The Canadian Pacific Christmas Train is a rolling holiday party for a cause. Two beautifully lit trains - on a US Route and a Canada route - cruise through the Midwest, stopping in 150 towns along the way to present live music and light shows while bringing donations of cash and food to local food banks.
Wild Ones Live is an arresting reading accompanied by music, a collaboration performed as part of a live magazine by author Jon Mooallem, a science and nature writer whose book Wild Ones ruminates on the strange, ignorant, hopeful and poignant ways humans imagine other animals, and the musical project Black Prairie. Listen at your desk if you must, but if you can, pop in your earbuds and go outside for a long walk while you take it all in. [more inside]
Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas gets a whole lot of love, but for sheer musical enjoyment it shouldn't overshadow his work on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Here for your cooking-soundtrack pleasure are Thanksgiving Theme, Play it Again Charlie Brown (aka Charlie Brown Blues), Peppermint Patty, and Little Birdie (incidentally, Guaraldi's own vocal, and the first time any adult voice appeared on a Charlie Brown show). [more inside]
Scratchy Grooves For almost twenty years, starting in 1984, Bill Chambless on WVUD-FM at the University of Delaware, explored the pop music of 1900 to 1940 on vintage recordings, "scratches and all." Stream the shows at this website, migrated from the original cassette tapes and maintained by his son.
In an idle moment, you've probably drummed on a desk with your pen. But chances are middle schoolers could show you some skills. Masters like Shane Bang and many less well-known practitioners are pushing the old idea of pen-as-drumstick - Pen Beats, aka Pen Tap - to new heights. [more inside]
“We did our first show in a bar...all of a sudden, the whole room was quiet. And then we got everyone to sit on the floor cross-legged to watch our crankies.” [more inside]
Sometimes called the "Alan Lomaxes of India," the founders of Amarrass Records are on a mission to record and revitalize interest in traditional music from India, Turkey, and beyond. Over 100 videos on their YouTube channel chronicle their field recordings and festivals featuring artists like Lakha Khan, the Barmer Boys, Bombino, and many others. [more inside]
Kitchen Junkets in New England homes were a wintertime venue for live music and contra dance - a social dance form that's never really faded from the region's popular culture. Often credited with keeping the form alive, scholar/musician Ralph Page celebrated the kitchen junket and other contra traditions from 1949-1984 in his hand-printed magazine Northern Junket, available indexed and fully digitized via the University of New Hampshire. [more inside]
Nick Cave's Soundsuits: Calling up echoes of wild beasts, Carnival dancers, maskers and shamans, the "soundsuits" made of a wild diversity of materials by visual artist and dancer Nick Cave have life beyond the gallery. They're designed to be used in performances and 'invasions,' creating a sense of mystery, playfulness and joyful moments of community.
Springsteen in the USA: 40 years of Touring as a Study in Spatial Diffusion "As a geographer, 1500+ shows over 40 years is an opportunity to map...how phenomenons such as innovation, fashion, or disease spread geographically. Except in this case the contagion is rock ‘n roll."
There’s Nothing Like a Good Old Country Song, whether it's The Great Speckled Bird, I Am Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes, The Wild Side of Life, or It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. All I know is, There's a Grand Old Opry Show Playing Somewhere. [more inside]
American Sabor: Latinos in US Popular Music is a currently traveling Smithsonian exhibition exploring the wide range of Latino artists and influences which have shaped American pop music genres since WWII, from Alice Bag to Flaco Jimenez to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to Joan Baez. The website is rich with maps, interviews, videos, and music samples.
Remembering Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass,” on what would have been his 100th birthday. [more inside]
This song is called Alice's Restaurant, and it's about Alice, and the restaurant, but Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant; that's just the name of the song, and that's why I call the song Alice's Restaurant. [more inside]
"Broadside was a small underground magazine smuggled out of a New York City housing project in a baby carriage, filled with new songs by artists who were too creative for the folkies and too radical for the establishment." The entire back catalog of this influential magazine - which helped set the visual standard for underground zines until desktop publishing - is now avalable online, in PDF.
