2017 Artists

THIS YEAR’S FOLK FESTIVAL FEATURES PERFORMANCES FROM:

 

Betsayda – Afro-Venezuelan

El Clavo and Caracas, Venezuela
La Parranda El Clavo and their clarion-voiced leader Betsayda Machado have inspired international acclaim for the exuberant sounds of their Afro-Venezuelan heritage. The New York Times declared them “the kind of group that [music] fans have always been thrilled to discover: vital, accomplished, local, … deeply rooted.”

The music of the Barlovento region on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast is based in African sounds and rhythms, nurtured and adapted by cacao-plantation workers and their descendants over centuries. Notable among these traditions is the parranda, a troupe of singers who serenade neighbors house-to-house at Christmas time. With intricate call-and-response harmonies, polyrhythmic percussion, and vibrant dancing, the parranderos weave tales of local history, make pointed social commentary, and celebrate life’s passages.

Founded thirty years ago in tiny El Clavo (population approx. 1,500), Parranda El Clavo has become the sound of the town’s cultural life year-round, playing parties, saints’ days, weddings, and funerals. Betsayda Machado and her siblings grew up at the center of the parranda: the Machado house was the parranderos’ home base. Betsayda left El Clavo for the capital, Caracas, at age 18, starting a career as one of the country’s best-loved Afro-Venezuelan singers. She is celebrated today across Venezuela as “the Black Voice of Barlovento,” carrier of a deep knowledge of this nearly lost traditional music she first learned as a member of the parranda.

Now Betsayda has embarked on a multifaceted project to bring the joyous and compelling music of El Clavo to the world. Following a wildly successful first international tour in 2016, the 12-member group is exploring the history of their town and their music: this year they are taking DNA tests, and planning a tour of their ancestral points of origin in Africa. They are also working to harness global interest in their story and their music to develop sustainability projects for El Clavo and other villages in Barlovento, building a vibrant future out of the power of their cultural legacy.

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The Branchettes – African American Gospel

Raleigh, North Carolina
Hailing from the North Carolina Piedmont, The Branchettes are known for their joyful renditions of spirituals and hymns delivered by Sister Lena Mae Perry’s soul-stirring vocals, accompanied by heavenly gospel piano and vocals. They have been performing in various configurations for more than 40 years, bringing their uplifting old-time style to audiences and congregations both near and far.

Perry has been singing spirituals, gospel, and congregational songs since childhood, and still performs in a traditional style evoking her “foreparents and that old-time religion,” as she puts it. Her powerful and expressive singing harkens back to early forms of African American sacred song, with accompaniment rooted in the syncopated, early 20th-century “sanctified stride” style—the first piano style ever to be widely accepted in congregational song. She describes hymns and gospel as “a medicine for the soul,” just as good for the singers as for the audience. “When you sing it the old way,” Perry says, “you’re really meaning what you’re talking about.”

Initially, The Branchettes consisted of Ethel Elliot, Lena Mae Perry, and her aunt Mary Ellen Bennett, all members of the Long Branch Disciple Church’s senior choir in Johnston County, North Carolina. The trio, accompanied by pianist Wilbur Tharpe, formed by chance in the 1960s when the three found themselves the only members to appear for a scheduled choir performance. Despite their small number, they discovered a powerful capacity to move congregations through song. Although Bennett passed away many years ago, the younger two women embarked on a long career that took them deep into their community and as far away as Ireland and earned them the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1995, the state’s highest honor for traditional artists. Elliot passed away in 2004, but Perry and Tharpe continued on. Tharpe is recovering from a surgery last year and cannot be with us this weekend. But we are delighted that Angela Kent is here to provide the perfect complement for Perry’s singing.

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CJ Chenier – Zydeco

Houston, Texas
C.J. Chenier has been dubbed “the crown prince of zydeco” by the Boston Globe, a fitting title for the son of Clifton Chenier who reigned as zydeco’s king for more than 40 years.

A driving, accordion-led music with signature frottoir (rubboard) percussion and electric guitars, zydeco is a relatively modern sound—energetic and highly danceable—that emerged after the Second World War. Clifton Chenier is most often credited with creating modern zydeco by mixing Cajun and French Creole (“la la”) dance music with blues, R&B, and rock and roll. Springing from the rich cultural mix of southwest Louisiana and East Texas, zydeco is said to take its name from the idiomatic title of a popular song, “Les Haricots [zydeco] Sont Pas Salé.”

