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Camp New Harmony is Full!

No room available for drop-in campers!

Registration was closed as of December 12, and Camp New Harmony has sold out. Unfortunately, that means we will not be able to accommodate any drop in campers this year.

If you mailed your registration and have not received your confirmation letter by December 20th, please contact the Registrar, Katie Riemer, at 510-548-4727 (before 9:00 PM). Camp New Harmony information and any late-breaking news are available at the SFFMC website:

The 23rd Annual Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival is a weekend of solidarity honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an era of war, racism, and hard times.The festival is Jan 16-18, at the IBEW (Electrical Workers), 1701 Leslie St, San Mateo, CA.

Performers and workshops include: Anne Feeney, Roy Zimmerman, Bay Area Labor Chorus, Reggie, The Diggers, Shotwell, Ananda Esteva, YouTube Production Workshop, Political Songwriting Workshop, Immigration Workshop, Spanish Civil War Workshop. Films include documentaries on: Rosa Parks, The Power of Song (Pete Seeger), Paul Robeson, The Salt of the Earth, Highlander Center, Guy Carawan, doc on SEIU's Moe Foner and the 1199 Bread and Roses Project, Vukani's South Africa trip. Spoken word, song and poetry swap, photography and more to come.

Volunteers are needed to help with transportation, housing, and food in exchange for registration fees. Contact coordinator Kendyll Stansbury. INFO:, Kendyll Stansbury, 650-724-9262,

Fold-in/Folk Sing March 1

The fold-in is at noon, Sunday, March 1, at the home of Abe and Joan Feinberg.

Goodnight Odetta

Iconic, incredible folksinger, Odetta died of heart disease on December 2, at the age of 77. As recently as last October she performed at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park and she had been planning to sing at Barack Obama'’s inauguration. That dream died with her, but her memory and legacy live on in the performers and politics she so profoundly influenced.

Odetta grew up in Los Angeles, trained in opera from the age of 13 and completed a music degree from Los Angeles City College. But she found her true voice in American folk and roots music and became one of the most seminal presences in the folk-revival of the 1950's and 60's. As diverse a group as Harry Belafonte, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez (among many others) claimed her as a major influence. Odetta made the shift to Folk Music after —in her own words—she “fell in with an enthusiastic group of young balladeers in San Francisco,” while she was performing with the touring company of the musical Finian’s Rainbow.

Odetta said that for her, “folk songs were— the anger.” She focused that anger into her incredibly sensitive and powerful interpretations and her political outspokenness and activism. She marched with Dr. King and came to the greater public’s ear with her resonant singing of “O Freedom” at the March on Washington. Rosa Parks said that the most important songs to her were “All the songs Odetta sings.” Dr. King called her the “Queen of American Folk Music.”

Odetta performed in night clubs and coffee houses, at Carnegie Hall and at the White House. She also acted in several movies and was nominated three times for a Grammy. She sang not only folk music, but blues and jazz, recording one album celebrating great women blues singers and another as a memorial to her friend and jazz luminary, Ella Fitzgerald. Rock ’n’ roller Bruce Springstein said that Odetta's spoken word rendition of one of his songs was the “greatest version” he had ever heard.

Poet Maya Angelou wrote “If only one could be sure that every fifty years a voice and a soul like Odetta's would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time.” May it be so. Goodnight, Odetta; we’ll hear you in our dreams.

Autoharp Happenings

January: Join us in an afternoon with Evo Bluestein. An autoharp lesson, demonstration and conversation followed by wine/appetizers/dessert on January 11 at 2:00 at 3224 Kirby Lane, Walnut Creek, CA. Bring your autoharp and a music stand. R.S.V.P. to Cookie Svingos at or 925-937-3224. Suggested donation: $20.00.

Evo is a multi-instrumentalist and singer who brings a rich legacy of American folk tradition, brilliant interpretation and original composition. He is considered one of this country's most accomplished Appalachian autoharpists.

February: Carey Dubert will give a mini autoharp concert on February 15th at 2:00 at the home of Sally and Dick Schneider in Castro Valley. A jam session will follow. All acoustic instruments are welcome to join us. INFO: Sally Schneider, or Ron Bean, Carey Dubert is a national champion on two instruments, the autoharp and the hammered dulcimer.

Music Beyond Technique

“The banjo isn't really the final product... the music is.”

—Greg Deering

There are times when our daily lives are touched by tension, anxiety and worry.

