From the Field: Blues in Brooklyn

From the Field: Blues in Brooklyn

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Beareather Reddy, Founder/Ex. Director of the Brooklyn Blues Society. Find more info about them at https://brooklynbluessociety.org

The Blues is Alive and living in Brooklyn! 

Being a Black woman raised in the south, I was exposed to a lot of spirituals, gospel music and the Blues. I witnessed that these were the kinds of music that brought comfort to my ancestors in one form or another.  I became very fond of the Blues. When I moved to New York after college, I realized that the music that moved and soothed my loved ones, were not widely played in Brooklyn.  It seemed that it was a dying art form.

Keith Gamble and Michael Hill. Photo courtesy of Arnie Goodman

Long gone were the golden days of the Harlem Renaissance when jazz and blues were deeply rooted in New York City’s cultural tapestry.  I wasn’t entirely right, it wasn’t completely gone. Yet, out of thousands upon thousands of radio stations in the United States, I’m willing to bet, there were less than 30 Blues stations.  I felt I had to do something about it.  I wanted to be one of those people who would help revive and sustain the blues.  So I did!  In 2006 the 1st Big Eyed Blues Festival was presented in the borough of Brooklyn.  Our special guest was 2004 Indy Award Music Winner, Mr. Bobby Hinton from Raleigh Durham, N.C., and of course, little o’ me!

September 22, 24 & 25th, 2022 marked the 12th Big Eyed Blues Festival – Rebirth!  After being on hiatus for three years, it was back with a bang!

Set up for the Big Eyed Blues Festival. Photo by Tanja Hayes

This year’s festival, presented by the Brooklyn Blues Society, included an evening of “The Acoustics”, with dynamic performances by guitarist/vocalist Jr Mack The Michael Hill Blue Duo with Pete Cummings on bass, and 18 year old Mimi Block with Keith “The Captain” Gamble on guitar; the main event on Saturday evening at the BKLYN COMMONS, with soul stirring performances by Clarence Spady, Beareather & The Brown Liquor Sounds, The Antoinette Montague Experience and The Alexis P. Suter Band.  The final day of the festival was the topper!  “A Day in The Park” with the Tilden Senior Drama Club.  The drama club performed a short play I wrote called “The Classic Blues Women”. They were sensational and had a joyful experience. It was such a joy to watch them sing, dance and tell the story.  One of the most cantankerous member of the drama club called me aside and said “Miss Beareather, thank you so much for bringing this to us and having us perform in the festival. I was so scared, but it was so much fun.  I wanted you to be proud of me!”

The 18 year old violinist/vocalist/composer/virtuoso Mimi Block wrote:

“Dear Ms. Reddy, Thank you for the kind words you said to me. I learned last night that real blues is totally different from jazz, and has a different attitude and spirit. It was an amazing night. Thank you so much for the learning opportunity. I won’t mix jazz attitudes for blues songs next time”.

A good time was had by all and a lot of souls were moved and soothed!  It is this kind of reinforcement that lets me know that I am right where I need to be.  I am among the folk who strive to keep a legacy going strong.  A legacy of a people of which an entire genre of music was born out of their work songs, field hollers, chants, tears and laughter. The Blues is Alive and Living in Brooklyn!

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.

From the Field: Foraged Fruit

From the Field: Foraged Fruit

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of Dr. Maria Kennedy,  a folklorist and faculty member at Rutgers University. She is a member of the New York Folklore board. You can follow her Foraged Fruit project at https://foragedfruitproject.com or on Instagram @ciderwithmaria

Some folklorists collect songs. Some collect stories. Some collect quilts or pottery. Our discipline has been defined from its beginning by the fieldwork practice of collecting examples of the artistic expressions that characterize everyday life.

I collect apples. While apples might not seem like an obvious object or art or culture, plants are highly influenced by the aesthetic, culinary, and practical choices of people. My research project with my colleague Dr. Gregory Peck, a plant scientist at Cornell University, seeks to understand a dynamic area of plant-human interactions on the fringe of agriculture. We are looking for foraged fruit.

