The Minstrel at 40: So much music, they need two shows to celebrate

Folk Project members, honored at the Morris Arts 2015 awards. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Folk Project members, honored at the Morris Arts 2015 awards. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Video: Forty years of The Folk Project–in one song!

By Kevin Coughlin

It’s gone by different names, and inhabited a variety of venues.  But the Minstrel Acoustic Concert Series, which celebrates a milestone anniversary with two big shows this weekend, has maintained one common thread for the last 40 years:

This series is predictably unpredictable.

Anything can happen on the Minstrel stage, and it does.  It’s where sound guys propose to singers…

Video: Mike pops the question

…and it’s where other acts go to die.  We’re not talking about the performance.  Minstrel Chairman Mike Agranoff picks up the story from 1990, when a father-son duo opened for Kitty Donohoe with Russian music on guitar and balalaika:

Halfway into their first set the old man stopped playing and slumped forward in his chair.  He was having a heart attack.

Our sound man was an EMT, and went up to treat him while someone called an ambulance.  The team arrived and continued to treat him right there on stage, when somebody realized it would be a good idea to clear the room.

Eventually we got the word that he had expired, and the ambulance took him away.  And then Kitty had to go up and do her set.  Talk about a hard act to follow!

Tom Paxton. Photo by Michael G. Stewart
Tom Paxton. Photo by Michael G. Stewart

Nobody anticipates anything quite that dramatic on Friday, July 24, 2015, when Folk Project members — lovingly known as Projectiles– celebrate The Minstrel’s Big 4-0 by commandeering the microphones and instruments themselves.

Showtime is 8 pm at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in Morris Township, and the $10 admission includes cake and refreshments.

The party continues on Saturday, July 25, with a sold-out concert by folk icon Tom Paxton, who is retiring from touring.  This gig is scheduled for 7:30 pm at the Presbyterian Church in Chatham; if ticket-holders don’t show up, you may squeak in for $30. Either way, please enjoy our recent podcast with Paxton:
 

Podcast: Tom Paxton talks with Morristown Green. Click arrow to play.

Download MP3. (Right-click; “Save As”)

 

Folk Project volunteers have presented live music, from such well known performers as Susan Werner, Red Molly and The Kennedys, almost every Friday night since 1975.

In addition to The Minstrel, Folk Project offerings include Swinging Tern dances, semi-annual Acoustic Getaway  music festivals, a yearly ukulele festival (returning on Aug. 28-29, 2015)  and a cable TV show, Horses Sing None of It.

Morris Arts recognized the nonprofit as Morris County’s “Outstanding Arts Organization of 2015,”  and April was proclaimed “Folk Project Month” by Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty.

‘THE BEST POSSIBLE MUSIC’

“What I love about The Minstrel is the frequency of opportunities to get up on stage and do your thing,” said singer Christine DeLeon.

“The Folk Project’s member shows, like the monthly Open Stage, the Valentine’s Extravaganza, the Birthday Show every July and the Beach Party Sing-along that we just did last May are all ways to get in front of large audiences and sharpen performance skills,” she said.

They’re also springboards for romance, as DeLeon discovered six years ago when Mike Del Vecchio got up from the audio controls to make his marriage pitch.

Folk Project members, honored at the Morris Arts 2015 awards. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Folk Project members, honored at the Morris Arts 2015 awards. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

DeLeon is thrilled for the chance to perform a song with Tom Paxton on Saturday, along with Agranoff and Minstrel favorite Jean Rohe.

“I couldn’t hang around with Mr. Paxton back in the Greenwich Village ’60s, but this is certainly the very next best thing,” DeLeon said.

Agranoff has met Paxton and said he has no butterflies about performing with him.  One time he did get nervous was when jazz guitar virtuoso Frank Vignola plucked him from The Minstrel audience.

Christine DeLeon and Mike Del Vecchio at The Minstrel, after Mike popped the question. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christine DeLeon and Mike Del Vecchio at The Minstrel, after Mike popped the question. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I had been showing him my guitar in the Green Room before the show, and played Give Me Just A Little More Time, a country-gospel song I really like to play.  He surprised me by inviting me up on stage to play it with him and his band mate, Vinny Raniolo, during his second set.

“That shook me a little,” Agranoff acknowledged.

“But Frank and Vinny are such consummate musicians that their goal is not to show off or compete, but to add what they can to make the best possible music.  And that’s how it came out.  They were great accompanists, playing what supported and complemented what I was doing, and then taking hot solos when their turns came.”

Which pretty much sums up everyone at The Minstrel: Adding what they can, to make the best possible music, for an impossibly long time.

Video: Frank Vignola with Mike Agranoff, Grover Kemble and MSG at the Folk Project’s ‘Acoustic Getaway’

 

Mike Agranoff’s Fantasy All-Star Concert

From past Minstrel performers…

(In no particular order:)

  • Jean Ritchie (deceased)
  • Frank Vignola(scheduled for this November)
  • Susan Werner
  • DaVinci’s Notebook (disbanded)
  • Finest Kind (disbanded)
  • Pat Donohue (scheduled for this October)
  • Gamble Rogers (deceased)
  • Modern Man (about to disband for the 2nd time)
  • Heather Wood & Royston Wood (Royston deceased)

 

MORE ABOUT THE MINSTREL

MORE ABOUT THE FOLK PROJECT

 

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