As a child growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, C.J. had little exposure to zydeco. His father lived in Lafayette, Louisiana, and was always on the road. He saw him a couple of times a year, but he rarely heard his music—in those days it didn’t get any airplay and dance halls were out of bounds. C.J. started playing the piano in third grade and played the sax in the high school band, ending up with a music scholarship to Texas Southern University. In 1978, his father brought the 20-year-old saxophonist into the Red Hot Louisiana Band.

As his father’s health worsened in the mid-1980s, C.J. took over more and more of the accordion duties. When Clifton died in 1987, C.J. took over the band, recalling this advice from his father: “All [he] really told me was to do the best I could do with my own style.” In the thirty years since inheriting his father’s band, C.J. has done just that, introducing audiences all over the world to his take on this rollicking, raucous music that fills up a dance floor.

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Dori Freeman – Appalachian Song

Galax, Virginia
Dori Freeman’s music is steeped in the old songs and rich tradition of her hometown of Galax, Virginia. She is a powerful and emotional interpreter of the traditional mountain songs, and her original songs draw on the deep well of Appalachian culture near and dear to her heart. She sings with striking clarity, delivering each song carefully and earnestly.

Her family is rooted in art and tradition: her father, Scott Freeman, is a well-known fiddle and mandolin player; her paternal grandfather was an award winning flat-foot dancer; and her maternal grandfather, Willard Gayheart, is a guitar player and renowned pencil artist. The family shop—Front Porch Gallery and Frame Shop—is part of the Crooked Road, a musical heritage trail in southwestern Virginia celebrated for its influence on old-time, mountain gospel, bluegrass, and country music.

Dori began playing guitar in her teens, and from traveling to shows and festivals with her father all her life, she always knew she wanted to be a musician. Hailing from Galax, she says, “has had such an impact on what I’m doing today and the kind of music I play. It’s a real grounding thing being from here, being part of the Appalachian Mountains and living in a place rich in tradition.”

The old-time and bluegrass traditions Dori grew up in are marked by musicians praised for their knowledge of the traditional tunes that have been around for centuries. Ballads and gospel songs handed down from generation to generation dominate traditional singing, and songwriting is not as common. While Dori’s songwriting may be a newer innovation, her Appalachian upbringing lies at the core of her music, shining through every song with her straight-to-the-heart delivery and lulling mountain drawl.

The 25-year-old singer has recently burst onto the national stage, receiving widespread acclaim for her self-titled album released in 2016 on Free Dirt Records. At the Lowell Folk Festival, she will be accompanied by her father, Scott, on fiddle and mandolin and her husband, Nicholas Falk, on percussion and clawhammer banjo.

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El Septeto Santiaguero – Cuban son

Santiago de Cuba province
For over 20 years, El Septeto Santiaguero has kept son connected to its original roots in Santiago de Cuba, a province at the southeast of the island. Today they are the foremost son music ensemble in the Cuban music scene.

Son comes from the centuries-old Afro-Cuban musical tradition, which married African percussion to the melodies and instrumentation of the Spanish cancion. After the abolition of slavery in 1886, many Afro-Cubans moved from rural areas to the cities, and by the start of the 20th century son emerged from this working-class rural/urban interchange. Son matured in the 1920s, becoming the island’s preeminent musical style featuring a sextet of guitar, tres (triple-stringed guitar), bongos, claves, maracas, and double bass. In Havana—teeming with Americans avoiding Prohibition—soneros embraced the hot, new sounds of American jazz, making horns an integral component of son. Although eclipsed by newer genres in the 1940s, son remains a foundational Cuban style. While Buena Vista Social Club’s mid-1990s recordings sparked a worldwide revival of interest in classic son, Cuban musicians never ceased making this marvelous music.

Fernando Dewar, the ensemble’s founder and leader, on tres and Rudens Matos on guitar set up the acoustic-guitar-led Santiago style of son with gentle syncopation and sparkling runs and support the beat with concise chording behind the vocalists.

“I think that if we lived in another place,” Dewar explains, “we wouldn’t have all the elements that we need. Cuba is a musical island, but Santiago stands out because of the diversity of genres that are preserved there. And you can see those manifestations in theaters, restaurants and in the streets, constantly.”

