The eighth annual Susquehanna Music and Arts Festival kicked off its three-day weekend stay in Havre de Grace, Maryland. This historic town, which was incorporated in 1785 and stretches along the Susquehanna River at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, opened its hearts to the artists.
The songwriting contest finalists (Amanda Birdsal, Ellen Bukstel, Lydia Adams Davis, Phil Henry, Colin McGrath, Dave Murphy, and Alex Voegle) started the ball rolling on Friday evening. The night was rounded out by the sounds of David Hein, Narissa Bond, Julian Dawson, and SONiA, who were slated to play together the next day in a workshop.
“Sounds around the World”
On Saturday the music and artists moved to the banks of the sun-dotted Susquehanna River, with the historic Lock House (built in 1845) serving both as a backdrop and performance stage. One of the rooms of the Lock House was the setting for “Sounds around the World,” with artists SONiA, Julian Dawson (from London, England), David Hein (from Canada), and Narissa Bond each offering several songs during their session. Although all four artists offered heart-felt and entertaining renditions, the two women left an especially memorable mark.
Grammy-nominated SONiA grabbed the audience with her song in honor of Daniel Pearl, the murdered American journalist, sung in Arabic, one of four languages in which this talented singer performs. Narissa Bond, named the Portfolio Award winner for Best Album & Best Song of Hampton Roads, poured out the story of a slave girl named Celia, sung with the honesty and passion that marks Narissa’s music. Narissa’s folk and jazzy sound has been recognized by many and landed her as one of the featured artists in the book called I’ve Got Thunder. Black Women Songwriters on their Craft.
The Road and Beyond
Four different artists moved to the back porch of the Lock House to project their voices across the lock to the Susquehanna River with songs about being on the road. Howard Markman, winner of the Song of the Year Baltimore Magazine, started the workshop session with his down-to-earth country sound. A country/blues/pop duo called Mama’s Black Sheep (Ashland Miller on guitar and Laura Cerulli on drums) sweetened the air with their harmonies that refused to hang in the humidity.
Award-winning songwriter and guitarist David Glaser had inched his way from Baltimore, Maryland, to join the festival. He charmed the audience with a cut from his latest CD, “Cars & Lovers” called “Picture in My Car,” and joined in with his guitar or mandolin when his fellow artists took their turns.
The crystalline and emotional voice of Barb Ryman, who calls Minnesota home, was a delightful and rich contrast to the other three artists. Winner of the 2002 McKnight Composer Fellowship and a New Song winner at the 2007 Winfield Folk Festival, Barb weaves layers of compassion and everyday truths in her songs, whether they are about being on the road, the long wait for spring (a yearly anticipation in Minnesota), or a childhood memory.
More Folk and Art
The Saturday afternoon sessions wound down as did the breeze that had played with the artists during the day. More folk and art was on the agenda: a Saturday night celebration at the Havre de Grace Community Center, followed by a Gospel Spiritual Bluegrass Kick Off and more voices from the Lock House on Sunday before the artists once again took to the road, to return to London or Minnesota or Texas or perhaps a European stop.