New London's musical Traditions

Goodnight Blue Moon is (from left) Nancy Matlack Elligers, Vicki Wepler, Nick D'Errico, Erik Elligers, Carl Testa, Sean Elligers and Mathew Crowley.
Goodnight Blue Moon is (from left) Nancy Matlack Elligers, Vicki Wepler, Nick D'Errico, Erik Elligers, Carl Testa, Sean Elligers and Mathew Crowley. Photo submitted

For too long, the modern American perspective was that "folk" music was made by either Woody Guthrie, Peter, Paul & Mary or that backwoods family jug band on "The Andy Griffith Show."

Fortunately, that view has broadened kaleidoscopically.

Consider the Traditions 2013 music festival, which takes place Saturday in New London's Hygienic Art Park. Subtitled "A Celebration of Folk Music," this seventh annual edition of a multi-artist event has exposed fans to dozens of distinct and alluring folk styles, hybrids and spin-offs.

In early years, organizers consciously targeted a specific subgenre for each festival: music that immigrated to America, maritime music indigenous to our region, Child Ballads and Irish folk and English Concert Hall-style presentation.

The next few Traditions focused on American roots music: blues, spirituals and gospel, bluegrass and zydeco.

This year, though, acts on the bill represent the stylistic variety possible when younger and newer groups add contemporary musical twists to time-honored folk (see schedule).

"It's important to include acts that represent both the pure and traditional forms as well as reinvented forms that essentially translate what might otherwise be a rare language into a more common tongue," says Daphne Lee Martin, musical curator for Traditions.

"This year, we got a bit of a genre grab-bag in terms of musical styles, and I think that variety will appeal to a much wider audience than we've had in years past," Martin says.

She points to the across-the-board "new generation" status of this year's lineup.

"Folk music saw a great revival in the 1960s, and there's certainly another resurgence happening now," Martin says, "and because the melodies and forms are simple, it's a great way for younger people to engage in the music for the first time. I'm so happy to see more young folks getting in on the action."

One fine example is New Haven's self-described "indie-folk" band, Goodnight Blue Moon, which performs at the 5 p.m. slot.

"It's our first time being involved in Traditions, and we're really excited to be part of it," says Moon cellist/banjo player Nancy Matlack Elligers.

The band formed in 2009 as a collaboration between Matlack Elligers, Mathew Crowley (mandolin/vocals) and Erik Elligers (guitar/vocals). Through their individual musical roots - jazz, classical, punk and bluegrass - their early jams instinctively went in another direction.

"The songs that we started writing were really influenced by the instrumentation and vocals," Matlack Elligers says. "Although Erik and Mat have different voices, they blended well, and our 'folky' sound was born."

In time, Goodnight Blue Moon expanded to include Sean Elligers (trumpet and vocals), Carl Testa (upright bass,) Vicki Wepler (violin) and Nick D'Errico (drums). Their recent album, "Hands On," is a wonderful collection of archival sounding structures and harmonies, but with a hooky pop twist.

Along with the other Connecticut and New England acts on the Traditions bill, Goodnight Blue Moon is a testament not just to the evolving genres in the region but also to an increasingly overlapped sense of musical kinship.

Elligers, for example, has recorded with Meredith Di Menna of festival act Oh, Cassius! as well as Martin. Goodnight Blue Moon has shared bills with other Traditions bands like Paper Hill Casket Company.

Matlack Elligers says, "While we're a New Haven band, we feel strong ties to the New London community. We're all lucky because Connecticut is such a small state, and we really can get to know a lot of the musicians who are playing around. There are incredibly vibrant scenes in New London, New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford - and the lineup of Traditions speaks to the collaboration we have within these scenes."

Martin's bill this year is an exclamation mark in that context and speaks grandly of the evolution of an ongoing form.

She says, "Folk music has always been a way of communicating the most universal human ideas in their simplest forms. ... It makes us a family, with shared experiences and understanding. This year's roster is just the newest generation to bring people together across centuries and continents."

Traditions lineup

2 p.m. - Pesky J. Nixon

3 p.m. - Paper Hill Casket Company

4 p.m. - Oh, Cassius!

5 p.m. - Goodnight Blue Moon

6 p.m. - Tim Eriksen

7:30 p.m. - Anais Mitchell

9 p.m. - O'Death

IF YOU GO

What: Traditions 2013: A Celebration of American Folk Music

When: 2-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hygienic Art Park, 69-73 Bank St., New London

How much: $10 advance, $15 gate

Ticket access: brownpapertickets.com/event/387408

Worth noting: Brown Bird was originally booked for the festival but canceled because band member David Lamb has leukemia. A collection will be taken at the festival to help with his medical expenses.

For more information: (860) 443-8001, hygienic.org

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