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’m a little nuts. I’m a lot nuts. All I know is that in the midst of the madness of this world, it’s my therapy. The music touches my heartstrings.”
—Gordon Lightfoot
Date May 4 May 18 June 1 June 15 June 29
Setup Joel Rutledge Melissa Sarenac Bob Allen Melissa Sarenac Joel Rutledge
Bulletin Board Debbie Klein Forest McDonald Debbie Klein Debbie Klein Marisa Malvino
Host/ess Tes Welborn Debbie Klein Richard Glidden Al Winslow Bob Allen
Host/ess Glen Van Lehn D. Nunns Estelle Freedman Faith Melissa Sarenac
Singing Room Dave Sahn Melissa Sarenac Francesca Declich Lyla Menzel Marisa Malvino
Theme Songs of the Road, Rail, Sea and Air Questions & Answers Rivers, Lakes, Oceans Things We Wear Sea, Sun, Sand, Sky
Cleanup Kim Probst Tamara Thompson Ken or Jim or Morgan Ken or Jim or Morgan Ken or Jim or Morgan

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, April 25 at home of Marian Gade,

Upcoming Club Campouts

2012 SF Free Folk Fest – June 9th and 10th

Like most folk music festivals, the San Francisco Free Folk Festival affords lots of opportunities to just sit back and enjoy beautiful free music in a friendly informal atmosphere. In fact, this year there more than 60 free performances from which to choose. Whether you are a Django Reinhardt fan, a bluegrass lover, a Celtic music enthusiast, or a jug band junkie, there will be more than enough to tickle your musical fancy. If your tastes run toward singer-songwriters or performers who are not so easy to pin down by genre, there will be much for you to rave about, too. This year we have many artists journeying here from all over the land to perform for you for free, from Portland, Los Angeles, Oklahoma, Boston, and Georgia. They might not be household names, but they possess heavyweight talents.

A sampling of performers: Misner & Smith, Melody Walker, Gaucho Gypsy Jazz Band, Craig Ventresco & Meredith Axelrod, Don Burnham & the Bolos, Faith Petric, The Shook Twins (Portland), Anita Lofton Project, Devine’s Jug Band, Rita Hoskins, Nell Robinson, Garrin Benfield, Barbary Ghosts, The Shots, Jeanie & Chuck, Fret Not Gospel, Robert Thornton Kent (Oklahoma City), Kunkel & Harris (featuring Bruce Kunkel, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), The Hop Heads, Dogwatch Nautical Band, Amelia Hogan, World Harmony Chorus, Mark Lemaire, Brooks Hunnicutt (from Georgia), Laura Lind, Poor Man’s Poison, Emily Bonn & the Vivants, The Keller Sisters, The Jug or Nots (from LA), Jazz Gitan (from Sacramento), Morgan Cowin & friends, Dennis Campagna, Broceliande, Carey Dubbert, Tarantulas Jug Band, Valerie Rose Band, Brough Brothers (featuring Zach from Jugtown Pirates and Josh from Poor Man’s Whiskey), Vikki Lee & Russ Whitehead, Dirty Cello, Riggy Rackin, Aireene Espiritu, Jane Fallon, and more!

What sets the SF Free Folk Festival apart from other music festivals are the abundant opportunities to jump in and become part of the action. There are dozens of workshops and jams for the active music lovers who want to learn about and participate actively in their musical passion.

A sampling of music workshops: Italian Mandolin, Musical Saw, Murder Ballads, Autoharp, Songs of the Carter Family, Concertina, Protest and Occupy Songs, Beatles Jam, Jug Band Jam, Intro to Folk Harp, Twin Harmony, Secrets of Great Fingerpicking, Old Time Gospel, Bluegrass Jam, German Folk Jam, Cajun Jam, Gypsy Guitar Jam, Songs of Kate Wolf, Acoustic Bass, Traditional Ballads, Songs of the Copper Family, Woody Guthrie Songs, and more!

When they hear good music, some folks just gotta start moving it around. They just can’t stop themselves from that fully physical body reaction. For the dance mavens, we have dozens of one-of-a-kind dance workshops.

A sampling of dance workshops: Irish Step Dancing, Bollywood Fire, Bavarian Schuhplattling, Dances of Jane Austen’s Era, Argentine Tango, Israeli Dance, Blues Dance, Old California Dances, Egyptian Belly Dance, French Country dance, Zydeco, Ragtime at Downtown Abbey, Paris Cafe Dancing, Vintage Coast Swing with Quake City Jug Band, World Folk Dances, Latin/Salsa Dance, Golden Age of Islamic Spain, Cotswold Morris, Scottish Country dance, Modern Dance, Contra Dance, Hungarian/Transylvanian Dance, Polish Dance and more!