Originally a septet, wanting to reinforce the rhythms of son they later added another percussionist. Joining Dewar and Matos are Gabriel Montero (conga), Alberto Castellanos (bongos), Giraldo Bravo (güiro), Alain Dragoní (trumpet), Dairon Robert (bass), and Inocencio Heredia (lead vocals). Passionate and powerful interpreters of this great tradition, their sweet tunes and strong rhythms set listeners into constant motion.

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Innov Gnawa – Moroccan Gnawa

Brooklyn, New York 
Brooklyn-based sextet Innov Gnawa envelops audiences in the hypnotic beauty of Moroccan Gnawa (GUH-nah-wah) music. The word Gnawa signifies not only a style of music, but also the people who created it. The Gnawa are descendants of sub-Saharan Africans originally brought to Morocco as soldiers and slaves. Although associated with Sufi tradition, Gnawa music pre-dates Islam and is rooted in animistic, spiritual, and mystical concepts originally sung in Bambara, Fulani, and Sudani. Guided by a maâlem (MAH-lehm), a master artist vested with deep spiritual responsibility, musicians perform elaborately structured all-night trance rituals, called lila (lee-lah), to engage the spirits in the healing and purification of both individuals and community. While historically a culture of the dispossessed, Gnawa has in recent years gained immense popularity in Morocco as a national music.

Innov Gnawa is led by Maâlem Hassan Ben Jaafer, a master from a long line of prominent Gnawa maâlems in the city of Fes (Fez). The group was founded in 2013 when Samir LanGus moved to New York City in order to apprentice with the Maâlem. Maâlem Ben Jaafer presides over the ensemble with his distinctive singing and hypnotizing melodies played on the sintir (SIN-teer)—a three-stringed, long-necked lute—while the five chorus members, called kouyo (KOH-yoh), fill out the sound with richly layered vocals accompanied by distinctive iron castanets, the qraqeb (KRAH-kehb). Joining LanGus in the chorus are Amino Belyamani, Said Bourhana, Nawfal Atiq, and Ahmed Jeriouda.

Innov Gnawa continues to perform in traditional settings within the Moroccan American community, but have also gained widespread acclaim for their efforts to bring the cultural and spiritual legacy of the Gnawa to new audiences. One recent New York performance featured the Maâlem’s knowledge of the ancient Sebitiyin (SEB-tee-yeen), a repertoire of Gnawan songs composed to honor the community’s connection with Moroccan Jews. In the hands of Innov Gnawa, this ancient music retains a power to connect and heal that transcends time and place.

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Kenan Adnawi – Syrian oud

Boston, Massachusetts
“Through the music, we show a different vision of the Middle East today,” says oud virtuouso and composer Kenan Adnawi. This vision celebrates the continuing relevance and profound musicality of one of the oldest cultures in the world.

Pear-shaped and short-necked, the oud is one of the world’s first stringed instruments, and it is central to musical traditions across the Middle East. The oud is played in Syrian classical and folk music, which include the tradition of taksim, improvisation building upon shared structures, much like Indian ragas. The oud is also used for pure improvisation, a tradition known as irtejal. Adnawi’s Massachusetts-based quartet—which also includes Layth Sidiq on Arabic violin, Jamal Sinna on qanun (a plucked stringed instrument similar to the zither), and Tareq Rantisi on percussion—plays all these Syrian styles to perfection.

Growing up in Syria, Adnawi was drawn to music from a very young age. He began studying oud at age 7 under the tutelage of two of his brothers; he went on to study with Azerbajani oud master Askar Ali Akbar at the prestigious High Music Institute of Damascus, from which he received his undergraduate degree in 2008. Already a three-time winner at Syria’s national youth competition, Adnawi’s prodigious musical talents then garnered him first place in the 2009 International Oud Competition in Beirut, Lebanon. He subsequently toured the world playing with Marcel Khalife and his Al-Mayadeen Ensemble, the Qatar Philharmonic, and others. Now based in Boston, he recently received a Masters Degree in Contemporary Music from the New England Conservatory.

“We are still playing music and creating a vision for the future,” Kenan Adnawi notes, in a rich cultural tradition in which “you build on what the people before have done, just like the process of life.”

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Los Texmaniacs conjunto tejano

San Antonio, Texas
Emerging from San Antonio’s vibrant music scene, Los Texmaniacs are among the most exciting exponents of conjunto tejano. Melding classic conjunto sounds with rock, blues, and R&B, Los Texmaniacs perform “hip music that everybody in the world can relate to, with the traditional conjunto elements, not ever losing your cultura,” explains bandleader Max Baca.

