Folk Fest brings Romani, Hootenanny, folk and ‘Ameripolitan’ tunes to Kent

Patrick Williams

Musical acts performed on campus and all around downtown Kent for the Kent State ‘Round Town Music Festival this weekend.

Black Prairie, a band from Portland, Ore., known for graceful music rooted in bluegrass and Romani traditions, played at the Kent Stage on Saturday.

“I love [Romanian band] Taraf de Haïdouks, and I recently got a Stroh violin, which I am very excited about playing, so we do a little of that,” singer and violinist Annalisa Tornfelt said of the band, which includes members of Portland-based band The Decemberists.

Tornfelt plays the Romanian Stroh violin, a combination violin and trumpet, on “Winter Wind,” a dazzling, albeit eerie, song from Black Prairie’s 2012 album “A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart.”

“We were in the studio, so we recorded three songs, but in between those songs we would just jam,” Tornfelt said. “One of those songs that came out of that was ‘Winter Wind,’ and we called them interludes.”

Tornfelt also said she’s inspired by The Band, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

Tom Paster, a 66-year-old software developer from Columbus, said he came to the festival after receiving an email from Black Prairie, whose mailing list he subscribes to.

Paster said he saw Poco and Pure Prairie League at the Kent Stage on Friday and was impressed by Poco.

“I thought they were like a country band,” Paster said. “It turns out that they did some rock ‘n’ roll and country rock.”

Paster said he liked what he saw of Kent band Bethesda’s Friday performance in Acorn Alley and bought one of their CDs.

“I know I’m kind of old probably. It is what it is,” he said of listening to Bethesda, laughing. The band’s website describes their music as “indie-approved, Americana hipster-hootenanny.”

At the ‘Round Town performance, Bethesda violinist and keyboardist Christopher Black played barefoot. Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Eric Ling kicked and danced around most of the time. Bethesda is not all hootenanny though, as many of the band’s songs center around serious topics.

Northeast Ohio band Johnny and the Apple Stompers continued to walk around Kent after their Friday night performance, while band member Justin Klimp played a homegrown version of a washtub bass on the sidewalk.

“This is a pool-chemical 6.5-gallon vented bucket,” Klimp said. “It works good for this kind of design because you can stick a shovel handle down in there and put a piece of lawnmower pull chord on there and it sounds really nice.”

Klimp described the band’s sound as “Ameripolitan,” a term he invented.

“Ameripolitan [is] a conglomerate of honkytonk, American country-western swing, the blues. That’s your Ameripolitan,” Klimp said.

Steven Gil is a guitarist, banjoist and backup singer in the Apple Stompers.

“Folk music is music from the people, folklore,” Gil said. “It’s changed a lot over the last half-decade, but at the end of the day a lot of these songs are from the people, so I feel like that’s what folk music is.”

Folk musicians often start off as regular people telling stories. Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley of Brewer & Shipley opened for Leon Redbone on Legends Night at the Kent Stage on Sunday, where they told their own stories through song.

Shipley said he met Brewer in Kent decades ago.

“We met at the place they just tore down a couple years ago. It was a coffeehouse called The Blind Owl,” Shipley said.

It was the same night Shipley met Brewer, he said, that he met a woman named Michelle Phillips through two mutual friends, John Phillips and Denny Doherty.

“She was about 20 and had to weigh all of maybe 103 pounds, and none of us knew Michelle,” Shipley said. “It was really funny because she was walking around in the club, and it looked like a football huddle of guys around her. They ended up in L.A. and became [‘60s band] the Mamas and the Papas.”

Contact Patrick Williams at [email protected].