Walking through an apple forest near Mexico, New York at Peaceful Acres Farm with owner Dan Shutt

This summer, I spent a month on the road, travelling all around New York State to meet with foragers during the month of August, before the beginning of harvest season. I interviewed them about their foraging practice, and then, if possible, would go out to see the spots where their wild apple trees grew. Foragers have favorite trees, and it is these ones we are searching for. Good things to bring for apple fieldwork: rubber boots, a raincoat, a hat, and a willingness to go bushwacking. I’ve driven in pickup trucks, in gator utility vehicles. I’ve tromped through weeds and meadow as high as my head. To get to the wild trees is often an encounter with succession forests rather than farm fields.

There are many abandoned orchards in the Northeast on land that was formerly farmed, but which has become economically marginal. People still harvest some of these abandoned and wild orchards. And increasingly, this foraged fruit has become a small but salient part of the commercial hard cider industry.

Our research project asks questions like: Does the unique genetic profile of the wild apples provide potential new alternatives to commercially grown apples, with increased disease resistance and enhanced fermenting qualities?

The trees that survive have selected themselves. And the ones that end up in cider have been selected by cider makers. To me, each of these apples represents a unique artifact of these ecologies of selection: some of them biological and environmental, and some of them culinary and occupational. They are intensely personal and local. Each represents relationships to land, property, and knowledge of seasonal cycles of harvest.

Fruit samples in the lab ready for analysis

Now that it is harvest time, I’m going back to revisit the people I interviewed earlier. Their predictions about harvest are now immediate, and profoundly influenced by the weather. A heat wave can accelerate the harvest date. The rain might delay it. But when the fruit is ready, it is ready, and you have to get to it quickly, before the deer or the mice do, or before it turns to a rotting but fragrant mush on the ground.

When I collect the fruit, it gets meticulously labeled. I give each batch ID numbers and enter all the collection data into my data base. Next I will pass the fruit on to my colleague Greg’s lab team, and from there the processes of

lab science will begin to reveal the essential properties of the plant itself, such as the sugars, acids, and tannins. We will send leaf samples for genetic analysis. I return to my fieldnotes, my interviews, and my database to fill out the story of each apple specimen that is now on a journey through the lab.

As a folklorist, I get to chart the story of the fruit – how it relates to complex webs of culture and nature. And as I look at my collection of apples, with the different colors and flavors and aromas lined up next to each other, I see the apple as beautiful as any work of art, and a foraged apple as one particularly influenced by the hands of people working closely with their natural environments.

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.

From the Field Capital Region

From the Field Capital Region

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of New York Folklore Community Field Worker  – Edgar Betelu. Since late 2021 he has been working with immigrant and refugee communities in the Capital Region.

New York’s Capital Region and upstate are home to an increasing number of Karen who have settled in the area since the 1990s.  Commonly, as refugees escaping political violence and persecution in Myanmar, previously called Burma. Thanks to immigration and refugee organizations today it is estimated that around 5,000 Karens call Albany and the Capital Region home.

As part of my fieldwork in the region, I have had the opportunity to meet several members and artists of the Karen community. In August of 2021, I was invited to the Wrist Tying Ceremony, which is held annually in different cities of New York State. Last year the event took place in Rensselaer, New York, and was attended by members of large Karen communities from Utica, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse among others.

The annual Wrist Tying Ceremony is a centuries-old tradition that typically takes place in August. It is secular in nature and celebrates the cultural identity, tradition, and bonds within families and the Karen community. The ritual also serves as an expression and wish for the spiritual and physical well-being of a person.

During the event, elders of the community tie red and white threads around participants’ wrists and place cooked sticky rice, sugarcane, leaves and bananas in their hands while reciting words calling on the spirits to act graciously, bring good health and ward off evil.

Last year the event was a wonderful and festive social gathering held in the field behind the Gethsemane Karen Baptist Church in Rensselaer. It was a hot summer day and the rain threatened to spoil it, but fortunately only a few drops came down and the sun finally came out. There were lots of people. Entire families from grandparents and young children. Men and women walked around the grounds, sat to chat, laugh and eat. A group of men rolled betel nuts in leaves to chew. Everyone wore the traditional colorful longyi.

