PartyFolk
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PartyFolk

New York City, New York, United States

New York City, New York, United States
Band Folk Americana

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In a small room in a 19th-century building, three students diligently pluck away at their banjos as an instructor calls out chord changes and sings a Charlie Poole tune from the early 1900s.

If the river was whiskey and I was a duck I’d dive to the bottom and I’d never come up

It’s the sort of scene that conjures up the rural South decades ago, but the year is 2012 and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is just a couple blocks away. The strumming fingers are painted with teal nail polish, and the toes tapping along with the music are clad in Converse All-Stars and pink Superga sneakers. When the pretty blond instructor, Hilary Hawke, a 29-year-old Williamsburg resident, plays a song first for reference, the three students — 20- and 30-something creative professionals — all whip out their iPhones to record it.
“Last session with this fingerpicking was all hipsters,” says Hawke. “It’s bizarre to me.”

Old-time music is experiencing a resurgence in Brooklyn, as the sort of people who might once have dabbled in a punk band or indie rock affair instead opt for banjo lessons and ukulele concerts.

“It’s a crescendo — it’s just really starting,” says Geoff Wiley, 43, who, along with wife Lynette, 39, owns the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, the site of the aforementioned banjo class and the de facto center of the Brooklyn folk scene. “It’s amazing how many people are wanting to play the banjo in Brooklyn.”

Nearly six years ago, the Wileys opened the Jalopy on a remote corner, where the space’s cozy exposed-brick walls, pew seating for 74 and red velvet curtain warm a desolate block near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The Jalopy hosts concerts most nights, offers lessons in traditional music and dance, and sells the occasional old instrument.

“We can’t even keep banjos on the walls,” says Lynette. “It’s bizarre. When we opened, it was ukuleles.”

In April, the venue expanded to a pub next door, where the hockey on a flatscreen TV is one of the few signs of modernity amid the beers poured into Mason jars and an Appalachian-style crowd that favors big beards, ratty old hats and vintage vests.

Next weekend, the Jalopy will present the fourth annual Brooklyn Folk Festival with the “Down Home Radio Show,” a popular podcast hosted by Eli Smith, a folk-music aficionado and teacher who grew up in Greenwich Village in the ’80s and ’90s and took an interest in the folk music that had once been so prevalent there.

“When I heard Woody Guthrie,” he says wistfully, “that was the music that spoke to me, so I just followed it.”

Smith dreamed up the festival in 2006. In the years since, it’s grown from a relatively small affair at the Jalopy to a Jay Street event in Downtown Brooklyn for an expected 1,000 attendees. More than 30 folk bands, the majority of them local and playing styles from country blues to Bulgarian folk, will take the stage. There will also be square dancing, film screenings and banjo-themed, old-fashioned carnival games.

The Brooklyn folk scene isn’t limited to the Jalopy and the festival. The Brooklyn Rod & Gun, a private club in Williamsburg with about 100 members, considers itself the Jalopy’s redheaded stepchild, and regularly opens its doors to the public for old-timey concerts and jams. Every second and fourth Sunday of the month, Hawke, the Jalopy banjo teacher, hosts a veritable “hootenanny” where dozens of folk enthusiasts jam together, practice playing their instruments and participate in informal singalongs.

Chris Raymond, a 49-year-old father of two and the club’s founder, grew up as a punk rocker in New York but has been drawn to old-timey music in recent years, in part because it’s family-friendly. Still, he says, he “never forgets” his more hard-core roots. “When I was a kid, everyone was in a punk rock band. Now everyone’s got a ukulele or a banjo,” he says. “There’s a lot of this music happening now, really, and it’s really nice.”

Those on the scene give different reasons for folk being in fashion. Leah Latella, a singer and songwriter in Party Folk, a local band that describes its sound as “country-like party music,” credits the popularity of mainstream bands with a folky edge. “You can peg it to Mumford & Sons and Civil Wars,” she says.

