For somewhere near 20 autumns that I’ve walked into the lobby of the NERFA host hotel, I’ve been greeted by a barrage of fliers and posters screaming for attention. The sheer volume is, at times, hysterically funny in its counterproductive ineffectuality. Other times it’s just overwhelming. For this author, learning about artists new to me, a lot depends on word of mouth and chance. I’m usually too absorbed with planning and setting up both our showcase room and exhibit hall table to investigate artists in advance. This year, as I was dealing with our guerrilla room setup, a Friday afternoon showcase right down the hall drew me into the room where Mt. Thelonious was kicking the living daylights out of one of their original songs. Serendipity.

On Saturday night, I was bouncing from room to room and, by chance, popped into the Big Orange Tarp showcase room run by Alan Rowoth as an older gentleman in a fedora was singing “Find Baby” in the voice of a twentysomething. Whoops … that was veteran singer/songwriter Tim Rice. OMG.

Still wandering, I happened into a round where Annika Bennett was matching her totally excellent good looks with totally excellent talent. I’d spotted her name in our listings many times, but hadn’t heard her yet. When she finished her song, another musician stated, “Annika Bennett, you are a hook machine!” Well said.

However, since I’m a attendee of the formal showcases, there wasn’t much chance involved in the belated discovery of finger style guitarist and singer/songwriter Pat Donohue. The conference selection committee made sure I’d get to hear his guitar virtuosity and wry sense of humor.

There was a lot that I missed, but isn’t that always the case? Nevertheless, I played the quasi-journalist that I am, and covered a wider range of activities. I hope our readers approve.

All photos by Richard Cuccaro

A larger gallery may be viewed  at


Ever notice how Gordon Nash always manages to position himself next to the loveliest women in the singer/songwriter scene?

No, we don’t either.


Maggi Landau and her brand-new golden retriever puppy, Rootsy,

were a favorite subject for photo ops during the conference

Every year, we look for Beth and Richard’s Ripton Coffeehouse setup.

This year we didn’t have to go far!

Formal Showcases

Before the formal showcases, Ellis Paul delivered a stirring keynote address, but not without playing a killer song first.

All the formal showcase performers were great, but

Les Poules á Colin might have provided the biggest jolt.

Mollie O’Brien

Shun Ng

John Flynn

Christine Lavin never knows when enough is enough. In an effort to upstage everyone else, for her finale, she gathered all the exhibitionists in the audience and offered them the opportunity to parade around onstage (and off). Are we complaining? No way. You go, girl!

Quad Showcases

2015 NERFA Scrapbook

So Much Talent, So Little Time

by Richard Cuccaro

NERFA President Cheryl Prashker (at right) lent her percussive talent to a variety of acts.
Here she gives an able assist to members of Rant Maggie Rant, at left.

Joe Crookston always gives his audience a taste of what folk music should be. During his multi-instrumental set, he shared a fiddle duet with a young player he’d just met and jammed with beforehand.

Efrat Shapira

Michael G. Ronstadt and Aaron Nathans

Guerrilla Showcases

Every guerrilla presenter wants to have a full room all night. The more people, the more successful it appears. Acoustic Live is no exception. However, sometimes, having bodies in the room isn’t what it seems.

As seen at left, while the body might be present, the mind has been taken elsewhere by the ubiquitous cell phone. We decided to have some fun with that.

Wisdom of the Elders

Free-form radio legend DJ Vin Scelsa provided a focal point for this year’s “Wisdom” session. Sonny Ochs and Meg Griffin were moderators

Workshop Sessions

The Morning After

We chose to skip the closing Saturday night jams this year and hit the hay, in favor of having a clear head for the morning load-out. This gave us the opportunity to witness a bit of the aftermath of the “morning after” detritus, plus a small group of musicians who’d not slept and were still playing. No quit in these guys!

David Myles — So Far

This album is, for the most part, a well-produced country/folk, sweetly listenable expression of romantic love. There are traces of rockabilly, stronger in some places than others. The song, “Change My Mind,” is reminiscent of the ’50s’ “Tryin’ to Get to You,” covered by Elvis Presley, among others. The album captures some of the performer’s capriciously funny live act during “Need a Break,” a rollicking run-down of life’s aggravations we could all use a break from (your boss, for instance).

Les Poulez Áu Colin — Ste-Waves

This five-piece band from Quebec, comprised of four women and one man, sings mostly in French but that matters little. Their seamless harmony and infectious melodies render language barriers insignificant. Individually, the women play piano, fiddle, bass and guitar. The lone male musician, seen live, alternately plays mandolin and banjo sitting down and clogs while seated. The percussive effect of his feet tapping a wooden platform come close to accomplishing an impossible feat: that of finally inducing this author to take clogging lessons so I can properly dance to this stuff.