"...A Fourth of July picnic, a Sunday Best church revival, an urban rock concert and a rural civil rights rally"
There was a historic music festival in the summer of 1969. But it's not the one that took place in Bethel, NY. The Harlem Cultural Festival ran from June 29 to August 24 that summer, presenting a concert every Sunday afternoon in Mount Morris Park (known today as Marcus Garvey Park). Three hundred thousand people turned out for the six free concerts, hearing acts like Nina Simone , Sly & the Family Stone (the only act to play both Woodstock and the "black Woodstock"), Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, The 5th Dimension, Moms Mabley and. Speakers included Jesse Jackson and "blue-eyed soul brother" Mayor John Lindsay. Security was courtesy of the Black Panthers, since the NYC police refused to provide it. Filmmaker Hal Tulchin recorded over 50 hours of concert footage, which has remained unreleased. Historic Films seems to hold the footage; it was supposed to be made into a movie to premiere at Sundance 2007, but its release seems to be continually delayed for reasons unclear. [more inside]
Stan Hugill, often known as "The Last Shantyman," authored a book called Shanties From the Seven Seas, based on his own work experiences in the last days of sail. Influential in the folk revival, the book is one of the most important written sources for music sung aboard ships in the 19th and early 20th century, the "Bible" of sea music. Decades of chanteying in pubs and at festivals have kept many of the songs alive, but in most cases they've strayed stylistically from the verses and versions Hugill collected, or dropped out of popularity entirely. Now, one musician is returning to the source and creating a new audio archive for the original versions of the songs as written, by singing through the more than 400 songs in the book, one song each week, and posting the songs on YouTube, with commentary. [more inside]
Pilgrim Productions Presents: Voices Across America, an archive of gospel music in a variety of genres, submitted for free play and download by church groups and folk and traditional groups across the country and beyond. Style, age, and quality vary greatly, but fans of noncommercial music will enjoy hunting for the gems of blues, Cajun, bluegrass, choral, shapenote, country, vintage, and mountain gospel and more.
The Folkways Collection is a downloadable, 24-part podcast series that "explores the remarkable collection of music, spoken word, and sound recordings that make up Folkways Records (now at the Smithsonian as Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)."
Whole Lotta Shakin' - a PRI documentary series on the history of rockabilly, hosted by Rosie Flores.
Sacred Steel is a pedal-steel guitar style that evolved in the African-American Pentecostal denomination The House of God, Which Is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth. Brothers and lap steel players Willie and Truman Eason, inspired by the electric blues and Hawaiian steel guitar of the 1920s and 30s, brought the sound to two branches of the church, the Keith and Jewell dominions. Its hallmark: "talking guitar," in which the sliding steel emphasizes and mimics the words of preachers and singers. In the 1970s, a new "Motor City" tradition began, featuring the more complicated pedal steel guitar. This body of music was known mainly in church circles until two things happened: first, folklorist Robert Stone became interested in the music and relased several CD collections. And then, church player Robert Randolph (and his Family Band) began taking Sunday morning's music out onSaturday night. [more inside]
Sounds of America is a new monthly streaming audio program, a collaboration between the National Museum of American History and Smithsonian Global Sound. Up now are 3 episodes: African-American music in New Orleans, Women in American Music, and Freedom Songs of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
The Uncensored History of the Blues is a fantastic podcast exploring some rougher aspects of blues history. From the Delta Blues Museum.
HONK! is a showcase and annual festival for a "new kind of street band": motley, theatrical, activist protest groups working within the marching band tradition. From this central site, link to video and audio from twenty bands currently playing in the "honk" genre, from New York's Rude Mechanical Orchestra to to Atlanta's Seed and Feed Marching Abominables to Portsmouth, NH's Leftist Marching Band. Heavy on the brass and percussion, rousing, raucous, and fun, these bands form part of a worldwide musical phenomenon.
Waffle House Family and other classics are now available for listening in the comfort of your own home via online jukebox. No longer must you drive the darkness of the American Highway seeking that 24-hour beacon of yellow squares; no longer suck your sweet tea from the straw as you seek out original Waffle House tunes while waiting for your hash browns (
scattered, smothered, and covered, of course) to arrive. Mary Welch Rogers, wife of House founder Joe Rogers, is one of several artists who recorded Waffle House-themed songs for the fast-food chain's jukeboxes. Most were penned by Buckner and Garcia of Pac Man Fever. While you're at it, visit the shrine, and enjoy David Wilcox's song about feel the peace that's cooked in grease.
Turn it off: The Society for Ethnomusicology issues a position statement against the use of music as an instrument of torture.
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music Photgrapher Henry Horenstein's Honky-Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, 1972-1981 captures a sound in transition. This evocative collection of informal, black-and-white portraits of country musicians and fans in bars, backstage, and on the road illustrate a decade when smoky roadhouses and venerated venues began to give way to the more mainstream Countrypolitan or "Nashville" sound. Seminal artists like Mother Maybelle Carter and Bill Monroe mingled backstage with shinier newcomers like Dolly Parton and Anne Murray. But even as the commercial sound was dominating, youngsters mixing with old-timers sparked the first wave of old-time/bluegrass revival, and some of the artists who got started then still carry the torch for a non-Nashville sound today. In this online exhibit you can watch it all unfold.
