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"NewLanders write a song for folk legend Pete Seeger"

When you're a musician and a folk icon like Pete Seeger asks you to write a song about a folk hero, you pick up a guitar.

That's a tall order, but The NewLanders came through.

"Apple Blossom Breezes: The Story of Johnny Appleseed," the song they wrote, will premiere during Saturday's live broadcast of "Saturday Light Brigade."

The Thanksgiving weekend broadcast is in part a tribute to Seeger and also to a Pittsburgh songwriter whose work has delighted several generations -- Robert Schmertz.

Schmertz, who died in 1975, was a noted Pittsburgh architect who also taught architecture at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University). He became equally well known for his witty songs and recordings, earning him the nickname "Troubadour of the Two by Four."


If you go
Where: Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, North Side.
When: Saturday. Doors open at 10 a.m. Performance starts at 11 a.m.
Admission: Free; 412-322-5058

"People considered him the contemporary Stephen Foster," says "SLB" host Larry Berger, who has been playing Schmertz's records on the show for years. Berger recalls mentioning on the air that he wondered how many people were familiar with Schmertz's songs: The studio phones started ringing off the hook.

Schmertz's music, which is deeply rooted in local history, is a natural for the NewLanders. The Greensburg-based band performs historic songs from the Western Pennsylvania region that often re-tell the stories about life in the mills and mines. They mix both traditional instruments -- Appalachian lap dulcimer, fiddle, and mandolin and electric ones.

The NewLanders -- Paula Purnell (vocals/guitar/Appalachian dulcimer), Gerard Rohlf (vocals/jaw harp/guitar), Art Gazdik (violin/mandolin/vocals) and Doug Wilkin (guitar/bass/harmonica/vocals) -- recorded Schmertz's "Monongahela Sal" on "Where the Allegheny Flows," their first album. They're now planning to record a new version of his 1959 album "Sing Oh the City Oh! Songs of Early Pittsburgh."

Schmertz's lyrics were "so clever. He's such a gem that we should celebrate him," Purnell says.

His songs found their way out of Pittsburgh. Seeger is a fan of Schmertz and recorded "Monongahela Sal" on his 1961 album "Story Songs." Tennessee Ernie Ford and Burl Ives also recorded his songs.

Knowing the Seeger-Schmertz connection, Purnell wrote to the folk singer, asking him for a short written endorsement of their upcoming Schmertz tribute CD. He replied immediately, offering to write a foreword if they would in turn write an original song about John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed. "Bob Schmertz was a very good songwriter, so this has to be a very good song, too. Get a batch of people working on it." Seeger wrote.

"So that was a little intimidating," Purnell says.

During the broadcast, the NewLanders will perform songs by Schmertz and Seeger, along with their own originals. Jack Schmertz, Schmertz's son, will call in and chat during the program.

They'll also create a "video postcard" for Seeger, who's 90. The performance of the Appleseed song will be taped and sent to Seeger, along with written messages from the audience.

"Saturday Light Brigade" is the long-running weekly program geared to families and kids. It airs Saturdays from 6 a.m. to noon on WRCT-FM (88.3), and is carried on WIUP-FM in Indiana, WMCO-FM in Muskingom, WSAJ-FM in Grove City, WNJR-FM in Washington and WCUC-FM in Clarion.

- Pittsburgh Post Gazette - 11/26/2009


CD: Where the Allegheny Flows
CD: Born of Fire



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The NewLanders have researched and rediscovered songs that capture the American experience.

By interweaving traditional instruments, including the Appalachian lap dulcimer, fiddle, and mandolin, with richly layered harmonies and electric guitar and bass, the NewLanders have created a contemporary sound, while honoring and preserving the inspiring stories of the past.

A NewLanders' performance includes engaging narrations and real-life accounts from the mills, mines, rivers, and fields of their home region, western Pennsylvania, as well as haunting songs and poignant stories that celebrate the enduring spirit that built our nation.

The band has performed regionally in the USA and also in Europe.

"Industrial history has a sound & this sound has a name, it's called the NewLanders" - Dr. Thomas Schleper, Rhineland Industrial Museum, Oberhausen Germany

"Your songs, just like David McCullough's message, provide powerful images of our nation's heritage and raise the spirit of Pennsylvania's rich past." Mr. John M. Perzel, The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (on the NewLanders performance, in the house chamber 11/8/2004, prior to lecture by historian David McCullough)