March 2nd – Bob Franke Is In The (Common) House!

This is a rare treat for us here at First Friday Concerts – Rob has arranged this Bob Franke concert. Bob has long been known as a “songwriters songwriter”. His songs, and performing style have inspired me ( Jay) and many of my songwriter friends over the years. Read on…

Celebrating 50 Years

“I always think of Bob Franke as if Emerson and Thoreau had picked up acoustic guitars and gotten into songwriting.”

– Tom Paxton, songwriter

“Bob Franke writes the kind of songs that will still be sung a hundred years from now.”

– Christine Lavin, songwriter

“I believe that [Bob Franke’s] ‘Hard Love’ is one of the best songs written between 1950 and 2000 – and that includes Dylan and Joni.”

-Rich Warren, host of WFMT’s Midnight Special


How do you measure a hit song? In the pop world, it’s easy: you count how high it got on the charts, how many units it sold. In folk music, it’s more complicated. You ask how far it’s traveled, how long it’s lasted, and most of all, how many people have taken it into their own lives, made it their own song?

By those ancient measures, Bob Franke (rhymes with “Yankee”) is among the most prolific and important folk songwriters to emerge since the commercial revival of the 1960s. Many of his songs, like “Hard Love,” “For Real,” “Thanksgiving Eve,” and “The Great Storm Is Over,” have entered the American folk canon, frequently sung by major stars and open-mikers, church choirs and summer campers, recovering addicts at treatment centers, and spiritual seekers at religious retreats.

 “There is an affection for Bob’s work that is really palpable,” says Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary. “It’s like everybody thinks that they’re the one who discovered him – and they’re all right! People know he has given them something rare and powerful, real and uncompromising. I have felt a lot of power in the appreciation people have for him.”

Peruse the stars who have recorded Franke’s songs, and you find singers renowned as champions of the very best songwriters: Peter, Paul and Mary, June Tabor, Kathy Mattea, Tony Rice, Martin Simpson, John McCutcheon, Sally Rogers, Garnet Rogers, Claudia Schmidt, and David Wilcox. When ABC’s Nightline asked Alison Krauss to name her favorite songs, she cited Franke’s “Hard Love,” calling it “probably my favorite tune,” and saying Franke was her hero and “main inspiration.”

But that just scratches the surface of how far Franke’s songs have traveled. His lyrics appear on church marquees and tombstones; his songs are sung at weddings, funerals, and christenings, and appear in the hymnals of several denominations. They are used as templates in songwriter classes, and meditations at seminars for people struggling with real life crises like grief, addiction, divorce, and domestic abuse. People have told Franke that his songs saved their lives.

Popular juvenile novelist Ellen Wittlinger named one of her most successful books after his song, “Hard Love,” and says that the song is still helping to heal troubled children like the ones in her book. “Many of his songs touch a very deep place, melancholy and yet beautiful,” Wittlinger says. “There’s a vulnerability in his writing that lets him get to a place in himself that people don’t often put out into the world. That allows the listener to reach that place, too.”

Throughout a continually productive career spanning over 40 years, Franke has remained a popular concert headliner, but also a beloved teacher of songwriting, always in demand at music camps, festivals, and summer workshops. As with his songs, his goal is to help people see their own lives reflected in music. “I could never picture myself an actual songwriter,” one student gushed. “After Bob’s class, I can.” Another dubbed him “The I Ching of songwriters.”

You might think that a performance by an artist of such depth would be a heady, dense experience. But you’d be surprised. “For me, he’s the whole package on stage,” says longtime fan Wittlinger. “You don’t get a sense that this is some person who thinks he’s a star or a god or whatever. You feel like Bob’s just a guy who likes to make music and share it with people. It makes for a wonderful, lovely night of music.”

Franke learned his entertainment chops in the rough college of the streets, busking at Boston subways stops and street-corners in the 1970s.

“On the streets,” he recalls now. “I saw that if I can let people have a little break in their day, a little fun to take their minds of the stress of their work, I was doing a huge service. My goal when I write songs is to find what I share with my audience – and that definitely includes laughter.”

