’uns — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhZFrVMV0tI

Ida Mae

Another act from England that will be performing in Schwenksville this weekend is Ida Mae – the husband and wife duo of Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean Ward.

Ida Mae’s magic lies in the sensuous dovetailing of two voices and the intimacy of their songs. Their chemistry on stage isn’t just a dramatic pose and is a truly captivating sight to behold. Hailing from Norwich and born out of Kill It Kid who established their credentials in the British Music indie Rock world, Turpin and Ward present themselves as a sensual version of White Stripes meets Civil Wars meets The xx. Singing together, the couple have an unusual ‘which-is-which’ dynamic.

“We’ve been doing Ida Mae for about two-and-a-half years,” said Turpin, during a recent phone interview. “Steph and I have been together for eight years. Prior to Ida Mae, we were in a heavier rock-and-roll blues band called Kill It Kid.

“We moved to Nashville a year ago. We finished making the album in the U.K. We cut it with producer Ethan Johns at Peter Gabriel’s Real Worlds Studio, which is located near where we used to live.

“I’m from Norwich and Steph is from Crawley. I met Steph when we were studying at a university in Bath. I was playing clubs doing blues and Steph was singing jazz.

“I had this big strong blues voice and Steph was singing songs by female artist like Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith. She had the female knowledge and I had the male thing. I asked her to sing with me. We were lucky that our voices matched.”

Breaking away from a band format and going it on their own was the right move for the young duo.

“We started making music together and traveling together,” said Turpin. “We became best friends really quickly.”

Before long, they became husband-and-wife and pursued a career in music together.

According to Turpin, “We wanted to make something simple and honest and raw. We wanted to make a record our way, with no compromises.

“We were living in this tiny little place in my hometown of Norwich when we started writing these songs. We had enough money to live there for six months, so we turned the entire downstairs into a studio and gave ourselves that window to write and demo as much as we possibly could. We knew we had to land a deal in that time, or it would be game over.”

Ida Mae made progress right from the start.

“When we were living in Norwich, a friend was playing a club called Stanford Arms. He asked us to come play one night, and we said yes. After that, we played the club once a month and the crowds grew.

“We took the songs we had recorded and set them out trying to get interest from record labels. We had several labels interested and signed with Warner Bros./Sire. But that didn’t work out because Seymour Stein, the guy who signed us, left Warner Bros. and so did his people. Then, we got interest from Thirty Tigers.”

Fortunately, Ida Mae didn’t let any setbacks get to them. Finally, the duo’s debut album, “Chasing Lights,” was released on June 7 via Thirty Tigers.

Video link for Ida Mae – https://youtu.be/UblrG2uKyEM.

Tami Neilson

Another international act performing at the festival brings two countries to the table. Tami Neilson is a singer from Canada who now calls New Zealand home.

Like Bird, Neilson’s musical roots run deep.

“Music is a family business,” said Neilson, during a phone interview from Woodbridge, New Jersey Wednesday not long after she had arrived from a flight from New Zealand.

“My dad was in a musical family and was on tour in bands from the time he was 14. My mom and dad toured for seven years with their own band until they had kids. Then, my dad toured as a comedian.

“With us kids, from the time we could talk, we were making music. When I was 12, we sold the house and toured for about a decade as a band. I was always predominantly a singer.

“When I was 16, I watched the movie ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter.’ I got myself a guitar. After watching the movie, I wanted to learn guitar and write songs myself to be like Loretta Lynn.”

Neilson grew up performing across North America with the Neilson Family Band, working alongside great such as Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker and Kitty Wells. With her parents Betty and Ron (her late father a songwriter of considerable accomplishment) and two brothers Todd (drums) and Jay (bass), she spent years on the road learning her craft.

This enabled Neilson to explore her increasing vocal and emotional range and build a deep well of musical influences to draw upon when she started to write her own material.

“The guitar has always been my tool for songwriting more than recording,” said Neilson, who is touring in support of her latest album, “CHICKABOOM!”. “I’ve always thought of my voice as my main instrument.

“Our family band played gospel and country but my dad was also a rock-and-roller. My mom liked country and my dad liked rock-and-roll. I grew up with that mix. I got my pipes from my dad.

“When the family band stopped, I toured with my brothers as a trio. Then, one got married. After that, we toured as a duo with me and Jay. That went on for a while and then I moved to New Zealand.”

Neilson fell in love with a New Zealander, moved to the bottom of the world and began her solo career without the support of the family. Over many years she built a platform for herself through open mic nights, playing soulless casinos and the dead-air time slots at festivals, finding a small group of fellow travelers and supportive players, and then a series of increasingly impressive albums followed.

“Living in New Zealand was daunting at first,” said Neilson, whose home is in Auckland. “I was starting at Square One again. Now, I tour extensively in Australia and New Zealand. It’s definitely still my largest fan base.

“This is my first time to play the states since I was a teenager so it’s really exciting. I’m really looking forward to getting back to playing for American audiences.”

Video link for Tami Neilson – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WxeOu6v6F8.

The PFF features a several acts from North of the Border. One of them is singer/songwriter Steve Poltz.

Steve Poltz

Poltz is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. He is a founding member of the indie-rock band The Rugburns and is best known for his collaborations with singer Jewel, especially the 1996 single, “You Were Meant for Me” which reached number 2 in the states.

As a solo artist, he often performs acoustic-only “good old-fashioned sing-along” shows. His songs have been noted for their simple melodies and satirical lyrics.

