Hailed by The Washington Post as “one of Nashville’s finest song interpreters,” Kathy Mattea has enjoyed the kind of success many artists only dream of: two GRAMMY wins, four CMA Awards, four #1 country singles, and five gold albums (plus a platinum collection of her greatest hits). The dream almost ended, though, when Mattea entered her 50s and began to find her voice changing. What followed was a three year journey through life challenges and vocal glitches that she describes as her “dark night of the soul,” a trying time of personal anguish and professional uncertainty that threatened to silence her permanently. “The hardest thing was facing the question of whether I would still be able to sing well enough to enjoy it. That was the acid test for me, and I had to be willing to walk through a process that bumped me up against the very real possibility that, in the end, the answer might be ‘No.’” Instead, Mattea dug in with a vocal coach, re-committed to her music, and emerged with the most poignant album of her career, Pretty Bird. Produced by her old friend, roots music wizard Tim O’Brien, Pretty Bird is a chronicle of her journey, song by song, back to singing for the sheer joy of it. It’s an emotional, moving collection, one that draws its strength not only from Mattea’s touching performances, but also from her uncanny ability to weave seemingly disparate material into a cohesive whole.
Ellis Paul is songwriter, author, illustrator, and teacher. He has been a constant presence on the American folk circuit for over twenty-five years. In that time, he has released twenty albums of original music and performed over 5,000 shows. His work has been featured in blockbuster films such as: Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal and Hall Pass, and recorded by country stars. His songs have been described as descriptive narratives of people at a crossroads in their lives. Despite the nature of their stories, they seem to be about all of us. His stage performance is a combination of humor, improv, and poignant story songs. 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. His newest album, released in 2019, is called The Storyteller’s Suitcase.
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, including 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).
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 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 rejoining the community of writers and musicians at Swannanoa for the second time.
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.
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, Victoria 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 have been touring with Tom Paxton for the past two years. 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 is a folk singer and songwriter who came to songwriting almost by accident. Starting out as an actress and director in NYC, she founded and was the Artistic Director of Five Points Theater Company after completing her studies at The National Shakespeare Conservatory. A life-long time musician, it was the frustration of ‘waiting to get the part’ that made her borrow a guitar and start putting her poetry to music. After only a few years of stumbling through every acoustic folk club in NYC and being turned down by every major record label, who told her “Your voice isn’t current – you sound too much like Joni/Joan/Judy,” she was ‘discovered’ in 2006 by Judy Collins who signed her immediately to a record deal and took Amy on the road. “She 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.” Speace has been heralded as one of the leading voices of the new generation of American folk singers and has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Marketplace, All Things Considered, Mountain Stage and many folk festivals around the world. She wrote and recorded her upcoming 2019 release, Me And The Ghost of Charlemagne (produced by Grammy nominee Neilson Hubbard) around the birth of her son, Huck. She has released 5 critically-acclaimed records, including 2016’s Applewood Road, an Americana trio project which The London Sunday Times called “a flawless set that has to be the most haunting release of the past year.” Her songs have been recorded by Judy Collins, Red Molly, Memphis Blues Hall of Fame artist Sid Selvidge and more. A prolific prose writer, Amy has published essays in The New York Times, American Songwriter, The Blue Rock Literary Journal, and Pop Matters. She has taught performance and songwriting 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 near Nashville, TN called Songs From The Well.
Moira Smiley is a singer/composer who creates and performs new work for voices. A musical polyglot, and vocal shape-shifter, her voice – and composing – are heard on feature films, BBC & PBS television programs, NPR, and on more than 60 albums. She accompanies herself with banjo, accordion, piano and percussive movement, and when she’s not leading her own group, Moira Smiley & VOCO, Moira has toured with Indie artist tUnE-yArDs, the Irish super-group, Solas, The Lomax Project and Billy Childs’ Laura Nyro Re-Imagined. She’s also toured with Paul Hillier’s Theater of Voices and KITKA. Recent solo performances include TEDtalks, Stravinsky’s Les Noces, the London Proms Festival, features on BBC Radio3, and ABC Australia’s Books & Arts programs. Moira’s recordings feature spare, vocally-driven collections of warped traditional songs, original polyphony and body percussion. She is a well-known choral composer (including a recent commission for Los Angeles Master Chorale) and arranger, with millions around the world singing her works. In 2018, she released a solo album and choral songbook called Unzip The Horizon.
