August 15, 2013

Still Friendly After All These Years

by Jim Newsom

Tidewater Friends of Folk Music has been a familiar name around here for nearly forty years. But as the summer of 2013 began, that name joined so many others as a relic of Hampton Roads/Tidewater’s past. Now the organization that has brought great musicians to town and helped local pickers hone their craft and share their ideas is Tidewater Friends of Acoustic Music.

“We had talked about it for at least six years,” Brenda Barkley told me recently, “maybe longer. When our board president, Tom Carreiro, said, ‘I’ve just read an article about Gordon Lightfoot that said he doesn’t want to be known as a folk singer, he wants to be known as a performer of acoustic music,’ that was the moment. Folk is just a part of what comes under the umbrella of acoustic music.

“We’re not Peter, Paul & Mary, ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ That’s fine, but we do so many other things. We have Cajun music; we have blues, bluegrass, old-time; we’ve had the jazzy side at times. I got tired of explaining it. With Tidewater Friends of Acoustic Music, you just know. A lot of people that play play acoustic instruments. That’s what you do at home!”

And Brenda Barkley knows. She’s been involved with Tidewater Friends for most of its existence. Although she has no official title—“right now I am the talent buyer, event planner and media contact”—she has been in the middle of this region’s acoustic action for a long time. When she talks about the mission of TFAM, she sounds like Pete Seeger, passionately proselytizing for the music and encouraging everyone to join in:

“We’re trying to get more people to come out and be a part of the organization and be performers too. I’m really big on young talent, trying to get them to open up and maybe learn from us, learn what it feels like to stand in front of an audience where there’s not a pool table or a cappuccino machine, standing in front of a live audience that listens to every word they say.

“Many of them walk out the door when they’ve finished their opening act looking like a deer caught in headlights. And they go, ‘I was terrified. They were listening to me.’ The majority of them say, ‘I’ve just never had that feeling before in my life and this is the way I want to perform.’ We’re trying to get them in the door by turning the term to ‘acoustic.’”

The name change may have been a difficult decision for the board of directors, but the group’s history is undeniable. The annual “acoustic music gathering” at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Library in Virginia Beach on August 24th will be a special one for long-time local music lovers.

“This year we’re pulling in performers from the late ‘70s and ‘80s,” Barkley explained. “If you went out and heard some of these bands at the time, you were right there in the midst of the high times of Snuff; you were there when East Virginia got their Rounder record contract. They were about to go to Japan in 1981 when they decided, nah, I don’t think I want to give up my day job. Rounder was sending them on a world tour and they turned it down. Some of them had civil service jobs, one was a school teacher. As much as they wanted to do it, with the families they turned it down. And I don’t think any of them ever regretted it.

“Three of the original members have passed away. So Mike Munden, Scott Slay, Ty Molleen and Fred Staggs have learned some East Virginia songs and are going to play a tribute. [Former Eagle 97 announcer] Mare Carmody is coming in from Asheville and putting her band Handpicked back together with Michael Ray, Scott Watson and Woody Miles.”

Others on tap from that era include Chuck “Coyote” Larson, Tom Farley and Amy Ferebee. And I’ll kick off the day’s festivities singin’ and pickin’ and emceeing a marathon jam session in the spirit of ‘80s Open Mike Nights at Cogan’s Instant Art and Uncle Louie’s.

Shortly thereafter, TFAM launches another full season of concerts reasonably priced and full of outstanding music:

“Highlights include Aoife Clancy, who’s coming in with her group the Jammin’ Divas; Harpeth Rising is hotter than a firecracker as far as Celtic and old-time music; Rupert Wates is a singer-songwriter from England who I really like. Americana-wise, I’m happy to say we’re bringing back the Steel Wheels. When we had them in several years ago, I knew they were gonna be hot, and they are. They are popping.

“Tom Kastle is a singer-songwriter who does a lot of nautical things. And we’ve got Bing Futch, who is a lap dulcimer virtuoso; he is a god with this thing.

“We try to bring in people that no one’s ever heard before. My highlight of the evening is when they come out at the break and go, ‘Where did you find this guy!?!’ Then they run to the table and the guy sells five or six hundred dollars’ worth of CDs.”

copyright © 2013 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.