Contemporary Folk Staff - July 30-August 5, 2017

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. 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 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. These range from vocal and songwriting workshops for Berklee College of Music, North House Folk School, and the Swannanoa Gathering, to topical and motivational talks about the arts, climate change, and “Finding Your Path,” to her multi-media presentation My Coal Journey, a discussion of music’s role in social change, featuring live musical performances and a Powerpoint slideshow. An early spokesperson and advocate for AIDS awareness and research, Kathy’s long history of activism has led her to bring public attention to several current environmental issues, including climate change and the controversial mining practice called “mountaintop removal” in her native Appalachia.

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 At the invitation of Woody’s daughter, Ellis wrote a song with Woody’s unpublished lyrics and was given an honorary citizenship to Woody’s hometown of Okemah, OK.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

Janis Ian |

Ten Grammy nominations in eight different categories. Three Grammys, in three different categories, almost forty years apart. What does that mean? “Either I don’t do anything well for very long, or I bore easily.” Janis Ian wrote her first song at 12, was published at 13, made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16. It’s been uphill ever since. Her writer’s catalogue includes “Stars”, recorded by artists as diverse as Mel Torme, Glen Campbell, and Nina Simone; “Society’s Child,” which provoked the burning of a radio station and the firing of DJs who played it, “Jesse”, and the seminal “At Seventeen”, recorded most recently by Celine Dion. The very first musical performer on Saturday Night Live, her list of interests includes technology (her article “The Internet Debacle” was cited in the Grokster and Napster cases), science fiction (nine short stories published in the field, with Prayerville adapted for theatre by Sci-Fest LA), children’s books (The Tiny Mouse was a Kirkus Children’s Book of the Year), and her own life (her autobiography, Society’s Child, was starred by Publisher’s Weekly and her narration of it won her another Grammy, for “Best Spoken Word”). A favorite guitarist of the late Chet Atkins, she was also the first female player to have a signature acoustic guitar by a major company (Santa Cruz.) She truly believes artists should know about everything, without limitation, and she hopes passing on some of her own hard-earned knowledge will help others avoid her mistakes – or at least, not care as much about them. We are delighted to welcome Janis back for her fourth Swannanoa Gathering.

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.

Tift Merritt |

The New Yorker has called Tift Merritt “the bearer of a proud tradition of distaff country soul that reaches back to artists like Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry,” Bramble Rose, her 2002 solo debut put her on the Americana map forever. As her sophomore album, Tambourine was followed by Another Country and See You on the Moon, Merritt found acclaim coming not just from critics and awards organizations but her own heroes, like Emmylou Harris, who marveled that Merritt “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch.” Of her album, Traveling Alone, USA Today raved, “Steel-laced country-soul only hints at the sublime charms of Merritt’s Traveling Alone,” and Paste wrote, “Traveling Alone . . . not only shows her true lyrical and vocal range, but suggests an adventurous spirit beneath the placid surface.” More recently, in 2014, Merritt recorded with and was a touring member of Andrew Bird’s old time band Hands of Glory, and in 2015 “Bramble Rose” the song from her eponymous debut record was covered by Don Henley (featuring solos from Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert) on his critically acclaimed solo album Cass County. Merritt recently released her sixth studio recording,, on Yep Roc Records in January of 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 DonJuans 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 |

“What Amy Speace says – what she sings – she says with a confluence of poetry and honesty, of emotional specificity,” (The New York Times). A contemporary folk singer-songwriter with a classic voice that inhabits a space somewhere between Joan Baez and Judy Garland, Amy has released 5 albums that have brought her critical raves from NPR, The New York Times, UK’s Mojo Magazine and rock critic Dave Marsh. Baltimore-born, she started playing guitar and writing songs in her 20’s while working as an actress and director in Greenwhich Village. Judy Collins discovered Amy and signed her to her own Wildflower Records label, and released her debut in 2006. Judy also recorded one of Amy’s songs. Her 2013 CD, How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat, was an ambitious song-cycle inspired by Shakespeare and she was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. In 2015, she released That Kind of Girl, her most personal record yet, which landed on many critic’s “Best of...” lists. Amy is also one third of Applewood Road, a roots trio with Emily Barker and Amber Rubarth. Their eponymous debut was released in 2016 by Gearbox Records, and got rave 5 star reviews in the UK, including being named as “Best Folk Record” by the Sunday London Times. She also teaches songwriting and performance at 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 in Nashville and elsewhere, called “Songs From The Well”. She is grateful to be returning to Swannanoa for her fourth 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. When at home in Alexandria, VA, Siobhán teaches individuals, and coaches vocal performance for recordings. 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.

Ray Chesna |

An accomplished guitarist and songwriter, Ray is fluent in a wide range of styles including western swing, folk, blues, country and bluegrass, and has been a long-time fixture at Contemporary Folk Week as the sideman of choice for open mikes and concerts. A private music teacher since 1971, Ray has also been on staff at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV, the Guitar Intensive at Bar Harbor, ME, Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, and has led workshops for the South East Bluegrass Association in Atlanta, GA. He continues to teach privately at his home studio in Asheville, NC, where he also maintains a guitar repair business. Ray records for Echo Lake Records and is the author of String Theory: Music Theory Fundamentals For All Mandolin Players and String Theory: Music Theory Fundamentals For All Guitar Players, theory manuals featuring his unique method of understanding the mandolin and guitar.

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, 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 currently 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 eighth Swannanoa Gathering.

Joshua Davis was raised in the folk tradition: the music, the social movements, the land. He writes songs that blend the roots of American music with gritty rock n’ roll and vintage soul. Performing Songwriter magazine called the result, “Some of the liveliest and most rocking roots music around.” As a solo act, front man for the roots ensemble Steppin’ In It, the classic swing band Shout Sister Shout, the songwriter showcase band The Starlight Six and frequently as a workshop facilitator, presenter or instructor, Josh has performed across the US and Canada. He has released three critically-acclaimed solo albums, five albums with Steppin’ In It, a record of jazz standards with Shout Sister Shout, and has appeared on too many albums to count. His most recent album, A Miracle of Birds is inspired by his travels in the Palestinian West Bank with the non-profit organization, On the Ground. Davis almost didn’t audition when the popular NBC musical showcase The Voice called, but from his first performance, Davis triumphed, and over the course of the season, his rootsy, sincere approach emerged as a refreshing alternative and propelled him all the way to finals. He has appeared on Mountain Stage, Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour and Backstage Pass, and his songs have been featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, Folk Alley and The Mix.

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/songwriterdom. 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 fourth 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. Camela was a 2015 Emerging Artist with the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival/Grassy Hill. When not on the road she maintains a thriving private vocal coaching practice.

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.