Born in the Rio Grande Valley, conjunto (“group” in Spanish) emerged in the late 19th century when German, Czech, and Polish immigrants introduced the button accordion into the lively dance music of Mexican working-class communities in southern Texas. By the early 1930s, the modern conjunto style emerged as a distinctive Tex-Mex fusion centered on the accordion and the bajo sexto, a 12-stringed guitar-like instrument contributing a bass line and backbeat, playing a mixture of rancheras, polkas, waltzes, boleros, cumbias, huapangos and schottisches. Conjunto was a major element in the soundtrack of the Chicano civil rights movement, and remains central to Tejano cultural identity.

Los Texmaniacs founder Max Baca is one of the most dynamic bajo sexto players in the world. He started playing music at age five, and was performing with his father’s band at seven. Baca remains the longtime right-hand man of legendary accordionist Flaco Jimenez, with whom he played in the genre-bending Texas Tornados. He founded Los Texmaniacs in 1997. The quartet, who won a Grammy for Best Tejano Album in 2010, also includes: Max’s nephew Josh Baca, a 25 year-old accordion wizard just back from touring with Los Lobos; the talented Noel Hernandez on bass; and veteran Texmaniac Lorenzo Martinez—who studied mariachi with the legendary Nati Cano, as well as playing for years with the Texas Tornados—on drums and guittarón. Together, Los Texmaniacs are celebrated globally as ambassadors of Tex-Mex conjunto music and culture.

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Mokoomba – Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Hailing from the border town of Victoria Falls in the Chinotimba township, Mokoomba is leading the way for an emerging younger generation of musicians rebuilding the Zimbabwean music scene, a scene decimated by the AIDS epidemic that swept Africa. Also striking is their outsider status: these young musicians do not belong to Zimbabwe’s majority Shona ethnic group or to the country’s largest minority, Ndebele. They instead are from an assortment of smaller tribes: Tonga, Luvale, and Nyanja.

Coming from a bustling tourist border town gave the group the freedom to create their own sound, combining favorite parts of their own Tonga music and culture with sounds from all over the world, including Congolese rumba and soukous, and the funk and hip hop they heard on the radio. They echo such legends as Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo by creating a new facet of Zimbabwean music. While Mutukudzi and Mapfumo are known for their political and social messaging, Mokoomba chooses to stay out of politics but continues to highlight social issues affecting Zimbabwe.

The members of Mokoomba met in school, their budding musicianship nurtured by a local musician, Alfred Mjimba, “[He] encouraged us to stay focused and never forsake our cultures just to be famous … and to stay together as a team,” says bassist Abundance Mutori.

Mutori, drummer Ndaba Coster Moyo, keyboardist Donald Moyo and percussionist Miti Mugande provide the polyrhythms that make the music so infectious. Trustworth Samende brings a graceful virtuosity to the lilting guitar arpeggios. Lead singer Mathias Muzaza, the son of a refugee from Angola’s civil war and an example of the displaced populations of Southern Africa, lends his tenor—at times clear and sparkling and at others, gravelly—to the lyrics.

“As young people who have grown up in Africa at this present moment,” says Mutori, “we are trying to bring across a message to other young people that they shouldn’t be running away from the roots of our traditional culture.”

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Seamus Egan Project – Irish

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
There’s long been a give-and-take in Irish music between the home country and its North American offshoots. Seamus Egan, an undisputed master multi-instrumentalist, is one link in this long chain, putting his mark on the sound of the Irish flute, tenor banjo, guitar, mandolin, and whistles. He has helped define the sound of Irish music today and has inspired countless young musicians.

While born in Philadelphia, Seamus and his family moved to County Mayo, Ireland when he was four years old. It was there that he came under the tutelage of Martin Donoghue, whose unlimited patience for teaching had a great impact on Seamus. Upon moving back to Philadelphia, he quickly connected with Mick Moloney, a brilliant musician, folklorist, and respected scholar of Irish music.

“Mick Moloney was certainly a huge influence on me growing up,” Seamus recalls. “Hearing his banjo and mandolin playing as a child was what drew me to those instruments … He took me on my first tours and introduced me to a whole world of experience and music.”

By the time he was 14, Seamus had already won four all-Ireland competitions. Several years later, he went on to co-found the band Solas, combining virtuosic instrumental solos, lively rhythms for dancing, and vocal balladry. After twenty years, Solas remains one of the most renowned and influential groups in Irish music performing today.

