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Charlie Backfish

Pete Mancini & the Hillside Airmen

By Heidi Sutton

Featuring the best in traditional and contemporary folk music, the seventh annual Fiddle & Folk Festival returns to Benner’s Farm in East Setauket this Sunday, Sept. 16 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

The day-long event will showcase three stages. Emceed by guitarist and singer Bob Westcott, the Main (Back Porch) Stage will feature four acts this year. The Shady Grove Stage, which will be hosted by WUSB’s Charlie Backfish, will allow visitors to meet the performers and attend workshops, and the Jam Hollow Stage will highlight a sing-along and a fiddle workshop. There will also be a roaming fiddler, appropriately named Jack Fyddle, who recently appeared as a reenactor in TBR News Media’s feature film, “One Life to Give.” The evening will end with a family contra dance in the barn. 

Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams

Reached by phone, Amy Tuttle, program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council who’s also on the festival committee, said she’s familiar with the groups and looks forward to their performances, adding that this year’s headliners will have more of “a rock feel, more on the Americana, modern folk spectrum.”

Back by popular demand, The Stony Brook Roots Ensemble will open the festival. Formed in 2015 by Taylor Ackley, the ensemble features grad students from Stony Brook University. Tuttle said the group “takes the mountain music and the western music that [Ackley] grew up with in Montana and Washington State and play it with classical instruments and it’s really cool — everybody loves it.”

The festival will continue with a performance by Brooklyn-based The New Students, who “do a modern twist on traditional folk music,” and will be followed by Pete Mancini & the Hillside Airmen. According to Tuttle, Mancini was the former frontman of Butcher’s Blind. “He just started this band and was recently signed to Diversion Records based in Chicago,” she said.

Larry Campbell and wife Theresa Williams will close out the festival. “They are musicians’ musicians,” explained Tuttle. “Larry was a member of Bob Dylan’s Band, and Theresa is also a songwriter and singer and they have been in Levon Helm’s band and have become the musical director of Levon’s Midnight Ramble. They’re the ones that are carrying on the torch now that Levon has passed.” 

The New Students

She is most excited to introduce the community to this duo, having tried for several years to get them to come. “These folks are known worldwide among people who appreciate great musicianship.”

Tuttle said there will be plenty of activities that children can participate in as well by taking part in the sing-along workshop, enjoying stories and creating artwork in the Kids Corner.

Visitors are also encouraged to stroll around the 15-acre working organic farm, meet the resident farm animals, tour the vegetable gardens, purchase organic produce and feel like a kid again on the Big Swing. For Tuttle, this is one of those special events that she looks forward to every year. “The quality of the music is just top notch, the setting is gorgeous and the vibe of the festival is relaxed and friendly.”

Presented by Benner’s Farm, Homestead Arts, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, TBR News Media and WUSB Radio, the music festival will be held rain or shine. 

Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Admission to the festival is $18 for adults, and $13 for children and seniors at the door. Please bring seating. For a full schedule of events, visit www.fiddleandfolk.com. For more info, call 631-689-8172.

All photos courtesy of Amy Tuttle

Mose Allison
Evening will honor the music of longtime Smithtown resident

By Kevin Redding

Mose Allison. Photo by Michael Wilson

A reporter once asked the late jazz and blues pianist and singer Mose Allison — regarded among musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend and Van Morrison as “one of the finest songwriters in 20th century blues” — why he wasn’t more famous.

“Mose, you were a social critic before Bob Dylan, satirical long before Randy Newman and rude before Mick Jagger,” the reporter said. “How come you’re not a big star?” Allison, who was born in Mississippi and moved from New York City to Smithtown in the mid-1960s to raise a family and spent much of his time walking in the local woods and swimming in the Long Island Sound, responded: “Just lucky, I guess.”

