The annual folk music concert at the historic Old West Church in Calais has become a highlight of the summer concert scene. Created and produced by Deb Flanders in honor of her great-aunt Helen Hartness Flanders, an internationally recognized ballad collector and authority on folk music found in New England and in the British Isles, the concerts have featured performers from a number of countries along with Vermont musicians.
Many of the concerts have also featured Pete Sutherland from Burlington as a backup musician and producer. This year the concert celebrates Sutherland and his two musical partners, collectively known as Pete’s Posse, at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21.
The band has been dubbed “Vermont’s own trad-roots power trio.” Sutherland has chosen two talented younger musicians to work with, his protégé Oliver Scanlon and Tristan Henderson. The trio features twin fiddles from Sutherland and Scanlon in tight harmony over high-powered guitar from Henderson, along with foot percussion with mandolin, clawhammer banjo, jaw harp, keyboards, and vocal harmonies. The band has released five albums and tours internationally.
The Calais concert features Deb Flanders, whose voice we’ve described as “crystal clear soprano” and “gorgeous” and others have called “vibrant.” She has been performing songs from the remarkable ballad collection of her great-aunt for two decades. Her 1997 CD, “Mother Make My Bed,” paid tribute to her great-aunt’s lifelong work and gave Vermonters a taste of the state’s extraordinary musical traditions. Deb Flanders’ 2012 release “The Female Highwayman” further expanded her research into her great-aunt’s collections.
Adding to the musical talent for this concert are fiddler Jane Oxnard, a native of Northumberland, England; Vermont Symphony Orchestra principal cellist John Dunlop and violinist and fiddler Laura Markowitz, also a member of the VSO.
Sutherland, a mainstay of the Vermont traditional music community for four decades, is a nationally known fiddler, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and teacher. In 2014, The Times Argus awarded Sutherland a special Tammie Award, the newspaper’s annual year-end music award.
“Sutherland is Vermont’s leading traditional musician and an inspiration to a whole new generation of performers. For this reason, we want to honor him with a special Tammie as Musician of the Year 2014,” we said.
Sutherland is a 30-year veteran of many touring and recording groups including Metamora, Rhythm in Shoes, The Woodshed Allstars and Ira Bernstein’s Ten Toe Percussion, and is a founding member of the long-running contra dance jam band The Clayfoot Strutters, and most recently Pete’s Posse.
He has helped Flanders produce and performed annually in her Old West Church concert series. He teaches fiddle at the Summit School in Montpelier as well.
Other publications and organizations have also praised Sutherland. “A warm voiced singer-songsmith and accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Pete is known equally for his potent originals and his intense recreations of age-old ballads and fiery fiddle tunes,” wrote The American Festival of Fiddle Tunes. “(Pete) covers the map and shines with a … pure spirit which infuses every bit of his music, and cannot fail to move all who hear him.”
While Sutherland continues to play with a variety of bands on an occasional basis, he has devoted much of his time and energy in recent years to Pete’s Posse. Since 2014 the Posse has racked up over 150,000 miles of touring, played numerous festivals including Shetland Folk Festival, Festival Memoire et Racine, New Bedford Folk Festival and others.
The Posse’s sound includes a lot of variety from Celtic to Quebecois to Americana, a touch of acoustic rock and other styles. Each member is a powerful multi-instrumentalist and the band plays a dynamic repertoire of folk-roots genres, songs and tunes, traditional and original. If there is a category that best defines the band, it’s “neo-traditional folk.”
A concert at the church is a special event. This building has been in use since the 1830s. The wooden pews are original. There is no electricity so the performers cannot use a PA system. As the program progresses the daylight dims.