Brooklyn Folk Fest Performers to Recreate Vol. 3 of the Anthology

The Brooklyn Folk Festival, which celebrates its 15th edition this year, has confirmed events celebrating the centennial of Harry Smith, artist, filmmaker, and compiler of The Anthology of American Folk Music. The Anthology was a major event that precipitated the folk revival of the 1960s. David Johansen, of the New York Dolls, and with guitarists Larry Saltzman and Brian Koonin, of his band the Harry Smiths. Various Brooklyn Folk Fest performers will perform The Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Three: Songs in sequence. Harry Smith at 100 programming at the 2023 Brooklyn Folk Festival also coincides with the new exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art entitled Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith, which is on view until January 28, 2024:

In 2001, Johansen told The Guardian that he’d met Smith in the 1960s, saying, “If Harry Smith never existed, à la It’s A Wonderful Life, this would be a very different world to live in culturally.”

On February 5, 2023, Pitchfork reviewed the Anthology of American Folk Music, reissued by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 1997, giving it a perfect 10 rating (out of 10), calling it “foundational… changes American music.”

Smith was also pioneer of avant-garde and experimental film. Smith started making films in the mid-1940s and continued throughout his life. By 1957 Smith had finished his first eight films, a body of work that came to be known as Early Abstractions. The first films were meticulously hand crafted and painted, then optically printed. Working frame by frame, Smith devised a range of techniques to apply layers of paint, stencils or cut out shapes to reveal movement across a two – dimensional plane. A series of short films numbered and strung together, the Early Abstractions ranged from geometric patterns in black, white and color, to complex collages revolving around a surrealistic barrage of disparate esoteric imagery culled from various texts. The range of techniques and styles in his forty years of output is astounding, each film builds on the previous, with the subject matter and techniques increasing in complexity.

Vol. 3 of the Anthology includes songs that were later covered by the likes of Taj Mahal, B.B. King, Levon Helm, Richard Thompson, Roger McGuinn, Jeff Tweedy, The Grateful Dead, The Kills, Lou Reed, The Dream Syndicate, Mavis Staples, Widespread Panic, Phish, and Bob Dylan.

The Brooklyn Folk Festival previously announced the rest of its lineup, highlighted by a celebration of Folkways Records’ 75th anniversary and performances by:

* Alynda Segarra
* Brooklyn’s eighteen-year-old Appalachian-style folk musician Nora Brown, who just taped an NPR Tiny Desk Concert with Stephanie Coleman;
* Two-time GRAMMY Award winner Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who traveled and performed with Woody Guthrie;
* counterculture pioneers The Fugs, about whom Pitchfork said, “Inspiring… Before there was punk, there were the Fugs: antagonistic, hilarious, and radically political to the bone. They were anarchic beat poets in the East Village who took folk instruments they could sort of play and didn’t give a damn”;
* “Afrofuturist in roots-music garb” (NPR, Ann Powers) Jake Blount;
* “one of the most accomplished American Folk Artists” (MOJO) Dom Flemons;
* The “often-transcendent” (Pitchfork) Jake Xerxes Fussell, who “breathes new life into old, obscure folk songs” (NPR);
* NYC Bluesman Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, who has graced the cover of the Village Voice and Living Blues Magazine;
* GRAMMY-nominee and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Distinguished Achievement Award recipient Alice Gerrard;
* string and conjunto band Lone Piñon, traveling from New Mexico to celebrate their upcoming release on Jalopy Records;
* and Hopalong Andrew, performing a set for children and families.

David Johansen and the Harry Smiths released its self-titled debut album in 2000 and its second full-length Shaker in 2002. The albums included songs from The Anthology of American Music, including “Kassie Jones,” “James Alley Blues,” “Old Dog Blue,” “Poor Boy Blues” as well as a song by Anthology artists Mississippi John Hurt.

Of David Johansen and the Harry Smiths band, New York Times’ Jon Pareles wrote, in 1999, “Mr. Johansen didn’t try to recreate the eerie old recordings. Instead, he treated the songs with affection and respect, singing with an avuncular ease that let the songs speak for themselves. He had chosen bleak songs about solitude, betrayal and loss, but like the old singers he refused to make melodrama… his rocker’s insouciance was just right for the songs.” The Guardian called David Johansen and the Harry Smiths “often wondrous;” Billboard said they. Were “superb”; while Bomb Magazine called it “subtle, scintillating playing… a great band.”

Harry Smith Archives is a 501c3 not for profit organization dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and education of the seminal American artist Harry Smith.

Harry Smith at 100 Programming at the Brooklyn Folk Fest

Saturday, Nov. 11th:


1:40pm – Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music SONGS “A Re-enactment” of the 3rd volume of Smith’s groundbreaking album. Live on stage! Musicians will play the songs in order to re-create the Harry Smith Anthology.

2:40pm – Performance by David Johansen (of the New York Dolls) with his band The Harry Smiths

11pm: Film Screening – Harry Smith’s Early Abstractions films w/ live improvised score by Peter Stampfel (The Fugs) and friends

Upstairs workshop room:

4:15pm – In partnership with the Harry Smith Archives we present “Treasures from the Archives” a program of rare and video shorts and audio interviews including excerpts from Smith’s seminal interview with John Cohen for Sing Out! magazine, a video interview with John Cohen and excerpts from a rare Harry Smith interview with P. Adams Sitney from the 1970s. Special guests to be confirmed.

5-6pm: Reading and Conversation – Biographer John Szwed of the newly-published biography Harry Smith: Cosmic Scholar (Farra Straus & Giroux) in conversation with Harry Smith Archives Director Rani Singh.