There was also lots of delicious food and cooking. Fish, vegetables and several soups. I had a delicious bamboo soup with vegetables on top and shrimp. There were also dance groups and young children performing traditional Karen dances alongside musicians. I had the opportunity to meet Pinya Aung, a Tenaku harp player and his wife Ehsue Aung who is a dancer. They are both very active in the community and one of the earliest families to arrive in the Capital region in the early 2000s. During the last two years, I have had the pleasure to continue to work with the community through presentations and workshops. In a couple of weeks, I have been invited to participate (literally) in a Karen Soccer tournament with teams from the Capital Region and other cities upstate. Happily, I was told I could participate with the elder teams. I am very much looking forward to the sporting event although I believe I will be found closer to the food stands.

This year the Wrist Tying Ceremony will take place in Syracuse on September 3rd.

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to be featured.

Mohawk Hudson Folklife Festival 2022

Mohawk Hudson Folklife Festival 2022

The Mohawk Hudson Folklife Festival is BACK for its second year! Join is on Sunday, October 2nd for another year of artist demonstrations, musical performances and new this year – cooking lessons! The festival will begin at 11:00 am and end at 5:30 pm at the Washington Park Lakehouse Amphitheatre.  

Celebrate the moving tapestry and rich cultural traditions of the Capital Region. Join us for a fun filled day of music, dance, art, food, crafts, and food demonstrations. Artists will demonstrate traditions like henna, pysanky, embroidery, and blacksmithing. Engage and participate with practitioners and the living traditions right here in the Capital Region. Practitioners hail from New York, Republic of the Congo, Greece, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and more! New this year is a series of food demonstrations by community cooks. Members of the Congolese, Karen. and Caribbean communities of the Capital Region will showcase their favorite dishes.

Two Young Karen girls dance at the 2021 festival

 

Musical performances will be on all day by folk favorites like the The Desi Trio and Capital Region staple, Mixed Roots.  

Food Demonstration Schedule
11:30 am -12:15 pm Karen fried gourd and fish with Saw Dabu
1:30 pm -2:15 pm Dominican empanada with Santa Cabrera
3:30 pm – 4:15 pm Congolese Samusa with Huguette Tshiamua

The full festival recipes can be found here 

Performance Schedule
11:05 am- 11:30 am Karen Music and Dance by Pinya and Eshue Aung
11:45 am -12:30 pm Puerto Rican Music by Tony and Rosario Madera
12:45 pm – 1:30 pm Pakistani and Desi Music by The Desi Trio
1:45 pm -2:30 pm Albanian Dance with Tatijana Gjergji
2:45 pm – 3:30 pm Congolese Music by Wa Lika
3:45 pm – 4:30 pm Puerto Rico and Afro-Cuban with ArtPartners/Tsehaya & Company
4:45 pm – 5:30 pm Mixed Roots

The full festival program can be found here   

The  Upstate Regional Initiative is a program initiated by the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. The project was developed to conduct field documentation and programming in counties underserved by the Folk Arts program of NYSCA, with the goal to serve as a catalyst for community-based projects and to identify artists and cultural traditions within these regions. The initiative continues in 2022 in the Greater Capital Region. The Festival is sponsored by NYSCA, Discover Albany, HumanitiesNY, and the City of Albany. 

colorful pysanky in a cardboard egg container

Pysanky by local artist Sarah Bachinger

 

Culture of Cohoes – Chee-Bog Filipino Restaurant has found a permanent home  

Culture of Cohoes – Chee-Bog Filipino Restaurant has found a permanent home  

The diner on Cohoes’ Ontario Street has been a staple for the city’s residents and working-class people. Soon it will be home to Chris “Champ” and Cindy Peralta’s Chee-Bog restaurant. Chee-Bog is well known in the Capital Region for its pop-ups featuring Filipino cuisine.  

Champ immigrated from the Philippines in 2013, He met his wife Cindy in Chicago in 2014. After the birth of their first child in 2018, they moved back to upstate New York to be near Cindy’s family.  

During that time, Uncle John’s Diner ‘s diner was helmed by Jackie Reavey, her husband, “Uncle” John Reavey had passed away a few years prior. Jackie, with the help of a friend, kept the diner going. Jackie explained that the diner was John’s dream, but after his death in 2014 and the COVID 19 pandemic it became too much. While talking with New York Folklore Jackie reminisced about her years behind the counter:  

“Some people just come in just to hear a voice sometimes, cause they live alone. There was always a lot of discussion … it was nice to encourage conversation back and forth.  and I think they liked that, even if they didn’t agree.” 

