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For the love of song
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For the past 14 years, the Savannah Folk Music Society (in conjunction with the City of Savannah’s Leisure Services and the Department of Cultural Affairs) has been providing local listeners a broad range of great live entertainment through their free annual festival, and this year is certainly no exception to that rule.

The organization’s 2004 lineup offers seemingly ever-present local acts (John Powers, Society President Hank Weisman, Paul and Dominique Carton with Braden Frieder, Bill Schumann, etc...) as well as many who have never graced the festival’s stages before.

But it’s the headlining act of the 2004 Savannah Folk Music Festival that has everyone buzzing with excitement.

To many in the know, John McCutcheon is almost synonymous with the resurgence of interest in Southern Appalachian rural music that began in the late 1970s and continues today.

“John’s been on our radar screen for year,” says Weisman, who notes that McCutcheon has played in Savannah before, but well over a decade ago.

In addition to being a singer and master storyteller, this five-time Grammy nominee also accompanies himself on guitar, banjo, autoharp, fiddle and hammer dulcimer. One critic called him a “rustic Renaissance man.”

Weisman agrees. “In a way that’s right. He plays probably 20 instruments – many of them masterfully – and he’s written so many good songs that others have covered. He can do shows for adults, for families and for children.”

Carrying on in the great tradition of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Woody Guthrie, McCutcheon now takes advantage of the internet to quickly disseminate topical songs, and releases them via his website almost as fast as he can write and record them.

With his latest batch of broadsides and protest tunes including such provocative titles as “Talking Pat & Jerry Blues” (a withering commentary on two of the USA’s foremost televangelists and their less than uniting take on the root cause of the 9/11 hijackings), and “Ashcroft’s Army,” McCutcheon – like so many before him – mixes plain-spoken everyman politics with roots music to form a distinctly American style of folk.

Another highlight of this weekend-long event include the Savannah return of Hot Soup, a popular touring trio of fiesty female singers and pickers from Maryland. According to Weisman, their last local show was a very pleasant surprise for those in attendance.

“The last time they were here, they knocked everybody’s socks off,” he says with a chuckle.

Vance Gilbert, a respected songwriter from a slightly younger generation will also appear. Weisman is excited to present his rising star in the folk world. “Vance is a unique artist. He comes out of a jazz background and has a tremendous tenor voice. He’s a bit edgy, as well with both his on-stage commentary and his issue-oriented songs. He’s on top of things politically.”

In addition to Sunday’s “Concert at The Roundhouse,” which caps the festival, Friday night’s show in City Market will focus solely on local talent.

Weisman says he hopes that night’s bill will introduce the crowd to the society’s monthly First Friday For Folk Music series at downtown’s Wesleyan Monumental United Methodist Church.

“To me, our Friday night program this year is sort of a showcase for our most popular local acts.”

Saturday night sees another installment of one of the festival’s most beloved interactive events, the Old-Time Country Dance. Held in the gym of the Notre Dame Academy at 1709 Bull Street, this family-oriented hoedown gives folks a feel for what weekend entertainment used to mean before cable TV.

This time around, a Virginia quartet called The Celtibillies will provide the musical backdrop for a guest caller to guide people through contra dances, reels and waltzes.

“And remember,” says Weisman, “even if you don’t feel like dancing, you can always come out and listen to the band.”

Fri., 7 pm, City Market Courtyard (rain site is Trinity United Methodist Church on Telfair Square) + Sat., 8 pm, Notre Dame Academy Gymnasium (1709 Bull St.) + Sun., 1 pm, The Roundhouse (corner of Harris St. and MLK, Jr. Blvd.). Free and open to all ages. Call 786-6953.