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Newbies at NERFA

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Backstage with Anthony and Lindsay

Folk music mavens wring their hands about the graying folk audiences, but judging from the latest Northeastern Regional Folk Alliance conference last weekend, youth will have its day. Not that it wasn’t a pleasure hearing veterans like John McCutcheon, Anne Hills, Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen, and James Lee Stanley, but it’s exciting when you discover a bunch of new voices in their 20s.

Anthony DaCosta, the phenom from Pleasantville, isn’t even 18 yet, and he had the honor of closing the second formal showcase. He also sat in with Lindsay Mac, the lovely and talented 20-something singer-songwriter who plays the cello strapped on like a guitar (and who, along with Anthony, was one of winning emerging artistsof the 2007 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival). Another young talent doing a formal showcase was Nathan Rogers, son of the late Stan Rogers (and nephew of Garnet Rogers), who’s part of the booming Winnipeg music scene.

A lot of folks were buzzing about another Canadian act, Dala, an adorable duo from Toronto, with great harmonies and the look of young Indigo Girls. Cape Cod’s five Parkington Sisters, between 17 and 29 in age, are also adorable, not to mention accomplished musicians - they have 3 violins, one cello, one guitar and the kind of harmonies that come from singing together your whole life. Other impressive young women were Kelleigh McKenzie, from Rockland County, who’s looks elegant playing the banjo, but sings down to earth, kind of dark songs, and Bettysoo, from Austin, who claims she’s “never the pretty girl,” but is an engaging and witty performer.

Tena Moyer isn’t exactly a newcomer, but being based in Arizona, she doesn’t get east very often. Which is too bad, because she writes smart and sophisticated songs, worthy of the American popular songbook. Danny Schmidt, based in Austin, on the other hand, writes dark, bluesy songs with great guitar accompaniment. More people will get to know him when Red House releases his next CD nationally.

The biggest buzz at NERFA had to be about the Creaking Tree String Quartet from Canada. They’ve got the conventional bluegrass configuration (guitar, mandolin, bass, and fiddle), but take it totally unexpected places with virtuoso playing.  Molly’s Revenge, from Santa Cruz, CA, is another group with great players and also good vocals; in their case, they push the edge of Celtic music. Another young Celtic group to watch is Philadelphia-based RUNA, led by an amazing vocalist, Shannon Lambert-Ryan.

Shannon also sings with Guy Mendilow, who’s lived in Israel and South Africa, but is now based in Boston. One of my favorite hours at NERFA was spent in a “guerilla” showcase hosted by Acousticmusicscene.com. (NERFA has three levels of showcases - large formal showcases in the main showroom, midlevel “tri-centric” showcases in meeting rooms, and late night “guerilla” showcases in people’s bedrooms.) This one was was on Saturday afternoon, featuring the Guy Mendilow Band with their hybrid folk/world music, Long Island’s Joe Iadanza with his well-crafted songs and a tight band, and Gathering Time, a trio from Long Island with fabulous harmonies. They took turns singing their own songs and backing each other up. It was a great example of the folk community in action.

Now if I can just catch up on my sleep and all the CDs I picked up along the way...