Additionally, in 2012, evening dances will be Vintage Ballroom and International Dance, and Contra and Square Dance.

Also there will be many fun activities with the kids in mind. In fact, if you know some great children’s performers and workshop leaders, that’s one area we still have a need for performers. So let us know.

Whew! My head is spinning. How about you? And that’s not all. But that’ll give you an idea of just some of the frolic and fun that awaits.

For more information, check out E‑mail the organizers at Connect on Facebook at the group page San Francisco Free Folk Festival.

Earl Scruggs 1924-2012

Earl Scruggs, whose banjo picking style helped define the sound of bluegrass and shape the sound of 20th-century country music, died in Nashville of natural causes on March 28, 2012, at the age of 88.

Earl started playing banjo at age four. Initially, he used just his thumb and index finger, but he always wanted to poke his middle finger into the mix. The technique he developed, using three fingers, revolutionized banjo playing and took on his name: Scruggs style. He perfected the style when he was about 10 years old, after a fight with his brother. “I’d gone into a room by myself, and I had a banjo in there. And I was, I guess, pouting. And all of a sudden, I realized I was picking with three fingers. And that excited me to no end,” Scruggs said in a 2000 NPR interview. “I went running out of the room and there was my brother… I came out saying, ‘I got it. I got it.’”

His innovative use of three fingers in an up-picking style, rather than the two-fingered claw-hammer down-picking technique, allowed Scruggs to play syncopated progressions, or rolls, as the late bluegrass musician John Hartford, explained, “In order to play in 2/4 or 4/4, you have to go one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two. Emphasis comes on a different part of the bar each time.” Earl’s technique elevated the five-string banjo from a part of the rhythm section, or a comedian’s prop, to a lead or solo instrument. What became known as the syncopated Scruggs picking style helped popularize the banjo in almost every genre of music.

Scruggs didn’t share his innovation with the world right away. He worked in a textile mill in Flint Hill, NC, making 40 cents an hour, until one of his co-workers suggested his banjo talent could be a ticket out. His first job in radio, at $50 a week, led to his meeting Bill Monroe, known as the father of bluegrass. In 1945, Earl joined Bill’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, and helped shape its “high, lonesome sound”.

In 1948, Earl, along with Lester Flatt (Blue Grass Boys’ lead singer and guitar player), weary of the low pay and exhausting travel, struck out on their own, despite Bill’s pleas to stay. Angry and hurt, Bill refused to speak to them for 20 years, a feud that became famous in country-music history. The two departing members formed their own group, The Foggy Mountain Boys, later known simply as Flatt & Scruggs.

Soon after, Scruggs wrote the tune that would come to be the group’s calling card and its biggest hit, though not for nearly two decades. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” climbed the charts in 1967, after it appeared in the film Bonnie and Clyde, and won two Grammy Awards, once in 1968 and again in 2001. Also, in 1962, with singer Jerry Scoggins, Flatt & Scruggs recorded “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” for the TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The theme song, played at the beginning and end of each episode, became an immediate country music hit.

In 1959, Earl had appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival and introduced his style to the folk-music revival of those years. Soon young folk musicians were adopting it, and Earl began to play the college folk-festival circuit. He also began to work with his growing sons, Gary, Randy and Steve, and he recorded material by Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers. Lester, by contrast, disliked the new music and felt it was alienating the band’s grass-roots fans. In 1969 the two broke up, and Earl, with his sons, formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a mostly acoustic group with drums and electric bass. It broadened his repertory to include rock, and the group played on bills with acts like Steppenwolf and James Taylor.

In 1969, Scruggs played on an open-air stage in Washington, DC at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, becoming one of the very few bluegrass or country-western artists to support the anti-war movement. In an interview afterwards, Scruggs said, “I think the people in the South are just as concerned as the people that’s walkin’ the streets here today … I’m sincere about bringing our boys back home. I’m disgusted and in sorrow about the boys we’ve lost over there. And if I could see a good reason to continue, I wouldn’t be here today.”

In 1973, a tribute concert was held for Scruggs in Manhattan, Kansas. Among the artists playing were Joan Baez, David Bromberg, The Byrds, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Doc & Merle Watson. The concert was filmed and turned into the 1975 documentary film “Banjoman.”

