When I’m not pecking a keyboard, I’m usually picking a guitar. Outside of my job as a reporter for the Journal News, I play in Frankenpine, a Brooklyn-based string band. Last weekend, in an attempt to introduce ourselves to promoters, radio programmers and other musicians in the area, we attended the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference, in the Catskills, and played five sets over two days. It went well, I think, though by the end of it all I could barely move my fingers (in addition to the performances, there were non-stop jam sessions with players too good to pass up).
Chris Brown, another Journal News-er/musician, was there, too. I caught him at a song-swap in one of the hotel’s many rooms that had been converted to mini-clubs for the weekend. Chris has a kettledrum of a voice — deep, warm and stunningly resonant. He did great.
I also enjoyed Caitlin Canty, a Vermont-raised Manhattanite who performed solo. Beautiful voice and nice touch on the guitar. Singer-songwriter stuff without any of the self-seriousness or treacle that often afflicts singer-songwriters. She writes terrific material and appears comfortable and confident on stage. And off stage she’s nice as can be. Definitely worth checking out.
Roosevelt Dime, from Brooklyn, might have been my favorite band of the weekend. Banjo, junkyard drums, washtub bass and horns. Oh, and all four guys sing like champs. Their sound is a little New Orleans and bit Old Time, but it doesn’t come off as dated or foreign. They knocked me out. They’ve got a weekly residency at Brooklyn Winery, where they play Wednesday nights.
Big Slyde, from Lake Placid, wins the award for sheer exuberance and hectic fun, which I mean in the best possible way. Just listing their instrumentation leaves me breathless: dobro, guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, cello, percussion and vocals. They play fast and, somehow, clean, and their songs travel over mountains, through valleys, around the moon and back. Oh, and their mandolin player, Lowell Bailey, is an Olympic biathlete. No kidding.
The best guitar player I saw was Sven Curth, also from Lake Placid. Now, I used to live up in the Adirondacks and know and like him and the folks in Big Slyde. But you don’t have to be friends with Sven to be knocked out by his playing. It’s so fast, so creative and so — seemingly — effortless, you can’t help but stop and stare if he’s playing anywhere nearby.
Major points go to the Stray Birds, a trio from Pennsylvania. Fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass (they all swap instruments) and just-right singing.