In concert, his intimate songs and potent ballads are interspersed with revealing anecdotes; sly blues about bicycles, computers, and cagey catfish; and smartly daffy ditties about manic monkeys, psychedelic polkas, and adjusting to our loved ones’ foibles.

Franke fell in love with folk music as a teenager, joining raucous hootenannies at the back of the Westside bus he took to his Detroit school every day. He moved to Boston to attend an Episcopal seminary, but soon discovered that he was called to express his faith in songs, not sermons.

Driven by the best instincts of folk tradition, and his own probing spirituality, Franke never sought a conventional, show-bizzy career. In addition to touring and making records, he founded the influential coffeehouse Saturday Night in Marblehead. The City of Salem commissioned him to write songs celebrating its rich history; and he spent 30 years as artist-in-residence at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, writing children’s plays, liturgical music, and cantatas, including a Good Friday Cantata that is an Easter tradition for many New England folkies. “With lovely music and insight,” the Boston Globe wrote, “Franke’s folk cantata presents the Passion as a deeply human tragedy.”

This desire to make music that joins the fabric of people’s real lives also sparked the creation of his popular “Songwriting From the Center” seminar, in which he teaches everyone how to turn their own day-to-days into the stuff of song.

“I try to give my students the mechanical and psychological tools to write good songs, healing songs,” Franke says. “I see all my students as artists; and every time I turn people on to their own creativity, and take them through this difficult but possible process, it makes me feel less lonely, breaks down that old idea of the artist being somewhere in the clouds, different from most people.”

His performances shimmer with that same desire to meet his audiences eye-to-eye, neighbor to neighbor. His voice is warm, soft and familiar, like your favorite winter gloves. He is a superb guitarist, but you’ll never hear a show-offy trill or “look-at-me” lick. Always, he leads you inside his music, using eloquent riffs and elegant, rolling patterns to underscore each song’s mood and meaning. You don’t focus on what a skilled guitarist he is, because he doesn’t want you to; he wants you to join him inside the song. That is his uniquely personal art, the folksy genius of Bob Franke.

Music programmers Alan and Helene Korolenko have hired Franke for both small concerts and the internationally respected New Bedford Summerfest. “No matter the size of the audience,” Alan Korolenko says, “you’re going to get an intimate evening with Bob. He just pulls everybody in, which is the key. You’ll meet other artists, and they’re not the same as their work. That’s not the case with Bob. He appeals to folk fans and general audiences, because he knows how to create a full, emotional journey, and how to share that journey. By the end, you’ve laughed and thought and cared; you’ve gotten to know the guy. He’s a class act.”

“One thing I love about Bob on stage,” says Rich Warren, host of the weekly Chicago radio show Midnight Special, and the live concert series Folkstage, “is his whole lack of ego, which really helps him get across to audiences. He doesn’t have any of this pretense that a lot of contemporary singer-songwriters have; he gets up there, and he’s just Bob. That works incredibly in his favor – because he can back it up with talent. I would put the word “honest” in capital letters next to his name.”

Wherever he sings, before dozens or thousands, Franke never seeks to dazzle, but to befriend; to coax us to walk awhile with him, searching out life’s common chords, those mystical, crucial places where our lives can truly touch. It is the rarest skill for any performer or teacher; and it is why Franke’s devoted legions have never let him leave the stage, the classroom, or the universe of the song.

“Whenever I sing,” he says, “I’m trying to create in my listeners an awareness of the beauty and sacredness of their own lives, both individually and together, as a community. A woman came up to me recently, and said that my story and my song put her relationship with her dad in a new light, gave her insight into her dad’s love for her. That’s all I need to take home from a show.”

– Scott Alarik, November 2009

Feb 2 First Friday Concert at Coho – Split Bill: Anand Nayak & Polly Fiveash and the Rachel Laitman Trio!

