When folk music merged with the social movements of the 1960s, a new generation of music-lovers came to know the down-to-Earth icons of the genre, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who inspired the likes of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and a slew of others to take up their instruments along with their worthy causes. Hootenannies became regular features at clubs and coffeehouses, with open-mic nights and hats being passed to collect money for rent or for the cause, whatever it was at the moment. It’s said that Seeger co-opted the term from earlier progressive political organizations, but “hootenanny” is actually an Appalachian colloquialism, an old country Scottish word that means “celebration” or “party.”
No problem melding entertainment with worthy causes – especially when the entertainment is both homegrown and world-class. Two years ago, folk-roots musicians Mike + Ruthy (Merenda and Ungar) launched an indoor festival to build community and raise awareness about the Ashokan Center, the 374-acre nature campus of Catskill woods and wetlands in Olivebridge. Repeating semiannually, they’ve successfully created a new tradition that fits in with the old: that of gathering to play and listen to music, to dance and have fun, to learn and share support.
Engaging musicians who honor the folk tradition and innovate to reflect the tastes and talents of younger listeners as well, Merenda and Ungar have realized their dream. Attendance has grown from the 400 folks who showed up at that first Hoot – the term was made contemporary for the new offspring of folk, folk/rock and acoustic singer/songwriter royalty – to the record-breaking crowds who came last year and earlier last winter.
This Summer Hoot’s highlights include singer/songwriter Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers, songstress Erin McKeown, children’s music favorites Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower, revered bluegrass artists Tony Trischka and Michael Daves, fiddle masters Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, acclaimed folksinger and songwriter Loudon Wainwright III and ragtime performers the Wiyos. Other equally awesome performers in the lineup include Astrograss, Baby Gramps, the Big Takeover, Bobby Bird, Zach Djanikian, Dylan Foley, Matt Heckler, the Mike + Ruthy Band, Moonshine Holler, Rik Palieri, Professor Louie & the Crowmatix, Rafe & Clelia Stafanini, Serious Juggling and Comedy, Story Laurie & Ira MacIntosh, Suitcase Junket, the Vanaver Caravan, the White Light Gong Ensemble and the Zucchini Brothers – all slated to perform on the two side-by-side, volunteer-built stages. (Check the website for the full schedule.)
Families will find lots to do as well, such as morning gong baths with Love Waves (Neslihan Sukh Inder Lord and Theresa Widmann), a rowdy rendition of Peter and the Wolf, arts and crafts, hiking, blacksmithing, a kids’ parade, intimate concerts and songwriting workshops with many of the above performers, along with late-night revelry that includes jam sessions, singalongs, a square dance, as well as a robust array of local food trucks and beer vendors.
Though the Winter and Summer Hoots serve as fundraisers for the nonprofit Ashokan Foundation to make it possible for thousands of the region’s children to participate in the Center’s environmental learning program, the Hoot organizers are always working to keep costs down so that a diverse crowd of locals and visitors is able to get a tuneful taste of the Catskills. One way to achieve that goal is to use volunteers to work two four-hour shifts on jobs such as parking, gate, bartending, EMT or kitchen detail. Volunteers receive a weekend pass, free camping or bunkbed and a Hoot tee-shirt in exchange for their time. See HelpTheHerd and contact email@example.com to sign on.
Advance tickets offering guaranteed parking and admission can be purchased online or at the Woodstock Music Shop. Camping passes are available for both “quiet” and “music-all-night” areas. No RV hookups are available, and please: no private fires or dogs. Hostel-style lodgers get a bunk with mattress and pillow, so bring your own toiletries, towel, pillowcase and bedding or sleeping bag. Kids under age 12 always get in free, and ticket prices are a matter of “pay what you can” donations.
Summer Hoot, Friday-Sunday, August 21-23, $30-$40 adult/day, $75/weekend, $25-$50/day camping/bunk, Ashokan Center, 477 Beaverkill Road, Olivebridge; (914) 466-8334, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.homeofthehoot.com.