Thursday, August 23, 2007

I dig folk music and love to get a chance to hear it


(First appeared in the Orlando Sentinel August 19, 2007)

When it comes to music, I'm fussy. I have very particular likes and dislikes

For starters, it has to be acoustic. No blasting bass, electric strings or discordant harmonies. The music I prefer is sweet to the ears with pleasing melodies and lyrics you can listen to, follow and understand.

I especially like story songs, ones that explain an emotion or situation. If they're funny, all the better.

You probably wouldn't recognize the names of many of the musicians whose songwriting skills I admire. Most belong to that seldom-applauded genre called folk music.

I know what you're thinking -- I say folk music and you conjure up images of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and protest songs of the 1960s.

Fair enough. That was the era I grew up in.

Baez and Mitchell were among the songsters whose albums (remember albums?) played repeatedly on the turntable in my bedroom. Their thought-evoking lyrics serenaded me to sleep at night and ran through my mind all day, especially during math class when Mr. Hornberger was trying to explain algebraic notation.

But that's ancient history.

These days, an entire new generation of balladeers has stepped up to the mike, lending their own perspective to age-old questions of love, loss, peace and war.

During the last weekend of August and again in September, folk-music aficionados like myself have much to look forward to. Three top-notch performers -- Carla Ulbrich, Cyd Ward and David Mallett -- are all coming to town.

On her Web page,, Ulbrich describes herself a "professional smart aleck." Not a bad call. The South Carolina native mixes humor with homespun tales of high school Spanish teachers, doctors' waiting rooms and trips to Waffle House. It's the combination of clever lyrics and pleasant melodies that endears Ulbrich to me.

I love her tune "What If Your Girlfriend Was Gone?" Although I've probably listened that amusing ditty hundreds of times on my MP3 player, I still chuckle at the witty lyrics.

Ulbrich will be playing in two places next weekend.

At 7 p.m. Friday she will be at Lakeside Music Room, 604 30th St. N.W. in Winter Haven. With respected Polk County musician Sally Anderson as host, an evening at Lakeside Music Room is an experience in and of itself.

It is officially labeled a "house concert" because the show takes place in a home instead of a public building. The listening room is a large two-level living room off Anderson's kitchen. Guests bring their own folding chairs and home-baked goodies to share during intermission. If you've ever desired an inexpensive opportunity to get up-close and personal with a professional musician, this is your chance.

Tickets to this intimate by-reservation-only concert are $10 at the door. Call first -- 863-293-1510 -- for directions and reservations.

Then, at 3 p.m. Aug. 26, Ulbrich visits Orlando for a concert sponsored by Central Florida Folk at Harry P. Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave.

While not quite as cozy as listening to music in someone's living room, Central Florida Folk concerts are special in their own right. Come an hour early and enjoy a free stroll around Leu Gardens, one of the state's finest botanical gardens. Admission for the afternoon event is $12. A small assortment of refreshments are sold during intermission.

While Central Florida Folk is sponsoring several other concerts after Ulbrich's late-August booking (learn more at, I'm most excited about the Sept. 30 gig at Leu Gardens featuring David Mallett and opening act Cyd Ward.

Mallett ( is a Maine singer-songwriter whose passionate tales of small-town life and the passage of time strike a resounding note of familiarity with his listeners. Throughout his 30-plus-year career, artists such as Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Pete Seeger and even the Muppets have recorded Mallett's songs.

My husband has cataloged several dozen David Mallett tunes on his iPod -- we listen to them repeatedly.

Opening for Mallett is Central Florida's own Cyd Ward. Ralph and I discovered Ward many years ago while attending folk-music concerts in Lake County sponsored by Lake Eustis Folk. It was her beautiful voice that first captured our attention, but it wasn't long before we were won over by her skillfully crafted lyrics.

Ward's songs reflect a woman's perspective on love, family and community connections. Couple melodic tunes with the heartfelt, touching stories she tells, and you've got another winner. To have the chance to see Ward and Mallett together for the price of one admission is an unbeatable two-fer treat.

I can't quite figure why folk music is so under-appreciated. It's not all that different from country music, which has such a broad-based mega-following. Both genres tell stories and often have simple messages appealing to the masses.

Maybe it's because, unlike its flashy diamond-studded counterpart, folk music is an unpretentious and undemonstrative medium. Folk artists tell their tales quietly and melodiously without a lot of backup or fanfare. From coffeehouse to coffeehouse, theirs is a grass-roots effort to spread seeds of harmony and reconnection.

All I know is that this type of music rings true to me. If you think you'd like it too, check out the Central Florida Folk Web site or the Lakeside Music Room. Go to a concert, sit back, relax and enjoy the music. I bet you'll leave the concert humming. I know I will.

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