Contemporary Folk Staff - July 24-30, 2016



Kathy Mattea |
Twice named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association, Kathy Mattea established herself in the late 1980s and 1990s as an artist at ease both with country tradition and free-ranging innovation, with a penchant for songcatching. In 1990, the West Virginia native won the first of her two Grammy Awards, earning the Best Female Country Vocal Performance award for her moving “Where’ve You Been,” co-written by husband Jon Vezner. She is among the most successful women in the genre’s history, yet her creative spirit has led her to explore musical territory extending well beyond its confines. Her recent recordings have intertwined Celtic, gospel and bluegrass influences with the folk and acoustic music that have always served as her artistic anchor. Increasingly in demand as a public speaker, Kathy regularly presents educational programs, both separately and in conjunction with concert appearances, at colleges and civic venues across the country. These range from vocal and songwriting workshops for Berklee College of Music, North House Folk School, and the Swannanoa Gathering, to topical and motivational talks about the arts, climate change, and “Finding Your Path,” to her multi-media presentation “My Coal Journey,” a discussion of music’s role in social change, featuring live musical performances and a powerpoint slideshow. An early spokesperson and advocate for AIDS awareness and research, Kathy’s long history of activism has led her to bring public attention to several current environmental issues, including climate change and the controversial mining practice called “mountaintop removal” in her native Appalachia.

Ellis Paul |

Ellis Paul’s songwriting credentials are unassailable. They are as genuine as the 15 Boston Music Awards he has earned, as indelible as the tattoo of Woody Guthrie that adorns his arm, and as authentic as the musical roots he draws upon with every note he plays. At the invitation of Woody’s daughter, Ellis wrote a song with Woody’s unpublished lyrics and was given an honorary citizenship to Woody’s hometown of Okemah, OK. Ellis is one of those gifted singer/songwriters who can tell their own story through songs that also encapsulate the essence of people and places who have helped define our times and shared history. Traveling in the footsteps of Guthrie, Dylan and Springsteen, Ellis relates his own experiences to those with whom he shares a common bond. Some may refer to him as a folksinger, but he is also singular storyteller, a musician whose words reach out from inside and yet also express the feelings, thoughts and sensibilities that most people can relate to in one way or another, regardless of age or upbringing. He has 19 releases, a documentary film, a book of poems/short stories, and a children’s book to his credit. Ellis’ songs have been featured in films such as: Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal and Hall Pass, as well as TV shows and documentary films. He has performed on stages at the Newport Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall, clubs and coffeehouses all over the world, and was awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Maine and inducted into the Maine Music Hall of Fame.

Janis Ian |

Ten Grammy nominations in eight different categories. Three Grammys, in three different categories, almost forty years apart. What does that mean? “Either I don’t do anything well for very long, or I bore easily.” Janis Ian wrote her first song at 12, was published at 13, made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16. It’s been uphill ever since. Her writer’s catalogue includes “Stars”, recorded by artists as diverse as Mel Torme, Glen Campbell, and Nina Simone; “Society’s Child,” which provoked the burning of a radio station and the firing of DJs who played it, “Jesse”, and the seminal “At Seventeen”, recorded most recently by Celine Dion. The very first musical performer on Saturday Night Live, her list of interests includes technology (her article “The Internet Debacle” was cited in the Grokster and Napster cases), science fiction (nine short stories published in the field, with Prayerville adapted for theatre by Sci-Fest LA), children’s books (The Tiny Mouse was a Kirkus Children’s Book of the Year), and her own life (her autobiography, Society’s Child, was starred by Publisher’s Weekly and her narration of it won her another Grammy, for “Best Spoken Word”). A favorite guitarist of the late Chet Atkins, she was also the first female player to have a signature acoustic guitar by a major company (Santa Cruz.) She truly believes artists should know about everything, without limitation, and she hopes passing on some of her own hard-earned knowledge will help others avoid her mistakes – or at least, not care as much about them. We are delighted to welcome Janis back for her third Swannanoa Gathering.

Tom Paxton |

Nanci Griffith has said, “I think we were all born singing Tom Paxton songs,” and truly, there are few whose original work blends so seamlessly with those traditional songs distilled over generations of the oral tradition. Tom has been an integral part of the folk music community since the early 60’s Greenwich Village scene and continues to be a primary influence on today’s ‘New Folk’ performers. In the words of John Gorka, “I would give every hair on my head to be able to write songs like Tom Paxton.” In a career that spans more than four decades, Tom has performed thousands of concerts and continues to find new fans throughout the world. Paxton songbooks, award-winning children’s recordings, and a catalog of thousands of songs, recorded by everyone from Willie Nelson to Placido Domingo, all serve to document a remarkable career, but his ultimate legacy is the profound influence and admiration his music has engendered among three generations of musicians and fans. In 1996, Tom received the first of our Master Music Maker Awards for lifetime achievement, and serves on our Advisory Board. He’s also received Lifetime Achievement Awards from ASCAP and Folk Alliance International, and a special tribute from Britain’s House of Commons.

