Work o’ the Weavers singing “Tzena Tzena Tzena” at Kisses Sweeter Than Wine: The Guthrie Legacy Concert in Tarrytown NY, April 2010.
Fred Hellerman and Work O’ Weavers sing “Down For the Count” at Kisses Sweeter Than Wine: The Guthrie Legacy Concert in Tarrytown NY, April 2010.
A new video called "Work o' the Weavers - Distillation" is now available.
Since its 2003 inception Work o’ the Weavers has played to enthusiastically participatory audiences in 28 states, Canada and Israel. Here are some highlights!
Here are some great photos taken by Merri Lu Park during our performance at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Click on a photo for a larger image.
Life has seemed a blur since Work o’ the Weavers returned from our 10-day Israel adventure in May. Proof positive once again that timing is indeed everything! We have a hard time assimilating the fact that some of the places we performed are now directly in the line of fire, recipients of Hezbollah rockets launched from across the Lebanese border.
By way of marked contrast, our experience could not have been more idyllic. In the first week of May, Madhumita and I departed ahead of the pack for a few days of R&R, which we readily found at the Dead Sea. At eight times saltier than any ocean, you float whether you want to or not. That and a massage does the trick! We took a day and explored nearby Masada and En Gedi, then returned to Tel Aviv in time to greet the arrival of David, Mark and Martha.
Work o’ the Weavers sang our first notes together in the northern town of Karmi’el, giving us a chance to re-group, as it were, and synchronize with one another. From then on it was a different venue every day. We next headlined the 30th Annual Jacob’s Ladder Festival in the resort community of Nof Ginosar on the Sea of Galilee–beneath a glorious full moon! Two days of performances kept us hopping from stage to stage, either following or preceding the wonderful Irish singer-songwriter Tommy Sands. Madhumita Chakrabartti, my partner in life and occasional song, joined me for a solo/duo set on the Lawn Stage.
From there, we spent a couple of days at Neveh Shalom/Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace), an intentional community populated half by Jewish and half by Arab Israelis, living together consciously in peace. We gave them a concert and learned a great deal in our all-too-brief stay among them.
It worked out beautifully that each performance took us to a new and different part of the country, and each offered quite different performance opportunities. In several places we were faced with the challenge of singing without benefit of a sound system, but in each of those instances any trepidations we may have had in advance were soon easily dismissed when either the room acoustics or proximity to the audience proved appropriate to the occasion, and we were easily heard and understood.
We were offered rooms at Kibbutz Tzora to serve as a base of operations for several days. This agricultural and light industrial kibbutz was founded by South African Jews in 1948, and our concert there was embraced by many longtime Weavers fans, each of whom had a personal anecdote to share about how important the Weavers had been to them over the years. Several recalled hearing the Weavers when they made their only Israel trip, in 1959. From Tzora we ventured out to the Jerusalem Folk Club at the Zoo, the American International School in Tel Aviv, and our ‘farewell’ house concert in Gedera. Throughout our stay, audiences generously responded with standing ovations at each and every performance, making us feel more than welcome.
The group’s final day was spent in the company of Sandy Cash, a marvelously funny and creative songwriter and singer originally from Detroit. She gave us a tour of the Jerusalem Old City, then she and her husband Buddy and family hosted us for a Shabbat supper of sustenance and song. As you might expect, each of their 4 children is also exceptionally musically talented. It was the perfect way to crown our Israel visit.
After seeing off my four compatriots home to New York, I remained behind for an additional week and several more solo gigs. Whereas each was a unique and wonderful experience, perhaps none was so special as playing at the Be’er Sheba Public Library for an audience predominantly made up of Bedouin children of about middle school age. Getting them to sing along in both English and Arabic was a personal highlight of my journey.
– James, 31 July 2006
In the first half of 2004, Work o’ the Weavers (WotW) has enjoyed spirited responses from our audiences, several high-profile performances, and the release of our first CD.
