Mabee Farm concert looks back at the ’60s

Anyone filled with existential angst about their role in the world might want to relax and listen to
Sonny Ochs will host 'Power of Song: A Concert Celebrating Democracy in Music' at the Mabee Farm on Friday.
Sonny Ochs will host 'Power of Song: A Concert Celebrating Democracy in Music' at the Mabee Farm on Friday.

Anyone filled with existential angst about their role in the world might want to relax and listen to Phil Ochs’ 1966 ballad, “When I’m Gone.”

For 33 years now, it’s been used to close “Phil Ochs Song Nights,” a series of musical offerings hosted by his sister, Sonny Ochs, and it will be heard again Friday night at the Schenectady County Historical Society’s Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction. “Power of Song: A Concert Celebrating Democracy in Music,” will include the musical talents of folk duos Emma’s Revolution and Magpie, and the storytelling ability of Sonny Ochs. The event, a musical and historical look at labor and the 1960s, begins at 7 p.m.

“I can’t do this, that or the other thing when I’m gone, so I do it while I’m here,” said Ochs, paraphrasing the lyrics to her brother’s song. “That’s my favorite song of Phil’s and that’s my mantra. You can’t speak loud when you’re gone, and I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead. We always close the show with that song.”

Phil Ochs was a prolific songwriter and folk musician during the 1960s, and while he was often labeled as a protest singer, he preferred the term “topical.” Also the author of “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” Ochs fell victim to alcoholism and bipolar disorder and committed suicide in April of 1976.

‘Power of Song: A Concert Celebrating Democracy in Music’

WHERE: Mabee Farm Historic Site, 1100 Main St., Rotterdam Junction

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: $5

MORE INFO: 887-5073, www.schenectadyhistorical.org

“He’s been gone 40 years, and I’ve been keeping his music alive for 33 years now by putting on shows with other people singing his songs,” said Ochs. “When the Schenectady County Historical Society asked me to do a concert of political music, I said I’d be happy to help them.”

Along with producing musical events, Ochs is also a radio host. Her show, “Folk Music and Other Stuff,” is broadcast on WIOX 91.3 FM out of Roxbury. Born in Scotland in 1937, Ochs grew up on Long Island and then the Buffalo area. She taught junior high English for 20 years, finishing her career in Richmondville. She lives in Middleburgh.

Emma’s Revolution, based in the Hudson Valley, is made up of Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow, and Magpie is the tandem of Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino, who call Schoharie home.

“These people don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” Ochs said of the two acts. “They get involved in a lot of political demonstrations, and for many musicians who take the political road, it has hurt their careers. They automatically make it tough on themselves because a lot of places don’t want the trouble. They don’t want to hire someone with an opinion.”

Humphries and Opatow took their name from Emma Goldman, an anarchist and social activist prominent between 1890 and 1920. Artzner and Leonino are married and have been singing protest songs, many of them written by Ochs, for more than 30 years.

“They are musicians who have made a commitment,” said Ochs. “They’ve been singing Phil’s songs for years, and the really sad thing is that after all these years, Phil’s songs are still relevant today. Most topical songs are good for a few years, but Phil’s songs still have meaning.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

Categories: Entertainment

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