Contemporary Folk Staff - July 22-28, 2018

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 and Don Henry. 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 Appalachian 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. An early spokesperson and advocate for AIDS awareness and research, her more recent work has centered around the arts, climate change and other environmental issues, singing master classes, and the role music can play in social change.

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 At the invitation of Woody’s daughter, Ellis wrote a song with Woody’s unpublished lyrics and was given an honorary citizenship to Woody’s hometown of Okemah, OK.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 a 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 recordings, 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.

John Gorka |

Red House Records recording artist John Gorka is an award-winning songwriter who got his start hanging out at eastern Pennsylvania’s venerable Godfrey Daniels coffeehouse, running sound and being inspired by the many legendary folk toubadours who appeared there. He soon began performing himself and went on to win the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk Award. After years of international touring, the list of his friends and collaborators reads like singer/songwriter royalty, icluding Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucy Kaplansky, Patty Larkin, Nanci Griffith, Ani DiFranco, Jonatha Brooke, Eliza Gilkyson and more. In addition to his 14 critically-acclaimed albums, John has released a collector’s edition box featuring a hi-definition DVD and companion CD called The Gypsy Life. Windham Hill also released a collection of John’s greatest hits from the label called Pure John Gorka. Many well known artists have recorded and/or performed his songs, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, Mary Travers, Edwin McCain, David Wilcox and Maura O’Connell. John has graced the stage of Austin City Limits, Mountain Stage, eTown radio and has appeared on CNN. His song “Where No Monuments Stand” is featured in the documentary Every War Has Two Losers about activist and Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford (1914-1993).

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.

Nora Jane Struthers |

Nora Jane Struthers is guided by fire. “Struthers has come up with some of the most quietly powerful narratives within the new wave of Americana artists” – NPR. A singer-songwriter and bandleader with a clear and unaffected voice, Nora Jane grew up playing and singing bluegrass-brother duets with her banjo-playing dad. She moved to Nashville in 2008 to pursue a career in music and soon kick-started her career, winning the blue ribbon for “Best New Song” and placing first in the “Neo-Traditional” band competition at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV. In 2010, she won first place in the band competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (previous winners include Nickel Creek and The Dixie Chicks). Nora Jane has been touring full-time with her band The Party Line for the past five years. After her 2013 release, Carnival, a collection of story-songs written from a female perspective, NPR included Nora Jane in their End-Of-Year story, “Country Music’s Year of The Woman” (along with Miranda Lambert, Casey Musgraves, Patti Griffin, and Holly Williams), calling her “quietly brilliant.” Her 2017 release, Champion, is her most powerful work to date and landed a glowing review on NPR’s Fresh Air. Nora Jane is thrilled to be joining the community of writers and musicians at Swannanoa for the first time this year.

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 like 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 also one half of the duo The Don Juans, with his long time good buddy Don Henry. The Don Juans will be touring with Tom Paxton this year. 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 |

Amy Speace “has one of the richest and loveliest voices in the genre and her songs are luxuriously smart,” writes Craig Havighurst, host of Nashville’s Music City Roots. “She’s profoundly personal yet also a bit mythic.” After being discovered and signed to folk-pop icon Judy Collins’ Wildflower Records label, her song, “The Weight of the World” was named as the #4 Best Folk Song of the last decade by WFUV, NYC’s premiere AAA radio station, and was recorded by Judy Collins. From her work as a classically-trained actress with The National Shakespeare Company to the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village to her latest release, That Kind Of Girl, the thread that ties all of her work together is a palpable empathy for the small struggles of the human condition. Rock critic Dave Marsh, long a fan, wrote, “Amy Speace’s songs hang together like a short story collection, united by a common vantage point and common predicaments…it’s a gift to hear a heart so modest even when it’s wide open.” She has released 5 critically-acclaimed records, her latest a trio collaboration with Emily Barker and Amber Rubarth called Applewood Road, which The London Sunday Times called “a flawless set that has to be the most haunting release of the past year.” Amy has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, Mountain Stage and Marketplace and appeared at many folk festivals around the world. Her songs have been recorded by Judy Collins, Red Molly, Memphis Blues Hall of Fame artist Sid Selvidge and more. She has published essays in The New York Times, American Songwriter magazine, The Blue Rock Literary Journal, Pop Matters and has taught at The Berklee College of Music, The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Song School, Sisters Americana Song Academy, Kerrville Folk Festival Song School and leads her own intimate songwriting retreats called “Songs From The Well.” She is grateful to be returning to Swannanoa for her fifth year!

