Mothers, daughters team up to perform at GottaGetGon weekend festival

At GottaGetGon, it’s all about the music, but it’s also about family. The Mothers & Daughters String
The Mothers & Daughters String Band is Lyndon Hardy and Abby Newton, and their daughters Ruth Ungar Merenda and Rosie Newton. The band  will play for the “Barn Dance†Saturday night at the GottaGetGon Festival at th
The Mothers & Daughters String Band is Lyndon Hardy and Abby Newton, and their daughters Ruth Ungar Merenda and Rosie Newton. The band will play for the “Barn Dance†Saturday night at the GottaGetGon Festival at th

At GottaGetGon, it’s all about the music, but it’s also about family.

The Mothers & Daughters String Band, featuring veteran performers and longtime friends Lyndon Hardy and Abby Newton, along with their respective daughters, Ruth Ungar-Merenda and Rosie Newton, certainly embody that spirit, for obvious reasons.

Since officially forming on Mother’s Day three years ago, the group has toured sporadically around that same time ever since, bringing a familial ease and new perspectives to material from all four of the members’ past and present projects.

Natural choice

“Since all of us are musicians who have been playing for years and years, we all kind of know each other’s material, so we thought it would be neat to put together a formation of the old stuff we used to do that the kids remember from their childhoods and put a new twist on it,” Hardy said recently from her home in the Hudson Valley.

GottaGetGon Festival

Where: Saratoga County Fairgrounds, Ballston Spa

When: Friday, May 28, through Sunday, May 30

How Much: $38 for the weekend or $20 per day; students $19 for the weekend or $10 per day; ages 12 and under free

More Info: 674-8646, 882-6809,

“And it’s a great excuse to hang out with your daughter — you don’t get to do that very much once they get old.”

This will be the first year that The Mothers & Daughters String Band will play the GottaGetGon festival at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds, held this year from Friday evening through Sunday. The group is set to provide music for the Family Country Dance on Saturday night at 8, along with a set at 1:15 p.m. that day.

However, with the exception of Rosie Newton, all of the group’s members have performed at the festival in some format or other, whether it was Ungar-Merenda’s band The Mammals or Hardy and Abby Newton’s Putnam String County Band.

Hardy actually holds the record for the most appearances at GottaGetGon — this will be her fifth time playing the festival.

GottaGetGon 2010 Schedule

Friday, May 28:

7 p.m. — Potluck dinner

8 p.m. — New Generation Folk hosted by Matt Toomey, with Olivia Quillio, Dan Johnson, Brett Shiel

Saturday, May 29:

10:25 a.m. — Sampler concert with all featured performers

1:15 p.m. — The Mothers & Daughters String Band

2:15 p.m. — Workshops “Fiddle Tunes for the Cello” with Abby Newton; “Traditional Song Swap” with Pamela Goddard, Toby Walker

3:15 p.m. — Davy Sturtevant

4:15 p.m. — Workshops “Local Songs” with Davy Sturtevant, Pamela Goddard; “Guitar Licks” with Toby Walker, Lyn Hardy; “Swing Warmup” with Dave Crump

5:30 p.m. — Workshop “Swinging” with Dave Crump

8 p.m. — Barn Dance with caller Pamela Goddard, The Mothers & Daughters String Band

Sunday, May 30:

9:15 a.m. — Wake Up With Gospel, with Vicki Kelsey, Bruce Pomeroy

11 a.m. — Workshops “Accompaniment” with Davy Sturtevant, The Mothers & Daughters String Band; “Singin’ the Blues” with Toby Walker

1 p.m. — Pamela Goddard

2 p.m. — Workshops “Beyond Gospel” with Pamela Goddard; “What was I Thinking?” with Davy Sturtevant

3 p.m. — Toby Walker

4:15 p.m. — Open stage

7:15 p.m. — Workshops “Songs of the 1970s” with Bill Spence; “Informal Drumming Circle”

A capella sing in the evening

“We have a policy that says a featured performer can only come every 10 years, because we don’t want the same folks every year,” said pre-event coordinator Howie Eskin. “[Hardy] has never been listed as a featured performer alone; she’s always been a part of one of the other groups.”

