Truly a veteran folkie, Bill Staines has been a staple on the concert ‘n’ coffeehouse scene since the early 1960s. A New Englander, he came out of the same Cambridge clubs that spawned the likes of Eric Von Schmidt, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush and the regulars of the legendary Club 47 (Bob Dylan, Ian & Sylvia, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian and Gordon Lightfoot among them).
“It was a wonderful musical time,” Staines says. “There was a lot of protest stuff that was going on, but the coffeehouses at the time were really a social scene as well as a music scene. There was a real musical family.
“It was just fun. It was a lot of parties, and you could make money doing it. I was playing for five bucks a night – but that was when gas was 25 cents.”
He is an accomplished finger-picking acoustic guitarist – naturally left-handed, he taught himself to play a right-handed instrument upside down – and sings in a warm, friendly baritone. He’s also a world-champion yodeler, and won the National Yodeling Championship at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1975.
Yet Staines’ stake in the race of the immortals is as a songwriter. Nanci Griffith’s version of of Staines’ “Roseville Fair” is a classic, and he’s also been covered by everyone from Jerry Jeff Walker to Fairport Convention.
His intuitive, delicate way with a lyric is perhaps best exemplified – in these pages, anyway – by the chorus from his 2006 song “Savannah”:
I was told that sometime way back when,
With your beauty bold and your pride unbent,
You were given as a present to a president,
While the war around you swirled.
Savannah, sing your song for me,
That lazy tune in the live oak trees,
You're older now but you'll always be,
That sunny, southern girl
“Basically, my son was going to school at SCAD,” Staines explains. “So we have a little cottage in Thunderbolt. He’s been living there. And my wife’s folks are from Georgia, so we have Georgia roots.
“I’m sort of a history buff, so that line about giving a present to the president is sort of from that bent. I write songs about places that I love, and basically that’s where it came from.”
For eight years, Staines was a regular performer on A Prairie Home Companion. Yet he’s not a household name like some of his cronies from the old days. “I don’t think anybody ever though they were going to ‘grow up a be a folksinger,’” he laughs.
“I always say that if you make your living in the arts for 25 years, you have to become either a ‘star’ or a ‘legend.’ Everybody knows the stars, but all the stars know the legends.
“That’s what tends to happen for people; they just live their whole lives in music. And they don’t even really call it a career. They just play music.”
"Bill Staines," said Nanci Griffith, "has been my hero since 1977. He carries on where Woody Guthrie left off - carrying on the tradition of stories and characters you wish you knew." Listen & learn: www.acousticmusic.com/staines.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at First Presbyterian Church, 520 E. Washington Ave. At the door: $8 adults and $5 students/children. A Savannah Folk Music Society concert.
J.D. CROWE & THE NEW SOUTH
Bill Monroe, indisputably, was the "Father of Bluegrass" - he was the first to power-speed old-timey Appalachian music and give it that crafty musicianly edge. There have been, however, numerous figures to come along in Monroe's wake whose creative impulses have been finely-honed, whose vision, talent and fortitude allowed them to lay claim to being uncles, if not fathers, of the genre. Not least among these is 72-year-old banjo great J.D. Crowe, a Kentuckian who's been clobbering the clawhammer like no other since he came to prominence in the ‘50s, as a member of Jimmy Martin's band. Crowe's own outfit, the New South, has long been a breeding ground for outstanding bluegrass talent - Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas and even Savannah Music Festival fave Doyle Lawson apprenticed under Old Man Crowe. The current incarnation of the New South includes multi-instrumentalist/singers Ricky Wasson and Dwight McCall, bassist Kyle Perkins and dobro whiz kid Matt DeSpain. Listen & learn: www.jdcrowe.net.
At 8 p.m. Friday, March 19 at Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. Highway 80, Bloomingdale. $40.
One could argue that it goes all the way back to Gram Parsons, this incestuous blood ‘n' whiskey thing that's currently all the rage among scrappy young bands: Hard-driving rock ‘n' roll delivered with the gut-bucket twang of honky-tonk country. A lot of blazing electric guitars, a lot of bark and anger. But Parsons, important as he was, merely fused beer-lounge country and old Louvin Brothers songs with hippie pop music - that was in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, anyway, and his music feels sorta benign these days. Now, bands like American Gun from Columbia, S.C., take their cues from the likes of Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks and Whiskeytown, who were themselves weaned on a mixture of Parsons, the Replacements, "Exile"-era Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash. American Gun is a really cool example of this genre - they write good songs, play killer, exciting shows, and even have a CD called The Devil Showed Me His Hand, which tells you that they really, really mean it. Listen & learn: www.americangun.net.
At 9 p.m. Friday, March 19 at the Wormhole Bar, 2307 Bull St. With Unnamed. $5.
Yep, they're back again. Even though the Savannah-based progresso-reggae band is a regular performer at Live Wire, it's always something of a celebration. And it's not like they're slouching: The band has been on tour, from one coast to the other, since the fall release of the Everyone on Everynight CD (a quartet of recent shows in California were sellouts), and will tour as support act for the Wailers in a month or two. Meanwhile, there's this hometown show - perhaps the musicians just wanted to be in town for some St. Patrick's revelry? - and the business of planning to make the next Passafire CD a live recording. Listen & learn: www.passafiretheband.com.
At 10 p.m. Friday, March 19 at Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St. With Can't Hang. $10.