Folk Gathering's host band is two women (Linda Littleton and Karen Hirshon) playing twelve instruments, performing styles that range from old time to Celtic to Klezmer and beyond. Combining tradition with innovation, Simple Gifts creates some of the finest arrangements in folk music today: swing fiddle creeps into a Romanian dance, spoons show up in an Irish reel, and the concertina ventures far beyond styles considered traditional for that instrument. Based in the hills of central Pennsylvania, Simple Gifts switches with ease among two violins, concertina, mandolin, banjolin, recorders, bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer, baritone fiddle, guitar, piano, and percussion.
Van Wagner is a musician and an educator. He received an Outstanding Achievement Award in 2018 from the Pennsylvania Heritage Songwriting Contest. His music has been featured on the History Channel, WVIA TV, as well as Country Music Television (CMT). He has released 26 original albums and published a book entitled Coal Dust Rust and Saw Dust. In the classroom, he teaches Environmental Science at Lewisburg High School. He has been selected as Conservation Educator of the Year in 2005, 2007 and 2009. His music and programs not only entertain but inspire audiences to become involved in learning more.
Photo by Deborah Logan
Gene and Gayla Mills play new roots music—modern folk tinged with bluegrass and country, featuring Gene’s award-winning original songs. In their latest album, Walk on Solid Ground, G&G appeal to the head and heart with original songs exploring the breadth and nuances of life. Their song "Another Day" has won two songwriting awards, and "No Dominion Over Me" has become a rallying cry for those fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Gene and Gayla's debut album, If Stones Could Talk, reached #5 on the Roots Music Report Folk Chart and #11 on the Folk DJ chart.
Gene and Gayla have played at the Oak Grove Music Festival, Southeast Regional Folk Alliance (official showcase), Crozet Music Festival, Richmond Irish Festival, Nashville Songwriter’s Festival, and Fredericksburg Songwriters’ Showcase. Married over 30 years, Gene and Gayla have been playing as a duo since 2004.
Russ started playing stringed instruments in 5th grade with his first ukelele which he purchased with S+H Green stamps! At his first night at Moravian College, he met John Gorka where they were both playing at an open mic. They soon formed The RAZZY DAZZY SPASM BAND, with Doug Anderson and were joined the following year by Rich Shindell on lead guitar. After college, Russ went to medical school and continued to pursue his passion of acoustic music and picked up hammered and mountain dulcimer, fiddle, dobro, autoharp and bouzouki. He also started building his own hammered dulcimers and uses his own instruments on stage.
In 2016, Russ retired from medical practice, allowing him to pursue his life-long dream and passion of performing original and traditional music. He counts Bob Dylan, John McCutcheon and Walt Michaels as major influences in his style. His live performances are a mix of folk, celtic and blues-inspired tunes with multiple instrument changes interspersed with his off-beat humor and wry observations about life that keep the audiences coming back for more.
The Fiddling Thomsons are an award-winning multi-instrumentalist father and son team residing in New Hampshire, with 13 years of duo performance experience on twin fiddles, banjos, guitar, accordion, Irish flute, pennywhistle, and percussion instruments.
They have performed internationally at venues including the Meet in Beijing International Arts Festival, and the Bath Folk Festival in England, and at New England venues including the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire; Massachusetts Maritime Academy; and Fenway Park. Ryan played keyboard for years with Boston-based ceili bands - Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and Ceol Tradsiunta na hEireann.
Ryan has won awards for fiddle and banjo, Brennish placed first with his band at the prestigious Clifftop Festival and together the Thomsons won a Twin Fiddling Award at the Lowell National Park Banjo and Fiddle Contest. More info is available at http://captainfiddle.com/thomsonsband.html
Henry Koretzky is a mandolinist/guitarist/singer from Harrisburg, PA, who has performed in a wide variety of styles and groups, from bluegrass with Cornerstone, Sweetwater Reunion, and High Strung, klezmer with The Old World Folk Band, old-time with the duo Rootbound, as well as swing, celtic, contemporary folk, and contradance music. He has taught at Folk College in previous years solo, as part of The Keystone Rebels and as part of a duo with singer/songwriter/ guitarist Kevin Neidig. He has also been a staff regular at Greenwood Furnace Folk Gathering.