This can distract us from who we are: pull us away from our "better selves" and leave us feeling disenchanted and a little empty. One of the most healing aspects of creating music is that it is a healthy vehicle to bring us closer to our in ner self. It can put us in touch with the creative part of us, or perhaps, the most central part of us, that often gets diverted when the pressures of our daily lives lead our attention away from the core of who we are. Isn't that wonderful? By merely sitting and strumming the banjo, playing songs or just improvising with a few chords or rolls, we focus our ears, our hands, our hearts and attitudes on that beautiful sparkling banjo sound, bringing us back to our creative self, the happiest part of being human.

This is what music is REALLY about. Technique is important if you aspire to perform for a living and entertain professionally. Technique is something that living room players who just want to attain a high level of skill spend hours developing and refining. It is definitely an emotional thrill to hear a banjoist who is so skilled that difficult music flows effortlessly, beautifully and appears simple due to the awesome command of the instrument. Technique, however, is not the final criterion when it comes to the enjoyment and appreciation of music. Creating music, whether simple or complex, is probably one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. To hold a beautifully crafted and responsive banjo in your hands, strumming a few chords or picking a few notes, is one of life's richest moments. BUT, you don't have to play like a professional to enjoy it! Personal expression is not reliant on professional technique.

I hear too often that expression, “Oh I don't deserve a banjo that fine.” But that is simply not true. Anyone who appreciates fine craftsmanship, sparkling responsive sound and the design aesthetic of an expensive banjo, deserves to own one. After all, you don't play an oil painting or a marble sculpture. Does that make them less beautiful? We tend to assume that because we may not play like the famous banjo pickers that somehow, we don't “deserve” a beautiful banjo. A beautiful banjo has as much sculptural validity as it does musical validity. After working with hundreds of customers on custom banjos, I can tell you that the visual aspect of the banjo is often highly prioritized.

In taking this mental argument to a different level, we think because we can't play the banjo right now, we don't deserve to own one at all! That, my friends, is the resultant tragedy of “technique is more important than music.” That places a negative judgment on your own, very personal form of self-expression and makes music a performance based, or technique based art. That is absolutely not right! Whether you can strum three chords, and sing a lullaby to put your babies to sleep, or share a romantic evening with the one you love with the same three chords, you deserve to express the beautiful music that is already singing inside you.

“I can only play the radio...” “I can't carry a tune in a bucket.” Again, neither of these is even remotely true. Perhaps we all have different innate abilities musically, but everyone, and I mean everyone, is capable of musical expression to some extent. It has been said that if you can count to three, you have rhythm. Now we're talking! Fortunately, the banjo is a relatively comfortable instrument to play. It can be learned on a fairly mechanical level by counting fingers and frets and lining each up carefully and even when modest familiarity is established, wonderful musical expression and enjoyment will result.

If you have always wanted to play the banjo and are concerned that other folks might think it's foolish or that it is wishful thinking, you are not alone... but don't listen to it for a second. The magic of music is in every human being. Whether it comes out in two or three chords, or a major symphonic composition, both are just as valid and just as important. Yes, we love to hear the master players, but let's separate the professional musician from the every day person who just loves playing the banjo. After all, you don't drive an Indy 500 car to the grocery store, but then you can't load too many groceries into a race car anyway. Play the banjo because it is beautiful. Play the banjo because you just love the looks, the sound, and there is just something unique, special and irresistible about it. Above all, just play the banjo!

—Barry Hunn, of Deering Banjos

Polka, Cowboy!

The Polka Cowboys perform with an evening of Western Dance at Champa Thai Restaurant on Wednesday, January 28th and Wednesday, February 25, 7:30 to 9:30 PM. There is no cover charge. Champa Thai Restaurant, is at 3550 San Pablo Dam Road, El Sobrante, and it has easy parking. It’s less than one mile off I-80 at the San Pablo Dam Road exit, East, on the right at the Plaza Sobrante shopping center. For more INFO: 510-222-1819,

Chantey Concert

Join park ranger (and SFFMC member) Peter Kasin and club member Richard Adrianowicz for a program of African American and Caribbean-based work songs of sailors, dock workers and fishermen. The choruses to these chanteys are easy to sing, and participants are encouraged to sing along. Chanteys: The African American and Caribbean Connection takes place aboard a historic vessel at Hyde Street Pier on Saturday February 28, 1:00-2:00 PM. Admission to the concert is free with admission to the ship: $5.00 adults, ages 15 and under, free. Free with national park passes. More INFO: 415-561-7170.