Did Anyone Really Follow the Drinking Gourd? Were you taught that slaves in the antebellum South sang this traditional song to convey coded instructions for escaping Northward? Were you taught that quilt block patterns could be read as a map to freedom, or that quilts were hung outside safe houses as signals to escaping slaves?Though these are among the most often taught stories of the operation of the Underground Railroad, current scholarship indicates that these aren't survivals of pre-Civil War African-American folklore, but legends constructed and popularized within the twentieth century, frequently by white writers and performers. In today's New York Times, these legends battle it out with fact in debate over the proposed design of a new Frederick Douglass memorial [PDF].
Steppin' is an hour-long documentary on an African-American dance tradition, most closely associated with historically black fraternities and sororities (though it's also found in high schools, clubs, and professional dance companies). Combining footwork, hand-clapping, chanting, singing, use of props, and changing configurations of dancers, it's a tightly coordinated dance form in which teams vie for honors in competitions nationwide.
Awake, My Soul is a new documentary on Sacred Harp singing, an American musical tradition that's strange, beautiful, and very much alive. Previously discussed and beautifully explicated in this post.
That's the Sound of the Man Working on the Chain Gang Among all genres of American folk music, prison songs may be the most viscerally compelling. They evolved from plantation songs and field hollers of slaves in the American South before the civil war (whose origins can in turn be traced to patterns found in the music of West Africa) but their tone and content is quite different. Limitless in length, bitter and pained, offering little hope of freedom or redemption, these songs were first heard during Reconstruction. Harsh and unevenly enforced laws incarcerated legions of black American men, consigning them to long sentences of labor for minor offenses like insult, fistfighting, and shoplifting. To shore up a tanking Southern economy, prisons leased convict labor to plantation owners as a low-cost replacement for slave labor. When reform efforts brought that to an end, state governments became the contractors. Sweetheart deals awarded lucrative contracts to prisons to provide labor for rebuilding the railroads and highways of the war-destroyed South. Slavery in all but name, these work conditions gave rise to a body of music that is one of the most significant antecedents of the blues. In hundreds of variants, cadenced to axe-fall, hoe stroke, or the drop of a maul, the songs set a working pace a man could sustain from dawn to dusk, while remaining fast enough to satisfy an armed 'Captain' on horseback.
The Digital Library of Appalachia presents an online collection of music files, images, literature, and scanned documents supplied by twelve regional college libraries.
Music from Morrisania: Dr. Mark Naison, urban historian at Fordham University and principal investigator of the Bronx African-American history project, leads a musical tour of one South Bronx neighborhood from the 1950s to the present, describing how hot summers, open windows and a fertile mixing of ethnic groups influenced landmarks in American musical history -- from Tito Puente to "Watermelon Man" to KRS-One.
Wade in the Water In 2004, Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured the maritime cultures of the Mid-Atlantic region, from Long Island to North Carolina. Now, this site gives a home on the web to the cultural documentation gathered for the festival -- music, recipes, stories and oral history, an interactive map, the occupational folklore and natural history of regional fisheries, photos, video, and more. The material, ably compiled by folklorists and educators, creates a lasting and very accessible archive of festival highlights as well as an excellent overview of the distinct coastal culture of the Mid-Atlantic. Don't miss the great menhaden net-hauling chantey Help Me to Raise 'Em (links to mp3).
So You Think You Hate Country Music? Then listen to this. The roots of American country music may surprise you. In this series of NPR programs, trace the gradual development of real country music through the first half of the 20th century. Learn how a woman's instrument of the late 1800s, the parlor guitar, became the the central symbol of country and rock; see how African-American musical forms like gospel and blues meshed with the development of country and early rock and influenced the traditional forms in turn; listen to German-Mexican hybrids of accordian style; find out why women had so many honky-tonk torch songs to sing in the late 40s. The series contains hours of content (narrative, interviews, music tracks), and a multitude of excellent links for deeper digging.
After the Storm Sometime this weekend, you may be able to hear one of the best expressions of New Orleans’ role in music and culture available in any mass media. It's American Routes, a weekly show carried on many US public radio affiliates. Programmed and hosted by folklorist and UNO professor of folklore and culture Nick Spitzer, the show normally broadcasts from a studio in the heart of the French Quarter, but has found a temporary home on a Creole/Cajun French/English public radio station in Lafayette. Spitzer told the NYT that he began planning the music for this week’s show as he was fleeing the flooding city in his car, playing Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans." This week’s show highlights New Orleans’ recovery from disasters past, emphasizing the city’s role as the greatest single wellspring of American music. The Crescent City, after all, has either birthed or nurtured everything from jazz, R & B, cajun and the related black-influenced zydeco, soul, blues, gospel, and rock and roll.) With an encyclopedic knowledge of American vernacular music, an utterly democratic spirit, and an unmistakeable respect and love for American musical forms and the people who create them, Spitzer has stepped forward several times this week to serve as a compassionate and optimistic spokesman for the irrepressible creative spirit of a suffering city and a culture in diaspora.