As I drove up from New York City to Connecticut for this year’s Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference, I carried a dread that my post-election mood would prevent me from enjoying this annual celebration of talent. What was supposed to be a festive blessing of the election of the nation’s first woman president had turned into a shocked fear of an narcissistic, bigoted reality show host’s ascendancy to the pinnacle of power.

At the Stamford Crowne Plaza, NERFA’s new staging ground, staff members quietly went about registering arrivals. Gradually, the calm, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other forward motion of everyone doing their job produced a soothing balm for my frayed nerves.

The singer/songwriter/folk community was the perfect antidote to my apprehension. The community did what gatherings of big hearts do. It pulled me out of my despondency and lifted my spirits.

When Sunday arrived and we were ready to depart, I believe that everyone was ready to carry on; to approach the coming challenges with fresh resolve.

The pages of this December issue are a small token of the gratitude I feel for everyone who picked me up when I needed it.

The Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference
2016 NERFA Scrapbook


by Richard Cuccaro

We can be cheered by the knowledge that the singer/songwriter/folk community had the good sense to elect a competent and intelligent female president.

Outgoing NERFA President Cheryl Prashker is seen here making announcements to her grateful constituency.

Michael Kornfeld, right, seen here with David Amram, is the new NERFA president.

Good luck, Mike!

Acoustic Live in New York City wishes to place the full weight of its journalistic might behind the (proposed) candidacy of Eric Schwartz for President of the United States.

We know Eric to be a man of impeccable integrity.

His taste in social mores is beyond reproach.

We say, “Dump the Trump! Let Eric drain the swamp!”

All photos (except *) by Richard Cuccaro.

A larger gallery may be viewed at


Old hand Meg Braun is probably giving first-timer Ali Handal important NERFA tips — like how to hang onto your glass of wine in a crowd while scarfing all those tasty hors d’oeuvres.

L-R: Allison Shapira, Robert Phaneuf, Barbara Schiller, Kipyn Martin

The ever-fierce Rachael Kilgour isn’t afraid to let her true post-election feelings show. It’s only a brief departure  from her usually buoyant frame of mind.

Katherine Etzel looks like she just stepped out of a French movie — which might explain why I didn’t recognize her at first. My bad..

Putnam Smith and Ashley Storrow are ready to PAR-TAAY!

David Finley, the epitome of folk hippiedom, flashes the peace sign.


Bruce and Coco Wilde, scouting talent for First Acoustics of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Connor Garvey, the irrepressible Mainer, is ready for his close-up..

Arpie Maros can’t resist the Canadian Goddess of Blues, Suzie Vinnick.

Suzie Vinnick seems to be letting the world know who is her main man. It’s her husband, photographer extraordinaire James Dean.

Jody Prysock doesn’t have to use her sign language skills to express happiness at being among friends. That smile says it all.

Dave Murphy, at right, is either getting ready to plant one on our buddy, Paul Sachs, or he’s fallen for that “Blow in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere” line.

Tom Paxton is discussing something important with photographer Robert Corwin. It could have something to do with which portrait to hang in the Folk Hall of Fame.

Skyler Bode, at right, of Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes, has just related something outrageous. He appears to have gotten Judy Kass’ attention. Fortunately, she is amused.

Formal Showcases

We’re sure we’re not being fair to Kevin Harvey of the Durham County Poets, caught in an “in-between” moment of a song introduction. He appears to be recounting a wild night wherein, “By the time we opened that fourth bottle of bourbon …

Irish Mythen’s hair is almost as powerful as her voice — just the way she planned it.

The Levins radiate a life-affirming vibe whenever they appear, onstage or any room they walk into.

Uncle Bonsai isn’t kidding around. Its satirical songs are seriously funny

Rosie and the Riveters, a retro group from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is billed as “four fiercely talented and sassy dames.” We wouldn’t dream of arguing with that!

Probably too brilliant for his own good,

Eric Schwartz does it all, from the unabashedly romantic to the profanely hilarious.

Stardom still awaits.

Lara Herscovitch demonstrates why she was named Connecticut State Troubadour for 2009-2010

Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes give the term “upbeat” a whole other meaning.

Christine Lavin’s performance during her Keynote Address was unusually serious.

The formal set of Man About a Horse injected a heightened intensity into the bluegrass idiom.

Tricentric Showcases

Taking a rest on Friday evening in preparation for our guerrilla showcases in the Acoustic Live room, I photographed only one Tricentric act on Friday — The Doll Sisters. By coincidence, they were in the same room as all the acts I watched on Saturday, “The Hartford.”

Guerrilla Showcases

Every year, I feel a pang of jealousy when I see the way other guerrilla showcase rooms are decorated and inventively staged. However, when it comes to talent, I always feel that Acoustic Live is generally well-represented.

