January 21, 2020

A Nationwide Attraction North Atlantic Folk Festival draws performers from Texas to Northern Maine

It’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a lazy summer Sunday than sitting within a stone’s throw of a scenic Maine harbor and soaking up songs served up by folk singers ranging from the legendary to the cutting edge.

On Sunday, the third annual North Atlantic Folk Festival – an outgrowth of the successful blues festival of the same name – brings Jerry Jeff Walker, Jonatha Brooke, Martin Sexton, Carol Noonan, Ellis Paul and others to Rockland.

While the blues festival has become an important stop on tour schedules for nationally known acts, the folk version is just hitting its stride. Last year brought a mix of old-school and contemporary folkies – Tom Rush, Leo Kottke, John Gorka and Rory Block. The first year saw folk-scene veterans such as Jonathan Edwards come to town.

The headliner of this year’s show is Texas troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker is probably best known for penning “Mr. Bojangles,” a folk ballad that became a standard, recorded by everyone from Bob Dylan to Harry Belafonte.

Though he hails from upstate New York, Walker has become synonymous with the Lone Star State, where he has lived for the last 30 years. Though he did a late-’60s stint in the quasi-psychedelic band Circus Maximus, Walker personifies the rootsy sound that takes in the best of country, folk, honky-tonk and blues, while remaining delightfully independent of all genres.

A storyteller and entertainer first and foremost, Walker is in his element on a stage, acoustic guitar strapped to his shoulder, big cowboy hat perched on his head, a grin creasing his weathered face and a twinkle in his eyes.

In 1999, Walker published his memoirs, “Gypsy Songman,” full tales of his colorful life on the road. The CD released in conjunction with the book on Walker’s own Tried & True Music, also called “Gypsy Songman,” is a good place to start exploring the Jerry Jeff canon – the album features new recordings of his best-known tunes. Walker’s latest album, “Gonzo Stew,” features his son Django on vocals.

Jonatha Brooke has been building a solo career since her duo The Story, launched in the Boston area in the late 1980s, folded. The Story’s song “Dog Dreams” got some radio airplay on folk music shows, with its haunting melody and its lyrics which crawl into the head of man’s best friend.

Brooke’s albums include “Plumb,” “Ten Cent Wings,” “Jonatha Brooke Live” – released on her own Bad Dog Records – and most recently, “Steady Pull.”

Brooke cites Bonnie Raitt as an influence, but Brooke’s voice is sweeter than Raitt’s, and her songs more confessional. But like Raitt, Brooke is not afraid to let her band cut loose live and on record, and is comfortable having her tunes fleshed out with more than an acoustic guitar.

With the release of his latest album, “Wonder Bar,” produced by Steve Earle, Martin Sexton is becoming the beneficiary of some major music industry buzz. Of Sexton, New York Times music critic wrote: “[Sexton] jumps beyond standard folk fare on the strength of his voice, a blue-eyed soul man’s supple instrument.”

Though his earlier albums fall into the singer-songwriter bin, “Wonder Bar” betrays the influence of the music of Sexton’s youth – ’70s progressive rock, electric blues, soul and funk. The new album features David Sancious – a former sideman for Bruce Springsteen and the leader of his own jazz-rock fusion band – on keyboards, and Tony Levin on bass, a veteran of King Crimson.

The rich lineup also includes two Maine natives who have made their mark on the contemporary folk scene: Carol Noonan, who has recorded four solo albums on Rounder Records, and before that, with the group Knots and Crosses; and Ellis Paul, whose song “This World Ain’t Slowin’ Down” was featured in the film “Me, Myself and Irene.”

The festival gates in Rockland’s Harbor Park open at 10 a.m. and the music starts at 11:15 a.m. and continues until about 7 p.m. The order of appearance is: Lumis; Under the Song Tree, with Anni Clark, Dan Merrill and Lynn Deeves; Carol Noonan; Ellis Paul; Paul Rishell & Annie Raines; Martin Sexton; Jonatha Brooke; and Jerry Jeff Walker.

For information about where $20 advance tickets can be purchased, go to www.midcoast.com/~bluesman; tickets at the gate are $30. Tickets can be ordered with a credit card at 236-7660. Children age 5 and under are admitted free; tickets for children 6-12 are $5.

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