“I think the identity of Irish music is so strong,” he says, “that its DNA is evident even with the most radical of innovative approaches. It’s the blood that flows through anything I might put my hand to,” including this newest project from the 48-year-old master musician. Deeply rooted in the past, Seamus can blaze through traditional Irish reels and original compositions alike, all with his signature approach. Bringing together friends and musical guests, The Seamus Egan Project will explore the wide breadth of his catalog of music.

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ShadowGrass – Bluegrass

Southwestern Virginia & Northwestern North Carolina

In 2014, five young rising stars of bluegrass joined forces to create a new group: Shadowgrass. All hail from along the Crooked Road in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, a region referred to as “America’s richest breeding ground for traditional musicians.” This area was home to greats including the Carter Family and the Stanley Brothers, and continues to be a stronghold for old-time, gospel, and bluegrass music.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys forged bluegrass in the commercial radio jamborees of the 1940s. Monroe took the values of older Appalachian styles, amped up the speed, and introduced a new repertoire of classics to create a new country sound. An extensive system of competitions and youth bands developed to identify the genre’s most gifted young pickers.

The astoundingly talented members of Shadowgrass are also aided by highly accomplished musicians eager to mentor the next generation. Presley Barker, a 12-year-old flatpicking phenom, has studied guitar with Blue Ridge masters Steve Lewis and National Heritage Fellow Wayne Henderson. Two years ago, he took first place—defeating his mentor Henderson—in the Adult Guitar Competition at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention. Kitty Amaral, age 14, is a show-stopping competition fiddler who has apprenticed with bluegrass singer Linda Lay and master musician Scott Freeman through the Virginia Folklife Program. Luke Morris, age 16, is already becoming a mentor to other young musicians as junior mandolin instructor with his local Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program. Banjo whiz Clay Russell, age 16, has played MerleFest and IBMA Convention. Rounding out the group is 12-year-old Kyser George, already considered one of the most solid bass players in the area.

“Hopefully, we in the younger generation can keep the music alive and teach other young pickers along the way,” says Presley. Shadowgrass proves that the future of bluegrass is in good hands with this new generation of outstanding pickers emerging from this musical hotbed.

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Stax Music Academy Alumni Band – Memphis Soul

Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis has always been a cauldron of exceptional American sounds, from the blues of Beale Street to the rockabilly of Sun Studios. When soul and R&B topped the charts in the mid-20th century, the city nurtured another regional sound, Memphis soul, with Stax Records leading the way. This sound was stylish and funky, featuring melodic unison horn lines, organ, bass, and a driving beat on the drums—an uptown sound that was not as hard-edged or downhome as other regional manifestations of southern soul. Fifty years later, the Stax Music Academy (SMA) carries on the legacy of this definitive regional record label.

The Stax Music Academy has offered after school and summer programs to Memphis teens since 2000. Students can choose from eight different ensembles, in addition to an audio engineering track. Between the SMA and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music next door, the students learn the history of the music they already love, popularized by such legendary performers as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MG’s, Eddie Floyd, Rufus and Carla Thomas, and the Staple Singers.

“The students come to use because they love authentic soul music,” says Tim Sampson of the Soulsville Foundation—the organization behind SMA. “While we do teach them the history of Stax, we really don’t have to get them interested. They already know the music; it’s a Memphis thing.”

The students at SMA have taken this quintessential Memphis sound to venues and festivals all over the world, including the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. Upon graduation, many have gone on to study at prestigious colleges and universities, including Berklee College of Music. And while they may have aged out of the program that gave them their start, many choose to join the Stax Music Academy Alumni Band, and we are thrilled to have them here at the 2017 Lowell Folk Festival.

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Toronzo Cannon – Chicago Blues

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago bluesman Toronzo Cannon finds his inspiration from his perch behind the wheel of a Chicago Transit Authority bus four days a week. He sees all the problems and potential of the poor neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides, and he turns those scenes into the songs he takes to the local blues bars and clubs—and to gigs worldwide. He has become one of Chicago’s most recognized and popular bluesmen, building his audience one roof-raising show at a time.

When Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf brought the Mississippi Delta blues to Chicago in the 1950s and added electric guitars and a rocking rhythm section, they transformed a rural sound into an urban one without losing the music’s roots in southern black life, or its themes of survival, determination, and humor in the face of it all. They also ignited a competitive local club scene where only the best rise to the top, including iconic blues musicians like Koko Taylor and Luther Allison. All pay their dues in Chicago’s blues bars, and Cannon is no exception.