This year we felt especially blessed with the abundance of gifted players
in our room on Friday night.

Here are a few of them:

Sloan Wainwright with Stephen Murphy on guitar

Paul Sachs

Monica Rizzio with Craig Aiken on bass and Jacy Anderson on lead guitar

Louise Mosrie

Cliff Eberhardt

Cliff and Louise played solo sets, but provided instrumental and vocal support for each other.

Kipyn Martin

Rachael Kilgour

Suzie Vinnick in the Lilith room

We caught up to Rorie Kelly in the Access Film Music Blue room and heard her play her signature song, “Don’t Give In.”

On Saturday night we roamed the various guerrilla rooms,

soaking up the incredible array of performers.

Carolann Solebello at Singer Songwriter Heaven

The Brother Brothers

Cole, Nakoa and Treacher

Allison Shapira and Kipyn Martin performing their “Joan and Joni” set

Wisdom of the Elders
Workshop Sessions
The Morning After … A Community Sing

The gazebo in the hotel atrium was the perfect place for an end-of-conference sing-along!

The principals for this year  were Nora Guthrie, Noel Paul Stookey and Tom Paxton (filling in for Tom Rush). The hosts were WWUH DJ Susan Forbes Hansen (West Hartford, Conn.) and WIOX DJ Sonny Ochs (Roxbury, N.Y.)

The Brother Brothers | Up Close at Faraway Sound (EP)

Identical twins Adam and David Moss form virtually perfect harmony vocals overlaying beautifully understated bluegrass fiddle and guitar. The last two tracks, “Notary Public” and “Comes and Goes,” have a distinct Everly Brothers feel.

Sharon Goldman | Kol Isha (A Woman’s Voice)

Sharon Goldman’s lighter-than-air alto takes us on a tour of her path in rebelling against the Jewish culture’s impulse to keep women in silent support of its men. On the album’s opening track, “The Tribe,” she sings: They drew the lines and set the limits / I knew which I could not cross. As she finds her love in someone willing to hear her, her lyrics proclaim: Let me hear your voice / Lovely and sweet / Clear as water, let me hear your voice. “Clear as water” almost gets it. As we delve deeper and deeper into the album, the feathery touch of Goldman’s voice is exquisite. This is most emphatic in “Jerusalem” as we hear her authentic pronunciation, Yerushalayim. This is an astonishingly beautiful recording.

Kipyn Martin | Undercover Muse

One of the fuller, silky-smooth voices I’ve heard in some time belongs to Kipyn Martin, a newcomer (to me). Compared to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, she also writes beguiling melodies and compelling lyrics. The entire album contains eloquent songs of personal reflection. One signature song, “Keep Your Lantern Lit,” has an authentic traditional feel and might be confused with something older. “Undone” is about a painful personal loss in her life and resonates with many who have had to cope with similar experiences. I’m convinced we’re hearing someone whose career is getting ready to skyrocket.

Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches | Very Next Thing (EP)

This album is an intriguing mash-up of old-timey, bluegrass and banjo-driven Dixieland, with even a touch of Calypso thrown in. If you like high-intensity, upbeat versions of standards, this is for you.

Dave Murphy | American Landscape

This country/folk/rock album shows how the years in Dave Murphy’s life have piled up like multiple rear-end collisions, resulting in wryly observed mature observations. A folkie with a country/rock inclination, he’s been described as “a musical Raymond Carver.” “Pay to Play” encapsulates his world-worn viewpoint with … nothing left on the credit cards / you can’t remember where you parked your car … you know you shouldn’t, but you know you will / clouds will part or blood will spill. This album deserves heavy airway on both folk and new country radio.

Rorie Kelly | Rising Rising Rising

There isn’t anything better to improve my mood these days than listening to a Rorie Kelly song. This irrepressible songstress has more hooks than the world’s biggest fishing tackle box. This is borne out in every song or theme she touches. Veering toward pop (or indie rock to some), in live performances with just voice and acoustic guitar, she demonstrates that her songs stand up to any folkie’s lament. Rising is a declaration of women’s empowerment, no matter what the obstacles. I love everything here, but my favorite is “Don’t Give In.” She responds to efforts to control all women with: it never ends, it never ends … don’t give in, don’t give in … you’re beautiful. With vocal power, smarts and pixieish looks, Yes. You. Are, Rorie!

Sloan Wainwright | Bright Side of a Rainy Day / Uncovering (Self)

It is with great joy we welcome these new recordings from Sloan Wainwright, whose big voice defines magnificence. On Bright Side Of A Rainy Day, she kicks it off with “If You Want To Be Happy.” Stretching out the words, If. You. Want. (To be happy), she lets that big voice rip and soar, setting off an explosion in the chest of the listener. Sloan always acts her songs out as she sings and there’s plenty of drama in each one here to facilitate that. Uncovering (Self) shows Sloan’s ability to cover songs and make them her own, never more so than on “Something So Right,” by Paul Simon.