Among the warmly received appearances was the concert to fête Bob Sherman’s 35th Anniversary of his ‘Woody’s Children’ radio program at Merkin Hall, together with Pete Seeger, Christine Lavin, Tom Chapin and friends. The feeling of the evening was so infectious that the audience wouldn’t let it end, breaking into a spontaneous combustion of ‘Goodnight Irene‘, compelling the performers to return to the stage to sing it with them. Our WotW Merkin performances that night make up nearly half of our new CD (see below).
WotW appeared not once, but twice at Paramus Picture Show (Paramus NJ). The response to our January 31st show was so affirming that we were invited back for May Day. The intimate 200-seat venue lends itself beautifully to the nature of the program, and will surely see WotW again in the near future.
On May 6, WotW joined Pete in NYC once again to celebrate the birthdays of two acronymical organizations, POCLAD (50th) and CIPA (10th). Here we lent support to Pete’s efforts on behalf of the idea of returning royalties from popular songs based on traditional or foreign tunes to their country of origin. A case in point is the song Wimoweh (Wi’Mbube), originally written by South African shepherd Solomon Linda and first sung by him in 1939 with his group, the Evening Birds. The Weavers had mild initial success with it in the ’50s, but it wasn’t until American lyricist George Weiss lent but 10 words in English to the tune (“In the jungle, etc.”) that it became a worldwide hit for the Tokens in 1961. Disney’s inclusion of it in The Lion King renewed its popularity in the ’90s. (Incredibly, Disney lawyers continue to stonewall, insisting that the two songs are unrelated. We await the court’s determination on that.) Alas, not a single dime earned from the use of Wimoweh has found its way to the heirs of Mr. Linda in Johnnesburg.
That is, until now. WotW is determined to make a small but meaningful statement by sending royalties from the sale of our initial pressing of 1000 CDs directly to the Linda family. We will continue that practice with all subsequent pressings.
Standing ovations and encores followed each of our programs at Coffee & Soul Coffeehouse (Greenfield MA), Temple Israel (Croton NY), The Guthrie Center (Great Barrington MA), Tribes Hill SummerFest (Valhalla NY), the Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge MA), PACE (Easthampton MA), World Fellowship Center (Conway NH), and Camp Kinderland (Tolland MA), where campers aging from 5-18 surprised us by knowing—and singing along with—not only the choruses, but the verses as well to our entire repertoire. Can this be but a taste of how the Beatles must have felt?!
August 8th was a singular treat for us. The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville NY screened the Weavers’ film, Wasn’t That A Time?, followed by an interview with Weavers’ longtime manager and friend, Harold Leventhal, oft called “the fifth Weaver.” We then closed with a set of Weaverbilia. I remarked after our first song that it’s not likely we’d ever have a tougher act to follow. At the same time, it’s doubtful we’ll ever be any more inspired than we were that evening.
THE NEW CD
16 songs distilled from our performances at Merkin Hall and Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse in December, seasoned with a soupçon of supporting narrative, comprise the content of our first CD, released May 7th. Details and ordering information may be found on the Work o’ the Weavers marketplace page or more directly at www.worldwindcd.com. Highlights, for us particularly, are the appearances of Pete Seeger, to introduce us, and Fred Hellerman, who joins us onstage to close with Goodnight Irene. We’ve been extremely fortunate to enjoy the ongoing support and encouragement of these two of our musical heroes.
Incidentally, we’ll be appearing again with BOTH of them on November 13 at the Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse (Katonah NY), for ‘An Evening with Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger’, titled “How To Beat The Blacklist.” See our tour schedule for details.
And please visit our Tour Schedule from time to time for other performance updates. 2005 will be the 50th anniversary of the Weavers’ triumphant sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1955, returning to public performing after 3 years of shameful blacklisting. We will be dedicating our entire year to the commemoration of that event.
We hope to enjoy your company soon.
