The New York City traditional music scene outdid itself last night. The Parkside Lounge (where I’m playing on Sunday night with Mike Skliar) threw a big tribute last night to John Herald, the lead singer for The Greenbriar Boys, the first bluegrass band in New York City and a key part of the Greenwich Village folk scene that kids like Bob Dylan were attracted to in the late 50s and early 60s. A house band of some of the best players in NYC (Trip Henderson, Boo Reiners, Michael Daves, Danny Weiss and Andy Cotton) backed a who’s-who of NYC traditional musicians doing one or two John Herald songs each. Kate and Lou did “Stewball” and “Give Me Back My 15 Cents” and John commented afterward that Kate sang the latter “better than Joan Baez” which is a comment to treasure.
There were too many highlights to list, but the evening showed the strength of the NYC scene and the spirit that makes it so great. I’ve made this comment several times, but the talent-to-attitude ratio in this crowd is about as high as I’ve ever seen it. Amazing musicians, good people, and the kind of joint spirit that makes musicians push each other to greater heights instead of trying to cut each other down. It was also an opportunity to really hear some of John’s great songs, including “Different Drum” that Linda Rondstadt had a hit with, his first hit “Stewball,” as well as the traditional songs he’s associated with, like “Life Is Like a Mountain Railway.”
John Herald himself introduced lots of the players and told stories between sets, and closed out the night with an hour-long set including a number of new songs and others he hasn’t performed in a while. He also called up Larry Campbell (late of Bob Dylan’s band) who played astonishing fiddle all night. As a harmonica player I’m biased, but watching Trip and Campbell doubling each other on harp and fiddle during “Alligator Man” was just amazing; it brought home exactly why I play harmonica and why I love this kind of music.