Kristin Andreassen, the co-founder of an adult summer camp for musicians and a clogging instructor at the Jalopy, says, “What draws people to folk music is some of the same values that would draw you to going to the farmers market. It’s about connecting with people who live near you.” - New York Post


Winners of the 2012 FringeNYC Overall Excellence Awards, as selected by an independent panel of 40 theater professionals, are as follows:

Music Composition:
PartyFolk (Panoramania; or The Adventures of John Banvard)

Overall Production:
Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness!
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Independents
boxplay

Performance:
Francisco De Jesus III (Outside Providence)
Mary Jane Gibson (Fantasy Artists)
Rebecca White (Hadrian's Wall)
Brennan Lee Mulligan (...And Then She Dies at the End)
Brian Silliman (The Particulars)
BranDon Reilly (SleepOver)

Playwriting:
Chris Phillips (Pieces)
Maggie Cino (Decompression)
David Marx (Would)

n 1997, New York City became the seventh US city to host a fringe festival, joining Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Orlando and San Francisco. In its first 16 years FringeNYC has presented over 2500 performing groups from the U.K., Canada, Poland, Ireland, Japan, Singapore, Germany, the Czech Republic and across the U.S., prompting Switzerland’s national daily, The New Zurich Zeitung, to declare, “FringeNYC has become the premiere meeting ground for alternative artists.” The festival has also been the launching pad for numerous Off-Broadway and Broadway transfers, long-running downtown hits, and regional Theater Productions including Urinetown, Matt & Ben, Never Swim Alone, Debbie Does Dallas, Dog Sees God, 21 Dog Years, Krapp 39, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Silence! The Musical, The Irish Curse, 666, Tales from the Tunnel and Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party and as well as movies (WTC View) and even a TV show (‘da Kink in My Hair). FringeNYC is a production of The Present Company, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy.



- Broadway World


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

With a propensity for soulful musical satire and an infectious ability to turn any blank face into a grin, PartyFolk is not your typical bluegrass or folk music band. The ukulele, mandolin, and banjo round out the folk but compliment the party by bringing funky electric bass to the table. The vocals are harmonious and deep with ample festive punch. Poised to bring a new brand of music to New York’s vibrant music scene, PartyFolk will rock your world without the need for earplugs.

Their debut album We All Belong In A Zoo was tracked in early 2012, however lead singers and songwriters Leah Latella and Noah Chase have been playing music together for over six years. They founded the band through a shared affinity for bluegrass music; a successful duo performance between the two at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, NY led to bigger ideas. “I had been wanting to start a band with Noah for years and was just waiting for him to realize it’s potential,” reflects Leah.

Although new to songwriting, Leah Latella has been developing a signature, dynamic singing voice her entire life, first in a North Carolina church and later in theatrical performances. Noah Chase grew up in Israel and New York on a musical diet of eclectic, world music, bluegrass and classic rock. He brings bluesy rhythm and a knock out voice to their heavy acoustic sound. “We really like pop music too. I’m listening to Rihanna, Beyonce, and Katy Perry all the time! We’re also big fans of Mumford and Sons and the Black Keys. That raw, organic sound is something we strive for in our music as well,” says Leah.

Noah, a seasoned songwriter and current member of NYC band Soulfarm, plays a complimentary contrast to Leah’s stylistic purity. “It’s amazing to write with Leah because she brings a refreshing approach, she hasn’t over thought things yet. I’ve written with a lot of writers and she and I wrote 12 songs in three months, I’ve never had that kind of success with any other writer.”

The full ensemble, rounded out by GRAMMY-winning bassist Mitch Friedman and NC banjo slinger Bennett Sullivan, started with studio chemistry and ended in a groovy, virtuosic stage band. “They’re (Mitch and Bennett) both very intense, young prodigies. We have a great dynamic,” says Noah.

The band advocates pure fun, bringing a celebration to any performance. “It is always a party. When we perform it’s about getting the audience to let go,” says Leah of their shows. PartyFolk strives to free folk music from its melancholy heritage. “Traditionally folk music has been used for protest. But when we go out for fun, why do we have to listen to a guy in a club whine? Great music doesn’t have to be a depressing!,” comments Noah.

Their blatant optimism is already having an effect on New York City. A recent New York Post article nods to the young band as a presence in the growing folk scene. Leah and Noah were just awarded the titles of musical directors for the musical

Panoramania!, a production that will debut at the Fringe Festival in New York this August and will feature the original music of PartyFolk. The song “Good Time Tonight” from their debut album will be used and rewritten as the musical’s main theme.

After all is said and done, PartyFolk’s music is about having fun and staying optimistic. “It’s all about the holler and swaller!” laughs Leah. The band is hitting the ground with a fresh and funky grassroots movement, making new fans at every gig.

Band Members