Contemporary Folk Staff - July 26-August 1, 2015

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 At the invitation of Woody’s daughter, Ellis wrote a song with Woody’s unpublished lyrics and was given an honorary citizenship to Woody’s hometown of Okemah, OK.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 grew up in a potato farming family in Maine, earned a track scholarship to Boston College and got his musical start at Boston’s open-mic scene while studying to be a social worker. He emerged during a time when contemporary folk was beginning to come into the mainstream. It was a time and a place that nurtured some of the country’s top singer/songwriters like Martin Sexton, Patty Griffin and Dar Williams. Ellis was one of its more memorable exponents who earned his place on the national map with 20+ years of playing 150 to 200 shows annually. 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.

Jim Lauderdale |

Jim Lauderdale is a Grammy-winning musician and one of the most respected artists working in the bluegrass, country and Americana music communities today. One of Nashville’s A-list songwriters, his songs have been recorded by such artists as Patty Loveless, Shelby Lynne, Solomon Burke, The Dixie Chicks and George Strait. His music has been featured recently on the ABC hit show, Nashville, and he had several cuts on the soundtrack of the successful film, Pure Country. Jim is also in high demand as a player, touring with the likes of Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rhonda Vincent. Jim frequently collaborates with legends such as Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and long time friend Buddy Miller as the duo, Buddy & Jim. The duo also host the radio shows, The Buddy & Jim Show, with performances and in-depth interviews with a wide variety of artists and friends, and Music City Roots, with concerts each week from the Loveless Barn in Nashville. Since winning “Artist of the Year” and “Song of the Year” at the first “Honors and Awards Show” held by the Americana Music Association in 2002, he has also subsequently hosted the show each year. Jim is the subject of The King Of Broken Hearts, a new documentary by Australian filmmaker Jeremy Dylan, which tells of Jim’s unconventional and prolific story from his North Carolina roots, being immersed in the country music scenes in both New York City and Los Angeles, to breaking through in Nashville as a songwriter.

Peter Mulvey |

Peter Mulvey grew up in inner-city Milwaukee, playing the occasional coffee-house open mic, until a semester in Dublin, Ireland found him busking with the street musicians there. Shortly after that he became a subway musician in Boston and soon secured a regional following, signed with a booking agency and a record label, and lit out on the road, from Anchorage to the Hague, from Maine to Los Angeles. Well over a dozen records and thousands of shows later, he continues to work restlessly at his art, writing constantly while absorbing new forms, from rock & roll to Tin-Pan Alley jazz to traditional music from a variety of traditions. Every year he does an autumn tour entirely by bicycle without a support vehicle. Every summer he plays the National Youth Science Camp, and he wraps up his travel each year by curating a one-room festival called the Lamplighter Sessions, both in Cambridge, MA at the venerable Club Passim, and in his spiritual home, the Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, WI. His latest recording, Silver Ladder, was produced by the ferociously contrary rock-and-roller Chuck Prophet. We’re pleased to welcome him back for his fourth Gathering.

Sara Hickman |

Sara Hickman creates music for adults, families and children. She is an Official State Musician of Texas and served from May 2010-May 2011, as decreed by the Texas State Legislature. In honor of her role as state musician, Sara wanted to give back to her home state. In May 2011 she released The Best of Times, a compilation CD of her songs recorded by other amazing Texas musicians, including Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball, Shawn Colvin, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Ruthie Foster and 25 other musical acts. All proceeds went to Creative Action, a group that helps put art, music and theatre back into public schools. She released her 13th CD Shine, in the summer of 2013, and more recently Newborn, Too, a follow up to the award-winning Newborn CD. Indeed, she has a number of award-winning children’s titles, including the Big Bird, Little Bird DVD. She’s known for her one-of-a-kind live shows, which can vary from intimate and soothing to hilarious and rocking. Whether it’s the Tonight Show, Carnegie Hall, outdoor amphitheaters, schools or house concerts, Sara is excited to bring her joyful, creative music to her audience.

