New York Magazine
Last week, I got the chance to stretch out a little and do some writing for New York Magazine, when they dispatched myself and 27 others to cover what was happening in the music clubs around NYC on Saturday night. I went to Sunny's Bar in Red Hook to cover their weekly Bluegrass Hootenanny. It was a lot of fun. I'm grateful for the opportunity, since I've only recently started writing, mostly at my other blog. You can read the New York Magazine article here, and below see my unedited version with some additional photographs.
Did you ever wonder what Jimmie Rodgers' "California Blues" would sound like in Red Hook, Brooklyn to the tune of an accordian? It happened Saturday night at Sunny's, an unassuming bar at the edge of Red Hook. Not much pretension here. It felt more like bars I've known in smaller cities of the Hinterlands, or maybe Williamsburg circa 1990. Mostly locals and an occasional confused wanderer, not knowing what to make of the evening's entertainment. In the front room, Howlin' Wolf played on the stereo, while locals came in and drank mostly bottled beer. Every Saturday for the last five years, a ragtag collection of local pickers congregate in the back room of Sunny's Bar for an all night Hootenanny. The musicians range from accomplished veterans of the NYC Country/Folk scene to casual guitar strummers. There are no set lists, and the players who make up a good portion the audience, call out the tunes. "Dead Flowers" was played in tribute to the Kentucky Derby which took place earlier that day. I asked guitar player Izzy Landau if he was the ringleader of the event and he replied "No, I'm just the elder statesmen." Joining him were more than a dozen others on fiddle, mandolin, dobro, auto harp, harmonica, stand-up bass, and banjo who came and went as the evening wore on. There's a piano in the corner that some of the players moved to as needed. While some of the players carried the seriousness of Civil War re-enactors of American song, there was a refreshing absence of ego. The best stage banter of the evening was between musicians when one of them called out " How about "Midnight Moonlight" "In A ?"... "I play It in G " ... "That's what God made capos for!" About midnight things picked up. Mandolinist Fred Skellinger and guitarist Tom Feeley took things up a notch and moved into a more traditional hard-picking Bluegrass style. Somebody handed me a carton of malted milkballs that was making the rounds at the tables. "No thanks, I'm good." Just then the band kicked into Bill Monroe's "Rocky Road Blues" followed by a rousing version of Ernest Tubbs's "Thanks-A-Lot." At one point I found myself holding and picking a Banjo tentatively, at least I found the key. It was in G , of course.
all photographs © Ted Barron, 2008.
(click on photos to enlarge)