Brooklyn Folk Fest Favorite Spent Years as Itinerant Street Performer Before Settling in Brooklyn

“I’m in love with this record.”
–Sam Doores (of The Deslondes)

“Wyndham Baird’s album is a quiet miracle, superb work.”
–Lau Noah

In Rutherford County’s Forest City, NC growing up, a young Wyndham Baird heard his mother and grandmother sing old Baptist hymns like “Abide With Me,” arranged in four-part harmony in church. But his life changed when he saw Doc Watson in concert at MerleFest at twelve years old. At that moment, he saw a world of folk and blues music before him. That path, which took him around the US playing on the streets for years, has now led him to Brooklyn, NY’s fertile roots music scene; he’s become a favorite at the Brooklyn Folk Fest and Washington Square Folk Fest and a pillar of the Jalopy Theater scene.

Baird’s beautiful debut album After the Morning was recorded at Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, Brooklyn, as well as in producer Eli Smith’s kitchen upstairs, bridging folk and blues songs; tunes by the likes of Randy Newman and Merle Haggard; and songs from the repertoires of Eric Von Schmidt, The Dubliners, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family. With a repertoire numbering deep in the hundreds, Baird would play whatever came to him during the sessions. First single “Meet Me In the Moonlight, Alone,” featuring harmonies by Samoa Wilson and autoharp by Smith, is out today. The New York Times has called her singing “sweet, effortless.”

Baird’s journey between North Carolina and Brooklyn was a circuitous one. Having started college during the financial crisis and observing singers playing for tips in Asheville, NC while his own student loans piled up, he made a decision. “I wasn’t happy doing that. Trying to conform to the way society was set up, I just wasn’t buying into it. I quit school,” he recalls, continuing, “I knew that I would be happy playing music and was otherwise struggling to feel alright.”

Inspired by Bob Dylan and the beat writers, bought a bus ticket to a city in Georgia where Dylan was playing. Baird set up his guitar and opened his case in the parking lot, then started singing, scoring a ticket to the show and a place to sleep that night. “I realized that I could at least survive,” he says. “I would busk and travel around. They’d drop money in your case and you’d go and get a sandwich. That was a real, palpable thing.” This went on for about three years.

While busking in Cambridge, MA, he heard about the Jalopy Theater community in Brooklyn. “It’s been my home away from home. The currency is songs. People accept you based on the songs you know. Whenever I heard stories about people arriving in the Village in the ‘60s and not having any money and not having a place to stay, there was a sense of community. One can get up on stage at Jalopy and sing a song and ask if anyone has a place to stay. There, that was acceptable, that question.”

Some of the songs he’s absorbed via the Jalopy community, via recordings, and in his travel have made their way to After the Morning. “I need to catalog my repertoire. There’s so many songs. They’re all there somewhere. You don’t even remember that you know them,” he says.

Baird first heard “Joshua Gone Barbados” on a Bob Dylan bootleg while “Girl From the Greenbriar Shore” comes from the Carter Family. He first learned the tender album opener, Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” at his mother’s request. The song comes out as the second single April 30.

After the Morning producer and Brooklyn Folk Fest founder and producer Eli Smith called Baird, “A rare musician and first class folk singer. Wyndham imbues the old songs with all the emotive power to which they are due.”

Baird first learned fingerpicking via learning “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” Doc Watson’s “Deep River Blues,” and Dave Van Ronk’s version of “Hesitation Blues.” He plays a Blue Ridge BR143 and a Martin 00015M.

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