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Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?

GUEST,SirCoughsalot 22 Nov 11 - 02:46 PM
GUEST,SirCoughsalot 22 Nov 11 - 02:50 PM
The Sandman 22 Nov 11 - 02:51 PM
Bill D 22 Nov 11 - 03:08 PM
GUEST,SirCoughsalot 22 Nov 11 - 03:11 PM
GUEST,Wesley S 22 Nov 11 - 03:14 PM
Bert 22 Nov 11 - 03:18 PM
Bill D 22 Nov 11 - 03:42 PM
Lighter 22 Nov 11 - 07:20 PM
GUEST,SirCoughsalot 22 Nov 11 - 07:35 PM
BTNG 22 Nov 11 - 07:46 PM
Crowhugger 23 Nov 11 - 12:36 PM
Bobert 23 Nov 11 - 01:20 PM
Gurney 23 Nov 11 - 10:10 PM
Stewie 23 Nov 11 - 10:50 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 11 - 07:57 AM
John P 24 Nov 11 - 12:02 PM
Deckman 24 Nov 11 - 12:24 PM
dick greenhaus 24 Nov 11 - 02:00 PM
Don Firth 24 Nov 11 - 06:16 PM
GUEST,Ukulele Ike 24 Nov 11 - 08:21 PM
GUEST,Ukulele Ike 24 Nov 11 - 08:23 PM
GUEST,SirCoughsalot 24 Nov 11 - 08:43 PM
Elmore 24 Nov 11 - 08:54 PM
GUEST,SirCoughsalot 24 Nov 11 - 09:56 PM
Bert 25 Nov 11 - 12:54 AM
Seamus Kennedy 25 Nov 11 - 03:01 AM
dick greenhaus 25 Nov 11 - 11:23 AM
GUEST,Hookey Wole 25 Nov 11 - 12:10 PM
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Subject: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 02:46 PM

Friends, I wanna address something that has been bothering me for a considerably long time, but I'm only now able to bring forward in a halfway articulate manner. It seems to me that a lot of fans and performers of old-time music are more concerned with "authenticity"- whatever that means - than an entertaining performance. All they care about are warbling vocals, plunky banjo, and whatever else goes along with authenticity, and seem to show a complete disdain for anyone who makes an effort to entertain. I was reading a review of one of Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest shows and saw this:

"With Cousin Emmy one sees this phoney, crowd-pleasing humor and mindless chatter carried to a truly disgusting extreme. Her antics and protestations of undying love for whoever might be watching are the nadir of what was once and honest, straight-forward tradition of singing the old tunes of our ancestors. "

I'm sorry, but what's wrong with crowd pleasing humor? What's wrong with trying to keep people entertained? It wouldn't have bothered me so much if it didn't seem to sum up an attitude I'm seeing more and more frequently in old time music circles. And people wonder why old time music doesn't have a bigger audience! People are too concerned with trying to give lectures and history lessons than entertain people. Cisco Houston said:


"There's always a form of theater that things take; even back in the Ozarks, as far as you want to go. People gravitate to the best singer...We have people today who go just the other way, and I don't agree with them. Some of our folksong exponents seem to think you have to go way back in the hills and drag out the worst singer in the world before it's authentic. Now, this is nonsense...Just because he's old and got three arthritic fingers and two strings left on the banjo doesn't prove anything."



I am inclined to agree with him. So friends, please share your thoughts on this with me. Are showmanship and old time music incompatible? What is wrong with showmanship in this music? Why are people so hostile towards it?


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 02:50 PM

And when I saw old time music, I include folk in that, too.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 02:51 PM

oh my god


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 03:08 PM

oh my god, indeed...

Authentic stuff entertains those who appreciate authentic stuff....

Others can go find the appropriate Cousin Emmy clone.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 03:11 PM

I like Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs. But I also like Cousin Emmy and Grandpa Jones. I don't see the reason for the stuckup attitude. I was just asking, what is wrong with showmanship?


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,Wesley S
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 03:14 PM

Authenticity & showmanship are both in the eye of the beholder. If you find an authoritative test to prove that something is "authentic" or not - let me know.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Bert
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 03:18 PM

Anyone who sings a song in public has a degree of showmanship.

I doubt that any authentic/traditional song was collected from anyone who wasn't a showman.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Bill D
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 03:42 PM

I agree about 18% with the first statment, Bert..(I recently heard a couple songs from obvious bland examples.)

I just don't agree at all with the 2nd one. Some singers are very shy and not at all into 'performing', and when coaxed, present **the song** and not themselves.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Lighter
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 07:20 PM

Pretty snobby of Houston to talk about looking for "the worst singer in the world." Are the great trad singers "the worst in the world"?

Without their material, how many albums would he have made?


