Club News

Musical Meetings

Musical meetings of the San Francisco Folk Music Club are held every other Friday at 885 Clayton Street, between Carl & Parnassus Streets in San Francisco. Singing and jamming in three separate rooms start at 8:00 p.m. Snacks are provided through $1 food kitty donations or finger food contributions. Guests are always welcome, no one is expected to “perform” and there is no charge.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, what you did, but never how you made them feel.”
—Maya Angelou

Date December 31 January 14 January 28 February 11 February 25
Setup Although many regular attendees will be at Camp New Harmony, there will be a meeting on New Year’s Eve. Come sing and bring goodies to share! Susan Wilde Bob Allen Forest MacDonald Debbie Klein
Bulletin Board Estelle Freedman Susan Wilde Debbie Klein Joe Lavelle
Host/ess Dave Sahn Linda Grace Debbie Klein Jeannie Meager
Host/ess Joel Rutledge Melissa Sarenac Joel Rutledge Tom Sleckman
Singing Room Marlene McCall Debbie Klein Melissa Sarenac Marisa Malvino
Theme People’s Names Happy/Sad Love-love-love Home Sweet Home
Cleanup Morgan Cowin TBA Marlene McCall Algis Ratnikas

Board Meetings

The SFFMC board meets on the second Tuesday of each month — potluck at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 8:00 p.m. All Club members are welcome to attend the potluck dinner and the Board meeting.

NEXT FOLKNIK FOLD-IN/FOLK SING: Sunday, February 27 at the home of Joan Hall and Abe Feinberg,

Camp Harmony Changes

by Ed Silberman

Moving to a new site has a way of stimulating new ideas, and I’ve been thinking about new approaches we can take to the evening program formerly called Prince, I mean the Concert. Some of these were tried out last year; others are brand new. I want to give people an opportunity to think about them in advance of Camp.

First the name change from Concert to Open Mic: I did a very bad job of explaining this last year. It is an idea that Faith proposed. The thinking is that people who find the thought of being in a Concert intimidating might find the phrase Open Mic more comfortable. It’s purely semantic but it might work. The only way to tell is to do it, and it may take a few years to really see the difference (or none).

We’re going to have a No-Talent Show one evening. It’s an opportunity to do something goofy, silly, and unexpected. “No-Talent” is just a goofy way of saying “Let’s Get Goofy.” What could be goofier than doing something for which you have absolutely no talent in front of an audience? If ya really wanna do somethin’ you know how to do, that’s okay, just so long as it’s goofy. And delightful. Last year’s was a barrel of laughs!

We have a lot of wonderful young people who come to the camp, and it’s time we gave them a chance to shine! One evening will be Youth Night. People over 30 will be put on the program only after everyone under 30 who wants a chance has had one.

It has come to our attention that a number of the people on the Camp Newman staff play acoustic instruments, and are very happy to be hosting a folk music camp. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Newman Camp Staff night? Like the Youth Night, people who aren’t employed at Camp Newman will be put on the program only after everyone from the staff has had their chance.

At least one of the open mics will be theme-free. We will continue the experiment started last year of determining the evening’s order by drawing names from a hat at the beginning of the evening. This prevents the mad rush to get on the list early. And it gets everyone to the open mic from the beginning rather than showing up in time for their or their friends’ set.

Which brings me to this last thing: If you are going to be part of the open mic, please plan to stay for the whole thing. Nothing is more discouraging and just plain disrespectful than watching the room clear out after a favorite has played, leaving only a few people in the audience. We all share the same need for love and attention. Let’s give what we wish to receive.

Banjo Making Workshop

by Jeff Menzies

I am very pleased to announce a gourd and open back tack head banjo making workshop that I will be teaching in February. The location will be at the Caning Shop in Berkeley. The dates are Feb. 14–18, 2011, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Enrollment is limited to 14 students, and the workshop is expected to fill fast, based on the amount of interest already expressed through word of mouth.

No previous woodworking or instrument making experience is required. Bring your own ideas and create a unique instrument to suit your needs. Most students make fretless gourd banjos. However, feel free to incorporate frets, or make a gourd fiddle, a konting, or guitar banjo.

Cost is $675, which includes all materials. A non-refundable deposit of $125 will hold a spot in the enrollment. Most tools will be supplied. A short list of recommended tools to bring will be e-mailed to registrants.

Please e-mail me at with questions regarding registration.

Autoharp Workshop

by Adam Miller

Autoharp virtuoso Adam Miller will teach an all-day, hands-on autoharp workshop in the Sacramento Valley, for beginning to intermediate players. This informal hands-on workshop will develop and improve your ability to accompany singing and play familiar melodies on the autoharp. Adam Miller is a renowned American folksinger and one of the most respected autoharp instructors in the country. He has conducted autoharp workshops from the Everglades to the Arctic Circle.

