Folk Art, Free Music, and the Fabulous Lara Ewen

Hey folks.  It’s Shannon Brown from NYC country band, Trailer Radio, keeping you posted on the country music scene in New York City!

When it comes to museums, New York’s got something for everyone. There’s The Met, the Museum of Natural History, The MOMA, The Guggenheim, The Cloisters, The Transit Museum, The Jewish Museum, The Museum of Sex, The Children’s Museum (where you could wind up after visiting The Museum of Sex if you’re not careful…).  And we’ve even got The American Folk Art Museum for hillbilly types like me.

The American Folk Art Museum, located on Manhattan’s tony Upper West Side, is “devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad”. As it happens, I, myself, am a contemporary self-taught folk artist (sorta).  When I was living in West Virginia and plotting my escape to New York City, I created decorative wall-hangings from scraps of wood I found in my parent’s garage, which I painted and stenciled and sold to friends, flower shops and knick-knack stores.  Do you know how many pieces of folk art it takes to afford one month’s rent on an apartment in New York City in a pre-Etsy world?  No?  Well…the answer is “a whole damn lot”.  I’m still plucking splinters out of my thumbs.

The American Folk Art Museum has a music series called Free Music Fridays where a number of NYC’s country musicians have performed.  This week I caught up with Lara Ewen, a tremendously talented singer/songwriter on the NYC country music scene who also manages the Free Music Fridays series. She gave me the scoop on her musical background, her upcoming album and Free Music Fridays.

 

Lara Ewen. Photo by Katie Basile.

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SB:  Lara, where did you grow up?

LE:  Jamaica, Queens.

SB:  Queens?  I have to ask how someone who was raised in Jamaica, Queens, becomes a country singer.

LE:  My mother and father were both into vintage music, and they listened to everything from Patsy Cline to Edith Piaf.  It never occurred to me that country music was region specific.  I started singing when I was young, that’s how I thought it should sound.  There was a lot more country music in this area in the 70’s.  When I was growing up you could turn on the radio, hear country music, and it wasn’t considered weird.

SB: Did you watch the TV show Hee-Haw in Queens?

LE: Oh sure!

SB:  I really love your tunes “Death Better Take Me Dancing” and “Restless”.  When is the new album coming out?

LE:  Thank you. Both of those tunes are on the new album called “The Wishing Stone Songs” and it’ll be out in September.  I’m really excited about it! Some of the musicians on the album include Catherine Popper and the amazing Eleanor Whitmore who plays fiddle on the single “Death Better Take Me Dancing” (which is available for download right now on bandcamp).  The album packaging will be a 24-page hard-bound book with individual illustrations for each song.  It’s gonna be very pretty!

SB: I read that your songs are quasi-autobiographical. Which song is your favorite?

LE:  I love all my children equally!  Usually my favorite song is whichever is the newest, or something I’m working on that may not have seen the light of day yet.  It’s hard to pick. I love all the songs on the new album!

SB:  Tell me about Free Music Fridays.

LE: Matt Jones and Ethan Gould started Free Music Fridays in early 2007.  Matt worked for The Jazz Foundation of America, which had a relationship with the American Folk Art Museum at the time. Matt began booking Free Music Fridays around that time, and I came on board in 2010 as assistant sound engineer, then later, to help with booking. I took over the program completely in 2011.  Free Music Fridays are presented each Friday from 5:30 to 7:30pm at the American Folk Art Museum, and admission is free.

 SB:  Do you book only country artists?

LE:   No, it’s not always country. I’m looking for independent musicians who are exceptionally talented.  And the music should be appropriate for the space – meaning original music, not covers.  I want it to reference folk, roots, Americana and acoustic traditions and artists who are performing traditional music in different ways.  We also have partnership with Jalopy Theatre and School of Music and they recommend artists to perform on the first Friday of each month.  For example, Hubby Jenkins from the Carolina Chocolate Drops was a recent Jalopy artist. He talked about music and gave a workshop where he taught audience how to play the bones.

SB:  In your experience, how is country music being received in NYC’s urban environment these days?

LE:  NYC is becoming increasingly excited by country music.  There are a lot of traditional country bands and venues getting a lot of attention, like Rodeo Bar and Hill Country.  It’s not seen as cheesy anymore.  I think there was a time when people didn’t understand what country has to do with New York City, but in NYC you find whatever you’re looking for.  There’s a bar in Manhattan that’s devoted to Red Sox fans…there’s another bar for Canadian hockey fans, too.  So it’s not surprising that there are venues for country music in NYC.  It’s fantastic!

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And I agree with Lara.  New York City is a fantastic place where you can find anything you want right at your fingertips.  Unless what you’re looking for is a rare and highly sought-after piece of original folk art by Shannon Brown.  You won’t find that in the American Folk Art Museum.  Not yet, anyway…

To learn more about Lara Ewen, visit her online at http://www.reverbnation.com/laraewen.

To learn about Free Music Fridays, visit the American Folk Art Museum online at

http://www.folkartmuseum.org/freemusicfridays.

 

~ Shannon Brown

West Virginia native, Shannon Brown, was deported from WV to NYC on account of her snarky attitude and propensity toward impatience. She is now the front woman for NYC country band Trailer Radio and founder of Gotham Holler, a site that shines a light on local country music in NYC. She can’t resist shoe shopping, taking snapshots of crazy NYC happenings, scratching mini-dachshunds, taste-testing martinis, and anything that has to do with bacon.

 

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