Club News

Musical Meetings

Musical meetings of the San Francisco Folk Music Club are held every other Friday at 885 Clayton Street, between Carl and 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.

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Date May 9 May 23 June 6 June 20 July 4
Setup Ken Hayes Ann Haebig Susan Wilde Joel Rutledge Melissa Sarenac
Bulletin Board Debbie Klein All Goodwin Joel Rutledge Yvette Tannenbaum Estelle Freedman
Host/ess Paula Joyce Pazit Zohar Paula Joyce Yvette Tannenbaum Tes Wellborn
Host/ess Raymond Tseng Stephen Hopkins Carolyn Jayne Dave Sahn Faith
Singing Room Estelle Freedman Melissa Sarenac Marisa Malvino Marlene McCall Joel Rutledge
Theme Music Body Parts Favorites Summer Solstice Liberation
Cleanup Marlene McCall Dave Sahn Marlene McCall Morgan Cowin Faith

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, June 29, at home of Marian Gade

Club News

Utah Phillips is home from the hospital now. See for further news about him.

Welcome to the following new Folk Club members who have joined since January:

Bebo WhiteLinda MerrillChris ClaveyNomi Harris
Dan CooleyRaphael BivasGregg GorrinRuthanne Soley
James HardingSusan WildeJennifer RodenbachWill Fourt
Lee Fram


Darien Delu writes, "I cherish the concerts at Harmony as an opportunity for new and old, pro and first-timer, to show themselves!"

Festival Preview

The 2008 San Francisco Free Folk Festival is shaping up to be a fabulous event! We will once again be at City College, but in brand new digs.

Come be a part of it all. It takes over 150 volunteers to put on the Free Folk Festival, which is an all-volunteer effort. There are jobs for everybody, from sitting at the Folk Club table selling CDs, to working at the instrument check room, to helping out with setup, or cleanup. You'll be able to choose the task and the exact time slot you want, so you can attend all of the workshops and performances of your choice. Send an email to

Here's a sampling of what's in store for you:



Dance Workshops:

Music Workshops:

Also -- details not yet available at press time -- there will be 10 hours of family programming for parents and kids, and a crafts table for children to have fun while their parents enjoy other parts of the festival. Hope to see you there!

Want to Be on the Sound Crew?

The SF Free Folk Festival can use a few more sound volunteers. You don't need previous experience, but you will need to attend a one-hour training before the festival on Saturday, June 21.

If you're interested, contact Doug Jones at 650-940-1602 or

May Hootenanny

On May 10, The SF Folk Music Club Takes over the Hootenanny. Jump In (with Hali Hammer, Paul King, Paul Herzoff, and John Koch), Imperial Jones (Karen and Doug), Bryan Uhlenbrock, Roan Michaels, and more. Café International, 508 Haight St. at Fillmore, SF. Info at FREE -- all ages.

The Fiddle in Folk Music and Folklore

With the possible exception of the bagpipe, no instrument has engendered about itself a greater body of folklore, traditions, beliefs and local legendry than the fiddle. Stories of fiddlers and their instruments can be found all over the world, ranging the geographic landscape from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia to the remote steppes of Central Asia and from the rural southern U.S. to the remote northwest frontier of India.

According to a Romany-gypsy story, in order to avoid a conflict between two Rom factions, St. Peter brought music, in the form of the fiddle, to earth in order to change the temper of the would-be combatants. In a related tale from the former Yugoslavia, the gypsies are the only group in the world immune from the devil's fiddle, and this is because God allowed then this immunity after a passing gypsy stole the nail intended for Christ's heart during his crucifixion at Calvary on that first Good Friday twenty centuries ago. In a tale from Hungary, the devil gave the first fiddle to a young girl who had killed her entire family and she passed it on and its wicked effects have been with us ever since. In some versions of the story of the Two Sisters, from the ballad traditions of both Britain and North America, after the elder sister has done in her younger sibling, a passing musician makes a fiddle from various parts of her corpse, and the instrument takes on the persona of the dead girl, eventually denouncing the dastardly crime to her parents in their own castle hall. From the Indian state of Rajisthan comes a similar tale, part of the cycle of stories about Prince Rasalu, in which the younger daughter of a maharaja is killed by her older sister and a sarangi, an instrument much like a fiddle, is made from various body parts. It relentlessly pursues the murderess and denounces her crime and in the end, filled with despair and remorse, the older sister throws herself from her father's palace battlement, at which point the sarangi breaks into countless pieces, and no music is heard from it ever again. From the Shetland Islands comes a strange story about a fiddle that is repeatedly returned to a certain pawn shop time and time again, because each man who has purchased it is strangled to death by a pair of invisible hands said to be the vengeful ghost of the fiddle's original owner, who put a curse upon it that he and only he would ever play it and that anyone else who touched it would suffer a terrible fate.

