Fourth Annual Jean Ritchie Folk Concert honors legendary artist at PWPL
There are three things that I learned from the Jean Ritchie Folk Concert at the Port Washington Public Library featuring Dave Sear and Peter Pickow. 1) A great deal of folk music is written about trains. 2) Banjos need a lot of tuning, especially that evil fifth string that has a tuning peg halfway down the neck. 3) Port Washington has been very fortunate to have Jean Ritchie, the folk icon, living in our midst.
Ritchie, the youngest of 14 children growing up in the Eastern Kentucky Mountains, grew up singing, and brought traditional folk music into the New York City scene. She was responsible for launching a revival of traditional dulcimer music, and an interest in Appalachian folk music. Ritchie has been called “the mother of folk music” and a “national treasure” for her work in keeping traditional folk music alive.
Unfortunately, Ritchie could not be present at the April 11 concert due to her recovery from a recent stroke, but the audience showed their love with a standing ovation captured on video for her. The concert, named in her honor, was intended to share folk music with the community — and it did.
It was appropriate that the library chose Dave Sear and Peter Pickow as the performers. One (Pickow) is Ritchie’s son, the other (Sear) performed with her in the late 1940s on Oscar Brand’s celebrated folk music radio show.
The show started, appropriately enough, with a Jean Ritchie song — “Roll on, Clouds.” Sear, playing both banjo and 12-string guitar, was a charming performer. He wove stories around each song, talking about his personal experience in the folk music scene of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sear described how as a teen he was part of a regular group of musicians performing on Oscar Brand’s radio show. Oscar Brand’s show “set the style for the Prairie Home Companion,” Sear said.
Pickow accompanied Sear on guitar, bass and vocal harmony. Over the course of the almost two-hour performance, the musicians sang songs about trains, mines and lost love. Pickow took the lead vocals during a song written by his mother intended for Johnny Cash (“Too Many Shadows”). The songs ranged from the familiar (“Get Along Home Cindy”) to the entertaining (Tom Chapin’s “Go Home Sarah Palin”) to a sing along (“By the Rivers of Babylon”).
The atmosphere was warm and homey — friends sitting around a campfire singing together. Hopefully, we sang loud enough for Jean Ritchie to hear us.