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 sixth Gathering.
Cleveland-born David Wilcox is a father, a husband, a citizen and a songwriter. First inspired to play guitar after hearing a fellow Warren Wilson College student playing in a stairwell, Wilcox is now 20 records into a career marked by personal revelation and wildly loyal fans. His lyrical insight is matched by a smooth baritone voice, virtuosic guitar chops, and creative open tunings, giving him a range and tenderness rare in folk music. Wilcox released an independent album in 1987, was a winner of the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk award in 1988, and by 1989 he had signed with A&M Records. His first release on the label, How Did You Find Me Here, sold over 100,000 copies the first year largely by word of mouth. His latest record, The View From the Edge reflects four years of thinking, writing, crafting, playing and life. Considered a ‘songwriter’s songwriter’, his songs have been covered by artists such as k.d. lang and many others. He holds audiences rapt with nothing more than a single guitar, thoroughly written songs, a fearless ability to mine the depths of human emotions of joy, sorrow and everything in between, and all tempered by a quick and wry wit. “David Wilcox’s ongoing musical journey is compelling and richly deserving of a listen.” – Rolling Stone.
After 35 years in 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 ideas and sound tools from a variety of unexpected places creating new music altogether. As a multi-instrumentalist, Joe has made music with Jerry Garcia, David Lindley, Alison Brown, Howard Levy, Vassar Clements, Rob Ickes and many other innovative artists. As an award-winning educator, he has taught with jazz vocalist Inga Swearengen, bassist Victor Wooten, children’s music innovator Paul Reisler and jazz percussionist Jason Marsalis; been a featured artist/educator in the PBS television Music Gone Public series, and created music and sound effects for commercials, soundtracks, computer games and contributions to several Grammy-nominated projects. Joe is the Executive Director of Vocáli Voice Camp and RiverTunes Roots Music Camp in California and he’s presented at numerous schools, universities, music camps and the American String Teacher’s Association. Joe is a keynote clinician at Wintergrass in Seattle and a coast-to-coast Master of Ceremonies, having emcee-ed at a wide variety of music festivals, including DelFest and Telluride Bluegrass. A recipient of a Folk Alliance Far-West Performer of the Year Award and a Swannanoa Gathering Master Music Maker Award, Joe has consecutively taught for over a decade during our Fiddle Week and also teaches creative process during Contemporary Folk Week. From Carnegie Hall to street corner busking around the world and back – Joe’s at home and loving every minute. “Everything Joe touches turns to music” – David Grisman
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 sixth Gathering.
Camela’s brand of Americana Folk emerged after 10 years of touring and 4 albums meandering from rock, to folk-rock, to folk. The critically-acclaimed Warriors of Love, released in 2015, is stripped down to the essential elements that showcase the Americana folk roots of a sincere troubadour with a unique voice in music today. Camela’s upcoming album will be released in 2019. She has been compared to Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and Shawn Colvin, with songwriting that feels distinctly ‘Nashville,’ having strong melodies and catchy hooks with a down-home voice that feels natural and unpretentious. Her knack for teaching and years of touring have given her a gift of showing others how to discover their natural, tension-free voice. Her vocal teaching focuses on a style of singing at speech level that is both strengthening and relaxing for each individual singer in the genre they want to explore. Her vocal coaching practice includes groups, kids camps, theatre troupes, corporate events, creativity retreats, online voice sessions, and coaching through her company Creative Soul Studios. “Infectious and quite memorable in its own faithful way” – No Depression.
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.