Rachael Kilgour | Rabbit in the Road

Rachel’s path through the wreckage of her marriage reaches critical mass on these tracks. Her expressive voice wraps perfectly around these paeans of self-awareness. On “Deep Bruises,” she chides herself for walking the same old ground: You keep walking down the same path / expecting a different view / but honey, no one’s as predictable as you. There’s a poignant rendition  of “Don’t Need Anyone,” which she debuted last year in many live performances. This recording, under the helpful production skills of Catie Curtis, is a brilliant showcase for Rachael’s writing skill and explosive vocals.

Robin Greenstein | Tears and Laughter

Robin assembled a mighty cast of studio musicians for support on this beauty. It’s full, lush sound complements her sagacious songwriting and strong vocals. The prize-winning song, “Hole in the Ground,” a lament for the ravages of 9/11, has a power in its stately cadence. She sings: There’s a hole in the world … it was made when so much hate was unfurled. There are many eloquent songs on the album. I found the track following “Hole,” “Here I Am (Hineni),”  the biblical tale of Abraham, done in an old-timey, banjo-propelled style, particularly compelling. I see a lot of airplay for this CD.

Lois Morton | What’s New (EP)

The high priestess of Gilbert and Sullivan shares her satirical bounty on this delightful gem. On track one, “It’s Unrelated,” she flays the human tendency toward self-denial. After the narrator chides Aunt Phoebe about nightly ice cream binges when her diet doesn’t work, Aunt Phoebe responds, It’s unrelated! In “The Garage Sale Song,” the lure of undirected pursuing of other people’s castoffs on “commercially viable” driveways proves irresistible. The immensely talented Kirsten Maxwell guests on the last track, “Listen to Me” (Lois provides harmony). This will be fun (as usual) to share with family and friends.

John Sonntag | Every Day I Get Up (EP)

This is a four-song precursor to the upcoming 2017 release of the full album. On the title track, John’s gentle vocal rides beautifully over acoustic finger-style guitar. “Morning Comes Early,” about familial bliss, has a compelling melody and the sweetness in John’s vocal pulls the listener in. We’re eager to hear the finished product.

Red Tail Ring | Fall Away Blues

I haven’t heard this good a modern take on old-timey/bluegrass selections since first hearing Stray Birds. Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp both sing; Laurel plays fiddle and both play guitar and banjo on varying tracks. On the title track, Laurel captures a mournful, lonesome persona both in fiddle and voice while Michael adds guitar and pinpoint harmony. The traditional “Come All Ye Fair & Tender Ladies” is given a loving, gentle treatment and the fiddle/guitar mash-up of “Camp Meeting on the 4th of July, May Day” transports the listener to somewhere green and mountainous.

Tom Chapin | 70

This recording, released in 2015, celebrates Tom reaching his seventh decade on the planet. It’s a boisterous and joyful noise, making good use of his burr-edged tenor. He’s always shared his brother Harry’s activist nature. When he’s attacking corporate greed as in “Down There,” about fracking, he attacks sarcastically with: just ’cause it’s down there / we’ve got to go and suck it dry. While he slows it down a bit for the nostalgic “Autumn Rain,” he picks it right up with the rousing “Ride Out Any Storm,” about the struggle to save salmon fisheries from encroaching mining interests in Bristol Bay, Alaska. It’s a fine effort by this venerable folk statesman.

The Boxcar Lilies | Knockout Rose

This album was recorded in 2015 while Katie Clarke was still in the group (Susan Cattaneo replaced her when she left). Still worth owning, this recording offers a prime example of why three female voices raised in harmony is one of life’s sweetest sounds. There are a lot of fine musicians providing studio support. The pedal steel, lap steel and resonator guitar work of Kevin Barry, new to me, was of particular enjoyment. While every song is a treat, my favorite has to be “Goin’ Away,” written and sung by Katie Clarke, which features a lot of the aforementioned Kevin Barry.

Also notable:

Dan Weber | What I’m Lookin’ For

Manitoba Hal | Dancing in the Moonlight

Mike Aiken | Captains & Cowboys

Ken Tizzard | No Dark No Light

Trevor Alguire | Perish in the Light

2016 NERFA CD Reviews
Three Bands, Three Golden Tickets — 
My Darlings of NERFA
 A First-timer’s Picks of New Talent

Guest Reviewer: WPKN DJ Bruce Swan

Programmer, Host of “Music My Mother Would Not Like,”
WPKN Radio, 89.5 FM Bridgeport, Conn. and

Attending one’s first North East Regional Folk Alliance Conference, or NERFA , can be a bit like a salmon swimming the wrong way in the stream — you see and hear a lot but not necessarily in the right order. It is an absolute cornucopia of beautiful sounds everywhere almost 24 hours a day for four days. I was warned not to take on too much by a number of sources and “see and hear as much as you can.” Probably the best advice of all came months before from singer/songwriter Brad Cole, member of Cole, Nakoa and Treacher. He said, wryly, “If you have to work on Monday, don’t operate heavy machinery.” All sound advice. Often 20/20 in hindsight, wisdom of the elders should never be discounted.