Ian Foster — The Great Wave

This folk/rock album, with its traditional overtones, combines the search for romantic love with basic existential conundrums. Ian’s edgy, sometimes ragged baritone engages the listener, injecting plenty of drama throughout a variety of intensity levels.

Durham County Poets — Where the River Flows

This group plays bluesy country/folk with a lot of verve. The lead singer sits in his wheelchair and just kills every vocal. The recording on “River” has mostly an ambient sound with very little reverb. It gives the listener a sense of sitting in a living room somewhere, listening to the band crank out one great tune after another.

Joe Crookston 2015

Joe Crookston has always handled themes dealing with the fragility of life and the strength of those who prevail (or even fail). This album epitomizes that quality in his music. It contains one of his most iconic songs, “Fall Down as the Rain,” which dramatically depicts the eternal cycle of life. He also covers Mary Gautier’s “Mercy Now” to great effect.

Korby Lenker — self-titled

If you need a break from fiddles and banjos, this is a singer/songwriter pop album full of great hooks. It deals primarily with romantic love and the pitfalls thereof, e.g., “Lovers are Fools.”

Tim Rice — Pillars (EP)

I finally caught up with Tim Rice via email and got to listen to Pillars via the mp3 files he sent me. His muscular baritone carries all the soul a listener needs. I haven’t heard songs this good that deal with the intricacies of relationships since Steely Dan at its peak. “This Night,” with its depiction of the first awakenings of romance, is exquisite. Seeing a sign held by a man on a highway “Where’s my baby gone?” Tim wrote “Find Baby.” Especially moving, I tear up each time I hear the first notes. The production is gorgeous. In addition to top-notch Nashville rhythm and percussion sections, there’s soprano sax, organ and accordion to flesh out Tim’s aural soundscapes; plus sinuous, tasty lead guitar licks for his voice to ride on … Are we happy now? You bet.

Pesky J. Nixon — Red Ducks 2

One of the Northeast’s finest harmony groups backed by stringed instruments has chalked up another winner. Recognizing that it’s no sin to cover other people’s songs well, they unload a pile of gems here. One surprise for this author was hearing violinist Kara Kulpa’s lead vocal on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” I was unaware she was a current member who provides additional instrumental and vocal support. Pesky’s version of John Elliot’s “Feet to the Fire” is an absolute killer. We’re likewise certain that Woody Guthrie would be ecstatic with their version of “Oklahoma Hills.”

Pat Donahue — Nobody’s Fault | Two Hand Band

It’s probably foolish to say I was surprised to find that master finger style guitarist Pat Donahue is such a good singer. His voice reminds me of Tom Rush (what a team those two would make) and his writing on Nobody’s Fault is both sensitive (“Too Gone”) and humorous (“Irish Blues,” “Exercise Blues”). I especially got a kick out of “Exercise Blues,” which extols: I get the blues when I exercise … I like those burgers and ‘biggie’ fries. The picking is, of course, to die for. We get a better sense of his dazzling virtuosity and range of expression on the all-instrumental Two Hand Band. One particular delight for me is his cover of the Miles Davis classic, “All Blues.” The Django Reinhardt-like “Tea for Two” and the mash-up of “Tequila/Green Onions” are right behind.

Jessica Smucker — Tumbling After

Jessica Smucker sings her folk/pop songs effectively in her feathery, but solid alto. Mostly romance ballads; it’s a pleasant listen.

Cassie and Maggie — Sterling Road

The MacDonald sisters show why they’re one of the best acts on the Canadian Celtic fiddle circuit. Lending their twin fiddle attack to a variety of traddy tunes, there’s no letup in toe-tapping — exciting throughout.

Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes — Welcoming the Flood

The Other Heroes don’t waste any time letting the listener know they’ve kicked it up another notch on this latest album, scheduled for a 2016 release. Track one, “Never Going Back Again,” employs ripping electric guitar power chords as the band summons a vision of the world’s coming storms. The band continues to mature and even the quieter songs carry a bit more drama. As the songs continue to spill out of Scott Wolfson’s fertile imagination, they keep getting more infectious and intriguing.

Lynn Hollyfield — In the Balance

In the title track, Hollyfield makes an effective case for balancing dreams against harsh realities. Throughout, she poses existential questions and answers them in her slight, but finely controlled alto.