Speak of the Devil

Robert Rodriquez

Helen Creighton, one of Canada’s most renowned and celebrated folklorists and collectors, once remarked to a colleague that even though she would never stoop to collect songs of a vulgar, bawdy, or scatological nature, she did have to admit, after giving the matter much thought, that it seemed the devil did indeed wind up having and getting the best tunes. It should come as no surprise that where music and story are concerned, the devil can indeed mix it up with the best of them, and does often wind up in the center of action in songs and tales in which music plays a prominent role.

He is known by many names from culture to culture: in Cuba he is El Bizarón, in Scotland, England, and North America he may be Old Scratch, Old Nick, or Old Clootie. In Mexico, he may be the handsome dapper gentleman known as Don Demonio or in another incarnation, the demon with the hat, El Sombrerón, under which guise he once tried to seduce a young girl, only to be repulsed when she foisted him off by playing a guitar made from the wood of a tree that had grown on hallowed ground. The late North Carolina writer Manly Wade Wellman used a similar trope when his down-home folk hero, Wandering John the Balladeer, also employed a guitar made with silver strings in his ongoing battle against the forces of darkness as he wandered the Appalachian roads and byways.

In his guise as prince of tricksters and ruler of the infernal regions down below, the devil is always trying to cause mischief and mayhem among mortal ranks. He may pose difficult or impossible riddles or tasks in such ballads as the “False Knight on the Road, or the “Devil’s Nine Questions.” On the other hand, he may challenge a mortal to give him a task he cannot accomplish, as in the “Devil and the Schoolmaster,” wherein the wily academic asks the devil to plait a rope of sand and then, while washing it, keep it intact and not lose a single strand of it, which of course cannot be done. So angry does Old Scratch become at this impossibility that he flings himself from atop the school, strikes the local bridge, leaving a mark from his hoof, which can be seen today, so the locals say, on the bridge in the town of Cockerham in Britain.

In another British ballad, known as the “Devil and the Feathery Wife,” a clever woman helps her husband escape hell’s snare by disguising herself as a creature the devil has never seen before, by rubbing herself with droppings, honey, and feathers. When the devil sees this grotesque creature, her husband says there are seven more roaming about his property, thus causing the devil to take to his heels in absolute terror, never to be seen in those parts for a very long time after.

The devil seems to fare badly when his opponent is a clever or plucky female. In the “Farmer’s Cursed Wife,” the woman in question turns hell into a shambles, and when the devil returns her to her husband, the devil ruefully quips that he had never truly known hell till he met her. In the comic ditty, the “Widow’s Promise,” the devil and a rather lusty widow engage in a series of nocturnal frolics à la boudoir. Her wish is to reach a hundred times, but after seventy, Old Nick remarks that now he knows how her husband died. After 99 times, he retires from the field of amatory combat, and when summoned to continue the following night, he cringes down below and leaves the widow to her own devices.

On the other hand, results are often different with male opponents, as a Scottish tax collector and an Irish bailiff found out to their ruination in the “Devil and the Excise Man” and the “Devil and Bailiff Maglinn.”

In an Italian story from Tuscany, the devil once gave a poor shepherd a whistle that made folks dance till they dropped. In the end, this whistle helped the shepherd gain a fortune, a princess as his wife, and a kingdom when her father decided to retire and go fishing. Stories of this type are common throughout Europe, and the instruments involved may vary from whistles to fiddles, harps, pipes, guitars or in one Spanish story, a harmonica.

The devil’s association with the fiddle is literally known from one corner of the world to another. From Quebec to the Balkans and from Nova Scotia to Russia, the fiddle plays a major role in tales where it causes folks to dance without stopping, or, as in a popular tale from French Canada, where the fiddle helps a prisoner gain his freedom when he plays a tune his judges and executioners have never heard before. This, it is said, is the origin of the tune known as the “Hangman’s Reel.” The devil once turned an English wedding party into a group of standing stones because they dared make merry on a Sunday, thus mocking God’s ordinance against such behavior. Stanton Drew in Somerset is where this circle of stones can be seen to this very day.

Perhaps the best way to end this is with a tale from Shetland. Somewhere in Shetland is a pawn-shop, and on a dusty shelf lies a fiddle which, no matter who purchases it, is always brought back. It seems that according to a local legend, the devil cursed this particular fiddle so that, when its original owner passed away, anyone else who tried to play it would feel invisible fingers around his neck, often with horrid and gruesome results. Time after time, the fiddle was purchased and time after time it was eventually returned with the injunction that it should be consumed in fire and flames. According to the story, its last owner was literally strangled in his own bed while talking to his wife. Is it back in that pawn-shop, or has some other unfortunate mortal purchased it to his or her own ruin? Only time and another good tale will tell the answer, but until then, happy music-making, one and all.