Q & A: Meet Debra Cowan and John Roberts

Roberts-Cowan_web.jpgIt all started with a simple question: “How are you getting to Chicago?” And with that, folk musicians John Roberts and Debra Cowan decided to team up for a series of small concerts before arriving as separately booked artists at an annual festival. The combination of car-pool and mini-tour was successful enough that John and Debra have continued to perform together.

At their concerts, you might hear sea shanties or a broadside ballad, pub tunes or a love song with a feminist twist, a ripping good yarn or a laugh-out-loud funny story. John has been a guest on one of Debra’s albums, and they have now released an album together, Ballads Long & Short.

In advance of their Golden Link concert on Saturday, May 14, I interviewed Debra to find out more about their musical journey.

Q: When did you and John first meet?

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Acoustic roots musician Brooks Williams is a triple threat

Brooks WilliamsBrooks Williams is really the proverbial triple threat: a fiery guitarist, a smooth-as-silk vocalist, and a stunning songwriter. He has been ranked in the Top 100 Acoustic Guitarists, and was nominated best male vocalist by the UK folk roots website Spiral Earth in 2014. He plays a Golden Link concert as part of his spring U.S. tour on Saturday, April 9 at 7:30 pm at the Rochester Christian Reformed Church in Penfield.

Originally from Statesboro, Georgia, Brooks spent many years in New England (which is where I first saw him), before moving to England. His music is hard to categorize. It’s primarily blues and Americana, but there’s a bit of jazz and rockabilly thrown in for good measure. And he writes amazing songs, so he can also be considered a singer-songwriter. As his press bio says, imagine Doc Watson, Willie Nelson, Lonnie Johnson, and Blind Boy Fuller sitting in a bar having a jam, and you’re almost there.

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“New Voices” Concert Series at Bernunzio’s kicks off March 26

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A new collaboration between Golden Link Folk Singing Society and Bernunzio Uptown Music in Rochester’s East End will bring three winners of Golden Link’s 2015 New Voices Emerging Artists Showcase to Bernunzio’s as part of the new “New Voices” concert series.

Kicking things off on Saturday, March 26 at 8 pm will be the songwriting brothers Matt and Nathan Corrigan of Tough Old Bird. They play a potent blend of folk and blues that reflects the rural landscape they come from – a place where the last train just pulled out and the carnival is always on its way to the next town.

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Hometown acoustic music with The Crawdiddies and The Brothers Blue

Crawdiddies_540px.jpgGolden Link’s upcoming March Music Madness concert (Saturday, March 12, 7:30 pm, Rochester Christian Reformed Church, Penfield) is like a mini-festival to help beat the midwinter blues. It’s designed to showcase great local performers and give folks a chance to socialize and make music together.

The evening features the beautiful sounds and irresistible grooves of acoustic “BluesGrass” quartet The Crawdiddies (pictured), as well as the American folk trio The Brothers Blue, who were named audience favorite at Golden Link’s “New Voices” Emerging Artists Showcase in September 2015.

To add to the “madness,” there will be a sing-around/jam session (open to all ages) hosted by Dean Santos starting at 5 pm, followed by a chili supper from 6–7 pm. Jamming will continue through the supper hour. Bring your friends, family, voices, and instruments and join in the fun!

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Acoustic trio Low Lily brings sweet harmonies to Golden Link

LowLilyPromoPiano_540px.jpgNamed for a Northeast woodland flower, the New England acoustic trio Low Lily has put down roots in their exploration of different branches of American folk music, from Celtic and bluegrass to Appalachian, popular music, and their own compositions. Low Lily performs on the Golden Link concert series on Saturday, February 27 at 7:30 pm. “A band definitely on the up. Sweet harmonies ... tight arrangements ... divine.” (Fatea, U.K.).

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Golden Link celebrates 45 years

Vern_1666.jpgIn May, Golden Link finishes our 45th year of existence – just for Tuesday evening sing-arounds that’s about 5,400 hours of music, roughly 81,000 songs. Quite remarkable!

Responses to a recent survey repeatedly mentioned two things about the club that have played a role in its longevity: music and community.

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Americana songwriter Jonathan Byrd tells stories of everyday folk

Byrd-Waken_300px.jpgJonathan Byrd’s songs tell stories of everyday folk with a quirky streak – that long-haul trucker who loves his Peterbilt semi, the wild Cherokee barmaid with raven hair, the fisherman who couldn’t hold his liquor. Musician Tim O’Brien says Byrd’s songs are “like dirt road visits with your neighbors outside the car window.” Jonathan Byrd comes to Rochester for a Golden Link concert on Saturday, November 21 at 7:30 pm at the Rochester Christian Reformed Church.
    
Byrd’s music will take you from his native North Carolina to Texas, where he won the Kerrville New Folk award. In fact, a Jonathan Byrd show brings together the Texas songwriting tradition with southern storytelling and hot guitar picking in the line of North Carolina greats Doc Watson and Tony Rice.

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How did Golden Link get its name?

Golden-Ring-CD_600px.jpgOne of the CDs in my car right now is something I picked up at September’s Turtle Hill Folk Festival. It’s called “Golden Ring” and was released in 1964 by Folk-Legacy Records. According to a note on the Folk-Legacy website, “the ‘Golden Ring’ has never been an established group of specific individuals; it has always been more a concept, an approach to informal, non-competitive music-making by a gathering of friends, often solo performers in their own right, who simply enjoy singing and playing together.”

Inspired by that recording, the Golden Link Folk Singing Society was founded in 1971, with the concept that our local group was like one “link” in a chain of folk musicians who enjoy just making music together. And the club has been operated completely by volunteers since that time.

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Singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler comes to Golden Link

Cheryl-Wheeler_540px.jpgIf you have never seen Cheryl Wheeler perform live, you’re in for a real treat when she comes to Rochester for a Golden Link concert on Saturday, October 17 at 7:30 pm at the Rochester Christian Reformed Church. I first saw her in concert at a music festival in Vermont, shortly after writing “Potato” (and yes, it’s all about potatoes, sung to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance).

Known for her well-crafted songs and beautiful voice, Cheryl is also hysterically funny in live performance. In fact, it sometimes seems as if there are two Cheryl Wheelers. 

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Welcome to the Golden Link blog

Dana & Susan RobinsonJoin us for a conversation about folk music in Rochester. You'll find lots of information here about Golden Link's concerts, special events, and other activities, as well as profiles of musicians coming to the area. Occasionally, it will be a more general topic, such as why musicians write songs, the value of seeing a live performance, the legacy of Pete Seeger, or the business of folk music. We will be sharing posts from Golden Link's page on the Community Arts blog on the Democrat and Chronicle website.

Click here to read past posts from the D+C blog.

 

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