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.

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Date May 8 May 22 June 5 June 19 July 3
Setup Melissa Sarenac Joel Rutledge Susan Wilde Melissa Sarenac Joel Rutledge
Bulletin Board Faith Petric Debbie Klein Debbie Klein Debbie Klein Susan Wilde
Host/ess Susan Wilde Paula Joyce Al Goodwin Laura Goldbaum Faith Petric
Host/ess Pazit Zohar Marisa Malvino Faith Petric Estelle Freedman Debbie Klein
Singing Room Tes Welborn Estelle Freedman Dave Sahn Paula Joyce Marisa Malvino
Theme Pete Seeger songs* Lost & Found Bitter, Sweet & Bittersweet Expletive not deleted 60s Songs
Cleanup Al Goodwin Jim Letchworth Al Goodwin Alice Sowoal Marlene McCall
*In honor of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday, May 3.

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 6/28/09, at Abe and Joan Feinberg’s

Club News

Adam Miller—folksinger, storyteller, and autoharp virtuoso— has updated his website to include links to new performance videos on YouTube. Find them on by searching “Adam Miller Autoharp”. The folknik calendar lists his upcoming concerts in California and throughout the country. Also, he’ll be a performer and workshop leader at the Cranberry Dulcimer and Autoharp Gathering in Manlius, NY, July 24-26, and at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS, Sept. 17-20. Evo Bluestein offers a “one off” special from Evoharp. This 15-bar chromatic harp has an upgraded body, with walnut sides that match the back and walnut bridges—truly a special harp. Contact him at for more info.

Singer-songwriter Jo D’Anna has two CDs available for sale at Faith’s house, with all proceeds donated to the folk club— Alouwenja (1995) and As She Is (2007). Info & direct purchase are available at, and some songs can be heard at

Richard Rice

Restless Whim Productions presents: Los Cenzontles and La Familia Peña-Govea Saturday, May 2, door opens at 7:00, show at 8:00 Café du Nord , 2170 Market St, SF (, $15 .00 (21+), The hootenanny guy blasts into new territory here with his first non-SFFMC production. We’re taking the Café du Nord by storm with two excellent Latin roots bands.

“Los Cenzontles” means “the mockingbirds” and these mockingbirds play rocking roots music that reaches back to the old Mexico sounds of bolero ballads and Son Jarocho while reaching forward with the pop and rock influences that give Los Lobos a run for their money. Find out why Linda Ronstadt, Taj Mahal, and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos are all big fans.

La Familia Peña-Govea is Miguel Govea’s family band. KQED&squo;s Spark program is a great introduction to the band and the wonderful, soulful music they make together.

I know the shows I usually put on are free, but a guy’s gotta make a living. And it’ll be nice to be able to pay the bands for once. So buy tickets now and help me make sure this show is a sell-out. That way, the Café du Nord will keep booking these great roots bands.

Stolen Instruments

Thanks to Nina Feldman for telling Harmony List subscribers about a site to which one can send notices of stolen instruments. The site is handled by the Northern CA Bluegrass Society. Their stolen instrument page is linked off the NCBS main website at (left column). There is no charge for this service.

Archie Green

Aaron (“Archie”) Green, folklorist and musicologist, died in San Francisco on March 22, 2009.

In August 2007, Archie Green received the Library of Congress’s Living Legend Award. Archie Green devoted his life to studying the creativity of ordinary, working Americans, and was also one of the most significant figures behind the formation of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. He is credited with coining the neologism for his particular field of interest: “laborlore,” for the folklore and folkways of workers and working-class communities.

Green grew up in Los Angeles’ multicultural Boyle Heights district, graduated from UC Berkeley in 1939 with a degree in political science, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps as a road-builder and firefighter, worked in the SF shipyards, and served as a Seabee in the Pacific theatre of war. After the war, he worked as a carpenter, fed his interest in popular culture, and in 1958 went back to academia, emerging in 1960 with a master’s degree from the University of Illinois. In 1968, he obtained a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation on the music of US coal miners was turned into his book Only a Miner: studies in recorded coal-mining songs (1972).

Green chronicled the lives, culture, speech, song forms, and customs of working-class Americans, especially those of the political left, including trades unionists, the International Workers of the World (IWW) — nicknamed the Wobblies — and folksingers. He was an important advocate and lobbyist for the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976 — the legislative bedrock for the American Folklife Center.

He co-edited The Big Red Songbook (2007), a treasury of some 250 songs published between 1909 and 1973 in the IWW’s Little Red Songbooks. This major undertaking to republish the Wobbly songbooks fulfilled a pact, a task he had inherited on the death of his IWW friend John Neuhaus in 1958. Green’s scholarship was profoundly based on working-class culture, but it was also based on a deep appreciation of what it was like to do manual work. It was not rarefied. It came with calluses and splinters.

This Land is Your Land — Some History and Some Musings

Steve Gilford

[Editor’s Note: Steve wrote this to the Harmony List. I was impressed with it and got Steve’s permission to reprint it here.]

When I heard that Pete Seeger was going to be singing “This Land is Your Land” at the Mall ceremonies the other day, I knew enough about Woody&rquo;s song to know that his meaning is usually lost in performance. I didn’t give Pete Seeger enough credit though. It didn’t occur to me that he would stand up before that crowd and sing the challenging verses, the ones that are usually omitted, but he did and I should have known he would. He had to. Don’t you wonder what he was thinking as he looked out at the crowd singing those “controversial” verses on the eve of the inauguration of the first African-American president? I wonder what Woody would have thought to hear an expurgated version being sung as a patriotic anthem at NASCAR races or football games, sung by people who had no idea what the song was about, and probably wouldn’t agree with the sentiments. I think he would be more angry than amused.