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. Newly relocated to Austin TX, Siobhán taught individuals, and coached vocal performance for recordings at her former home in Alexandria VA. 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.

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, Are You Listening?, was produced by Ani DiFranco and recorded in her home studio in New Orleans with her band with the addition of the great violinist and songwriter Anna Tivel. We’re pleased to welcome him back for his fifth Gathering.

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 in Pennsylvania, 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 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 ninth Swannanoa Gathering.

Joe Craven |

35 years into the biz, Joe Craven wears a lot of hats; instrumentalist, vocalist, music producer, actor, storyteller, visual artist, carnival barker, noisemaker, fashion insultant, former museologist and creativity educator. He enjoys ‘playing forward’ folk tradition and process by mashing up ideas and sound tools from a variety of unexpected places, creating new music altogether. Joe has made music with Jerry Garcia, David Lindley, David Grisman, Alison Brown, Howard Levy, Vassar Clements, Rob Ickes and many other innovative artists. He is a featured artist/educator in the PBS television series, Music Gone Public, and Joe has created music and sound effects for commercials, soundtracks, computer games and contributions to several Grammy-nominated projects. From Carnegie Hall to street-corner busking, around the world and back – Joe’s at home and loving every minute. As an award-winning educator, Joe has taught with jazz vocalist Inga Swearengen, bassist Victor Wooten, children’s music innovator Paul Reisler and jazz percussionist Jason Marsalis. He’s the Executive Director of Vocáli Voice Camp and RiverTunes Roots Music Camp in California, the recipient of a Folk Alliance Far-West Performer of the Year Award and the Gathering’s Master Music Maker Award where Joe taught for over a decade during our Fiddle Week.

Vance Gilbert |

Vance Gilbert burst onto the singer/songwriter scene in the early 90’s when the buzz started spreading in the folk clubs of Boston about an ex-multicultural arts teacher and jazz singer who was knocking ’em dead at open mikes. The word spread to New York of this Philadelphia-area born and raised performer; Shawn Colvin invited Vance Gilbert to be a special guest on her Fat City tour, and Gilbert took audiences across the country by storm. “With the voice of an angel, the wit of a devil, and the guitar playing of a god, it was enough to earn him that rarity: an encore for an opener” wrote the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in its review of a show from that tour. Gilbert’s first three albums for the Rounder/Philo label are all essential additions to the American singer-songwriter collection, and his subsequent seven releases cement his place in North American singer/songwriter-dom. His songwriting/performance combo workshops are legendary at such venues as the Rocky Mountain Song School and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. And now, after ten albums, a solid twenty-six-year solo career, two years opening tours for the late George Carlin, being the opener of choice for The Milk Carton Kids, Paul Reiser, and The Subdudes, and songwriting recognized by artists ranging from rocker Mike Posner to children’s music icons Trout Fishing In America, his workshops are not to be missed. This is Vance’s fifth Gathering.

Camela Widad |

A singer-songwriter whose roots started with her Dad’s vinyl collection of Patsy Cline, The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, Camela’s interest grew when she could check out her own records from the library and she listened to famed vocalist Karen Carpenter over and over again. A vocalist from a young age, Camela (like Pamela with a ‘C’) struggled with voice loss in a number of genres until she found a vocal training that helped her to clear the vocal struggles, relax into “her voice” and eliminate vocal fatigue when on the road singing 2-3 hours every night. She came back to her Americana roots with Warriors of Love, relased in 2014 to critical acclaim. No Depression called her “a voice with clear resonance and deep roots-oriented discipline,” and Remo Ricaldone of American Roots Radio Italy called her “A new troubadour that deserves attention.” She has released five albums, tours with her Americana duo regularly, has taught weekend voice workshops coupled with house concerts across the US and offers the “Creative Soul” weekend creativity retreat every year. When not on the road or raising her daughter, a burgeoning ballerina, she maintains a thriving private vocal coaching practice in Central Pennsylvania and online through Skype sessions.

Kim Richardson |

A Kerrville New Folk Winner, Kim is a singer/songwriter, a former governor for The Recording Academy, a former president of SERFA (South East Regional Folk Alliance), and a regional coordinator for NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Assoc. Int.). She has self-released two CDs and continues to write songs in between improv acting and comedy performances and selling Subarus. Kim serves as the Host of Contemporary Folk Week.