Polly Fiveash & Anand Nayak have been making music together for more than 20 years. Their songs are deceptively simple, often blending the sublime and the ridiculous. Anand’s spare guitar arrangements and harmony frames Polly’s achingly beautiful lyrics and voice. Anand is also the guitarist for Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem.
Rachel Laitman is a singer songwriter originally from Westchester, NY.  They began performing in 2010 as a part of the Antifolk community in NYC, and have since made a home in Western MA where they have been composing and performing since 2014.  Of their 2012 album “Grimace and Grace,” Gideon Irving of ‘My Name is Gideon’ says:  “It’s like chicken noodle soup or yogurt at just the right time and the right time is always.”  They plan on to release their sophomore album in the Spring of 2018

Jan 5th, 2018: Claudia Schmidt returns to First Friday Concerts with New CD!

CD Release! Claudia is back with new songs, and a new CD.

Hark the Dark is Claudia Schmidt’s 22nd recording in a career spanning almost 45 years of composing and performing. She takes a thematic turn here, offering an homage to the oft-maligned season of the winter. Along with her original pieces, she has gathered some musings of fellow musicians, and thrown in a couple standards. Along with her extraordinary voice, dulcimer, and deluxe pianolin, she is accompanied brilliantly by pianist Miro Sprague, bassist Marty Jaffe, drummer Conor Meehan, and pianist/accordionist Chris Haynes. On Hark the Dark, Claudia is doing what she most loves, weaving genres, moods, and textures in a seamless journey from beginning to end and back around. This disc is best enjoyed as a sit-down musical meditation. Old school. Long-playing. After all, it’s about WINTER! Claudia has never sounded better nor sung with more passion and pleasure. You can find it at her website starting November 1, or at a live concert.

If it were the intention of the creator or creators of this universe to perfectly blend together the night sky with moon and stars, it might have been their intention as well to deliver Claudia Schmidt as their messenger of reminder.

To say that Schmidt is simply a performer with a talent to entertain would be a miscarriage of understatement. Schmidt takes her audiences into her world as easily as the child who discovers the endless universes that exist in a cardboard box.

Claudia Schmidt has been perfecting her craft of performing for almost four decades. It is a quirky and wonderful hodge-podge (her word!) of music, poetry, story, laughter. drama, and celebrating the moment. Work in clubs, theaters, festivals, TV, radio has added depth and dimension, and since she has always included her original work along with very personal versions of the work of others, what you get is a unique look at the world from someone who says what she sees with clarity, humor, and wonder. The San Francisco Bay Guardian said: Schmidt’s shows are a lot like falling in love. You never know what’s going to happen next, chances are it’s going to be wonderful, every moment is burned into your memory and you know you’ll never be the same again.” More succinctly, Garrison Keiilor said “when Claudia sings a song, it stays sung”

December 1st, River Rhapsody with special guests

River Rhapsody is a band based in Western Massachusetts focused on performing original music by their band members and the hidden gems of outstanding Adult Contemporary songwriters (Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell, Oliver Wood).
The band runs a range of genres and brings strong vocals and unique instrumentation to the mix. River Rhapsody members include: Tom Knight (Bass, Vocals), Gordon Kramer (Piano, Guitar, Percussion, Vocals), Rob Peck (Harmonica, Vocals), Eric Phelps (Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals), Elijah Rain Phelps (Drums, Percussion). While only 10 years old, Elijah has been playing drums since the age of 3 and specializes in world music percussion (dumber, djembe, cajone).
River Rhapsody has opened for Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, Seth Glier, Reggie Harris, Show of Cards, and other regional and nationals acts and performed at festivals and events throughout Western Mass.
The concert will feature surprise guests from the local music community and a juggling performance by River Rhapsody member Rob Peck.

November 3rd – Show of Cards Band (CD Release) with opener, River Rhapsody

Show of Cards merges an intimate singer-songwriter sensibility with lively band-driven musicianship. The band formed as a Cardozo sibling trio, with singer-songwriter Karen (formerly of Chattering Magpies), bassist Joe (of Cold Duck Complex) and lead guitarist Mike (also of Zikina). Featuring drummer Makaya McCraven, they debuted with Leap Year in 2009  (engineered by Justin Pizzoferrato of Sonelab).  In 2013, Karen and Mike on vocals and guitars joined forces with bassist Garrett Sawyer (of Gaslight Tinkers) and drummer Joe Fitzpatrick (of Trailer Park).

