In April 2023, the American Folklife Center hosted a Homegrown concert here at the Library of Congress featuring Spælimenninir, a Scandinavian folk music ensemble based in the Faroe Islands. Spælimenninir likes to say their music is as familiar as an old time barn dance and as exotic as the landscape of the Faroe Islands, the band’s home in the North Atlantic. Spælimenninir’s repertoire is music of the Nordic countries drawing on traditions centuries old and compositions new as today. The current line-up of Spælimenninir includes one native Faroese, three Danes, and two Americans, who sing and play many instruments, including fiddle, recorder, piano, guitar, mandolin, nyckelharpa, and acoustic bass. The multinational background of the members and combination of instruments make the music unique; no other band in the world sounds like Spælimenninir. The sound reflects each member’s heritage and illustrates the links between the music traditions of the Scandinavian countries and the United States, and we were very pleased to feature them in the Homegrown concert series. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with some of the performers, plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections.
In celebration of Labor Day, we wanted to honor the contributions of women to all forms of labor, of both the past and present, and what better way to do that than through song. So we started looking back at our Homegrown Concert videos, of which many are available online, as well as our Archive Challenge series and other documented performances, to create a special concert video. The result is this compilation of performances by Thea Hopkins, the women's ensemble Ialoni, Martha González, Rachel Sumner and Traveling Light, Piper Hayes, and the group Windborne. They all feature the voices of women, with the support of their male colleagues. Watch and read about the Singing in Solidarity video in this post!
Back in February, we were delighted to host the first Homegrown concert of 2023 here at the Library of Congress. The concert was a solo performance by the banjo player, fiddler, and singer Jake Blount, an award-winning musician and a scholar of African American musical traditions. We presented Jake as part of Live! at the Library, the series featuring extended visiting hours and special programming every Thursday night. It was also part of the Black History Month celebrations at the Library of Congress and was presented in cooperation with the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with the featured performer (in this case Jake Blount), plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections.
We're continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Bennett Konesni, who performs work songs in the context of both farm work and maritime pursuits in his home state of Maine. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with the featured performer, plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections. Bennett Konesni is a singer, farmer, musician and administrator, based where he grew up in midcoast Maine, and also at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, NY, where parts of his family have lived since 1652. He has been singing work songs while working since he was a teenager on schooners in Penobscot Bay. At Middlebury College, he wrote a thesis based on research into Zulu work song traditions done while studying abroad in South Africa and involving a workshop at the Middlebury College Farm in 2004—one of the first work song workshops on an American farm. After graduating, Bennett studied musical labor on three continents thanks to a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship: musical fishing in Ghana and Holland, singing and dancing farmers in Tanzania, and livestock songs in Mongolia and Switzerland. Since 2007, Bennett has been using work songs at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm.
We're continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Vigüela, a a traditional folk quintet with a commitment to the rural musical traditions of central Spain. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!
Vigüela was established in the mid-1980s, after the Franco regime, by young people who looked to folk culture for a way to channel their creative desires while staying rooted in their local communities. Grounded in this history, the band members value their tradition and perform it with accuracy and energy, as a living music, full of joy. They play traditional Spanish music, including jotas, seguidillas, fandangos, and sones, using the centuries-old singing styles, dialects, and instruments of their region. That region is Castilla-La Mancha, the southern part of the Iberian plateau, sometimes called “the heart of Spain,” or “Don Quixote country.”
We're continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Windborne, a vocal quartet from New England. BBC Traveling Folk called them "the most exciting vocal group in a generation," and they have certainly done great things with AFC archival materials. Just like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video, a video interview with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections.
We're filling in the Homegrown Plus series with one that got away, our great 2020 concert with Walter Parks, one of the first "Homegrown at Home" concerts. Walter is a consummate guitarist who founded the duo The Nudes before spending more than a decade as the lead guitarist for Woodstock legend Richie Havens. We're particularly happy to present this concert, which showcased our collections in a unique and compelling way. Walter has done extensive research on our 1944 recordings of Okefenokee Swamp music made by Francis Harper. He has arranged material from the collection for his own performances, including his Homegrown Concert, which is almost entirely made up of material from the collection. If that weren't enough, Walter made the journey from his current home in St. Louis all the way down to the Chesser homestead, so he could record part of his concert video in the same place where the archival recordings were made. It gives his concert an extraordinary sense of place, and we're particularly delighted to present it to you here.
It's time for another great Homegrown Plus blog! As you may know by now, in this series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We're continuing the run with Hubby Jenkins, who is an old-time and blues musician living in New York. Hubby is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays guitars, banjos, mandolins, and bones. He has been a member of the Rhiannon Giddens Band, and before that the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Please enjoy his videos in this blog post!
We're continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Reggie Harris, who is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller on a mission to educate, entertain, and inspire. Many of us here at AFC have admired Reggie for years. In particular, his tours and recordings educating people about the Underground Railroad through song and story have made an important contribution to countless Americans' understanding of African American history. We knew that Reggie included a lot of traditional songs in his repertoire, from labor songs to spirituals. So we thought it would be fun to ask Reggie to perform a set of mostly traditional songs, including a version of "Free at Last," inspired by a version in the AFC archive...which made his concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge. Watch his concert and interview in this blog post!