Mary Gauthier |

An adopted child who became a teenage runaway, Gauthier found her first shelter among addicts and drag queens in New Orleans at the age of 15. Following a career as a chef while battling addiction and eventually finding sobriety, Gauthier started writing songs at the age of 35. By 2005, Mercy Now, her first major label release, was named the #1 Record of the Year on the year-end list of The New York Times and Billboard magazine. Rolling Stone magazine recently listed the title track “Mercy Now” as one of the 30 saddest country songs of all time. Soon after, the Americana Music Association recognized her as “New Artist of the Year.” 10 albums, several world tours and a Grand Ole Opry debut later, Gauthier was called “One of Americana’s most admired artists – across the US and around the world,” by The Wall Street Journal. Upon the 2015 release of Trouble and Love, The Los Angeles Times put her in a class with such greats as Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and Bob Dylan, for her “razor-sharp eye for detail and her commitment to unsentimental self-reflection.” Mary’s songs have been also recorded by other artists, including Blake Shelton, Jimmy Buffet, Mike Farris (who won a Grammy with “Mercy Now,”) Amy Helm, Candi Staton, Bettye Lavette (nominated for a Grammy for “Worthy,” penned by Mary Gauthier and Beth Nielsen Chapman) and Bill Chambers. Mary is currently working with Songwriting With Soldiers, a group that offers veterans and their families a chance to work with professional songwriters to craft songs about their experiences, often about combat and the return home, and is currently writing a book for Yale University Press called The Art of Song, due to be released in 2017.

Don Henry |

Grammy-winner Don Henry has written songs recorded by legends Ray Charles, Patti Page, Conway Twitty, Gene Watson, and B.J. Thomas, as well as by young hit makers Blake Shelton, Lonestar, and Miranda Lambert. Don’s played with performers as diverse as Joey Ramone at New York’s famous Bottom Line and Keith Urban at Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Cafe. The wit and wisdom of Don’s songs are widely renowned, from campfire favorites, the hilarious “B.F.D.” and biker lullaby, “Harley,” to the wonderfully poignant tribute to Martin Luther King, “Beautiful Fool.” Kathy Mattea’s version of the Grammy Award-winning “Where’ve You Been,” also won Don and co-writer Jon Vezner Song of the Year honors from the ACM, the CMA, and the Nashville Songwriters Association International, the first song in country music history to be awarded all four honors in the same year! Miranda Lambert had a big hit in 2013 with Don and Phillip Coleman’s song, “All Kinds Of Kinds,” with Don singing background vocals on Miranda’s record. Don tours extensively as a solo performer and as a member of The Don Juans with Jon Vezner – their debut album will be released this year. He also tours with Tom Kimmel and Sally Barris as The Waymores, whenever schedules allow.

Jon Vezner |

Grammy award-winning songwriter Jon Vezner is a tunesmith of rare sensitivity and dry wit. His catalogue of recorded songs, topped by the poignant “Where’ve You Been?” co-written with his good friend Don Henry, reflects his straight-to-the heart sensibility and sensitivity. Vezner weaves the particulars of his own feelings with the lives of people he has known, creating universal themes that deeply touch listeners’ emotions. “Where’ve You Been?” won the Grammy as well as being voted song of the year by CMA (Country Music Association), ACM (Academy of Country Music) and NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International). Vezner was subsequently named “Songwriter of the Year” by the NSAI. Jon’s songs have been recorded by a varied list of artists such as Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Janis Ian, Judy Collins, John Mellencamp, Nanci Griffith, Steve Wariner, Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan, Vonda Shepard, Aaron Tippon, The Wiggins, Garth Brooks, Ronnie Milsap, Clay Walker, Bill Miller, Diamond Rio, and many more. Vezner also has quite a list of production credits, including projects for the wonderful and iconic Patti Page, Danny O’Keefe, John Berry, Victory Shaw, and Andrew Walesch. Jon is presently producing a project for Livingston Taylor. Jon is also one half of the duo The DonJuans, with his long time good buddy Don Henry. Following the philosophy of “giving back,” Jon has become very active as an instructor in various songwriting schools and workshops across the country.

Amy Speace |

“What Amy Speace says – what she sings – she says with a confluence of poetry and honesty, of emotional specificity,” (The New York Times). A contemporary folk singer-songwriter with a classic voice that inhabits a space somewhere between Joan Baez and Judy Garland, Amy has released 5 albums that have brought her critical raves from NPR, UK’s Mojo Magazine and rock critic Dave Marsh. Baltimore-born, she started playing guitar and writing songs in her 20’s while working as an actress and director in Greenwich Village. Judy Collins discovered Amy and signed her to her own record label. After almost 20 years in New York City, Amy moved to Nashville in 2009. Her 2013 CD, How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat, was an ambitious song-cycle inspired by Shakespeare and she was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. In 2015, she released, That Kind of Girl, her most personal record yet. In 2016, Gearbox/Caroline Records will release Applewood Road, a trio of Amy, Amber Rubarth and UK-based artist Emily Barker. She has taught performance and songwriting at Berklee College of Music, The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Song School, The Kerrville Folk Festival, Sisters Americana Song Academy, leads her own intimate songwriter retreats in Nashville, Songs From The Well, and is grateful to also work with Songwriting With Soldiers. This is Amy’s third year teaching at Swannanoa, which she now calls her ‘happy place’.

