Summer Hoot at Ashokan Center


The ironic thing about folk and roots music is that, for all its association in the popular mind with progressive politics and social change, it is fundamentally conservative in nature – in the old meaning of the word, before it got hijacked by right-wing talk show hosts. Folk music is all about preserving cultural legacies and handing them on to the next generation. With the passing last January of Pete Seeger, one of the last and arguably the greatest of folkdom’s Old Guard, the generation behind him who came of age during the folk boom of the ’60s has to be thinking a lot these days about legacy issues in a more personal sense. Who will take up the mantle when they too are gone, to sustain an artform that rarely comes around to being trendy? Fortunately, there’s a whole crop coming up now of offspring of folk, folk/rock and acoustic singer/songwriter royalty who inherited their parents’ or grandparents’ talent. Rather than rebelling against the traditions in which they were brought up, they have mostly made them their own, often with edgy indie-folk twists that make the songs and styles more engaging to their younger peers. The list of second- or third-generation folkie scions currently making their marks is long: Adam Cohen, Eliza Carthy, Jakob Dylan, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Amy Helm, Jenni Muldaur, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Harper Simon, Ben and Sally Taylor, Teddy, Kamila and Jack Thompson, Martha and Rufus Wainwright… While neither her mother, singer/songwriter/guitarist/luthier Lyn Hardy, nor her father, fiddler/singer/songwriter Jay Ungar, seems poised to retire from the music business anytime soon, Ruthy Ungar is clearly taking the legacy thing seriously. She and her husband/performing partner Mike Merenda are by all accounts the driving force behind the summer and winter music festivals at the Ashokan Center known as Hoots. The first Summer Hoot a year ago included one of Pete Seeger’s last public performances, and this year’s edition – running this weekend, August 22 to 24 at the 374-acre Olivebridge campus – is dedicated to Pete’s memory. These semiannual music festivals were conceived as benefits for the Ashokan Center’s environmental education and natural history programs; but in the communitarian Seeger spirit, their hosts are committed to balancing fundraising with affordability: “There was not a dry eye in the audience for Pete’s set last year,” recalls Merenda. “After he played, Pete asked us if we planned to keep ticket prices affordable as the Hoot grew larger. We are proud to say yes. We believe in making the Hoot as accessible and open to all, and treating the crowd to an abundance of some of the best music on Earth.” That last phrase is not outrageous hyperbole. Besides Mike + Ruthy and Ashokan Center Board president and vice president Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, this weekend’s musical lineup includes some stellar names, including the great fingerpicker/bluesman David Bromberg, for whom Jay has done considerable time as a sideman over the years. Another old colleague, New Lost City Ramblers founder, filmmaker and ethnomusicologist John Cohen (who was also Pete Seeger’s brother-in-law and the Uncle John who inspired the Grateful Dead song  “Uncle John’s Band”), will make a rare appearance. Although he’ll be bringing his current bluegrass trio, the Down Hill Strugglers, what’s especially exciting to diehard Hudson Valley folkies is that Cohen’s presence enables a reunion of the terrific old-timey ensemble that he was in with Jay Ungar, Lyn Hardy and cellist Abby Newton in the early 1970s: the Putnam String County Band. Up-and-coming younger indie-folk headliners include Amy Helm’s newest ensemble Oh to Be Home Again, Woodstock soul singer Simi Stone and Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, whose reboots of ancient ballads like “Tam Lin” in their Child Ballads collection last year grabbed a lot of ears. To keep the dancers moving, the Revelers will provide Cajun music and the Saints of Swing featuring Rene Bailey will cover the Big Band angle. The roster for this weekend includes some big names in the world of kids’ music as well: Longtime favorites and two-time Grammy-winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer will be on hand, along with local kindie performers Elizabeth Mitchell with You Are My Flower and Grian MacGregor with her Ivy Vine Players puppets. Also playing at Summer Hoot 2014 will be Kristin Andreassen, Marco Benevento, Robert Sarazin Blake, Breathe Owl Breathe, the Bright Siders, Burnell Pines, Debra Clifford & Emily Schaad, Jay Collins and the Kings County Band, the Josies, Chas Justus, D. B. Leonard, the Little Saros, Chris Merenda, Milton, Mister Chris, Billy Mitchel, the Old Way (reunion), Serious Juggling & Comedy, Small Houses, Spirit Family Reunion and the White Light Gong Ensemble. In addition to continuous live music on two stages on “Hoot Hill” – built from repurposed materials from buildings dismantled as part of the Ashokan’s recent efforts to relocate its facilities above the flood line – the Summer Hoot offers children’s activities including hands-on crafts workshops with FiberFlame, local food and beer, handmade craft booths, blacksmithing, pewter-making and broommaking demonstrations, guided hikes, birding and nature photography, singalongs, jam sessions, a late-night square dance and two short indoor film screenings. The gates open at 3 p.m. on Friday, August 22 and the music begins at 6 p.m. Festivities continue until Sunday, August 24 at 7 p.m.; you can see the full jam-packed schedule at Festival attendees of all ages – affectionately known as Hootsters – are invited to come for a single day or for the entire weekend. Limited on-site lodging and camping info are available at Advance-purchase weekend tickets cost $60. At the gate, weekend passes cost $70 and one-day admission costs $25 for Friday, $40 for Saturday and $30 for Sunday. Volunteers and kids age 12 and younger get in for free. To reserve tickets and guarantee admission, visit Summer Hoot Festival, Friday-Sunday, August 22-24, $25-$60, Ashokan Center, 477 Beaverkill Road, Olivebridge; (845) 657-8333,

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