The 24th annual Central Ohio Folk Festival takes place this Saturday with a virtual celebration of music. On this edition of the Music Journeys podcast, we preview this year's event with Bill Cohen and headlining duo Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, who share the challenges they faced during the pandemic, why they chose to be part of this year's fest, and how music continues to inspire them. Thanks for listening.
As with many events, COVID-19 forced the festival's cancellation last year. But festival organizers used the time to prepare a virtual event regardless of the pandemic. Festival spokesperson Bill Cohen describes this year's event as a blend of pre-recorded concerts and live interactive sessions.
"That's what this grand experiment is all about, mixing those two elements," Festival spokesperson Bill Cohen said. "We're going to have seven major bands and performers on stage, mostly for adults. Then we're going to be mixing those seven performances with live interactive children's concerts and arts and crafts sessions for kids. We're also going to mix it with live interactive workshops on how to play banjo, dulcimer, fiddle, and guitar. Then we've got our headliner concert, Larry and Teresa at night."
Surrender To Love plays...
Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams have been married since 1988. The couple's first release as a duo came in 2015, following seven years of playing in Levon Helm’s band and decades of working with other artists including Phil Lesh and Jorma Kaukonen. Larry and Teresa's second album came in 2017.
The Other Side Of Pain plays...
The pandemic has been a challenge in multiple ways. It began with Campbell diagnosed with the virus in early March of last year.
"It knocked me down," Campbell said of dealing with coronavirus. "I got through it, but I do have lingering symptoms. Taste and smell is kind of distorted. It was gone completely for most of last year. It's coming back but in a weird way. Sometimes a banana tastes like a banana, and sometimes it tastes like a chemical plant. It's very weird. Anyway, I'm getting through it."
"He was in the house in Woodstock, and I was in the city and they wouldn't let me go up to him unless he was double-negative," Williams recalled. "In hindsight, part of me wishes I would have broken protocol to go see him. It was so stressful worrying that he wasn't going to wake up in the morning. There was nobody there to see and help him. He would be so sick at night. It was so fearful, so that's how I started the pandemic."
Save Me From Myself plays...
Williams has spent most of the last several months caring for her father in Tennessee.
"He's in advanced Alzheimer's," Williams said. "He's still kind of present sometimes. He knows who we are usually, so I've just been totally consumed with that. Now having that space is making me - whereas I was pretty burned out from never stopping - I've had the space but now I'm eager to get to work."
"I've been able to stay pretty busy this year recording, producing or playing on records in socially distant environments or remotely," Campbell added. "I've been going back and forth to Tennessee to help out. It's been hectic but also a break from a routine that we had been on for years. There's a lot of good in that. Coming back to living a normal life. You don't realize how abnormal your road and touring life is until you get a chance to get away from it. But like Teresa, I'm itching to get out there."
Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning plays...
The Central Ohio Folk Festival marks the first time Larry and Teresa have done a full show together in a year.
"This particular festival feels like an organic home-grown kind of thing," Campbell said of the Folk Fest. "It's really about the music more than anything else, and that's the kind of thing Teresa and I are attracted to. It was a little weird because there's no feedback. It's not high tech by any means, but it's an honest performance."
"We acknowledge the weirdness of the virtual thing and can't wait to be in front of them, but we just did our show and ran through the songs we felt like playing that day," Williams explained of recording the session. "It was really great. I felt kind of high. As Levon Helm would say, 'the music will lift you up.' As anybody that deals with dementia, it can pull you down. It was very uplifting to get to do music, and I just remember Levon always saying the music would lift you up, and he's right. It was very uplifting to do music."
"Me too," Campbell added. "We had some cobwebs, but it just lifts you up and hopefully it will lift audiences up and hopefully next time be in person."
When I Stop Loving You plays...
And for the couple who's had a lifetime of big-time music collaborations that include Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne, Campbell and Williams are most proud of their time playing together.
"That's what this whole road I've been walking down for years has been leading me to," Campbell said of singing and recording with his wife. "We're doing exactly what moves us. We're doing it together. We've been able to get to that place because of the accumulation of our individual experiences in music. I've certainly played bigger venues with bigger names and made a lot more money than what we're doing, but this has every ingredient that goes into what has always motivated me to be a musician. The fact that we were able to do this on our own terms and just doing it to me is a success."
"I'll just say to the kids out there that things happen when you walk out there on a limb," Williams added. "When you walk out on the limb, things happen. It can be success or failure, but it's exciting and you're really living."
"Music or any art form, if that is calling to you in any way you have to follow it," Campbell added. "Every human being needs something to turn to that will help them express what they are feeling. The only real goal is having this mode of personal expression. It'll save your life. It saved my life, I can tell you that. If you're moved to do this, you have to do it."
"It helped me in childhood too," Williams said. "I could plop down at the piano and just work it out. I could work out my anger and play through it on the piano or the guitar in my own little child way. Joy or sadness, you just work it out. It's a real salvation for people. I wish they gave music to kids as much as math and science and reading and writing to do better in school"
"At least to expose them to it," Campbell concluded.
That's part of the mission for Cohen and the Folk Fest as well.
"I guess the main goal is to celebrate the joy of music and even though it's online, kind of celebrate a feeling of community," Cohen said. "In-person festivals, you get a huge sense of community. Even though people will be listening and watching on devices, I think they will still feel a sense of community. We've gotten through the pandemic together, and now we're celebrating music. And listen, it's helped us get through this year-and-a-half-long pandemic, I think for a lot of us, music has saved our hearts and our minds."
The virtual broadcast stage also includes performances by The Shazzbots, RJ Cowdery, The Wayfarers, The Relentless Mules, Daniel Dye & The Miller Road Band, Whinestopper, and Starlit Ways. And again workshops on playing ukulele, guitar, fiddle, banjo, and more plus arts and crafts sessions for the younger kids.
Visit ColumbusFolkMusicSociety.org for more details.