Ladies and Gentlemen, A Grand Ole Hoot
BU students, alums play tonight at folk extravaganza
It started out small — just a few friends gathering in Vince Bancheri’s attic on Saturday nights to sing a little Dylan, a little Baez, a little Seeger. Word spread, attendance swelled, and before long the get-togethers evolved into hootenannies that rattled the windows of the tiny Allston apartment.
“We managed to cram 100 people into my attic,” recalls Bancheri (COM’08), who performs as Lonesome Vince. “There were nights I thought we might crash through the ceiling.”
Bancheri read Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory, when he was an undergraduate, and inspired by the folk singer’s description of New York “rent parties” — sing-alongs that helped down-and-out musicians of the 1930s pay for housing — he decided to revive the tradition, minus an admission fee. The hootenannies attracted dozens of new-generation local folkies, both as performers and as spectators.
“People came to share folk music from all over the world,” he says. “They played ballads, drinking songs, spirituals. We sang songs by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, the Carter Family. Some people wrote their own music. It was totally unpretentious — just fun get-togethers where folks could connect in a community.”
Anyone could play — the only rule: a limit of two songs per performer. “That way everyone gets a chance to sing,” Bancheri says.
While musicians came and went, the core set of performers remained: Bancheri, Vikesh Kapoor (COM’09), Dan MacDonald (CFA’10), aka Spitzer Space Telescope, Alexandra Kalinowski (CFA’09), aka Old Hannah, and Barna Howard. The success of the hootenannies led the ensemble to establish Mama Bird Recording Co. to promote folk music and traditions throughout the Boston community.
On a windy spring afternoon, Bancheri, Kapoor, and MacDonald gather on Marsh Plaza for an impromptu performance to promote tonight’s upcoming hoot. They open with an old sea chantey, “Bully in the Alley,” and follow it with the antiwar anthem “Down by the Riverside,” clapping hands and stomping feet amid swirling cherry-blossom petals.
Their faded corduroys, vintage caps, acoustic guitars, and harmonica combine with the music to evoke images of a lost era: protests, Woodstock, love beads, mood rings. “Sometimes I think I was born 20 years too late,” Bancheri says. “But back then I’d have been just another hippie who plays bad guitar. Today I stand out.”
After Bancheri left his apartment, members of Mama Bird Recording Co. continued to host monthly hoots around Cambridge, often at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square. In September, they sponsored the first Grand Ole Hoot, an everybody-in, fourth-wall-toppling folk extravaganza, at the Central Square YMCA in Cambridge.
“It was hugely popular,” recalls Alyssa Benjamin (COM’09), Mama Bird’s publicity manager. “We sold out the 220-seat theater.”
The group hopes to revisit that success tonight during its second Grand Ole Hoot, a medley of folk songs, musicians, and instruments from all over the world. More than 25 amateur and professional musicians, many past and present BU students, will perform music ranging from sea chanteys and traditional Indian ballads to Irish jigs and Appalachian medleys.
“Expect to hear a little Tom Waits, a little Johnny Cash,” Bancheri says.
And, of course, a little Bob Dylan.
Grand Ole Hoot
“Goin’ Down That Road”
The song featured in the audio player was recorded by Mama Bird Recording Co. during its first Grand Ole Hoot.