Falcon Ridge Folk Festival

Hillsdale, NY

Falcon Ridge Folk FestivalIn its 27th year and third location, Falcon Ridge has nothing to prove, yet it works as hard as an up-and-comer, perhaps because Falcon Ridge’s commitment to provide stages for newer performers runs so deep. The only festival I know which encourages the audience to vote (by survey) on whether to invite a new band back, Falcon Ridge’s Workshop Stage mixes seasoned and lightly-seasoned performers on a large stage with an informal jam vibe.

Among the newcomers to watch: Caitlin Canty, whose borderline rock style really got to me, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Nokoa, whose upbeat charm weakened the knees of at least half the audience.

Brother Sun, back for the fourth time, seems only to get better. With tight compelling harmonies, that weave blues, rock, gospel, and a cappella traditions into a folk potpourri that only few can match. Brother Sun’s lyrics—nuanced, compelling and always going to the heart of the human condition—consistently place them in the top ranks of folk performers and human rights activists.

I’d never seen Canadian Garnet Rogers before, but certainly plan to see him again. He alternated heartfelt songs and heartwarmingly funny stories, and his set was over before I knew it. How can a folksinger turn not build a deck into an interesting, revealing story?

Judy Collins
Judy Collins

Sunday’s headliner, Judy Collins, came out a vision in white, like an angel. At 76, Collins’ vocals are still almost angelic, too, and after some 60 years playing music, she has a catalogue that’s Heavenly. She may have launched the careers of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman, and certainly generated enough royalties for Bob Dylan, Stephen Sondheim, the Beatles and Stephen Stills for each to buy several houses; onstage she treated us to her songs and the stories behind them.

One tale involved going up to Albert Grossman’s home in Woodstock. Grossman engineered the careers of Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Band, John Lee Hooker, Todd Rundgren and Bob Dylan, among others, and in ’64, early on in Collins’ and Dylan’s career, held a party which carried on into the night. As Collins headed off to bed, she heard a voice coming from behind a closed door: it was Dylan, writing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” She stood outside the room, listening to him test out lyrics again and again, knowing even then she was hearing something very, very special.

Collins’ repertoire covered all the bases, from her early folky work and “In My Life” to Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” and a new duet with Willie Nelson, “When I Go,“ written by one of Falcon Ridge’s early performers, Dave Carter. Collins’ voice may not consistently have that ethereal quality it did a half century ago, but compared to most of the mortals singing today, it—like the songs she sings and Falcon Ridge Festival itself—remains exceptional.

—Suzanne Cadgène

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