The tale of the fiddle, which when played, makes people dance without being able to stop until told to do so, is also a wide-ranging international favorite, with versions ranging from the Magic Fiddle, a German tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, to a story from French Canada about a would-be fiddler who made an unwitting bargain with the prince of hell and suffered the dire consequences, to perhaps one of the most intriguing tales found anywhere, in which the devil punished an entire wedding party -- bride, groom, and all -- because they dared to make music on a Sunday, and before it was all over, the entire party was transformed into a circle of standing stones which, it is said, still can be seen in the small town of Stanton Drew in the English county of Somerset. In this tale, the devil himself took the role of the actual fiddler in question and thus was the very agent of their eventual doom.

Fiddle tunes often have very good stories behind their very origin, as in such examples as the Mason's Apron, Waiting for the Federals, Mississippi Sawyer, the Faerie Reel, and perhaps the most interesting one, the Hangman's Reel. A man about to be executed was told by his judges that if he could play them a tune they had never heard before, they would free him. The night before his intended demise, he is visited by the devil in his cell and given this very unusual tune. When played before his accusers the next morning, they are so impressed and mesmerized by the tune that they free him and allow him to go his way. The devil, however, gets his own in the end by sooner or later taking the very souls of the judge, sheriff, hangman, and a whole assortment of others in on the original plot. From the U.S. comes a tale, in several versions, about a young man, often named Martin, who could literally charm snakes with his fiddle playing. One night, however, pursuant to a dare, he tries a dusk-to-dawn marathon concert and when he can play no more, he is overwhelmed by a den full of snakes and given a massive dose of poison and dies on the spot. But the locale where it happens, often called Rattlesnake Ridge, is said to be haunted by ghostly fiddle music ever since. Similar tales of fiddlers being able to charm wolves, trolls, and a graveyard full of ghosts, come from places as far afield as Sweden, Russia, and rural Arkansas in a bit of a comic tale Vance Randolph collected back in the 1920s from, you guessed it, a local Ozark fiddler himself.

Perhaps this all just goes to show is that as long as fiddles and their exponents have been around, not too far behind may be a good story for both the telling and listening enjoyment. But where good music and stories are concerned, it just really cannot be any other way. It has been that way in the past, it certainly is that way in the present, and so may it always be in the future.

--Robert Rodriquez

American Slave Spirituals

The spirituals sung by African slaves in America and their descendants were influenced first and foremost by the culture of Africa, in which songs were used to express feelings about each other, depict their world, and recite history. Influenced by these African song traditions, individuals and groups created and re-created songs from bits of old songs with new tunes and lyrics. Though often constructed and sung while working the long and grueling hours that were the lot of most slaves, their lyrics were influenced by the teachings of the Christian church, which promised them surcease from constant toil and eternal peace after death in the arms of a loving God.

Slaveowners used Christianity to teach slaves to be long-suffering, forgiving and obedient. However, in black hands and hearts, Christian theology became a source of comfort, hope, and liberation. One of the most common themes was that slaves were chosen people, a concept that comforted them with the assurance that God was with them and freedom would come soon ("We are the people of God" and "To the Promised Land I'm Bound to Go").

Another commonplace theme was liberation, influenced by the books of the Old Testament and by Revelations in the New Testament. Slaves sang about the opening of the Red Sea allowing the Hebrew slaves to escape the Pharaoh's armies, David's victory over Goliath with a stone, Noah building the ark and surviving the flood brought about by the wrath of God, and Jonah obtaining his freedom from confinement through faith. Not only did these songs inspire hope for the future, they also reinforced the idea that God delivered oppressed people from slavery.

Because slaves did not control their own lives and were subject to the whims of slave masters, death was a constant and very real threat. The sorrow and loss caused by death was another frequent theme. However, because they believed that the faithful and virtuous would go to heaven, death was not feared, but was instead welcomed it as the end to suffering on earth ("Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Oh, Freedom").

After the emancipation of the slaves, the prevalence of spirituals waned, as many former slaves did not want to be reminded of the past. However, in the early 1870s, a group of students -- the Fisk University Jubilee Singers -- revived spirituals when they set out to raise money for the university. For the first time, white people, non-southerners, and others were able to hear these slave songs.

During the folk revival of the 1950s--1960s, musicians exploring the musical roots of different cultures rediscovered the spiritual tradition, bringing the songs to a new audience. Also, spirituals like "We Shall Overcome" and "This Little Light of Mine" were sung during the 1960s civil rights struggle. The traditional words were often changed and adapted. For example, the words of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho" were changed into "Marching 'Round Selma."

--Marlene McCall