A profoundly versatile vocalist and teacher, Siobhán writes and performs songs in folk, blues and adult contemporary pop styles. She is known as a dynamic singer of Chicago & New Orleans style electric blues and has performed many other styles from jazz and big band to r&b and rock; early song to renaissance music, and medieval madrigals in five languages. Truly one of the most popular vocal instructors around, she tours internationally, and is accompanied at Swannanoa by her music partner and husband, songwriter Michael Bowers. Her careful attention to each individual is renowned, and students often return to her workshops, learning new tools each year. She has taught at such programs as WUMB Summer Acoustic Music Week, Kerrville Folk Festival, Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Song School, NERFA, Great American Masters Music Industry Workshop, and coached voice at the Summersongs & Wintersongs songwriting retreats. When at home in Alexandria, VA, Siobhán teaches individuals, and coaches vocal performance for recordings. She consistently updates her own credentials through such programs as the international British Voice Association Conference master classes in performance/otolaryngology, and CCM at Shenandoah Conservatory. Awarded a WAMMIE for Best Traditional Folk Vocalist, Siobhán has also been a top-five songwriting finalist in the prestigious Boston Folk Festival Songwriting and (with Michael Bowers) Kerrville New Folk Competitions and Emerging Artist at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

Ray Chesna |

An accomplished guitarist and songwriter, Ray is fluent in a wide range of styles including western swing, folk, blues, country and bluegrass, and has been a long-time fixture at Contemporary Folk Week, as the sideman of choice for open mikes and concerts. A private music teacher since 1971, Ray has also been on staff at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV, the Guitar Intensive at Bar Harbor, ME, Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, and has led workshops for the South East Bluegrass Association in Atlanta, GA. He continues to teach privately at his home studio in Asheville, NC, where he also maintains a guitar repair business. Ray records for Echo Lake Records and is the author of Guitar Tools, a guitar theory manual, featuring his unique method of understanding the guitar.

Cliff Eberhardt |

Red House recording artist Cliff Eberhardt knew by age seven that he was going to be a singer and songwriter. As a child, Cliff taught himself to play guitar, piano, bass and drums. In his teens, Eberhardt was fortunate enough to live close to the Main Point (one of the best folk clubs on the East Coast), where he received an early and impressive tutorial in acoustic music from such artists as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, and Mississippi John Hurt. A driving force of the Greenwich Village New Folk movement and well-known among his peers, Cliff ’s songs have been covered by the likes of Richie Havens, Buffy St. Marie, Erasure, Lucy Kaplansky and the folk superstar band “Cry, Cry, Cry” (Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky). A consummate performer, Cliff engages the audience with funny but true stories tinged with irony, accompanied by an unparalleled guitar style. Cliff has been an acclaimed instructor at many songwriting camps, colleges, schools, and workshops, and is currently fulfilling one of his dreams – writing music for the theater. Never one to start small, he was asked to write all of the songs for, and perform in, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, in Washington, DC. We’re pleased to welcome him back for his seventh Swannanoa Gathering.

An accomplished and eclectic musician, straddling rock/pop/jazz/folk, Danny crafts songs that hold a rare intimacy and honesty. Born in Dublin, Ireland, his first musical experiences came from playing trombone at the age of 8 in a Dublin orphanage band. His songs have been recorded by many top Irish artists, three of which entered the Top Ten. He toured with Graham Parker and the Rumor, The Foundations, and was a session singer for London’s Abbey Road Studio for four years. For his acclaimed biographical CD, 800 Voices: My Life In An Irish Orphanage, he was awarded “Lyricist of the Year” by Just Plain Folks, the biggest independent music award organization in the world. This album has been hailed by Hotpress, Ireland’s leading musical magazine, as “one of the classics of contemporary Irish music.’” Danny has written a book and a play based on this CD. The book, The Boy at the Gate, was published in the fall of 2012 to international critical acclaim and reached #2 on the Irish book charts. Danny is a much-sought-after vocal coach amongst pros and beginners alike. In between touring, he teaches voice and songwriting privately and in workshops. Lately, he has expanded his lessons to Skype and added mindfulness and meditation for musicians to help with anxiety and stage-fright. As well as teaching traditional techniques and tools, Danny aims to help the student find the native authenticity that often gets buried by the obsession to get it “right”. When this natural ease is found, everything else falls into place without fuss.