By Earle Hitchner
10TH ANNUAL AMENIA WORLD PEACE FESTIVAL. Amenia, N.Y., Aug. 19.
Ah, sweet convergence. Six days before the 10th annual Amenia World Peace Festival, the New York Times ran an article spotlighting prominent white blueswomen. When asked why she wanted to sing the blues, Ottawa’s Sue Foley replied, "I want to be the female Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown."
Hudson Valley resident Rory Block explained her musical commitment this way: "I thought about nothing but blues, dreamed, loved, breathed, and ate blues."
Well, both Foley’s idol, Gatemouth Brown, and Rory Block were among dozens of festival performers on a picture-postcard afternoon at the World Peace Sanctuary, a 154-acre site nestled not far from the scenic Berkshires.
Deftly blending blues, country, soul, and jazz, Grammy-winning Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown sang and played fiddle and guitar in front of his powerhouse Gates Express band. Small wonder that fellow Texas guitar-slingers Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland copped his style early in their careers. At 76, Brown can still put most musicians half his age to shame.
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Rory Block effectively careened between anguish and ardor in her singing while she executed fast melodic runs, hard-thumbed percussive chords, and occasionally used a bottleneck to bend or sustain notes on her acoustic guitar. Her command of the Delta blues canon was likewise impressive, with a pronounced nod toward Robert Johnson on such classics as "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day," "Come On in My Kitchen," and "Terraplane Blues," a song immortalizing a long-forgotten sedan made between 1933 and 1938.
Though based in Nashville, the septet Ceili Rain betrayed not a hint of that city’s famed country sound in the Irish-flavored pop-rock music they performed. Standing out instrumentally was button accordionist Buddy Connolly, a former South Orange, N.J., resident who’s won multiple All-Ireland titles.
Another band bearing some Celtic connections at the Amenia World Peace Festival was Matapat, a Quebec-based trio who sang in French and played jigs, reels, and quadrilles with an infectious lift. At one point, melodeonist Benoit Bourque came out into the audience to lead a large circle dance formed of interlocking pinky fingers.
Youth was also well-served this day when 15-year-old Brendan Carey Block, a two-time New England junior Scottish fiddle champion from New Hampshire, performed beside his guitarist father, Richard, who’s played bass in the past with Waterford-born singer Robbie O’Connell. Brendan showed a precociously firm grasp of rolls, triplets, and the so-called "cuts" distinct to Cape Breton music, and his varied repertoire included a number of Irish dance tunes done with precision.
Ugandan kalimba and flute player Samite, the Ecuadorean all-brother quartet Andes Manta, klezmer sextet Klezperanto, vaudevillian Todd Charles, and multi-instrumentalist Mindy Jostyn (one or two Irish tunes she played on fiddle seemed straight out of Kevin Burke’s repertoire) were other highlights of the festival.
What marred the arrival experience for many patrons, however, was inadequate signage indicating where the festival was located off of northbound Rte. 22 as well as long delays in getting the queue of cars into the parking lot.
Also, one of the four designated performance areas was a shortsighted embarrassment, the Peace Pals stage. It caught musicians by surprise, forcing them to perform without a sound system on raised ground near a noisy children’s play area and within earshot of another stage that was amplified. Rory Block finessed it with humor, calling it the "More Unplugged Than Thou" stage, while folk-singer Tom Paxton refused to perform on it at all. (When a Fender amp was finally produced, there was nothing to plug it into.) Peace may have been the prevailing wind of this festival, but a swirl of disorganization nearly snuffed out the spirit of some performances.
This in no way reflected on the overall quality and quantity of the performers themselves–a testament to the eclectic taste of Phil Ciganer, owner of the Towne Crier Cafe in Dutchess County and past
director of such high-profile festivals as Clearwater, Hudson River Revival, and Bear Mountain. It was obvious that the vast majority of the estimated 8,000 people attending the festival, which previously drew less than half that number, came out for the excellent free music booked by Ciganer in an outdoor setting whose natural beauty is conducive to both family fun and, more ambitiously, world peace.
In my "Trad Beat" column two weeks ago, I reported that percussionist Evelyn Glennie and flutist James Galway had been dropped by the BMG music label. I was only half-correct: Glennie was dropped, but Galway was not. "He is still on RCA [a BMG imprint], and talks are under way for a new album by him next year," RCA publicist Leslie Gould informed me by phone. My apology to James Galway and RCA/BMG for the error.