Roadside Americana: New Hampshire – Ohio

50 States NH-OH


The rustic New England seacoast town of Portsmouth is not only home to the restored colonial homes found in Strawberry Bank (along the Piscataqua River), but also the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival. It’s the perfect place for lovers of English, Scottish, and Irish folk songs. Also a good chance to brush up on your sea chanteys.

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The Folk Project is a 600-member arts community committed to acoustic instruments and folk dance. The project presents music styles that go well with traditional American folk music, including blues, swing, gospel, jazz, sea chantey, Irish, vaudeville, doo-wop, Gypsy, jug band, and rock ’n’ roll. The Folk Project hosts a number of events, among them spring and fall folk fests that include concerts, workshops, jams, and more. Last year’s fall fest featured songstress Patty Larkin, guitarist Beppe Gambetta, and singer-songwriter Jean Rohe.


The annual Thirsty Ear Festival in Santa Fe, presented by Southwest Roots Music, is a high desert acoustic-music oasis that has showcased the likes of Celtic-folk rocker Richard Thomson, Louisiana folk singer Mary Gauthier, the Be Good Tanyas, Mississippi bluesman Robert Belfour, the acoustic duo Birds of Chicago, and the esoteric string band Broomdust Caravan. Coming in June.


Tucked in the bucolic Hudson Valley, and basking in the glow of the Golden Era of the Custom Guitar, the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase is the premier event of its kind on the East Coast. Play handmade instruments from both seasoned and up-and-coming crafts people. The three-day gathering, held in Bearsville, also hosts concerts and workshops.


The Eddy Merle Watson Memorial Festival, a tribute to the late flatpicking legend Doc Watson’s banjo-strumming son Merle, who died in a tractor accident, started as a one-time Wilkes Community College Endowment Corporation event to raise funds for a campus garden for a rural North Carolina community college. Since 1988, this annual event, best known as MerleFest, has blossomed into one of America’s premier folk-and-bluegrass festivals, attracting 80,000 people to hear 100 acts on 14 stages. TheNew York Timeshailed it as an antidote to “the vulgarity” of such mainstream country-music fests as California’s Stagecoach. April 24–27.


One of the coldest states in the Union is home to champagne music-maker Lawrence Welk’s boyhood farmhouse and such colorful folk fests as Uffda Days (“uffda” is a local term for sensory overload), the Norsk Host Fest . . . and the Bluegrass Association of North Dakota, featuring about 100 brave bluegrass musicians. B.A.N.D. not only promotes acoustic music throughout the state, but also hosts jam sessions in and around Bismarck. 


Cleveland brings baseball to mind, also the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Cuyahoga River (which was so polluted in the 1960s that it caught fire). But this Midwestern industrial town also is a classical-guitar Mecca. The Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival is one of North America’s oldest and most respected classical-guitar festivals, writes Facebook friend Armin Kelly. The fest regularly features a roster of internationally acclaimed artists in a concentrated series of recitals, debut performances, world premieres, master classes, lectures, and exhibits celebrating the classical guitar and art music—solo and ensemble, old and new. The Cleveland Institute of Music’s 14th annual fest—featuring guitarists Petra Polackova, Robert Gruca, and Jason Vieaux—takes place May 30–June 1 at University Circle in Cleveland.

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