Playing along and learning by ear, we’ll address rhythm, timing, chord selection, picks, dynamics, and a myriad of right and left hand techniques for diatonic and chromatic autoharp. Workshop song handouts (in the Key of C, F and G major) include folksongs, waltzes, children’s songs, and ballads.

Instruments will not be provided. Each participant must bring an autoharp. The cost is $45 per student with a maximum of 25 participants. (A portion of the proceeds benefit the American River Montessori Pre-School Musical Instrument Acquisition Fund.)

When:Saturday, February 26, 2011, 11 am — 5:30 pm
Where:American River Montessori School
401 Mormon St., Folsom, California, 95630
Contact:For reservations or info, Debbie Doss, (916) 294-0788,

New CD No Hiding Place

Larry Hanks and Deborah Robins-Hanks have a brand spankin’ new CD replete with brand spankin’ old songs. You may be familiar with Larry from many years ago — he is a SFFMC regular dating from WAY back, and a popular performer of traditional, topical, labor, and Western songs for nearly 50 years. If you’re interested in reviewing this CD, see Reviews in this issue.

Cathy Britell & William Limbach House Concert & Autoharp Workshop

Cathy Britell and William Limbach from Seattle, WA will present a concert in Castro Valley Saturday evening, February 26th, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. Cathy, playing autoharp, and William, on guitar, sing in a rare blend of beautiful harmonies of sweet alto and soaring tenor. The duo, both accomplished instrumentalists, will include traditional, modern folk, and original music. You’ll not want to miss this performance while they’re in the bay area. Folk music at its best!

Cathy is International Autoharp Champion of 2005, teacher, and author of a book on autoharp techniques. In the afternoon, she will hold a workshop for all levels “Taking the Autoharp out of Ho-Hum Strumming.”

For workshop reservations and directions, contact Sally Schneider: or (510) 690-1775 after the new year. Private lessons are also available.

Perpetuating Myths

By Buffalo Brownson

Reprinted with permission from the Harmony List in 2009

I have to say, I’m truly puzzled by another’s reluctance to sing songs that are not historically accurate. When I sing “Willie of Winsbury” or “The Great Silkie,” or for that matter, “Barrett’s Privateers,” I have my doubts about the factual content of the songs, but what does that matter? Did John Henry really lay forty miles of track faster than a steam driver and then lay his hammer down and die? I kinda doubt it, but — and here’s my point — it’s a great story, and it makes a great song. We’re storytellers, first last and always, and once an event has happened, the stories about the event start. Frequently — hell, usually — the stories are more interesting than the actual event. That’s why they are valued and live on.

We ARE, in fact, “perpetuators of myth”. That’s what being a storyteller is. What actually happened is another thing, and I’ll leave that to the historians. If it’s a great song — if it moves people or touches them or makes them laugh — I’m gonna sing it. Whether we’re called bards or troubadours or folk singers, that’s what we do: polish the myths a little bit and pass them on. It’s called the folk process.

And that’s how I feel about that.

Buffalo (one half of—but not necessarily speaking for—“the DulciMates”)

Music and History, Part Two

By Robert Rodriquez

When Colonel George Armstrong Custer led five companies of the Seventh Cavalry over what would become known in history as Custer Ridge on Sunday June 25, 1876, he not only helped seal their eventual fate but also took them to a confluence of destiny, history, and legend. At a signal from Custer, the Seventh’s regimental band struck up the official marching song, “Gary Owen,” and the summer air of southeastern Montana rang with the stirring notes of this spirited melody, which would itself become added to the Custer legacy. Such has been the enduring and popular nature of this particular piece that it would become part and parcel of frontier and western lore ever since that fateful afternoon. It has been used in numerous western films and dramas, even those not involving the Seventh Cavalry and its history, and it even became the theme song of a popular but short-lived western radio series during the 1950s. Steeped in legend and controversy, the myth of Custer owes as much to “Gary Owen” as to any other part of the story of the brash officer who took on destiny, but in the end lost and yet would become an integral part of frontier folklore and tradition for a long time to come.