Rorie Kelly — Wish Upon a Bottlecap | Sincerely Live

Bottlecap is a highly effective folk/rock album with drums and jangly electric guitars and an energetic, catchy, well-written set of songs. Rorie Kelly has a feathery alto with a slight rasp that is perfectly suited for the material. We’ll give this one repeated listenings. On Sincerely Live, after a long and flattering introduction by the M.C., Rorie uses her voice and primarily just her guitar (with some additional players in support) to prove him right and inject every song with the same excitement we hear on the Bottlecap studio album. We’ll look for her gigs in the N.Y. metro area and a cover feature in this publication may be mandatory.

Dave Rowe — All the Dreams

At the risk of redundancy, we may state that the theme of existentialism that runs through so many folk albums is alive and well here. Trad favorite Dave Rowe lends his stringed expertise to the questions of the nature of love and friendship and the impermanence of cherished items like old ships and buildings. He gives a fresh reading to the oddly positive “A Better View of the Moon,” co-written by George Wurzbach of the group Modern Man.

Villa Palagonia — Rhythms & Roots

The duo of Allison Scola and Joe Ravo is named after the Baroque villa in Bagheria, Sicily, and their music reflects the Mediterranean roots of that region. Allison sings in a bright clear tone in English and Italian. Joe Ravo has been a renowned jazz guitarist for most of his career and the songs are a mix of Spanish and Italian folk with elements of jazz — a rich tapestry.

Heather Pierson — Still She Will Fly | Motherless Children

Multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Heather Pierson and her trio explore relationships, both human and terrestrial, in a rootsy vein on Still She Will Fly. On Motherless Children, she pursues blues themes via the jazz piano route. One exception to the blues motif is her interpretation of “Norwegian Wood.” The beauty of its minor key treatment left me misty-eyed. Heather’s bell-like alto lends itself well to both genres. Her overall virtuosity is astounding.

Paddy Mills — Race to the Bottom

Paddy Mills’ engaging, reedy voice might remind some of John Flynn. Paddy also shares John’s sense of social justice. The title track, probing wage inequity and disappearing jobs, exclaims: We’re in a race to the bottom and we’re comin’ in first. Paddy’s writing and singing are a treat throughout.

Annika — Blind Desire

A child of the “American Idol” and “The Voice” generation, Annika Bennett straddles both folk and pop worlds effortlessly. Her high alto turns cartwheels as she wends her way from one catchy melody to another. As the title suggests, romantic relationships form the bulk of the content. The album kicks off with a piece of pop confection, “Where You Want Me.” It’s easy to imagine a crowd of pre-pubescent girls joining her en masse on the chorus: I’ll be exactly where you want me / ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh / I’ll be at your side in a heartbeat …. “Eyes on the Train” displays Annika’s folkier, acoustic side and shows strong writing skills: High on the hope and high on the pain / High on the loneliness, the lust in your veins … One could be forgiven for thinking that Annika is using the folk arena as a springboard to pop fame, but she is definitely a singer/songwriter of considerable skill. If she can carry off pop confections with just an acoustic guitar, let’s just sit back and enjoy it. Ear candy? So what?

Lydia Hol — Heading North

Existentialism and romance again find a comfy bed to lie in on this CD. Lydia Hol sings with a light, edgy alto reminiscent of Natalie Merchant. The production is big and atmospheric and her use of metaphor is exquisite. In the title track she sings: I’m a ship / you’re an anchor / and I’m pullin’ you up… Her take on Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory and the jockey’s subsequent fate in “Mistress of the Track” raises goose bumps. Heading North is simply a joy of a listen.

Monica Rizzio — Washashore Cowgirl (EP)

Originally from East Texas, Monica Rizzio had begun to cut her teeth on the Nashville scene when she joined forces with the guys from Cape Cod in Tripping Lily. It sounds like she’s gone back to her roots. There’s a whole lot more Nashville/Texas in her husky alto on this CD than Cape Cod. When she sings, I’ll be your lover if you’ll be my Willie Nelson, on the first track, we believe her. Likewise on “Texarcana.” With the song’s protagonist running from heartbreak, we hear: Texarcana, I think I can … I don’t know how and I don’t know when … Home is wherever this cowgirl wants it to be.

Mt. Thelonious — A Little More Time

There is a high-energy, rapid-fire delivery in the music of Mt. Thelonious. It’s a musical realization of an elevated heart rate and it’s bound to provide that result in the listener. They’re such a tight group, musically, that in each careening melody, as they navigate hairpin turns, we know they’re in complete control. Students of jazz in college, their namesake is Thelonious Monk. The band’s virtuosity winds through rock, folk and jazz influences. For me, the track “Time” encapsulates their sound perfectly.