This year will be the 40th anniversary of GottaGetGon, one of the largest annual events for local participatory folk music organization The Pickin’ and Singin’ Gatherin’. Since 1970, the organization has seen such artists as David Bromberg perform, and others such as Don MacLean show up in the audiences. According to Eskin, the festival — which is open to everyone, not just PSG members — still draws a small but loyal crowd of folk music fans and musicians.

“We have three generations of people that I know of,” he said. “Some people that have come as kids, who first came when they were kids, now have kids who come. It’s a good time for kids — it’s not a terribly big place; we only get about two to 300 people there, so the kids can sort of run around and not get lost.”

Songs of ’70s

To celebrate the festival’s history, the original producer, Bill Spence (who now runs the Old Songs festival), will hold a workshop Sunday night titled “Songs of the 1970s.” Along with The Mothers & Daughters String Band, the other featured performers at this year’s festival will be Toby Walker, Pamela Goddard and Davy Sturtevant. However, the event features sporadic jam sessions throughout the weekend.

“There’s always some jamming going on in the corner,” Eskin said. “Everything is informal; it’s not folks doing something that was planned.”

The Mothers & Daughters String Band itself first came about by chance. According to its members, the group officially started three years ago with a performance at a house party in Ithaca, where Rosie has just graduated from college.

“Lyn came up to Ithaca with me at some point to drop Rosie of for the semester, or to do a concert, or something,” Abby said. “We were staying with friends of Lyn’s — Lyn, Rosie and me — and it came up in a dinner conversation that Rosie and I should play together, and then that Lyn and Ruthy should play together, and it just evolved into The Mothers & Daughters String Band at the party we were at put on by these friends.”

Of course, the group’s members have a long history of playing together. Hardy and Abby first met in The Putnam String County Band in the 1970s, which also featured Hardy’s then-husband Jay Ungar and John Cohen.

“We hit it off right away when we met, I think,” Hardy said. “She was a girlfriend of a friend of ours, and we found out she played cello. I was playing music with John Cohen, doing square dances and the occasional Hudson River swoop thing, little teeny shows up and down the Hudson, so we thought it would be great.”

For Abby, a classically trained cellist, the group provided her with her first opportunity to play folk and string band music.

“They at one point said, ‘Bring your cello over and let’s play some music,’ ” Abby said. “I sort of went, ‘Ooh, how do I do that? There’s no notes.’ But I just dove in, doing a lot of listening and playing by ear, which was a fabulous education for me.”

Both Ungar-Merenda and Rosie grew up surrounded by old-time music, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the two began to show an aptitude for playing as well.

Ungar-Merenda has gone on to play with The Mammals and with her husband Mike Merenda in the duo Mike and Ruthy.

“When Ruthy was real little, Jay and I would take her with us to gigs,” Hardy said. “She had a little fiddle she would play, so she’d get up onstage and play the little fiddle, and everybody thought it was the cutest thing. We played ‘Prairie Home Companion’ once in Minneapolis, and she was in her little overalls with her little fiddle, and the audience just roared. She suddenly realized people were looking at her, and that was the last time she had anything to do with playing music onstage [for a while].”

Natural-born player

Rosie was a natural-born musician from early on. Now that she’s graduated from college, she’s looking to play with as many people as possible, and The Mothers & Daughters String Band has definitely opened up possibilities.

“It’s interesting always sort of being the younger generation,” Rosie said. “Even though [my mother] is very supportive, it’s always sort of a balancing act because I’m the child and she’s the mother, obviously, but it’s also — it’s nice because Ruthy and I have done a little bit of work together. . . . For me, it’s a really huge learning experience being with Ruthy and our mothers; they’re so experienced with all this stuff.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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