December 7, 2013
The Center at Eagle Hill, Hardwick MA
The Center at Eagle Hill theater is five years young and a warm, comfortable environment for fans. The town of Hardwick is located mid-State west along the Ware River in the vicinity of the Quabbin Reservoir. Hardwick is a classic New England village that harkens back to the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Driving along passed the rustic meadows and forests, deep in the heart of the independent spirit of the Minutemen of old it is as scenic a venue for folk artistry that could be conjured. The people of Hardwick have a typically hearty character similar to the miles of field stone walls leading to the center. A moss-covered weathered patina of old Yankee who’s respect must be earned. There is no mortar required, only a foundation strong, self-supporting and here forever. As an area resident, with ease I can boast of the Hardwick Winery, local cheeses and fresh meats, Rose 32 Café and the best Sunday farmer’s market for miles.
Mike + Ruthy have impressive roots in the folk music family with personal ties to one of the most influential performers of the genre. From their press release, “Mike + Ruthy have been friends and collaborators with the Guthrie family for many years… Their band The Mammals enjoyed a six month stint opening for and backing up Arlo Guthrie during his “40th Anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant” tour which culminated at New York’s Carnegie Hall.” For those unfamiliar with Arlo Guthrie, he is the son of the late Woody Guthrie who is the wellspring from which have been baptized Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp and many more. There are few artists more revered and identified with American folk music than Woody Guthrie.
Ruth Ungar’s voice is complex with a broad vocal range that is winsome, bluesy and capable of dramatic emotional shifts that reach the listener and creates tension in its sincerity. She is the daughter of Jay Ungar and Lyn Hardy. Jay Ungar is a premier fiddler and composer. Jay’s most identifiable work may be the Ashokan Farewell. The Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War, played this soulful air as the signature musical piece for the program.
Mike Merenda is a quiet, gentle tenor with an Arlo twang in his voice. He is a songwriter who draws inspiration from the reflection in the small moments of the day that build a memory of a life well spent. He is at first a superb musician with a tendency to add percussion in a foot stomp at just the right moment. Mike’s heart is in his eyes for Ruthy a subtle, emotional, gentle awareness.
Together, they represent the modern generation of American Acoustic Folk Music. They are excellent musicians playing fiddle, banjo, guitar and harmonica. Their songwriting is largely autobiographical drawing on things as they are. The audience was well pleased with the performance as evident of the brisk sales of CD’s and even LP’s of their material.
Mike + Ruthy keep up a banter between themselves and the audience throughout the performance. It was as if we are old friends they are sure to have met before and now becoming reacquainted by sharing stories of the road, parenthood and music. The encore brought their pride and joy, son Wiley, center stage. At five years old, he was able to find the tune once he got the harmonica to play and jumped right in to the song. I walked away with a sense of being well-entertained by serious artists. If this was dessert, we were served warm, deep dish apple pie with mascarpone cheese and hot cider. Well done to all!
Play List (partial)
Bright As You Can
Hang Me O Hang Me
1952 Vincent Black Lightening
The Ghost of Richard Manuel