Brett's philosophy is that "anyone can make music, regardless of age, musical ability or knowledge!” He teaches hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, bluegrass banjo, clawhammer banjo, beginner acoustic guitar and mandolin as well as several unique all-instrument workshops. Brett has authored and marketed a series of instructional CDs that display his friendly method of teaching the hammered dulcimer. Brett also teaches lessons via Skype and Facetime.
Mark Twain said, “When you want genuine music -- music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth's pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose, -- when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!”
Jay Best has invoked the “glory-beaming banjo” for decades and has explored a wide variety of “genuine music” including old-time, folk, and blues. Jay leads a fiddle-mentoring group at the Confluence Creative Arts Center and performed on and produced the community CD Confluence: Coming Together. He loves playing banjo, guitar, and fiddle with friends and family, but his magnum opus was a recording made with a steel guitar tuned like a banjo and performed with cicadas at twilight.
You may know Holly from Folk College emceeing the Folk College Sunday Student Band Concert. You may know her as the one who brings flamingoes to the Greenwood festival or as the contra dance band leader from 2019. You might not know that she began attending Folk College in 2001, began assisting Linda Littleton with the hiring of musicians in 2005 and has been helping to organize both festivals ever since. When not wrangling musicians, she sometimes dabbles herself. Holly plays hammered dulcimer in the band Ancient Echoes and guitar and bouzouki in the celtic band, Callanish. Callanish's latest CD is entitled The Hares Paw. Holly retired from her art teaching job in 2016 to have more time for her extracurricular activities!
Larry has been actively involved with Greenwood Furnace Folk Gathering and Folk College as a member of the Huntingdon County Arts Council. He is a retired geology teacher from Juniata College and an avid supporter of folk music.
Larry got his start on autoharp more than 50 years ago when asked by his mother to arrange singable keys and chords for her to use in accompanying her nursery school class. He acquired his own first autoharp in the mid-70’s
and has played it since both to accompany songs and as a melodic instrument. He loves it as an instrument that demands minimal practice that lends itself to playing by ear.
Cathy Petrissans, a Professor of Sociology, first met Simple Gifts when Folk College was hosted at Clarion University. Cathy has sung three-part harmony in the California-based Basque-American folk trio called NOKA for over twenty years. Singing in the endangered Basque language, NOKA has released four CDs, has toured internationally, and has been interviewed on NPR. NOKA’s music was also featured in the documentary “Basques of the West.”
In Clarion, PA Cathy adds vocal harmonies, melodica, harmonium, and bass to more traditional Celtic instruments played by the five women who make up AnamCara. In addition, Cathy plays the guitar and leads music ministry at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brookville, PA with husband Jeff Parker. Cathy’s musical highlights include singing at the Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, National Portrait Gallery, and performing at the Smithsonian Folk Life festival in Washington D.C. Cathy has performed and recorded with singer-songwriter Mikel Markez and Grammy Award winning diatonic accordionist Kepa Junkera.
Laura Alexander has been a Folk College and Greenwood Furnace camper since 2018, and instantly felt at home in this uniquely welcoming community. She started playing cello in school orchestra, and now enjoys playing for contra, English and French folk dances in the Philadelphia area and beyond. She frequently plays for farmers' markets and dances with Bill Quern and Sarah Gowan as Box and String Trio. She is an active contra dance organizer and always looking for opportunities to spread the joy of participatory music and dance. When not playing music, she's a chemist with the PA Bureau of Labs.
The Cultural Interpreter for Greenwood Furnace State Park, Paul is knowledgeable about the history of the people and places at Greenwood.
Based in Syracuse, NY, Bob is in demand as a contra and square dance caller who is known for his relaxed teaching style, patience, energy, and ability to make the dance fun!
See Heritage Musicians for more information on his story and on past award recipients.
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