Old Songs has a lot to celebrate this weekend: from a birthday to retirements to new beginnings.
Donna Hébert, an artist, author, teacher and mainstay of the Old Songs Festival, is gathering together fellow folk artists to celebrate not only her birthday but Old Songs itself.
The celebration on September 23 will be a mini-folk festival and fundraiser, with artists like Lui Collins, Max Cohen, Jane Yolen, and many others. Hébert wanted to give back to the place she’s come to call her “musical home,” as well as the people who have helped to create that home.
“Communities are made, not born, tended by people who spend their lives bringing people together,” Hébert said.
Kay Spence, or as many call her, Andy, has been supporting and growing the local folk community through Old Songs since 1977 when the Voorheesville-based non-profit was founded.
Though she doesn’t consider herself a performer, she’s ignited a passion for folk music in many artists and performers in the area.
“We’ve taught a lot of people guitar, fiddle, banjo, and they’ve [gone on] to form their own groups,” Spence said, “It's always amazed me how far people will travel to go after their passions.”
Back in 1977, there were a lot of small coffee shops that were supporting folk music, but Spence said Old Songs was able to combine resources and create the Old Songs Festival of Music and Dance, which is held each summer.
“Andy has put her community ahead of herself for so many years. It’s because of people like her that we have Old Songs,” Hébert said, “This is about real community.”
Spence will be retiring in the next few weeks, though it will be a soft retirement.
“It’s time to step down and let someone pump energy into it,” Spence said. She’ll still be involved and volunteer often, working with the new director, Joy Bennett, for as long as she's needed.
Hébert is doing something quite similar. She’s directed the Great Groove Band of young musicians (ages 7 to 17) at the festival since 1998. This year was her last as director.
“Music is our birthright,” Hébert said. She grew up playing music, mandolin and fiddle. Her whole family played and passed the passion onto her, which she later used to co-found bands like The Rude Girls and Chanterelle. Hébert started the youth program to make sure other kids had that same opportunity. Kids can come with their instruments, no matter their skill level and she’ll teach them. Kids have brought anything from banjo to accordion and Hébert is always prepared, bringing arranged music for every instrument.
She’s seen so many grow not only in their ability to play but as people as well.
“Music teaches cooperation, hard work, that it’s not about you, it’s about the group,” Hébert said.
She’s retiring as director of the Great Groove Band and bringing in the next generation, her daughter, Molly Hébert-Wilson. Her retirement will be a soft one as well, she’ll be coming back to the festival to volunteer and help out in any way she can.
But it’s still a departure for both Hébert and Spence and one that should be celebrated.
The mini-festival on Sep. 23 brings Hebert’s musical history to light.
There’s her latest band: 3 Ravens, including singer/songwriter Lui Collins, guitarist Max Cohen and Hébert on fiddle. They will also be joined by Jane Yolen, a poet and author, as well as a folk artist.
Then there will be the Mist Covered Mountains, featuring Hébert’s daughter, as well as Cohen, Alex Bell, Rob Pruyn Bush and Noam Berg. Hebert-Wilson’s quartet, Rare Spirits, will also be performing.
Gretchen Koehler, a former student of Hebert and now a fiddling colleague will perform and a contradance, called out by Tony Parkes will round out the day.
In Hébert’s retirement from directing Great Groove Band, she’ll be focusing on writing, which she’s always been working on on the side, whether it’s through poetry or songwriting or short stories. Most recently, she wrote a new verse to “America the Beautiful.”
“I’m a patriot, the old-fashioned kind,” Hébert said, “I use my first amendment rights so I don’t have to use my second amendment rights.”
It’s that freedom of expression that she’s found in folk music that she loves and hopes to pass on to the next generation.
“It’s very supportive of new people, but it’s hard to get young people involved,” Hébert said.
The Great Groove Band is one of the ways that Old Songs draws in younger people. Old Songs classes are also a way that younger people are getting involved and something that Spence hopes continues to grow.
“I want people to continue learning [folk music],” Spence said, “There’s still a reason [for Old Songs] to exist because otherwise there’s only pop culture,” Spence said.
Donna Hébert's 70th Birthday Celebration & Fundraiser for Old Songs
WHEN: 2-9 p.m. Sun. Sep. 23
WHERE: 37 South Main Street, Voorheesville
TICKETS: $5 for children and $20 for adults
MORE INFO: oldsongs.org