While listening to a CD by the Celtic group Grada, yours truly came across an extraordinary song that tells an even more extraordinary story. During the Mexican War of 1846-48 (a conflict most historians think was orchestrated by a cabal made up of the southern slavocracy and the manifest destiny crowd), several hundred Irish immigrants, newly arrived in the U.S., became angered by the prejudice against the Irish and very dissatisfied by conditions in the U.S. army, jumped ship, and changed sides, leaving the U.S. and joining the Mexican army. Known as the San Patricios, they fought under the banner of the Saint Patrick Battallion, under the leadership of one General John Riley, who had emigrated from Galway to the U.S, and risen in the ranks to become a general. As told in the song, also called “John Riley,” the San Patricios distinguished themselves in such engagements as Serra Gorda, Monterey, Buena Vista, and Churubusco. Many of them fought to the death, knowing that, if they were captured, they might be executed as traitors and deserters. Many were publicly branded, many others were hanged, and their very names and records were expunged from U.S. Army records. But to this day, they are still considered national heroes in Mexico; many plazas, schools, hospitals and other institutions were and have been named in their honor and they are still commemorated to this day by the people and government of Mexico.

No Virginia, Mitch Miller did not write the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” although some might think he did because of the popularity of Miller’s orchestral rendition atop the musical charts during the 1950s. In fact, the piece has been around since the mid-1830s, when it was first written as a poem and then used as a marching song during the early years of the Texas Republic and thence after the annexation of Texas to the U.S. in 1845, and it would even be used to inspire Confederate Texas units during the Civil War.

What we know about Emily Morgan West, the heroine of the piece, is more legend and conjecture than actual fact, but then often history is strange that way. She was a woman of color who was a free person having come originally from Connecticut. She ended up in Texas around 1835 during the momentous months just before the Texas Revolution that would see it break away from Mexican rule. She seems to have caught the eye of General and ruler of Mexico Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who considered himself the Napoleon of the west and also a ladies’ man to boot. According to some, she may have actually furnished the Mexican battle plans to Sam Houston and the Texican forces on the eve of the battle of San Jacinto, which lasted all of eighteen minutes wherein the Texans gained a shattering victory and revenge for the Alamo and the Massacre of Goliad. It is said that she dallied with the good general on the actual day of the battle and kept his mind on other matters besides military planning. In her 2005 collection, Tales with a Texas Twist, noted Texas storyteller Donna Ingham waggishly tells us that the Texans literally caught Santa Anna with his pants down, in more ways than one. After Texas gained its independence, Emily Morgan West dropped out of sight and nothing more is known about her, except of course what the song tells us. The original lyrics are, of course, a bit different than what was recorded in the 1950s and the more than oblique racial references from the original version were replaced by a more sentimental and uplifting set of verses a la Mitch Miller.

One final example of the intersection of myth, music, and history should suffice. It is said that when the Chiricahua Apache war leader Gokliya, also known as Geronimo, was being pursued by Mexican forces in the early 1880s during one of his breakouts from the San Carlos Indian Reservation in Arizona, he sang a very powerful medicine song, which, according to a local legend, kept the sun from rising on a particular morning, thus allowing his band to escape the Mexican pursuers as they made for their hidden sanctuary in the Sierra Madre Mountains in northern Mexico. They say that truth is often stranger than fiction, which is often the case, but just as often, the line between history, myth, and legend is very hard to discern, and the involvement of music makes it even more so. And this is but the tip of that iceberg wherein music and history coexist and have done so since time immemorial and will continue to do so for a very, very long time to come.

A Folk Song a Day

In June, British folk singer Jon Boden launched an ambitious new project — A Folk Song A Day. Every day for one year Jon is posting a traditional song on-line to promote the art of “social” (or communal) singing. Now largely confined to football grounds and places of worship, social singing was once the domain of public houses throughout the land. Jon will also be providing a unique, traditional folk song resource for those looking for inspiration: twelve digital albums (one released each month) containing a total of 365 songs—an example of social singing made possible by contemporary technology. Go to You can either listen on line or you can subscribe to free podcasts through iTunes.


This is a wonderful website at It contains a national preserve of documentary films about American Roots Cultures, with essays about the traditions and filmmaking. The site includes transcriptions, study and teaching guides, suggested readings, and links to related websites. has two goals. One is to build a national preserve of hard-to-find documentary films about American folk or roots cultures. The other is to give them renewed life by streaming them on the internet. The films were produced by independent filmmakers in a golden age that began in the 1960s and was made possible by the development first of portable cameras and then capacity for synch sound. Their films focus on the culture, struggles, and arts of unnoticed Americans from many different regions and communities.

You can view the entire list of films from A (Adirondack Minstrel, a 20-minute film about the songs and fiddle tunes of Lawrence Older) to Z (Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana, a 55-minute film on African-American dance-hall music in French-speaking southwest Louisiana). What a treasure trove this site is.

Things I’ve Learned from British Folk Ballads

excerpted from an article by Jim Macdonald originally posted in 2005 on Making Light—where it is still being commented on and added to.