Tom May
Gig Seeker Pro

Tom May

Vancouver, Washington, United States | INDIE

Vancouver, Washington, United States | INDIE
Band Folk


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Great Music, Good Cause 1-27-08"

Great music, good cause
Sunday, January 27, 2008
BY MIKE BAILEY, Columbian staff writer

Tom May was a rising star in folk music, serving as an opening act for artists such as Willie Nelson and Gordon Lightfoot, when a Portland fan asked him to play at a small birthday party. The fan offered to fly him from his then home in Nebraska to Portland; May didn't hesitate to take her up on the offer. At the end of the party at a local pub, a small collection was taken for a local charity.
Because of that birthday party two decades ago, people in need continue to reap rewards from this Battle Ground folk singer and guitarist, who has released 12 CDs and hosts a radio show with a national following.
His largest charity event, Winterfolk, will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year at Portland's Aladdin Theater. A benefit for Sisters of the Road Cafe, May has enlisted a long line of friends to perform, including Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary and such Vancouver artists as Grammy Award-winning guitarist Doug Smith and Misty River. In years past, Winterfolk has sold out the 600-seat Aladdin Theater and raised more than $20,000.
"I never have a problem getting artists to participate," May said. "They donate their time, and most of them even pay for their own transportation to get here."
The event is an outlet for artists in the wide-ranging folk genre to promote their music and sell CDs.
But May says it also serves a more important purpose.
May, 55, said it costs about $4,000 to stage Winterfolk and all the money raised goes to the cafe, which offers $1.25 meals to anyone who wants one. It's the only food some homeless and low-income people can afford, May said.
"The money we raise is a huge portion of their budget," he said. "It would be hard to operate without the money we raise."
May, a soft-spoken man with shoulder-length hair and a constant grin, doesn't look at the months he works on arranging Winterfolk as a burden or task, but instead sees it as another chance to take the stage and share folk music with fans.
He's promoted the genre for 36 years, starting in Nebraska and then in each of the cities where he's lived before settling in the Northwest, including Toronto, Boston and St. Louis. Each year, he spends several months on the road. He's performed in all 50 states, as well as every Canadian province and several European countries.
Along the way, he has established friendships with several heavyweights in the business. In addition to opening for Lightfoot, Nelson and Alabama, artists such as Yarrow have been quick to say yes when May calls.

On the radio
May is well-known in the Northwest through his 200-plus concerts a year, but he also has a national audience with his radio show, "River City Folk," that airs four times a week on more than 200 stations. Though the show is not broadcast on local airwaves, it's available to Clark County fans who are XM Satellite Radio subscribers. The show, which has been on the air 23 years, features interviews with folk artists mixed with performances of their songs.
Because folk music is hard to define, the list of artists identified with the genre ranges from country to blue grass to rock.
Musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are often linked to the storytelling format of folk music.
"I'm convinced my role in music is to add some kind of history and beauty to the world," May said. "That's what I do on my songs."
And he feels there will always be a place for folk.
"Popular music revolves around stark, realistic images of society today," he said. "Folk music is like a painting. Folk music is like art."
Having just released his 12th CD, "Blue Roads, Red Wine," May is perhaps one of the area's best-known folk and Celtic performers. He's a regular at Kells Irish Pub in Portland, as well as the Horse Brass Pub where the birthday party that spawned Winterfolk was held 20 years ago.
Don Younger, owner of the Horse Brass Pub, said May continues to draw large crowds when performing at the pub.
"It's his voice," Younger said. "He has one of the most beautiful voices.
"He's got a reputation well beyond this place," Younger said. "He has fans who have followed him for 25 years and has new ones that have just found him. The crowds are all ages when he plays here."
May says after 36 years, he's content to trim time spent on the road and concentrate on a variety of other interests in music. He's recently co-written a book and is producing several folk festivals in the Northwest.
"I do have a couple of concerts in Colorado coming up but for the most part, I don't go east of the Mississippi these days," May said. "Life as an artist has its peaks and valleys and can be schizophrenic at times. One day you're playing to 3,000 people and the next you're in a dingy bar in front of a handful of drunks.
"At this point in my life and the place in my life, I am enjoying staying put for the most part."
Album Notes
Tom May describes the songs on his new album as conveying "the richness of a life lived with eyes wide open."
Here's some background on the songs on the CD, "Blue Roads, Red Wine."

"Blue Roads, Red Wine"
May says the song is autobiographical and a summation of his four favorite things in life: travel, red wine, music and rose-scented women.

"Celilo Falls"
May co-wrote this song with Fuzzy Purcell and calls it a painting and history of the falls that disappeared when a dam was built on the Columbia River.

"Wild River"
This song is about hitchhiking back to Portland, along the Columbia River, after a car breakdown.

"Words Upon the Wire"
May wrote this song as a tribute to his father, who had been abandoned as a child and found salvation in his job as a telegraph operator.

"Lovers Heart"
The words tell a story about two lovers split apart by war. Andy M. Stewart, lead singer with the group Silly Wizard, provides vocals.

"Yukon Journey, 45 Below"
May did a concert tour of Alaska in 1997, which inspired this fun song.

"The Eyes of Rembrandt"
May says this song is a reflection on the importance of art in life. "Beauty never goes out of fashion."

"Watching the Rivers Flow"
Chris Kennedy, a friend of May's, wrote this song 20 years ago after rafting Montana's Clark Fork River.

"Somewhere Down the Line"
Bruce Coughlan wrote this song and offered it to May for his new CD. Coughlan fronts the group Tillers Folly of Vancouver, B.C.

"The Lovin' of the Game"
The lyrics of this song, written by Pat Garvey, also are in a book written by May and Dick Weissman offering tips on how musicians can promote themselves. May says the song sums up why musicians want to be in the business.

