It’s Harry Smith Frolic Time Again!

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Harry Smith – filmmaker, folk music anthologist, all-around eccentric American genius. Once in a while it’s good for this blog to return to its roots and say something about the man who made it all possible, and what better occasion than the upcoming 7th Annual Harry Smith Frolic.

This year’s frolic takes place on the Green River at Camp Keewanee in Greenfield Massachusetts, on the weekend of July 10-12. The festivities begin on Friday at 5 PM and go pretty much nonstop until Sunday at 5. The highlight, of course, will be the midnight Saturday reenactment of Volume 3 of the Anthology, preceded as always by a potluck supper Saturday evening. If past performance is any indication of future results, then it’s safe to predict that a good time will be had by all.

Harry’s creation of the Anthology began almost inadvertently. Needing money, he asked Moses Asch of Folkways records to buy part of his vast collection of 78 RPM records. Mr. Asch suggested that Harry compile an Anthology of the recordings that might provide a steady stream of income rather than a one-off lump sum. So he did. The Anthology came out, almost unnoticed, in 1952, but built an influential following over the years, eventually becoming what Greil Marcus called “the founding document of the American folk revival.”

Harry named Volume 3 “Songs,” and it included quite a variety of performers: Dock Boggs, The Memphis Jug Band, Henry Thomas, Blind Lemon Jefferson and about a dozen more – some of whom were rediscovered after the Anthology brought their work to the attention of a new generation of listeners. Among the most successful of these second careers was that of Mississippi John Hurt, whose low-key performing style made him a favorite among the young white audiences who made up the revival’s audience. Here he is in a clip from Pete Seeger’s old Rainbow Quest TV show, reprising his Volume 3 performance of Spike Driver Blues. Whoever reenacts this one at the Frolic has a tough act to follow! Please enjoy.

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