Brooklyn, Bluegrass, Bessie Smith and a Bargain


I LOVE THIS MAP … It’s called the “Folklore Music Map of The United States: The Primer of American Music,” and it was created by Dorothea Dix Lawrence, a successful opera singer in the 1930s and 1940s, who later became a  champion and scholar of American folk music. Yes, I know it’s too small to read – if you see it at all. So let me describe it: it’s a large U.S. map, within musically-themed borders, that gives place to the range of sea shanties, Bayou ballads, songs of the open range, African American spirituals, Native American celebration songs, songs for children, and so much more that make up the symphony of song that’s our shared heritage. I found it on that digital treasure trove called the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress. I’ve been thinking about the connections between music, time and place in planning for several Brooklyn-based artists with upcoming concerts at Common Ground. Next up, on 2/22, there’s ANDY STATMAN, about whom it’s been said “had there been … a kosher deli in Depression-era Kentucky, Andy Statman’s music might have been playing in the background.” A week later, it’s the ever-mercurial HOWARD FISHMAN, who on this visit to the Rivertowns explores THE BASEMENT TAPES, the once-mysterious — and still mystifying — recordings made by Bob Dylan and The Band in 1967, as well as the wellspring from which those recordings sprung, Harry Smith’s ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC , “the founding document of the American folk revival.”

Further down the road, Common Ground’s Brooklyn-centric roots music road trip continues with ROOSEVELT DIME, who genre-hop between acoustic jug-band blues and classic New Orleans soul make for  “Steamboat Soul,” a cut-up fiction style musical montage worthy of the Beats. And there’s “BLIND BOY” PAXTON, a 24-year old a modern day songster, minstrel and bluesman who ranges across ragtime, hokum, old-time, French reels, Appalachian mountain music and blues and more.

Of course, not ALL of Common Ground’s artists this winter and spring live east of the East River.  SAM BAKER and  CARRIE ELKIN are based in Austin, TX; RICHARD SHINDELL comes to us from Argentina via Greenwich Village; and JULES SHEAR AND PAL SHAZAR from Woodstock via Los Angeles. In fact, it’s purely coincidental that so many of this year’s artists are based in Brooklyn.  If anything, what all these artists share, each in their own idiosyncratic ways, is the courage to risk creation, to grab hold of and shake the roots and branches of American musical traditions, reshape them through personal passion and experience and then share that art one club, one concert hall, one church coffeehouse at a time, making meaning and passing it on as they go. You may not know the names of all — or perhaps any — of the names on this list, but if there’s one thing I feel especially grateful for after more than a dozen years of presenting music, it’s when people like you tell me that you may not know a given artist, but you trust me when I ask you to join us at Common Ground in taking the risk. My philosophy has always been to curate shows from the heart with an “If You Build It, They Will Come” ethos, and a dozen years in, it’s worked well so far, thanks to you, and our volunteers and the daring artists we’ve hosted.

So let’s take a risk again. And I’ll go first,  beginning with the Andy Statman show on February 22 in Hastings followed by the Howard Fishman Basement Tapes show on March 1 in Dobbs Ferry. I’m calling it the American Music Routes Special.  Anyone who buys a combined total  of three tickets to those two shows, gets a fourth one for free. For example, if you buy a pair of tickets for Andy Statman on the 22nd, and one for Howard’s Basement Tapes show on March 1, you’ll get an extra ticket so you can bring a friend for free. Get it? No? Email me at, and I’ll try to clear things up. You got it? Then go ahead…take the risk. You can’t lose. Trust me.

Eventbrite - The Andy Statman Trio


Carter Smith
Common Ground Community Concerts

(The catch, because there’s always a catch: Since ticketing for the Richard Shindell show is through Irvington Town Hall Theater, that show is not part of this offer)

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