Arborea recording on the porch of Joe's Spring Mountain Hotel | Photo by Frank Reis for The 78 Project
Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Wright can’t quite pinpoint where they first heard the name Alan Lomax.
There was Wright’s father, who would tell her stories about The Cherry Tree, the West Philadelphia club where he worked; many of the blues musicians and folk singers who performed there were first recorded by Lomax. There was also the time Steyermark, a filmmaker and native of Wilmington, dug into the Lomax Archives first-hand when researching music for Ang Lee’s civil war period piece Ride With the Devil. But for each, those weren’t the first moments of discovery – they were already well aware and versed in the legendary folklorist.
“I feel like he’s always been present,” muses Steyermark.
For the past two years, Lomax has directly influenced Wright and Steyermark’s lives as they run The 78 Project, a music documentary series showcasing intimate field recordings of contemporary singers and songwriters, from Adam Arcuragi to Loudon Wainwright III. Using a 1930’s Presto direct-to-disc recorder and a single microphone – the same technology Lomax worked with when he traveled the country in the 1930s documenting blues singers and bluegrass ensembles – they record one-take, straight-to-acetate performances, film the artist playing, and film their reaction when they listen back to the hot-off-the-press record.
The collaboration began as a web video series, is raising money through Kickstarter to fund a feature-length documentary, but had its genesis in something more personal.
“We’re just huge junkies for folk music, roots music, the blues,” Wright said. “Alex and I started talking about our mutual passion for field-recorded music, and we realized this was a really grassroots approach we could take to exploring it.”
This year, Arcuragi recorded an a capella performance of “How Can I Keep From Singing” for 78 Project in a converted church in Harlem; Dawn Landes of the band Hem played her song “The Brown Girl” in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and mystical Maine duo Arborea performed “Red Bird” a porch near the Philadelphia Folk Festival. There’s a sense of immediacy and spontaneity to these songs – an unfussy, unrehearsed, genuine vibe. But before the project got to this point, the two running it had to learn how to use their antiquated equipment through an intense process of trial and error.
Saturday was a huge day at the 51st Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, kicking off with a WXPN Philly Local Showcase, continuing through a Steve Earle / Lucinda Williams collaboration and peaking with a rousing set by Little Feat. Check out a photo recap in the gallery above.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 26
Brown Recluse is firmly grounded in Philadelphia. The band’s latest album, Evening Tapestry (released on the iconic indie-pop label Slumberland last spring) was recorded at Sound In The Round Studios in Philly. They’ve even got a song called “Conshohocken Curve.” Despite their burgeoning reputation—Brown Recluse has played with Matt and Kim and Tokyo Police Club, among others—the six-piece band remains committed to their roots. Brown Recluseperforms with Arc in Round and Royal Shoals at 7:30 p.m. at Kung Fu Necktie; tickets to the 21+ show are $8.
Also playing: Beanie Sigel + Big Ooh, Kid Boogie, Premavara, Tom Charles, Lynn Charles at The Blockley (9:30 p.m., 21+, $13–$15)
SATURDAY, AUGUST 27
Folkadelphia Presents: Arborea + Lewis And Clarke at First Unitarian Church Side Chapel (8 p.m., all ages, $10); Faux Slang + Nothing, Open Ocean, Deardarkhead (7 p.m., 21+, $10); Mantua Family Day Festival: Old School Concert featuring Naughty By Nature + Slick Rick, Chubb Rock, Kwame (noon, all ages, free); The Dude Hates Cancer Benefit featuring Orbit To Leslie + Hezekiah Jones, Chris Kasper, The Doublewides at Johnny Brenda’s (9 p.m., 21+, $10)
SUNDAY, AUGUST 28
Male Bonding + Love Inks, Break It Up at Kung Fu Necktie (8 p.m., 21+, $12); Reef The Lost Cauze + Mic Stew, S.I.R., Voss, I.R.V., Teddy Bigglesworth at The Blockley (8 p.m., $7–$10)