Folk is the music of the people, rooted in oral tradition.
Audiences can enjoy and learn more about the genre this Saturday, May 25, when Peterborough Folk Music presents a Day of Folk Music. The program begins at 3 p.m. at Mariposa Museum & World Culture Center, 26 Main St. in Peterborough, with an event to honor Pete Seeger, “What Woody Taught Peter,” with special guest Nora Guthrie.
In the centennial year of Pete Seeger’s birth, the celebration kicks off with a Seeger/Guthrie sing-in led by four local song leaders: Amy Conley, Steve Schuch, Mike Bradley and David Lord.
Audiences can join the chorus for a few of Seeger and Woody Guthrie’s songs, followed by a multimedia presentation by Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woodie Guthrie, with interviews, photos and archival materials that provide insight into the working relationship between Seeger and Guthrie. The event concludes at 6 p.m.
The main event, a concert with contemporary folk artists Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry, is at 7:30 p.m. in Bass Hall at The Monadnock Center for History and Culture, 19 Grove St. in Peterborough.
Grammer, a southern California native and resident of Greenfield, Mass., was half of a duo with folk artist and songwriter Dave Carter. From 1998 to 2001, the duo released three albums and was enjoying a burgeoning career until Carter suffered a fatal heart attack mid-tour in July of 2002.
Determined to honor the duo's trajectory and bring Carter's songs and those of other favorite writers to broader audiences, Grammer continued to tour and released several solo and archival recordings. She plays theaters, coffeehouses, and festivals across the U.S. and Canada regularly, also holding the record for the most consecutive appearances at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.
In addition to touring, Grammer is the director of the Dave Carter Legacy Project. Her publishing company, Tracy Grammer Music, administers licenses for Carter's catalog of music. She is writing a memoir and curating a new musical monologue called “words + music” based on her life with (and beyond) Carter.
“My mission was to keep singing Dave’s songs — it felt important to me,” said Grammer. “I was the only person who could do that."
Carter, who did all of the songwriting for the duo, has had his songs covered by hundreds of artists — Joan Baez, Willie Nelson and Judy Collins among them.
About five years ago, Grammer felt the legacy she'd created in performing his music had enough traction for her to step back from it.
While it was never her intention to be a songwriter, in 2014 she participated in the RealWomenRealSongs challenge and wrote a song a week for an entire year. The completed songs were posted on YouTube.
It’s where all the songs for her 2018 solo release, “Low Tide,” would come from.
“It was a milestone for me, breaking away from Dave’s material and saying whatever I had to say in the moment,” said Grammer of her first album of original songs, which she released under own label. “There was a lot of heartbreak — it was a meditation on grief and loss — hence the title. It was liberating.”
Her touring partner Jim Henry co-produced the album, which was mixed in Portland, Ore. Grammer lived there for nearly a decade before moving to Massachusetts.
Joan Baez played a big role in Grammer’s healing. In 2002, Grammer and Carter toured with Baez, both as featured artists and as Baez’s band mates.
They met her two years earlier because a fan wrote them to let them know Baez was singing Carter’s song, “The Mountain,” in her show — Baez later sang the song for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
It led to Baez staying at their Portland home for a few days to record a couple songs Carter had written for her.
“She pulled weeds in our garden — that’s the kind of person she is,” said Grammer.
After Carter’s death, Baez encouraged Grammer to keep singing.
“She nurtured and supported me,” said Grammer. “She was an empowering presence in my life.”
Grammer tells a lot of these stories on-stage, where she’ll be this Saturday in Peterborough with Henry.
“We’re the best of friends,” said Grammer of Henry. “We have such a chemistry (on-stage together). Our rapport is so easy and funny — we’re like an old married couple.”
Henry will sing a few songs and play a few instruments — guitar, violin, mandolin and dobro among them — during the show, which Grammer said will also include silly banter and a lot of bad jokes along with lots of beautiful harmonies.
It will mark the New Hampshire premier of her performing material from “Low Tide” and she will include a nod back to a few of Carter’s songs.
This fall she’s off on a nationwide tour, but in the meantime she’s chipping away at her memoir and taking acting classes as well as theater roles, she said, to become a more multi-layered performer.
While she’s finding more and more audiences aren’t familiar with Carter and his music, he continues to be very present for Grammer.
“I felt like what I was doing (performing Carter’s music) was the most important work I could be doing at the time,” she said. “Now I need to figure out what’s the best use of gifts and love right now.”
Tracy Grammer performs with Jim Henry this Saturday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m. at Bass Hall in Peterborough. Tickets are $23. “What Woody Taught Peter” is at 3 p.m. at Mariposa Museum in Peterborough. Tickets are $25. For more information and to purchase tickets for either event, visit pfmsconcerts.org.