On Saturday, March 24, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will give the 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee his proper due with The Word From Mose: A Celebration of the Music of Mose Allison, a tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Jack Licitra

The concert, following the tradition of other Sunday Street Series shows organized by Charlie Backfish, Stony Brook University history lecturer and host of the university’s weekly radio program “Sunday Street,” will feature local and outside musicians, who will strum and sing through decades of Allison’s breakthrough material, including his more well-known tracks “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

Allison, who died Nov. 15, 2016, just four days before turning 89, was a four-time Grammy nominee and frequent collaborator with jazz greats Zoot Sims and Stan Getz whose songs spanned more than 30 albums — The Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, The Who, The Pixies and Elvis Costello are among those who have recorded Allison’s songs.

Pete Kennedy

The lineup includes “Sunday Street” regular and New York-based singer-songwriter Pete Kennedy; Pat Wictor, electric and slide guitarist of the group Brother Sun; Jack Licitra, a Sayville-based keyboardist and guitarist as well as the founder of the music-teaching studio South Bay Arts in Bayport; and Abbie Gardner, an acclaimed Dobro player who has toured for many years as part of the trio Red Molly. Some members of Allison’s family, including his daughter and singer-songwriter Amy Allison, will also be in attendance.

The evening will also include a screening of a short BBC documentary on Allison called “Ever Since the World Ended,” featuring interviews with Costello, Morrison, Raitt and Loudon Wainwright III and footage of Allison performing.

“Not only is he such an important artist, Mose Allison was someone who lived in this area for many decades and we thought it was time to do something like this for him,” Backfish said of the decision to honor the musician. “When he wasn’t on tour, which was quite often, he would be back in the area and playing shows at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University or jazz clubs in Port Jefferson.”

Pat Wictor. Photo by John Mazlish

Backfish said he also had the opportunity to interview Allison on his radio program many years ago. “He had such an incredibly rich catalog in so many ways and these artists are going to get together and play both well-known songs of his and the deep tracks,” he said. “I would hope that if people aren’t aware of Mose, they’ll suddenly find someone they will check out and listen to, and for those who know him, this will be a great way to celebrate his music and listen to artists reinterpret his songs.”

Wictor, a longtime Allison fan who, with his band, recorded a version of “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,” said Backfish approached him to participate in the concert for his “affinity” for the man’s work. “I love Mose partly because he cannot be categorized easily,” Wictor said. “He sort of mixed jazz and blues, and social commentary, in a way that nobody else did. And I like his sense of humor in his lyrics, which were always a little sardonic and mischievous. He comes across as a person that doesn’t suffer fools gladly and that’s always enjoyable to me. The songs themselves are very musically interesting, too — blues-based but they always have a unique musical and lyrical quality unlike anything else.”

Abbie Gardner

Kennedy said Allison was unusual among jazz musicians in his time because he wrote a lot of songs with lyrics, while others primarily stuck to instrumental compositions. “Allison actually wrote songs that he sang and that’s what we’re focusing on during the concert,” said Kennedy, who noted that he’s had a lot of fun examining Allison’s songs more closely and learning them in anticipation of the show. “His songs sound totally modern to me now, even the old ones from the 1950s and ’60s. The writing is really clever, really humorous and had a little bit of social commentary to it, but not in a negative way.”

Licitra, too, expressed his excitement over his involvement, calling Allison’s music “the thinking man’s blues.” “I’m really looking forward to giving people a taste of his style of intellectualism and humor,” he said. “And for me, this is all about the group of performers on the bill. I’m a big fan of all of them and so I’m excited about playing with them and seeing how they each interpret Mose’s [work].”

The jazz legend’s son John Allison, who grew up in Smithtown, said while his father was a true “musician’s musician” and beloved in many artist’s circles, he was as low profile as could be at home. “There he was, living in Smithtown, so unassuming that even our neighbors, for 15 years, didn’t know what he did until they saw him on TV with Bonnie Raitt for a PBS concert at Wolf Trap,” John Allison said, laughing. “He just wanted to do his thing. He read books and played music. I’d come home from high school and he’d be listening to some weird Chinese, classical music and just laughing and loving it … [and] sometimes he did tai chi in the living room.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Advance tickets to the tribute show are $25 through Friday, March 23 at www.sundaystreet.org with tickets at the door for $30 (cash only). Beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase. For more information, please call 631-751-0066.