Like the greats before him, blues is his calling. Cannon grew up in the shadows of Robert Taylor Homes, the notoriously tough housing project on Chicago’s South Side. Theresa’s Lounge, one of the city’s most famous blues clubs, was nearby. When he was young, he would stand on the sidewalk outside the door, soaking up the live blues pouring out while trying to sneak a glance inside at larger-than-life bluesmen like Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. While Theresa’s Lounge closed in the early ’80s, before Cannon picked up a guitar, the lessons he learned in those early days shaped his sound.

Cannon has been nominated for several 2017 Blues Music Awards, including best album and best song. With blistering guitar and soul-baring vocals, his songs tell timeless stories of common experiences in uncommon ways.

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Vishten – Acadian

Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia & Magdelen Islands, Quebec
Vishtèn’s music is a hardy mixture of Acadian, Irish, and Scottish styles, with fiery fiddling and powerful step dancing taking front and center. Formed in 2000 on their native Prince Edward Island, Vishtèn is a trio of young musicians and dancers founded by twin sisters Pastelle LeBlanc (accordion, piano, dance) and Emmanuelle LeBlanc (bodhran, tin whistle, fiddle, piano, dance). Rounding out the trio is Pascal Miousse—from the nearby Magdalen Islands—on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.

Their stage show recalls the joy and energy of the Acadian “kitchen party,” informal community gatherings where all are welcome to sing, play, and dance. The rhythms and melodies are inseparable, and reflect a special joie de vivre unique to the Acadian culture of Eastern Canada, with flying fingers, tapping feet, driving piano, and an unabashed sense of celebration.

The twin sisters Pastelle and Emmanuelle LeBlanc grew up in the Acadian community of Mont-Carmel on Prince Edward Island, but were surrounded by Scottish and Irish communities; that combination has given their music its special recipe. When their parents held their frequent house parties, the fiddle tunes were as often Scottish or Irish as they were French.

“We’re the Acadians who hid out in the woods when all the others were being deported to France and Louisiana,” Pastelle explains. “The LeBlanc family is from Pitou in France, and all of our traditional songs come from our ancestors there. The Celtic influences in our music—and our step dancing—comes from the mingling of Acadians with the Scottish and Irish settlers on P.E.I.”

Vishtèn’s performances are characterized by their high energy and enthusiasm and they quickly became ambassadors of traditional Acadian music. They are Acadian French, not Quebecois, and keepers of a musical tradition older than their nation. Like the Cajuns (descendants of Acadians exiled by the British over 250 years ago), they’ve had to work at keeping their culture. And like the Cajuns, they do it with great humor and passion.

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The Western Flyers – Western Swing 

Burleson, Texas
 “We would hope that if Bob Wills magically walked in to a Western Flyers show that he would say “Ahhhh, haaaw, I like that band!” says Joey McKenzie, guitarist for The Western Flyers, a hot trio keeping alive the sound popularized by Wills in the 1930s and 1940s.

Western swing emerged in Texas, Oklahoma, and the lower Great Plains in the 1920s and 1930s as local bands searched for ways to keep dance hall audiences on their feet all night. It is a uniquely American musical amalgamation, combining the country string band music and old-time fiddle traditions of the Southwest with the big band jazz of the era. Musicians added accents from other local styles—including cowboy, polka, and blues—giving the sound an even stronger regional flavor.

Joey McKenzie’s lifelong immersion in western swing and Texas fiddle styles has made him the preeminent authority over a wide range of traditional American genres. With over 100 fiddle contest titles and dozens of awards behind him, Joey is one of the most successful competition musicians in the States. He was a driving force in the creation of the Quebe Sisters Band, first as the sisters’ fiddle teacher and then guitarist and music arranger for the band. While touring internationally with the Quebe Sisters, McKenzie established a rare rhythmic rapport with upright bassist Gavin Kelso, and the two decided to branch off into a band of their own. In 2014 they added singer and fiddler Katie Glassman, and The Western Flyers were born.

In the words of Charlie Seemann, Executive Director Emeritus of the Western Folklife Center, “They deliver everything from western swing and jazz to cowboy and country with an infectious energy and virtuosity that will leave you knowing you have just seen and heard the best of the ‘real deal.’”

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