Jackie herself is a community scholar of sorts, she has been collecting photos, stories, and history about thediner, Cohoes, and her family, long times residents of the city. Chee-bog will be a primarily takeout set up inspired by Karinderyas, or small local eateries and food stalls found in the Philippines. In addition, they will honor Uncle John’s legacy as a gathering space through monthly events and traditional Filipino gatherings. The famous counter where countless meals have been eaten will be put on wheels. This will give Champ more space behind the counter and allow for the hosting of Boodle Fights (or Kamayan) – a communal feast where food is served on banana leaves and eaten without utensils. In addition, Champ will be serving Uncle John’s famous breakfast sandwiches, one of Jackie’s favorites to serve her customers.  

Champ learned his arsenal of Filipino recipes from his mother and grandmother. Recipes like Lumpia (Filipino spring rolls), Adobo (Pork or chicken in a garlic, soy sauce marinade), Pancit (Rice Noodles), Lechon Kawalli (brined pork belly) are staples of the Chee-bog menu.  

A man, woman, and their children poses outside Uncle John's diner poses

The Peralta Family outside Uncle John’s Diner

The diner is no stranger to immigrant cultures. Before Uncle John’s Diner, the restaurant went by the name of Edelweiss, and was owned by a German immigrant named Helen, who had a formidable reputation in Cohoes. Before Edelweiss, the diner was called Art’s Pourhouse. The history of the diner goes back further, to at least the 1920’s, but searches for more details by Jackie have turned up little.  

You can learn more about Chee-Bog on their social channels https://www.facebook.com/cheebogtroy/

*Blog Photos are Courtesy of Chee-Bog

From the Field Mohawk Valley

From the Field Mohawk Valley

This From the Field Feature is courtesy of New York Folkore Staff Folklorist – Anne Rappaport Berliner. Since late 2021 she has been working with beekeepers in the Mohawk Valley.

The Mohawk Valley has a rich history of beekeeping.  Moses Quinby, an important figure in beekeeping history, lived and worked in the valley.  Today there are Mohawk Valley beekeepers carrying on the legacy.  Many are members of the Southern Adirondack Beekeeper Association,  an important group in the area.  However, anyone who is anyone will tell you that Carl Jurica was the center of a tight knit beekeeping community.

A smoker filled with hay

The hive smoker was invented by Moses Quinby in 1873.

Carl was a lifelong beekeeper in Johnstown, NY.  He passed away just a few weeks after I interviewed him in October 2021.  His legacy lives on through his mentees, students, friends, and of course his bees. In addition to Carl’s community, I recently started interviewing beekeepers in other parts of the Capital Region, “BEE” they backyard or commercial keepers.  I have learned about bees themselves and of course, tried lots of honey.  The dark honey – called wildflower, produced by bees in the fall is my favorite.

A beekeeper locks up his beeyard, his dog by his side

Scott Hart locks up his beeyard.

If you spend more than a few minutes talking to a beekeeper, you will hear them talk about their “girls” AKA the bees!  Most bees in a hive are female – no matter their job, nursing, gathering, or building.  It is unlikely you will find a keeper who doesn’t talk to their “girls.”  Experienced beekeepers can tell how the hives feel based on their sound and behavior.  Conversation between the bees and their keepers are common!

When a bee leaves their hive in search of food, it returns to its hive by recognizing the visual attributes of its home.  Because of this, beekeepers often paint their hives bright colors.  I have seen rainbows of hives as well as individual images.  One of my favorite hives is in the keeper’s home.  The bees naturally found their way into the house, and the keeper fitted the hive with glass cover so it can be viewed from the inside!

I’m hoping to continue expanding my interviews past the Mohawk Valley and into the greater Capital Region.  I have been asked by many of the folks I meet if I’ll ever keep bees, and though I’m not ready yet, I get the feeling it is just a matter of time.  I do love honey!

Are you a New York State folklorist or community scholar? We would love to publish your “From the Field.” Email Anne, [email protected] to “BEE” featured.

The featured photo is a painted beehive by Carl Jurica