They’ll be spinning Adirondack legends in songs and stories, but they’re practically legends themselves. Chris Shaw, Dan Berggren, Bill Smith, and newcomer Alex Smith, will be in Bolton Landing for a free concert in Rogers Park on September 15. Adirondack Legends: a festival of new and traditional Adirondack music and stories, will be presented by the Lake George Mirror.
Adirondack Legends was organized by Chris Shaw, the Lake George native who has made a career of singing Adirondack folk songs and telling Adirondack tales. His repertoire includes some of the region’s earliest songs, and the revived interest in the Adirondack Songbook of Marjorie Lansing Porter is one inspiration for the show, he said.
“A perfect storm of circumstances made these shows possible,” said Shaw. “Tony Hall of the Lake George Mirror wanted to celebrate the legacy of Marjorie Lansing Porter. As a local business owner, he wanted to do something special for his community. When I reached out to my colleagues, they were enthusiastic.”
Marjorie Lansing Porter, of course, is the folklorist who traveled through the Adirondacks in the 1940s collecting traditional tunes from lumber camps, farms, mines and small towns on a Soundscriber Recorder. An album of songs from her collection, as interpreted by by the Bacon Brothers, Lee Knight, Dan Berggren and Alex Smith, among others, was released this summer. A documentary about the making of the album will be shown on PBS stations throughout New York State sometime next year.
While Adirondack Legends will feature songs from the Marjorie Lansing Porter collection, as well as other traditional songbooks, the performers will also present the original songs and stories for which they have become well-known.
“The mixture of the old and the new, the traditional and the original, woven together to demonstrate the continuity between the past and the present, will make ‘Adirondack Legends’ a unique and exciting show,” said Shaw.
Another guarantee that it will be a lively, well-staged show is the fact that the performers are friends and well-acquainted with each other’s material, said Shaw.
“The three of us have performed together for decades, not always at the same time and in the same place, but frequently enough in one combination or another to feel at ease and at home with each other,” said Shaw. “This is not our first rodeo, by any means.”
Relatively new to the circle is Alex Smith, the Long Lake native who’s the son of novelist and boat builder Mason Smith and former Adirondack Museum boat curator Hallie Bond. Still an undergraduate at St. Lawrence University, he’s already released two albums and has toured extensively.
“Alex is jumping into the middle of this; we don’t know precisely what he will do, but that’s cool, too. It will be refreshing for the audience, and an opportunity for him to become accustomed to what we do,” said Shaw.
But having performed with Smith at North Creek’s Tannery Pond and at Café Lena in Saratoga, Shaw said he’s extremely impressed by Smith’s talent.
“Alex Smith might not call himself a storyteller yet, but his introductions to his songs and views him as the natural successor to the Adirondack folksingers who came of age in the 1960s and 70s.
That group includes certainly includes two other “Adirondack Legends:” Dan Berggren and Bill Smith.
Dan Berggren’s roots are firmly in the Adirondacks, where he was raised on the land farmed by his mother’s family in Minerva for generations where he worked in the woods with forest rangers and survey crews.
Recently retired as a professor of communications at the State University of New York College at Fredonia., Berggren has been honored for his efforts to preserve the ciultural heritage of the Adirondacks by St. Lawrence University, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Mountain Club, among other organizations.
Bill Smith is from Colton, in St. Lawrence County. He has worked as a logger, trapper, hunter, fisherman, and guide. He was once awarded a grant from theFolk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts to study storytelling, and since that apprenticeship, he has traveled throughout the northeast to tell Adirondack stories and sing old songs.
Chris Shaw recorded his first album, “Adirondack,” in 1988, and after that, he says, “I was off to races.”
He’s recorded at least a dozen albums since then, toured the world as a representative for Taylor guitars demonstrating American Folk and country style guitar techniques and performed at the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institute as well as at folk festivals throughout the United States and Europe.
According to Shaw, the musicians who share his appreciation of traditional Adirondack music also share his concerns about its survival.
“We’re all conscious of our roles as stewards of a tradition, and we’ve all had that conversation: what’s going to happen to it when we’re not doing this anymore?” he said.
“For a long time, I didn’t think there was another generation coming along who was interested, but now I’m hopeful,” he said.
The September 15 Rogers Park concert, “Adirondack Legends: a festival of new and traditional Adirondack music and stories, presented by the Lake George Mirror,” will start at 1 pm.