A number of years ago, as part of a television documentary I was producing, I got to spend a day with Woody’s widow, Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a remarkable woman. Not only was she beautiful, smart and charming, she had formed the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Chorea, the disease that killed Woody and was at that time threatening her children, Arlo, Nora and Joady. When she began this work, when Woody was diagnosed, it was an almost unknown disease. No one knew how many people were suffering from it and there was little professional literature on how to treat it. She changed all that and prompted significant research which she funded through the CCHC. She also learned that there were far more people diagnosed with it than anyone had thought and she knew that there a lot of undiagnosed, misdiagnosed cases, too.

During the interview, I sat in front of her on a small stool. She said, “Woody used to sit on that stool when he wrote.” That led us into a long informal talk about Woody. One of the subjects was “This Land is Your Land.” What had spurred him to write it was his absolute disgust with the recently released and very popular Irving Berlin song, “God Bless America.” The singer Kate Smith had introduced it on Armistice Day, 1938, and it became so popular that there was talk about it being named as the national anthem replacing the almost unsingable “Star Spangled Banner.”

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home.

The more Woody heard the song, the more determined he became to write an answer. And he did. That, of course, was “This Land is Your Land,” However, his answer did not initially have that title. To make his target perfectly clear, Woody called it “God Blessed America for Me.” Marjorie Guthrie showed me Woody’s manuscript I think it was the original but it may have been a reproduction of some sort. It was in Woody’s hand. Each of the dozen or so verses ended with “God blessed America for me,“ but on this manuscript, each of those lines had been crossed out and replaced with “This land was made for you and me.” With that change, it did not take as direct an aim at Berlin’s composition, but it certainly makes for a better refrain and it has outlasted its predecessor. Even expurgated, it is a better song, less bombastic, more down to earth, and a lot more singable.

Mortal Musicians and the Nether-World

Robert Rodriquez

Ever since folks have been making music and spinning yarns, the subject of human musical encounters with the realm of the supernatural has been great grist for the narrative mill. Mortal music-makers mix it up with a variety of other-world denizens. The panoply of these beings is truly diverse: giants, trolls, fairies, dragons, magicians, the devil himself, and ghosts, not to mention sea beings (mermaids, selchies, merrows, and creatures from the yara of the Amazon to the goblin-like vodyanik inhabiting Russian rivers and lakes.

In an ancient Hungarian tale, the son of a king, to wed the Reed Maiden, must cross three perilous bridges, each guarded by a fierce many-headed dragon. He serenades them with sweet music from an enchanted flute, calming their savage natures, and they allow him to cross the bridges and continue his quest. Eventually he acquires his true heart’s desire and weds the maiden, living happily ever after. In a tale from Cornwall, a young boy engages a nasty giant in a contest of skill and puts him to sleep by playing a harp given to him by the great magician Merlin himself. This is similar to the classic South African story of the clever little boy who subjugates the giant Abiyoyo through the use of a magic ukulele. In a tale from Iceland, a skillful farmer tricks a troll into listening to an all-night fiddle marathon and the creature is done in by the rising sun, which turns him into a stone statue. In an ancient Japanese tale, a wandering bard performs for several nights on the lute-like four-stringed biwa in front of what he believes to be a temple filled with religious monks. In reality, it is a cemetery inhabited by the ghosts of warriors who had died centuries before. In the end, the bard barely survives, but in so doing, he loses both his ears to the vengeful shades, and thus is known for the rest of his life as Hoichi the Earless.

Human musicians are often sought after by other-world denizens to play and perform at weddings, dances, and similar gatherings. In a tale from Transylvania, a shepherd named Laslo, a bagpipe player, attends the wedding of a forest sprite within a cave under a high hill. When he emerges on what he thinks is the next morning, he discovers that, in actuality, 300 years have passed. When he fully comprehends what has happened, grief and loss overtake him and he literally crumbles into dust and decay. From Scotland to Japan and from Cape Breton to Afghanistan, the so-called night under Elf Hill is a popular story theme and often musicians play a central role in these tales. In the British tale of Orfeo, the English counterpart of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the good king must venture into the realm under the hill to rescue his queen who has been taken by the underground monarch. So sweetly does Orfeo play his pipe that the elf king can deny him nothing and so is tricked into releasing the abducted queen.

Sea beings are also enchanted with human music, as is seen in stories from Britain and Ireland to the Middle East and even as far afield as Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. In a German tale, a river nixie seduces a peasant into her lair, and he is only rescued by the cleverness of his talented wife, who enchants the nixie by playing a special harp that forces the hearer to grant the player any one wish. Several mermaids actually gave up their captive humans when confronted with the sound of either human singing or the playing of a fiddle or a harp in several tales from various parts of Britain and Ireland.

The devil’s involvement with fiddle players is universal. In the origin of the tune known as the Hangman’s Reel, a condemned prisoner is told that if he can play a tune his executioners have never heard before, they would set him free. The night before he is to be hung, the devil visits him in his cell and gives him a new tune. As he is about to mount the 13 steps into oblivion, he asks for a fiddle, plays the tune, and since no one had heard it before, is allowed to go free.

So there we have it, with lots of good yarns to be heard and enjoyed when the mortal community of music-makers mixes it up with denizens from the nether regions. The music goes on and on, the tales go on and on, and the world is a better place for it all in the final analysis.