Storyteller, songwriter and picture-book maker David Massengill ‘emigrated’ from Tennessee to the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1976 with a dulcimer and a dream of bohemian nirvana. Forty years later, he’s still walking the streets around Washington Square, playing the same many-storied coffee houses as Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk – whose memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street inspired the movie Inside Llewyn Davis – and, crucially, keeping the American folk tradition alive as both performer and teacher.
A participant in the songwriting circle begun by the late Jack Hardy, with whom he sang as the Folk Brothers, Massengill also takes his song and picture-book workshops on the road to schools and family centres, an inspirational artist-in-residence sharing a great tradition.
Massengill’s songwriting style ranges from tragic mountain ballads to tender love songs and iconic political narratives. He sees himself following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie, explaining: ‘Sometimes I write songs that don’t have a narrative, but my favourite songs to write are the ones that tell a story.’ At once new but seemingly also ancient, those songs include ‘On the Road to Fairfax County’, recorded by Joan Baez and the Roches. David Bromberg, Chad Mitchell, Lucy Kaplansky, Tom Russell and Nanci Griffith have also recorded Massingill songs, as did his mentor, Dave Van Ronk, who once said David ‘took the dull out of dulcimer’.
Massengill’s catalogue includes a score for Ken Russell’s as-yet-unreleased film Boudica Bites Back, 15 books, 11 bootlegs and six CDs, among them Coming Up for Air, his studio debut, Return, My Home Must Be a Special Place, We Will Be Together and Dave on Dave: A Tribute to Dave Van Ronk.
On Sunday 6 March 2016 at 2pm, David Massengill will feature in a concert to celebrate the life and legacy of Jean Ritchie, when he will share the stage with Peter Pickow, son of Jean Ritchie and George Pickow, and Susan Trump.
The concert takes place at The Egg on New York State Plaza in Albany, and it marks the opening of an exhibition featuring instruments, photographs and memorabilia from the Jean Ritchie Estate. Both are part of an ongoing exploration of the New York folk revival, celebrated in the Egg’s Living Legacy series. The concert and the exhibition is in partnership with Bringing It All Back Home, a project of Square Roots Productions.