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 07:35 PM

He was exaggerating so that his point would be understood. That quote was a response to the people who told him his voice was too polished to sing folk music.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: BTNG
Date: 22 Nov 11 - 07:46 PM

Anyone who has the parts to get up and play in front of an audience is a showman. I admire more those that stand there with just an instrument and sings, and plays, for me dressing up is an illustration of " it's all sizzle and no steak, and if I want to hear you talk, I'll buy you a beer, if I've paid to hear you play, I want to hear you play


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Crowhugger
Date: 23 Nov 11 - 12:36 PM

I can't tell quite what the OP means by authenticity and showmanship and I expect each poster has their own definitions of what those are. Showmanship has an broad range of what could be counted as such. As far as I can tell there are 2 equally valid kinds of authenticity: Source and finder, with a range as great as the overlap between the two.

Source example 1, you and your ancestors from Cape Breton play/played music in your kitchen, same stuff as played by your ancestors in that very kitchen and back in Scotland. Sometimes you go play at various social events but more often the event is the kitchen party or moved out to the barn for a special occasion. Someone sticks a microphone in front of you, whether or not you can tune your instrument accurately, whether or not you sing in tune with the instruments. Or maybe you head into your home recording studio and make a CD.

Source example 2, you're on staff at the palace writing music you then also conduct (and/or maybe you play in the ensemble) to entertain a hundred or two of the king's closest friends. Hmm, not such a common thing in the days since recording was invented so it's hard to continue the analogy of someone sticking a microphone in front of you...so nowadays the source is paper.

Finder: you hear music that speaks to you, music born of a life you do not yourself lead. You learn to play it, for others and/or for yourself, whether or not you can tune your instrument accurately, whether or not you can make the lyrics understood at 20 paces. Doing it as a preservationist or as an entertainer or as a pedagogue or you-name-it is unrelated to authenticity because the music speaks to you, that's why you bother to learn it. Unless it was for the big bucks and the ease with which a flush living can be made...

OP, what do you mean by 'authenticity,' what do you include in & exclude from 'showmanship'? What do you expect of a preservationist, that their work be as stiff as papier maché figures in a 1960s museum so as to preserve with tainting by newer influences (except the papier maché and the paint and the labels), or superficially real as modern wax figures are compared to life, or that it reflect the life of the performer, as music always does?

If you were to ask me if "entertaining preservationist" is an oxymoron, I'd say no. And yes. Depending.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Bobert
Date: 23 Nov 11 - 01:20 PM

Yeah, I think that a lot of musicians could learn a thing or two from studying the performance styles of the people that they are, in essence, copying...

It doesn't much matter what style of music it is if you ain't connecting with your audience on a personal level then you are cheating them... And yourselves...

B~


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Gurney
Date: 23 Nov 11 - 10:10 PM

Since most traditional songs go back much further that audio recording, in der old country's tradition, anyway, anyone's interpretation is as justifiable as any other.
I've listened to several live recordings from very early audio collectors (as opposed to notation-and-words collectors) and they were mostly pretty uninspired, since they were obviously not recorded in a venue but perhaps in a home. And the singers were sober, from the sound of it. So perhaps a performance should be prefaced "This is the way (maybe)Fred Jordan sang it."

I did notice that in his later years even Fred learned some new songs, though, and stamped his style on them. IMO.

Singing is entertainment. Some people seen to want to turn it into scholarship. Also IMO.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Stewie
Date: 23 Nov 11 - 10:50 PM

Surely Uncle Dave Macon was an example of how the two can happily coexist.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 07:57 AM

As has been pointed out already, a lot depends on what you call "showmanship": do you draw the line at the whole Michael Jackson song & dance thing, at waving mike stands around, or at the mildest of vocal histrionics?

There has certainly been a purist attitude towards the singing of traditional songs, holding that they should be performed utterly deadpan, with no hint of vocal expression. Based on recordings of several great tradtional singers, this is clearly tosh. There were fine singers who were deadpan, and other fine singers who put a lot of expression into their singing. Speaking for the UK, who could deny that great singers like Phil Tanner and Sam Larner were showmen? Here's what Martin Carthy said of a Larner performance (the whole article is here):

"His impact was immediate and electrifying... This was a man in command and utterly accustomed to performing. He pointed at his audience, he teased them, he pulled words out of the air...."

We don't have a live review of Phil Tanner, but a look at the photo here might hint at his showmanship.

I suspect that a lot depended on (a) the personality of the singer and (b) the context in which they were accustomed to performing. Both Tanner and Larner were locally-celebrated public performers who knew how to grab a casual audience's attention, whereas many singers recorded by collectors had never sung outside their own home.

Jeannie Robertson undoubtedly liked to put on a show, and has been criticized for it - that she exaggerated her performance style to suit her new-found celebrity in the folk revival. The same kind of people like to carp on about Fred Jordan 'dressing the part' for performances on folk festival stages. Personally I find the idea of middle-class folk pundits pronouncing on the 'authenticity' of an Aberdeenshire traveller or a Shropshire farm worker rather amusing.