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. Don tours extensively as a solo performer, and he’s also a member of The Waymores with Tom Kimmel and Sally Barris, as well as performing in duos with Sally, Craig Carothers, and Jon Vezner.

Jon Vezner |

Grammy award-winning songwriter Jon Vezner is a tunesmith of rare sensitivity and dry wit. With a degree in music theory and education, in 1983, he made his first trip to Nashville to attend the Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) spring symposium, where he soon developed a relationship with music publishing company, Wrensong Music. He moved to Nashville in January of 1986, and within that first year he had songs recorded by Reba McEntire and Ronnie Milsap, followed by Lorrie Morgan’s first single in 1987, “Train Wreck of Emotion,” which he co-wrote with Alan Rhody. In 1989, Vezner co-wrote “Where’ve You Been” with fellow singer/songwriter Don Henry, recorded by Jon’s wife, Kathy Mattea, a true story of Vezner’s grandparents that earned him “Song of the Year” honors with both the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM) for 1990. The song was honored with a Grammy Award for “Best Country Song” and the Nashville Songwriters Association “Song of the Year.” 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, Janis Ian, John Mellencamp, Nancy Griffith, Faith Hill, Clay Walker, Diamond Rio and Steve Wariner. Vezner also has quite a list of production credits, including projects for Danny O’Keefe, Victoria Shaw, singing legend Patti Page and Jeff Gilkinson. Jon and long-time friend Don Henry have recently reunited to create a new CD project as the “Don Juans.” In the last two years, Jon received Distinguished Alumni awards from both North Hennepin Community College and Southwest Minnesota State University. Jon also leads songwriting workshops all 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 singer-songwriter straddling the worlds of folk/Americana 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, but a long time New Yorker, she was discovered by Judy Collins while playing in folk clubs in the West Village of NYC and signed to Collins’ Wildflower Records, releasing 3 albums before moving to Nashville. 2013’s How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat, an ambitious song-cycle inspired by Shakespeare, merged her early career as a classical theater actress with her stunning lyrics. She will release That Kind of Girl in March 2015, a record which Billboard magazine has already called “classic”. She has taught performance and songwriting at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Song School, The Kerrville Folk Festival, Sisters Americana Song Academy, IAMA Songcamps and privately around the country. She is a former actress with The National Shakespeare Conservatory and was the Artistic Director of Five Points Theater Company in NYC. This will be Amy’s second year at the Swannanoa Gathering and she’s thrilled to be returning.

Siobhán Quinn |

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.

David Roth |

Contemporary Folk Week Coordinator David Roth is a singer, songwriter, recording artist, and enthusiastic instructor who has taken his songs, experience, and expertise to a wide variety of venues in this and other countries full-time over the last twenty-seven years. His work has found its way to Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Peter Paul & Mary’s 2014 retrospective, Discovered, the Kingston Trio’s, Born at the Right Time, the Kennedy Center, NASA’s Goddard Space Center (his song “Rocket Science” flew on the space shuttle Atlantis in 2009), the Rise Up Singing and Rise Again (sequel) songbooks, and thirteen CDs on the Wind River and Stockfisch (Germany) labels. Winner of four Positive Music Awards (celebrating the best in empowering original music), David is a veteran of the Fast Folk music scene (Greenwich Village, 1980’s) and has also been on many of Christine Lavin’s seminal Rounder Records compilations. The former artist-in-residence at New York’s Omega Institute has also been a songwriting judge at Kerrville, Napa Valley, Tumbleweed, Eventide Arts, and the South Florida Folk Festivals. He’s taught singing, songwriting, and performance at the Augusta Heritage workshops, Common Ground on the Hill, the Woods Dance & Music Camp, WUMB’s Summer Acoustic Music Week, Moab Folk Camp, Rowe Center, Pendle Hill, the National Wellness Institute, and for many other songwriting groups and associations around the country. David is also Director of the Cape Cod Songwriters Retreat and creator/host of the Cape’s “Full Moon Open Mic” which for the past 9 years has provided a forum for musicians to connect and be heard while at the same time collecting donations (over $12,000 so far) for local non-profits and neighbors in need.

DannyEllis |

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.