Important Fundraising Event Starring Patty Larkin
On Friday, June 5, 2015, Patty Larkin, a favorite musician of many in the Boston area, will headline a concert at The Regent Theatre in Arlington (click here for tickets) to raise funds for the important organization, Folk New England. Also on the bill are Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, as well as Tumbling Bones.
I had the opportunity to speak with Betsy Siggins, the founder and director of Folk New England – what an incredible experience! I was not familiar with Betsy but I should have been. She has been a fixture, albeit behind the scenes to a great extent, on the ‘folk revival’ scene in Cambridge, Washington (DC), and New York for 50+ years. She has been interested in the world of folk music since her childhood, and has many stories to tell.
Possibly Betsy’s first – and most significant – exposure to this world was through Joan Baez who was a college roommate for a short period. An ‘extraordinarily funny’ woman as well as a generous soul, Betsy joined Joan at her early gigs at the new venue in Harvard Square, Club 47 (now Club Passim). At the same time, Bob Siggins, a banjo player and the man who became Betsy’s husband, formed a bluegrass group with Clay Jackson, a guitarist he met on his train trip from Oklahoma to Harvard University. Their home became a gathering point for musicians after their gigs at Club 47 – Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, Tom Rush, Jim Kweskin, and Judy Collins are a small number of those musicians.
Betsy was a director of Club 47 until it ran out of money in April 1968. From there, Ralph Rinzler (founder of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival held on the Washington DC Mall every summer) enlisted her to travel with black musicians throughout the United States; Ralph felt that black artists should travel with white ‘managers’ and Betsy agreed. After that, Betsy spent some time in New York running soup kitchens and food pantries when it was easy to find benefactors for her causes.
She returned to Cambridge in the 1980s and resumed her involvement with Club Passim as it was then called. During that time, Betsy became passionate about the need for a repository of all the music and stories that comprise the folk revival (a term Betsy does not particularly like, but I use it here because it is a well-known term). It was not until she left Club Passim in 2009 that Folk New England was born.
Many boxes of ephemera accumulated in Betsy’s basement over the years. The collection is being professionally catalogued. The twenty-four reel-to-reel tapes will be transferred to a format that can be reproduced, thanks in part to a grant from the Grammy Foundation. ASCAP is also involved with the restoration of these materials. Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough benefactors these days to fund this important resource.
We spoke about Dom Flemons, one of the founders of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who has a depth of knowledge about the history of African-American music and musicians that is astounding. A true ethnomusicologist, Dom is on the founders committee of Folk New England and is an invaluable resource. Betsy feels that Dom is doing more to advance civil rights than most others at this time. He is also one of the most ‘real’ people I have the privilege to know.
For more history of this scene, there exists a recent documentary on the relevance of the folk music scene which focuses on Club 47/Club Passim, called ‘For the Love of the Music.’ I hope some of the proceeds from sales of the DVD go into the coffers of Folk New England because I intend to buy it. In addition, Betsy told me of ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, a book by Jim Rooney and Eric Von Schmidt which chronicles the 1960s folk revival.
The benefit concert at Arlington’s (Massachusetts) Regent Theatre on Friday, June 5th, features Patty Larkin as the headliner. Patty ‘redefines the boundary of folk-urban pop music with her inventive guitar wizardry and uncompromising vocals and lyrics.’ I have not seen her perform in too many years. Sarah Lee Guthrie (daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody) and Johnny Irion are one of the opening acts; their music is not easy to quantify, but is mostly roots-folk. I saw them perform a number of years ago and enjoyed them tremendously. The first opening act is Tumbling Bones, a trio of young men who play old-timey music. This promises to be a fabulous show, and I am excited to see it.
Betsy, please write a book of memoirs. You barely touched the surface of your experiences during our conversation, and I would love to know more from an insider who is not a musician herself.
Not only is it difficult to fund archives, it is expensive to do it properly. This is where you, my readers, can make a difference. Attend this concert. Donate to the organization. Buy CDs when they are released. If you have some expertise, give your time.
Posted on May 27, 2015, in concert announcements, interview, music, Uncategorized and tagged Betsy Siggins, boston, Dom Flemons, Folk New England, fundraiser, Johnny Irion, Patty Larkin, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Tumbling Bones. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.