With Something Better (2013), producers Mike and Garrett enveloped Karen’s thoughtful songwriting in the textures, rhythms, and arrangements of musical languages from folk-rock to jazz to West African to classical. Engineered by Garrett at Northfire Recording Studio in Amherst,  collaborators included drummer Sturgis Cunningham, cellist Eric Remschneider (of many acts including Smashing Pumpkins), Jeff D’Antona (keyboards), Zoe Darrow (fiddle) and Tim Eriksen (backing vocals).  

The band is currently completing their third album at Northfire (2017), engineered by Garrett andfeaturing Jeff D (on keys), Dave Haughey (cello) and a guest appearance by Platypus Complex (rapper Casey Hayman). Produced by Mike, One Small Good Thing takes Show of Cards to an exciting musical frontier.

Click here for their website!

October 6th – Dean Stevens and David Dodson


From Jay Mankita: Dean and David are musical friends who I’ve known for a long time. I admire both of them greatly for their guitar skills and their songwriting. They’ll each be playing their own songs, but I know they’ll sing a few together as well. I’ve been told they may also cover a Jay Mankita tune! And I may add a third harmony on song or two. I hope you’ll come hear Dean and David, this is sure to be an unforgettable evening.

Series: First Friday Concerts at Coho
Venue: Great Room at Pioneer Valley Cohousing, 120 Pulpit Hill Road in North Amherst.
Doors open at 7 PM, Concert starts at 7:30.
$10-$20 suggested donation
This is a smoke and fragrance-free venue.
Facility is wheelchair accessible

Here are the details:

For twenty five years Dean Stevens has delighted audiences of all ages throughout the
Americas. An exuberant performer of distinctive
style and wit, he combines an intricate, self-taught
guitar style with a versatile and expressive
singing voice. He has established himself as
a formidable creator and interpreter of a
wide spectrum of songs in English and Spanish.
His own material explores a variety of personal
and social topics, paints sketches of people and
places, celebrates the Earth, and
annoys the narrow minded.

Born and raised in Costa Rica, Dean Stevens
is a lifelong student of Latin America. He
learned Spanish at an early age, and readily
absorbed the musical and topical influences
of the region. He travels frequently to
Central America, and has become known
for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of
refugees returning to their homes
in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Dean Stevens has four highly acclaimed
recordings to his credit. His last release,
“Eyes of Wonder” (Volcano Records),
is a collection of songs in English and Spanish,
with guest appearances by Sol y Canto,
Randy Sabien, Linda Waterfall, and others.

Dean Stevens Website:

Dean Stevens on ITunes

Dean Stevens – Old Man in his garden

Dean Stevens: Let Justice Roll Down

Dean Stevens sings I Am A Dolphin (by Jay Mankita)

Dean Stevens: Cuida El Agua

Dean Stevens: Salmon River

Dean Stevens: Love Comes to the Simple Heart

David Dodson writes great songs that run the gamut of American styles-folk, rock, blues, jazz and country. They cover a variety of topics and range from poignant to hilarious. He plays a mean guitar, tells a good story, sings like a bird, and he’s got rhythm. Who could ask for anything more? He has shared the stage with K D Lang, Bill Staines, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Gordon Bok, Dougie MacLean, The Persuasions, Greg Brown, Joe Ely, Marcia Ball, Sha Na Na, Chicago, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He was a winner of the “New Folk” contest at the Kerrville Folk Festival.

David Dodson Website:

David Dodson on ITunes:

Links to Videos:
David Dodson sings “Kiss My Butt State

The Pyjama Men by David Dodson

“How Come I’m always so Pissed Off” by David Dodson

Amend the Constitution Song (Overturn Citizens United)

True Believer by David Dodson

I’ve Had it Up To Here With Texas

Mary Kate Got the Guy