He-Bird, She-Bird (from left, Terri Hall, Todd Evans and Christine Kellar) will be one of the headliners at the festival this year. Photo by Erin Pelkey
Music tradition continues at Benner’s Farm

By Rita J. Egan

The air will be filled with the sounds of bluegrass, blues and folk music in Setauket on Sept. 10 when Benner’s Farm hosts its sixth annual Fiddle & Folk Festival.

The farm’s owner Bob Benner said last year nearly 300 music lovers attended the festival where they explored the organic, solar-powered working farm and visited the animals while listening to music. “It’s an old-fashioned festival,” Benner said. “It’s pretty much held all over the farm.”

Miles to Dayton performs for a large crowd at Benner’s Farm during a previous Fiddle & Folk Festival. Photo by Bob Benner

Charlie Backfish, host of the long-running, weekly WUSB radio program “Sunday Street,” said the festival’s location sets it apart from others. “There aren’t too many [festivals] that actually take place on a working farm,” Backfish said. “The locale is terrific, and the performers we have are top-notch performers; so it’s a nice combination.”

Emceed by Long Island guitarist and singer Bob Westcott, the festival will feature headliners Daisycutter, The End of America and He-Bird, She-Bird.

Backfish said he’s familiar with the groups and looks forward to their performances. He said the group Daisycutter, from upstate New York, features fiddler Sara Milonovich. The End of America comes from Philadelphia and consists of three singers with incredible harmonies, and they’ve been compared to the early days of Crosby, Stills and Nash, according to the radio disc jockey. He-Bird, She-Bird, a trio from Long Island who sing both originals and covers, Backfish said, perform a roots music type of sound.

“I think we have three interesting acts there,” Backfish said. “They’ll all be on the main stage, and then there’s a second stage at the festival — a meet-the-performers stage. That’s the one that I’ll be hosting, where the audience has a chance to ask questions of the musicians and hear them do some songs that they’re not doing on the main stage.”

A scene from last year’s Fiddle & Folk Festival. Photo from Bob Benner

Benner said the stage to meet the performers is the solar-powered Shady Grove Stage close to the woods. There will also be a Fiddle Workshop in Jam Hollow where attendees can bring their own instruments to join in on the musical fun.

Amy Tuttle, program director of Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, said the Stony Brook Roots Ensemble will be on hand for a special performance. The local music group is comprised of classically trained musicians who share a love of American roots music.

“They are terrific,” Tuttle said. “I’ve found that many outstanding young bluegrass musicians across the country are classically trained, and I’m delighted that we have such a talented homegrown group to present at the Fiddle & Folk Festival.”

For those who aren’t musically inclined, they can participate in contra dancing with a live band led by Rusty Ford, and children can enjoy stories and create artwork in the Kids Corner.

Children can get creative at the Kids Corner. Photo by Bob Benner

Backfish said for WUSB there is a personal connection to the festival. The station’s radio programmer Gerry Reimer, who died in 2012, was in talks with Benner to bring back the Fiddle & Folk Festival, which was formerly held on the property of The Long Island Museum. “I think she would very much like what has happened and how this festival continues,” Backfish said

Tuttle said the members of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council enjoy a variety of musical genres and have enjoyed the performers at past festivals at Benner’s. “They are also very supportive of independent artists,” she said. “The same audience that loves the artistry, lovely surroundings and feeling of community at the Sunset Concerts in Port Jeff also enjoys those same aspects at the Fiddle & Folk Festival.”

Benner said he is looking forward to the event and music lovers coming together as they have the last few years on the farm. “It’s a day to come out and leave the world’s problems behind for a few hours and enjoy some music and community,” he said.

Presented by Homestead Arts, Benner’s Farm, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, TBR News Media and WUSB Radio, the music festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine. Benner’s Farm is located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket. Admission to the festival is $18 for adults, and $13 for children and seniors at the door. Please bring seating. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.fiddleandfolk.com.

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