Dani Mari — Impulsive / Lover’s League 1 & 2

Dani Mari has a low-key voice that lends her alt-folk/pop songs an offhand hip quality. The lead track, “After You,” has a refrain: When you gonna come back / cause I’ve fallen after you. Its repetition is odd but appealing nevertheless. My favorite on Impulsive is “Dusk,” a catchy melody with a beautifully layered sound. Lover’s League is a collaboration with “The Rev” TJ McGlinchey.. “Thinking it Over” on the first Lover’s League album has a wonderful Appalachian feel. On the second CD, “I Need to Know” is a sweet love ballad with mesmerizing harmony. Dani Mari is prolific and we’ll be looking for more from her.

Mile Twelve — Self-titled

If you’re going to get your bluegrass “high lonesome” on, this might be a good place to start. This group has it covered — sinuous fiddle licks, banjo runs with “on a dime” turnarounds and tight harmony vocals that explore the basic bluegrass themes: bad romance and missing home. Git with it.

Cold Chocolate — Self-titled

This a bluegrass band of another stripe. Hailing from Boston, they get bluesier and funkier, with a wider range of subject matter. Many of their songs have an old-timey, jug band feel, such as “Pressure Cook Me,” in which the protagonist pleads to his lover, Won’t you please tell me what I said? It’s old-timey, good-timey — what’s not to like?

Gathering Time — Keepsake

The upcoming release from this great harmony trio adds to their growing cache of quality folk music recordings. Track one, “Station Song,” by newest member Gerry McKeveny, is a haunting farewell to life’s ghosts, using the metaphor of the demolition of a train station. The title track, by Hillary Foxsong, has an intriguing melody buttressed by a guitar arrangement that could turn it into a new folk classic. Their cover of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” with Hillary singing lead, offers another great version of that classic to rival the Sandy Denny/ Fairport Convention rendition.

Carla Ulbrich — Totally Average Woman

Perhaps the Northeast’s funniest interpreter of human foibles has given us another gift. Where do we start? OK — on track one, she thanks her husband Joe’s crazy ex-girlfriends for being crazier than her: I never wore a hand puppet everywhere / and demanded it get respect — the lines go on and they’re all hilarious. The title track is a song that was ostensibly written for her by a college (ex) boyfriend — who was jettisoned shortly thereafter. “Aunt Flow Rag” rendered me helpless with laughter. May this review please be an unofficial declaration of Carla’s status as way above average? And, Carla, I may not have made your liner notes list of folks who “get you,” but I assure you, I do. Get me in there next time, please?

Joe Giacoio — I Love Hamburgers

Joe Giacoio, from New Jersey, has managed to take his quirky humorous songs and showcase them in a gorgeous Americana setting. Much of the credit goes to multi-instrumentalist producer Bob Harris, with special mention from me to Dobro player Rob Ickes — absolutely hellacious chops! Joe has always been extremely clever and it’s a pleasure to hear his songs get such quality treatment. The title track contains the most oddball (and unsuccessful) declaration of love ever heard: I love you more than old guitars, Planet of the Apes and baseball cards / I love you more than hamburgers / and I LOVE hamburgers. We love hamburgers (and these songs), too, Joe.

Teri Scheinzeit — Choosing Happy

Choosing Happy is a charming treatise on appreciating life. Teri’s delicate alto is a perfect vehicle for offering up reminders of things to be grateful for. The melodies are lovely and mesmerizing and her voice glides on their surface like a world-class figure skater. I never thought I’d hear a spellbinding song about doing laundry, but here it is: I like separating dark from light / making piles; making things right / spraying on stuff that removes / all the crap I get into… just brilliant. Thanks, Teri.

The Jeremiahs — Self-titled

This group is being hailed as “one of the most creative and important groups heard in Irish music in years,” and it’s easy to see (and hear) why. Lead singer Joe Gibney’s voice is sharp and expressive. The fiddle and flute playing form a hard-charging phalanx which draws the listener in and holds him/her there.

David Roth — So Far, So Good

David Roth is an exemplar of the erudite, observant singer/songwriter. His reedy tenor explores concepts both serious (“Women Planting Trees”) and hilarious (“Does Joni Mitchell Ever Mow the Lawn?”). His crusade for intelligent songwriting shows no sign of slowing down.

Mari Black — Flight

Mari Black is a multi-style violinist and champion fiddler who has a Masters’ Degree from the Yale School of Music. This 16-track album puts all her gifts on display. “Draggin’ The Bow” is especially mind-boggling.