As a radio DJ or programmer on a large community radio station, my goal was to find new music for my listeners. While much of what comes across my plate is sent by radio promoters and bands themselves, there is always the keen desire to find the music first, before it finds me or one of my colleagues. With electronic instant communication, it is more and more difficult to do so and even more difficult to bring things that have not been heard by the other programmers. This year’s finds were three groups of trios that left me with a burning desire to share them with my listeners. These three wonderful acts were  The Belle Hollows, The End of America, and Ladybird.

The Belle Hollows, a Nashville-based trio comprised of Rachel and Jeremy Johnson (siblings) and Robert Phaneuf, played from their beautiful debut album Miller’s Creek. Offering rich harmonies supported by guitar and mandolin, their music brings us to a simpler time. These included songs of love, hope, sailors returning from the sea, death, and of course, one about a Southern mountain man running moonshine. The songs show an honest vulnerability of emotion and a sincere invitation to look into their collective hearts … and yours, too.  Struck by the gentle balance between the instruments and the patient timing of Rachel’s leading the trio softly, quietly, but convincingly, this listener was left starving for more. This roots Americana trio is well on their way and worthy of a long listen from even the most discerning of listeners.

There was a buzz beginning early in the conference — some helped by your truly — that one of the surprise bands of the conference was The End of America. An undeniable chorus materialized in the corridors and meeting rooms. Their first foray into NERFA, they, too, came with great expectations and uncertainties. If you get a bunch of like-minded, left-of-center-thinking folks right after the last presidential election, the name of the band can sum up lots of questions and/or concerns. Band member James Downes said, “the name was not meant as prophetic, but more an optimistic destination.” The acoustic trio of Downes, Trevor Leonard, and Brendan Thomas is based in Philadelphia. All have fronted bands of their own. Blessed with rich harmonies, the trio is enjoying comparisons to Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Their lyrics are powerful and quickly draw the listener in.  Throughout the weekend, I caught two performances of the trio in short showcase formats, each rarely lasting more than 15 minutes. Employing guitars and banjo that are occasionally exchanged, their ability to capture the attention of audiences was encouraging. Clearly, past experiences in leadership have afforded them the wisdom of the benefits of sharing front and supporting positions. Each comfortable in the abilities of the others to support, the results are powerful. The horizons for this band are bright and far. Catch them now and get on the road to The End of America.

The third discovery for me and darling find for the weekend was Ladybird, a trio of female performers. Also from Philadelphia, they represent the extreme inverse to The End of America. They describe themselves as “three ladies hatched on a front porch with whiskey under one wing and a banjo under the other,” a wonderfully modest understatement. Comprised of Cecilia Ferrneborg, Sarah Larsen and Laura Kay, Ladybird is a group poised for greatness. As one would expect, the band draws heavily on roots Americana music and delivers with fiddle, banjo, dobro, guitar, and tenor guitar. Cecilia handles lead vocals with support from Sarah and Laura, who provide a beautiful overtone of harmonies only cherubs could offer.

The weekend is filled with opportunities to see, hear and meet many well-established and up-and-coming musicians: local, regional, national and international touring musicians. The balance of the attendees is made up of those who support the industry in many capacities. The list of professions includes agents, managers, promoters, recording studios and venue bookers and owners. One Saturday afternoon presentation is comprised of recipients of eight to12 “Golden Tickets” in what is labeled a “Presenters’ Showcase.” Conference attendees representing selected small venues are asked to participate in an under-the-radar showcase. Each presenter is given an envelope that, like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” may or may not have a “Golden Ticket.” Golden Ticket holders are then entrusted to pass along the Golden Ticket to an intriguing, new-to-them act to perform at the Presenters’ Showcase. It is a great opportunity to be handed a Golden Ticket and be able to showcase in a room full of presenters of talent.

As a DJ, this writer did not receive a chance to find and present a coveted Golden Ticket. But The Belle Hollows, The End of America, and Ladybird each got one! When your peers independently come to the same conclusion as you do, that is validation enough. Catch up with these three wonderful acts and Golden Ticket Winners. They deliver, and you won’t be disappointed.


David Amram was packing it in for the night, somewhere around 4 a.m.