Maine Folk Music
After watching the Grammy’s the other night and seeing Adele sweep away the competition with her beautiful voice and choice of songs and production, I got to thinking about how the quality of musical performance-whatever the genre of music is so important to its enjoyment. Whether it is popular music, a classical orchestra or an outstanding bluegrass band, what causes one group to rise above another is the excellence of their performance skills coupled with an ability to engage the listener in the process of enjoying the music.
That same quality could be found in the acapella singing of some of our Maine lumberman as folklorist Sandy Ives found as he travelled around the region with his recorder collecting Maine folk songs. We have a rich collection of this type of singing at the Maine Folklife Center. Now this is not the type of singing that people usually think of when they hear the term “folk song” or “folk music.” Very often these phrases bring to mind singer-songwriters like Joan Baez or Peter, Paul and Mary. That is why those of us who produce the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront are often asked, “Why don’t you have any Maine musicians and bands play at the festival?” The short answer is, “Actually, we do.” However, they are not artists who play the type of music popularly referred to as folk music and they have to meet high quality standards of excellence in performance.
While the folk festival features traditional music from around the world, Maine has some excellent traditional musicians and some of them have played at the festival. What is a traditional musician? This is someone who learned their music within a family or community group that shares cultural traits. For example, Maine’s own Don Roy, who has performed at the festival in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008 represents the best of traditional Acadian-style fiddling.Don Roy has been playing since age 6 when he learned how to play guitar from his uncle Norman Mathieu. He learned to play fiddle from his other uncle, Lucien Mathieu, at the age of 15. While growing up in Rockland, Maine he was influenced by other Franco fiddlers such as Ben Guillemette, Joe and Gerry Robichaud, and Graham Townsend. The sounds of Quebec, Ireland, Ontario and the Maritime Provinces blend in his style of playing. In 2003 the Maine Arts Commission awarded Don a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant and he has received two traditional arts fellowships for excellence in traditional music. As a member of a French musical family and a Franco-American community, Don was immersed in this tradition, and this is how he learned the music.
Don is only one of several Maine traditional musicians who have played at the festival over the last ten years. Maine also has other excellent musicians in various genres, including country music. Perhaps we will see some of them perform at the folk festival in the future.