James, David, Martha & Mark
2003 has been an exciting and creative year for us as we’ve continued to shape our ‘Work o’ the Weavers’ program, and we thank you for being part of our process. Our mission continues to be to tell the story of the Weavers in the context of their times, as well as to employ the music of the Weavers to relate something of our nation’s history (lest we be doomed to repeat it); and all the time, to be enlivened by the music.
1. Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse Westchester Premiere
2. Rehearsal for an audience of one
3. Upcoming performances
On December 13th, we presented our full 2-act program to an audience of more than 200 at the Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse, whose prime function since its inception some 16+ years ago has been to raise funds for the good sloop Clearwater in its efforts to clean up the Hudson. The terrific response was especially gratifying in that the date had been booked back last spring when the program was still but an idea, and prior even to our first rehearsal. Moreover, we were graced by the presence of original Weaver Fred Hellerman, and once we got past the fact of his being right there in the front row, I think we were even more inspired than we might otherwise have been. At the end he was gracious to join us onstage for the singing of Goodnight Irene.
Before singing, however, he made our night when he said, “Through the years it’s really been very nice, our fans have been wonderful, the way they’ve come up to me and said, “Oh God, The Weavers are so wonderful” and “You’ve changed my life,” and all these wonderful things. And I always felt a little cheated because I never had the chance to sit out front and listen to The Weavers. But that changed tonight.” Thank you, Fred.
2. An Audience of One
The week previous we’d had another singularly eventful experience when our rehearsal was joined by none other than Pete Seeger. He had asked if it would be OK to attend and again we had to overcome some initial trepidation, but once we got going, we were more than grateful for his presence. Pete was generous with his constructive suggestions, affirming in his critique and helpful in correcting some of the facts and chronologies. He even took our script home and returned it with notes in the margins suggesting ways to streamline the between-songs narrative. David and I are presently at work incorporating many of his suggestions.
I might add here that we had the delightful opportunity on November 29 to meet Ronnie Gilbert, the other surviving original Weaver, when she was in town to join the others in fêting their longtime manager and friend Harold Leventhal at Carnegie Hall. (Others who celebrated Harold included Arlo Guthrie & Family, Peter, Paul & Mary, Theodore Bikel, Leon Bibb and 2nd-Generation Weaver Erik Darling.) The following day Martha and David conducted an hour-long interview with Ronnie by phone, which has led to our adding some much-needed background information about her into the storyline.
We are indeed blessed to enjoy the support and participation of three of the principals in the ongoing evolution of our program. And fortunately, David knew Lee Hays as he grew up next door to the Weavers’ idiosyncratic humorist and bass vocalist until Lee’s passing in 1981.
3. Upcoming Performances
Details of all our approaching performances can be found at the Musi-Cal Tour Schedule.
Noteworthy are our dates at Danny’s Skylight Room (346 W. 46th St, just west of 8th Avenue) in Manhattan, beginning Monday, December 29 (9:15pm) and followed by the 7 successive Sundays (Jan 4 – Feb 15) at 6:15pm. Each will be a single set of between 75 and 90 minutes. It’s a cozy, intimate room seating around 80-90 people comfortably, so reservations are recommended. See the website/tour schedule for info.
In the middle of recording a recent appearance on Robert Sherman’s ‘Woody’s Children’ radio program (WFUV), Robert invited us to play for his 35th Anniversary concert at Merkin Hall in NYC on January 5th. We’ll be in the company of Pete Seeger, Odetta, Oscar Brand, Christine Lavin and Tom Chapin. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating Robert’s 35 years of ‘Woody’s Children’ on the air.
On January 31, we’ll once again present the full 2-act concert with narrative at a wonderful new venue that in addition to screening films, features live music on weekends, called Paramus Picture Show. We look forward to bringing the music of the Weavers to our friends in northern New Jersey. Please spread the word. Check their website (www.paramuspictureshow.com) for more info.
Finally, from all of us involved with Work o’ the Weavers, we wish you joyful holidays and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.
Looking forward/Staying present,
James, David, Martha, and Mark