Poltz was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and later moved with his family to Pasadena, California, then to Palm Springs, California. He attended the University of San Diego, where he received a degree in political science. His exposure to music goes way back.

“My uncle Bob took me to the Hollywood Bowl when I was six to see Julian Bream perform,” said Poltz, during a phone interview Tuesday from his home in Nashville.

“He bought me records by Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan. I started taking guitar lessons when I was six.

“When I was older, I went to college at the University of California San Diego. When I was there, I started a band called the Rugburns. We did college gigs and then we got a record deal in 1980. We started touring and never stopped.

“Really, we just kept touring and never stopped. Then I wrote a hit song with Jewel called ‘You Were Meant For Me,’ which went to Number Two, and that got me a solo deal. I got a solo record deal and never stopped touring.

“My first wo albums in 1998 were on Mercury Records. Most of the albums after that were on my label 98 Pounder and the new one is on Red House Records.”

The new one is “Shine On,” which was released earlier this year.

“‘Shine On’ came out in March,” said Poltz. “Will Kimbrough produced it at his house. We were going to go to a fancy studio. Then, I started doing demos at the studio in his backyard and that worked well.”

Prior to working with Kimbrough, Poltz moved with his girlfriend to Nashville and that became the genesis of “Shine On.”

“There are a lot of great players in Nashville but I ain’t scared,” said Poltz. “I’m the only me.

“My girlfriend Sharon wanted me to move to Nashville. She sold her hairdressing business and we sold sold the condo we were living in.

Sharon wanted to move to Nashville because she thought it would be good for me. At first, I didn’t want to leave San Diego. But, it’s all right. I like it here.”

Poiltz makes music that is not typical Nashville fare. His songs evoke themes of “hope, love, contemplation, celebration of Wednesday, pharmacists, and the fact that windows are not inanimate objects and they sometimes have conversations with each other.” So far, he has released a dozen albums showcasing his unique way of looking at the world.

“In my live shows, I play songs from all my albums along with some Rugburns songs,” said the transplanted Haligonian. “I have so many songs to choose from. Before reach show, I feel the audience and then decide which ones to play.”

Video link for Steve Poltz – https://youtu.be/SZ1P774bAGQ.

The PFF features a lot of international acts and even more domestic acts.

Michael Braunfeld

One of the popular domestic acts is singer/songwriter Michael Braunfeld, who is not only an American but also a Philadelphia area resident.

Braunfeld is a civil lawyer who has worked around southeast Pennsylvania, including Chester and Delaware counties. But his main focus in recent years has been his music career.

Braunfeld, a songwriter, guitarist and storyteller, is now performing select dates in support of “Driver,” his new album which was just released on March 22.

Recorded at MorningStar Studios in East Norriton, “Driver” was produced by GRAMMY® winning Glenn Barratt (Susan Werner, Melody Gardot) and Kyle Swartzwelder and features 13 new songs. The songs range in style from folk, to Americana to electric and driving and all feature Braunfeld’s signature narratives with focus on the characters he creates and the rich, sonic worlds they inhabit.

“We started recording it in December 2017 and went into 2018,” said Braunfeld, during a recent phone interview from his home in Radnor.

“We were in the studio on-and-off, so it took just under a year. We just got the masters in December. It was mixed and mastered by Glenn Barratt.

“We recorded the basic tracks live in the studio and then had additional players come in.”

Braunfeld will be playing Burlap and Bean with his band, The Boneyard Hounds — Tom Hampton, Tommy Geddes, Kyle Swartzwelder, Nate Gonzalez.

“We also had two of Philadelphia’s best session players on the album,” said Braunfeld. “The bass parts on the album were done by Ken Pendergast and we had Ross Bellenoit on guitars and mandolin.

“We had a great assortment of songs. We went in the studio with 40-50 songs and pared it down to the best 13. The idea was to make an album that demonstrated everything I do – funk, Americana and all-out rock. The title track made it all come together. I wrote it during pre-production.

“A lot of the songs were written recently but some are pretty old. ‘Fear,’ the oldest song, was written in 1998. It’s been a staple in my live set, but it was never on an album before.”

Braunfeld, a Harriton High alumnus who graduated from West Chester University with a degree in English and modern literature, has been making music for a while.

“This will be my seventh record – five LPs and two EPs,” said Braunfeld. “My last one before ‘Driver’ was the ‘Full Circle’ album in 2015.

“My songwriting methods depend on a lot of things. The songs on ‘Driver’ are examples of every way. ’40 Below’ was inspired by a newspaper article. Sometimes, it’s just picking up a guitar and coming up with a melody. I’m a topical songwriter and lyrics are a driving force.

Braunfeld has been garnering critical acclaim and industry recognition for his songwriting and intense performances.  In 2014, Michael was welcomed into the Writers’ Night family at The Bluebird Cafe.  He was named as a finalist in the Grassy Hill Kerrville New Folk Competition in both 2016 and 2018 and has been a featured performer at The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Spring Gulch Folk Festival, and the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

According to Braunfeld, “I’m proud of ‘Driver.’ It’s really the first album that captures everything that I’m trying to do with my music. We spent a lot of time whittling down a list of songs to include a little bit of everything that I do while still forming a cohesive collection, which is important to me as a fan of albums.

“I don’t like to be pigeonholed as a writer or an artist and I feel like ‘Driver’ represents exactly where I am now, both sonically and thematically.”

Video link for Michael Braunfeld – https://youtu.be/8diUiqtwJaE.

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