Props to Greg Vandy—KEXP DJ, musicologist and all-around swinging dude—for turning us on to Harry Smith. Tonight Vandy hosts his annual tribute to Smith, the Northwest-bred multivalent genius/mystic/freak who compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music.
We know too little about this fascinating guy. A top-level bio from the Harry Smith Archives says, "Harry Smith was an artist whose activities and interests put him at the center of the mid twentieth-century American avant-garde." A few years ago Vandy commissioned Seattle artist Drew Christie to make an animated mini-documentary about Smith, and it serves as an entertaining primer:
Appropriately, tonight's show features a couple of my favorite folk performers. My first encounter with Frank Fairfield came at the 2012 Doe Bay Music Fest, about which I wrote
Speaking of moments out of time: Frank Fairfield arrived onstage Saturday morning like a Dustbowl-era apparition. The LA musician sat alone with the gravity of a fallen meteor, playing hundred-year-old “pop songs.” Dressed in what looked like a hand-sewn wool suit, hair pomaded and mustache trimmed, he swapped between banjo, acoustic guitar and a violin he played in the crook of his arm rather than under his chin. He rarely spoke or sang, but when he did his words were riveting. He introduced the song “My Old Cottage By the Sea” with a multi-tiered history lesson. “These are nostalgic songs that speak of longing for a simpler time,” he said in his pinched, studied warble. But their nostalgia wasn’t what the crowd felt in watching this living anachronism, it was built into the original song, written, he said, in the late 1800s by northern Yankees to capitalize on American sentimentalism for pre-Civil War-era good old days. Nostalgia for nostalgia—a poignant sentiment among a crowd of throwback-minded musicians, many of whom took in Fairfield’s set intently. Watching any artist as dedicated to his craft as Fairfield is heartening beyond words. He gave the best musical performance of the weekend.
Also on the bill is Vikesh Kapoor, a recent Pennsylvania-to-Portland transplant who possesses the kind of voice you believe in, confident and compelling and colored by some ineffable hurt or wisdom. Kapoor’s Howard Zinn-inspired debut album The Ballad of Willy Robbins is one of the year's great traditional folk releases. Check out "I Dreampt Blues," the album's first single and a delicate knife to the heart.
Other performers include Fox & the Law, Hannalee, Bre'er Rabbit, Pepper Proud, Yucca Mountain and more. Word is Christie will appear dressed as Smith. Or is it Smith appearing through Christie's corporeal form? We'll be there to find out.
A Tribute to Harry Smith's
Anthology of American Folk Music
Columbia City Theater
4916 Rainier Ave S.