Tag Archives: David Massengill

REVIEW: Bringing It All Back Home to Albany

Square Roots Productions in partnership with New York State Arts celebrates the opening of a Jean Ritchie exhibition at the New York State Library

On-stage at Square Roots/New York State Arts' celebration of Jean Ritchie's legacy: Peter Pickow (right) with David Massengill and Susan Trump
On-stage at Square Roots/New York State Arts’ celebration of Jean Ritchie’s legacy: Peter Pickow (right) with David Massengill and Susan Trump.
Peter Pickhow
Peter Pickhow

Peter Pickow, son of the late Jean Ritchie and George Pickow, was part of a celebration of the life, music and legacy of the woman known as ‘the Mother of Folk Music’ held at the Egg on New York State Plaza on 6 March.

The concert – which also showcased David Massengill and Susan Trump, musicians who were both heavily influenced by Ritchie, whom they met – marked the opening of an exhibition of Ritchie memorabilia drawn from the State Library’s vast collection which was donated by the Ritchie family following Jean’s death in June 2015. Paul Mercer, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections and himself a singer and songwriter, is still cataloguing the collection, which includes hundreds of photographs and records, as well as more than 20 dulcimers owned and played by Ritchie, many of them made by her husband George Pickow, also a photographer and filmmaker.

Ritchie was born in Kentucky in 1947 and moved to New York city to teach music to under-privileged children at the Henry Street Settlement. Her own musical heritage dated back to her 18th-century forebears and in New York she became friends with folk singers and songwriters Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and with celebrated song collector Alan Lomax. Ritchie too collected songs and came to Britain and Ireland in the 1950s on a Fulbright Scholarship to trace the roots and branches of the folk music that crossed the Atlantic and became part of her own Appalachian heritage.

The memorabilia on display drew an appreciative audience, some of them from the recent Albany dulcimer festival.

David Massengill
David Massengill

The concert featured both songs associated with Jean Ritchie and others that fit well with the Ritchie style and tradition. The musicians – Pickow on guitar, Trump on dulcimer and banjo, Massingell on dulcimer – played solo and in ensemble, adding harmony lines and instrumental fills in the way folk musicians have done for centuries, beginning with ‘Shady Grove’, a Ritchie perennial. Also featured were ‘Black Waters’, about the strip mining that disfigured the Appalachians, ‘The L&N Don’t Stop Here Any More’, a favourite with Johnny Cash, and ‘Now is the Cool of the Day’.

Susan Trump
Susan Trump

Among Trump’s solo offerings was a notably affecting a capella rendition of  ‘The West Virginia Mine Disaster’, Relatively unusually, the song is written from the woman’s point of view, Ritchie having set out to reflect the anguished feelings of the wives who wave goodbye to their loved ones every day as they ‘go down the black hole’.

Massengill, who hails from Bristol, Tennessee and ‘emigrated’ to Greenwich Village in the 1970s, recalled how his mother had bought a three-string dulcimer for her young children. He taught himself from one of Ritchie’s celebrated books, though he finger-picked in a way he felt she would not approve. However when he met her many years later, she seemed to appreciate his style. The highlight of his performance was ‘Rider On An Orphan Train’, written after Massengill had received a letter from a man asking if he was his long-lost brother: ‘It was so sad to read I wrote a song for him’.

The concert closed with all three performers trading lines and harmonising on ‘The Last Old Train’s a-Leavin’.

Peter Pickow (right), son of Jean Ritchie and George Pickow, with David Massengill and Susan Trump
Peter Pickow (right), son of Jean Ritchie and George Pickow, with David Massengill and Susan Trump.

David Massengill

David MassengillStoryteller, 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.


NYSA Egg logoOn 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.