Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions and observations about the local scene. This week: a few local folk favorites.
Recently, I contributed a list of ten influential folk artists that had made South Florida their home. The tally included several revered artists -- Fred Neil, Vince Martin, Jimmy Buffett, and others of that ilk who have emblazoned their influence not only on our sound but the whole nation's.
Still, there were some performers that didn't make that list, mostly because they didn't have the tenure that would qualify them for iconic status. So, in order to give then their due, I figured I'd offer a belated shout-out to acknowledge their current contributions to our local folk legacy.
4. Jennings and Keller
The duo of Jennings and Keller boasts a career that's decidedly homegrown.
Laurie Jennings Oudin, a former Shakespearean actress and proprietor of Homestead's late, lamented Main Street Café (still one of the best venues for acoustic music South Florida has ever seen) and Dana Keller, a veteran session musician whose list of credits include backing such big names as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Johnny Rodriguez, create a sound they themselves describe as "Fusion Folk Americana."
The pair has produced three albums to date, but it's their relentless traveling schedule that also impresses, a continuing tour of clubs, house concerts, and intimate venues that have taken them from one corner of the country to the other and, happily, back again.
3. Matthew Sabatella and his Rambling String Band
Likewise, let's give a shout-out to Matthew Sabatella and his Rambling String Band, a freewheeling conglomerate whose main mission has been to spotlight the traditional American folk songs, spirituals, fiddle tunes, reels and sea shanties in the manner they were originally parlayed in the 19th century.
With guitar, banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, and fiddle at their front line, Sabatella and company take their music to schools, libraries, and various public gatherings where crowds of young and old are both entertained and educated by a sound belonging to an older era. Their efforts are encapsulated in a series of recordings and concerts Sabatella calls Ballad of America, all part of a heartfelt homage to this nation's rich musical wellspring.
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Ellen Buckstel has been entertaining audiences on both sides of the stage since she first began performing as a child. Her list of awards and accolades is certainly impressive, among them the kudos she's received from the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, the New Zealand Peace Song Competition, and the Public Domain Foundation Music to Life competition. Aside from her onstage efforts, her time is mostly devoted to running Shack in the Back, a spacious outdoor venue in Western Broward which offers the intimacy of house concerts and the modern advantages of a traditional concert locale.
1. Tracy Sands
Of all our local folk raconteurs, Tracy Sands seems to come by her skills most naturally. Born in Mayobridge, a small village in County Down, to a family well versed in traditional songs and singing, she began performing at the age of eight and subsequently went on to win any number of local and national singing competitions in her native Ireland.
Prior to moving to Florida, in the mid '90s, she played at a variety festivals and concerts, and in 1994, became the only woman to be invited as the guest singer for the prestigious W.B Yeats International Festival. Since arriving on our shores, she's become a staple at the the West Palm Beach Irish Festival and South Florida Folk Festival. And these days, she's often found performing alongside another local legend, Rod MacDonald.
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