Folk, bluegrass and roots music are all distant cousins (please no inbred jokes here) of country music. It is considered by the uninformed to be a honky-tonk and twangy hillbilly genre that only backwoods Kentuckians would dare listen to. These things couldn’t be further from the truth. There exists so much soul, storytelling and beautiful harmonizing in this brand of music that has influenced huge artists all over the globe. And furthermore, its roots actually stretch back to Ireland, England and Scotland. Rich in storytelling and improvisation, some of the world’s most talented and prolific artists take direct influence from the roots of bluegrass music. Modern folk music encompasses a wide variety of music, some of which will be on showcase at this year’s Wayfarer Roots and Bluegrass Festival at the Magic Stick on 6/25. With a diverse lineup of American roots music spread across two stages, the festival brings a collection of local musicians and national acts to Detroit for the all-day festival. Check out some of the artists we’ve spotlighted, and feel free to peruse the whole lineup (amongst other info) on wayfarerfestival.com. | RDW
American Babies, aside from having an incredibly unique band name, are only as strong as their leader, but that’s not a bad thing. Philadelphian Tom Hamilton, who took some time out to graciously answer a few questions for us, is a touring maniac who built electro-rock Brothers Past into a national powerhouse. Taking a break to make a more roots-minded project, he forged a collective of talented and established musicians into American Babies, in hopes of putting stories about the modern turbulent world we live in to a musical soundtrack.
Talk a little bit about the recent boom in folk and bluegrass fusion musical genres. How does American Babies fit into that scene?
I think there are two ways of viewing “folk” music. One would be aesthetically. Guy with a guitar and minimal to zero backing. The other would be by content. Being a narrative on the world around us. My view of “folk” is more of the latter. We write about the world we live in and the effects that has on the modern citizen. I feel the recent boom in folk has a lot to do with the fact that we live in a turbulent world and that turbulence trickles down to country, state and city or even neighborhood. There’s a lot of material out there if you’re looking for it.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at Wayfarer?
Chris Bathgate. He works a lot with a good friend of mine from Philly, Hezekiah Jones (whom I absolutely love) and have heard nothing but wonderful things about him.
The Giving Tree Band
Todd Fink, banjo phenom for The Giving Tree Band, was kind enough to touch base with us about their participation in the Wayfarer Festival, which seems to have been custom-made for the Chicago 7-piece. Their dynamic sound and stage presence is something worth checking out, to say the least.
“The Giving Tree Band.” Where does the band name come from?
The name comes from the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. It seemed fitting for us considering that we play acoustic music and try to do as much as we can to give back to the environment and the community. And Shel was also from Chicago and a songwriter who wrote for some of our favorite artists including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.
Chicago isn’t too far from Detroit, so what are you looking forward to/expecting out of a midwestern folk show of this caliber?
Well I hope people realize that there’s some great music happening in the Midwest and that both Chicago and Detroit are home to some serious scenes in this Americana revival. Back home, we have the annual Chicago Bluegrass And Blues Festival which is also an all day event at the Congress Theater featuring the best in the local folk rock scene along with national headliners. This is our first time playing in Detroit, so very much hoping to make a lasting connection with the great music fans there and be able to return frequently.
The Juliets Jeremy Freer is a singer, guitarist and piano virtuoso in hometown five-piece The Juliets. Their LP Perfect Season is due out in August, and they just debuted a feature for Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” campaign. Big things are in the works for these guys. We took some time out with Mr. Freer to chat about their upcoming performance at the Wayfarer Festival.
Tell me how The Juliets fit into the bluegrass/folk genre. What do you guys embody that speaks to that specific style of music?
To me, folk music has always been about just making music for the people that doesn’t rely on a computer. Music that can be made anywhere. Plugged or unplugged. If for some reason someday everything goes off the grid will your songs still be played? Will be they be able to live on?
There’s been a resurgence of folk music in the past few years, whether it be traditional or some kind of fusion. Share your thoughts.
There’s a lot of people that don’t want to rely on the grid. The more we have this over the top push of companies telling you that technology is the only way you can lead a good life and be happy we will have a backlash of people saying, “No, I have this guitar, these sticks, these strings and they make me very happy. They fulfill me in a way that pushing buttons and sliding my finger around a screen all day never could.” And it’s really not even about acoustic vs. electric. The White Stripes were a folk band if you ask me.
The Ragbirds The Ragbirds aren’t easy to categorize. There’s five of them, from Ann Arbor, and they tour extensively throughout the US (usually tending towards the summer festival circuit). They play a dramatic blend of world music that most closely resembles folk rock. Their lead singer, Erin Zindle, is a very sweet and personable young woman who was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us about their upcoming Wayfarer performance.
You guys tend to play a lot of festivals. Is there something specific in your music that lends itself more to that atmosphere?
For some reason we have found that The Ragbirds music appeals to people of all ages. It’s fun, energetic and engaging. I think that we offer a unique sound to any festival lineup and festival-goers want to experience new music and a diversity of sounds. We tend to stand out.
Your solo release Scenes From the Fragile, Agile Avian World just came out. How does it differ from the music you create with The Ragbirds?
Well first of all, it is almost entirely me performing all the instruments – there are no drums, guitar or bass. The foundation of the songs is piano and strings, so it is really a different sound overall. Still, the album features my voice and songwriting so there is a familiarity that Ragbirds fans will enjoy.Wayfarer Roots and Bluegrass Festival • 6/25, 4 p.m. • Magic Stick • 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit • 313.833.9700 • majesticdetroit.com • $20 (no service charge if purchased from the Magic Stick box office or UHF Records in Royal Oak)