Agree about Uncle Dave, too.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: John P
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 12:02 PM

Going on stage and playing deadpan in some "traditional" style is a performance style.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Deckman
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 12:24 PM

I'm finding this topic interesting. 100 years ago, when I was younger and in high school, I was just starting to get into "serious performing." I pondered this question a lot. I was, fortunatly, tutored by a consumate and well expierenced "performer." He taught me the "craft" of stage performing ... how to do it well ... how not to loose an audience, etc.

Many years ago, I realized that not only could I never become a 49er in the gold fields of Caifornia, hard rock miner in Montana, or an ox driver on the Oregon trail, I COULD sing the songs of those times. And beyond being "entertaining, I could also present the true stories of those events.

I've always measured my "success" by the comments from audiences after the concert. I like to hear things like: "Wow ... I never knew that!" Or, your singing of "Pretty Saro" made me cry.

So ... where does authenticity leave off and showmanship come in? I really don't know, but I do know what pleases me ... and my audiences.

Thanks for starting this thought provoking thread. bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 02:00 PM

Whatever works


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Don Firth
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 06:16 PM

In the 1960s, I attended the yearly Berkeley Folk Festival and had the pleasure of hearing some of the best folk singers AND singers of folk songs around at the time. Among these were bluesmen Lightnin' Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt. At the 1964 Berkeley Festival, I saw and heard Almeda Riddle. In the late 1970s, at a Northwest Folklife Festival, I was on the same program with no less than a person than Elizabeth Cotton. (Talk about a tough act to follow!!).

You can't get more "authentic" than these folks. But believe me, they had plenty of "showmanship!" Lightnin' Hopkins had a number of pretty funny schticks for introducing songs as did Mississippi John Hurt. Almeda Riddle was used to amusing children, and she did the same with adults between songs and by way of introducing songs. Showmanship.

Also, at one of the Berkeley festivals, I heard the New Lost City Ramblers (John Cohen, Tom Paley, and Mike Seeger). Authentic southern string-band songs, but LOTS of very entertaining clowning around.

Even the grimmest of murder ballads is sung for the purpose of entertaining an audience, even if that audience is just yourself.

And no matter what kind of songs one sings, if you want to take up other peoples' time, and especially take up some of there money as well, you had bloody well better be entertaining! Otherwise, why would they listen to you?

Music and entertainment are inextricably linked. Even the most SERIOUS music.

There are those in this world who are so deadly serious that they think that SEX shouldn't be enjoyed. Its authentic use is for the purpose of propagating the species. Victorian young ladies who were about to be married were often told that when their husbands were doing their "husbandly DUTY," they should get a firm grip on the headboard, grit their teeth, and think of England! This is not to be enjoyed, it is to be endured!

What a grim life these people must lead!

One of the things I didn't like about the Kingston Trio was that they would often take a great song or ballad and screw around with it just to make some kind of stupid frat-boy joke! I don't like THAT kind of messing with the songs. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with singing songs and ballads in an entertaining and engaging manner, keeping in mind what the song is about.

Them's my sediments!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,Ukulele Ike
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 08:21 PM

For what it's worth, here's Cousin Emmy, from one of those Rainbow Quest performances. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahkIG472rKw You can decide for yourself.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,Ukulele Ike
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 08:23 PM

Sorry! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahkIG472rKw


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 08:43 PM

Don, I believe you hit the nail on the head. That is pretty much exactly how I feel about the matter.

Ukulele Ike, thanks for providing that link. Personally, that is one of my favorite episodes of Rainbow Quest. Pete never really knew how to fit in with the kinds of songs his guests were doing, though.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Elmore
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 08:54 PM

I saw Cousin Emmy a couple of times. IMOP she was hammy and corny. I couldn't wait for her to get off, and make way for the far more authentic NLCR.

d


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,SirCoughsalot
Date: 24 Nov 11 - 09:56 PM

At least it's her brand of humor that you take issue with, and not the fact that she includes humor at all. We don't all have to like the same things.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Bert
Date: 25 Nov 11 - 12:54 AM

...It doesn't much matter what style of music it is if you ain't connecting with your audience on a personal level then you are cheating them...

Very true B~


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: Seamus Kennedy
Date: 25 Nov 11 - 03:01 AM

Hi guys - what's happening?


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 25 Nov 11 - 11:23 AM

To me, the problem occurs when the showmanship of another culture gets grafted onto tradition. Like the (quite competent)Irish lady fiddler pirouetting arond my TV Screen in an evening gown.


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Subject: RE: Authenticity & Showmanship - Impossible?
From: GUEST,Hookey Wole
Date: 25 Nov 11 - 12:10 PM

Now if only Alice Cooper would join the ranks of elder rock singers exploring their roots heritage
and release and tour a CD collection of popular favourites traditional old 'Celtic' songs....

now there's a prime example of an 'authentic showman' !!!


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