"Hope for One and All"
May calls this song, written by David Mallett, a "beacon of hope in these troubled, complicated times."

- Mike Bailey
Mike Bailey can be reached at 360-735-4510 or

- Columbian Newspaper, Vancouver, Washingotn

"Review of "Blue Roads, Red Wine" 6/08"

The great troubadour of the Pacific Northwest
Tom May is out with his latest, and it’s a
magnificent work. Blue Roads and Red Wine
is an “autobiographical” album, his look back
at 36 years of travelling, performing, exploring,
loving, sampling the grape and looking forward
to more of the same. The title cut – about two of
his four favorite things – is as good a song about
the road as has ever been done, and May and his
all-star backing band give the delightful melody
a full, shiny treatment. Some say he sounds like
Ian Tyson; he also invites favorable comparison
to his friend Gordon Lightfoot, especially when
he writes evocatively of touring in the Canadian
territories or delves into Pacific Northwest
history. With “Celilo Falls,” May has composed
an important answer song to Woody Guthrie’s
BPA collection, important not just because it’s a critical look at what the great dams did to the
Columbia River; it’s important because it’s not a
grouchy parody--it’s a hummable original. May
closes out the album with a handful of songs by
other people, and they’re high quality pieces, too;
he’s included Pat Garvey’s “The Lovin’ of the
Game,” which is the song that gave the title to
May’s outstanding book (with Dick Weissman)
on how to navigate the music business. Whatta
guy, whatta CD! (Tom Petersen) - Victory Review/Acoustic Music Magazine/Seattle, WA

"Press Highlights"

"Tom May himself is the epitome of a balladeer, singing his own songs and those of others with warmth, humor, and accessibility"
The All Music Guide

"Tom is a troubadour in a greater sense than I am. He goes out there and plays, traveling in a car down some very long roads, from one show to another"
--David Mallet (author of "The Garden Song")

"Tom May sounds a little like the young Stan Rogers with a dash of Ian Tyson…His rich, round, full voice caresses each song before he lets it go."--Rich Warren, Sing Out! Magazine

"Perhaps my own favorite of Tom's is the saucy Louisiana/Texas vibe of "The Rose of the Riverwalk". But you will doubtless come away with a sense of affirmation from the entire set-for it keeps the music, and the inevitable currents of faith in mankind, alive in a time that hasn't welcomed the singer/songwriter with open arms. Very good stuff, indeed."
Bill Fisher, talking about "Vested" in the Victory Music Review

"Thanks to his fine River City Folk program, which airs on most public radio stations around the country, Tom May may well be the most well-known Nebraskan in the country."--Jon Sirkis, Acoustic Musician

"His album’s a delightful showcase of ripely matured musiscianship, blending songwriting, voice and instrumentation that have definitely ‘arrived’."--Folk Roots

"One of the most talented performers in the emerging acoustic music renaissance. His voice really rivets one’s attention, whether on record or tape, or in concert. Tom is a real crowd-pleaser.--The Boston Globe

"Tom May has a voice that is smoother than silk! When he combines singing with narration in one of our favorite songs, it is too good!"--Folk Music Quarterly

"Tom May not only keeps the folk music tradition alive, he enhances the genre with his commentary, his introduction of new artists, and his own unique music."--Howard Lowe, KVNO Radio

"Tom May’s music revives the art of listening!"--Cathy Beckham, The Statesman Journal, Salem Oregon

"Tom May’s newest Album is a delightful mix, all excellent. The pace of the music, like May’s singing, is gentle and laid back, a portrait of a wandering life, loving and longing…"--Danna Garcia, Canadian River Music

- many newspapers

"Strumming through History, 7/15/10"

Radio host Tom May carries torch for folk music from era to era
By Rob Cullivan

The Portland Tribune, Jul 15, 2010

Jeffrey Basinger / TRIBUNE PHOTO

Tom May plays folk with Grammy-award winning guitarist Doug Smith at the Medicine Whistle Studio. Tom May recently interviewed Doug Smith on his XM satellite radio show, "River City Folk."

In one corner of the studio sits Doug Smith, a national fingerstyle champion guitarist whose playing has been heard in such movies as “August Rush,” “Moll Flanders” and “Twister.”

In front of the soundboard sits Dan Rhiger, owner and engineer of Southeast Portland’s Medicine Whistle Studio, and half of Sky in The Road, a nationally renowned acoustic duo.

Sitting directly across from Smith is Tom May, Gordon Lightfoot’s former opening act and a songwriter in his own right who’s also opened for Alabama and Willie Nelson, among others.

May is a fixture on the Portland folk scene for organizing such concerts as the annual Winterfolk affair at the Aladdin Theater.

During his almost 40 years in the music business, the singer and guitarist has recorded 12 albums, performed throughout Ireland, Canada and the United States, hosted a folk show on TV, and, with Dick Weissman, co-authored the 2007 book, “The Lovin’ of the Game,” a critically acclaimed how-to guide for songwriters seeking to make a living.

The Nebraska native is marking his 25th year as host of “River City Folk,” a syndicated radio program recorded at Rhiger’s studio that’s carried by 150 stations. Portland listeners can hear it if they subscribe to XM Satellite Radio. The show features interviews and performances with the nation’s best veteran acoustic artists as well as up and coming players and singers, and fans include fellow Nebraskan and provocative folkie Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, May notes.

May has interviewed countless musicians during the years, including Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary most recently, and says the show is a labor of love.

“The only thing that matters to me is there’s a base of people and the community who care about this kind of music,” he says.

Acoustic music has a “naturalness of sound,” he adds. “Generally, I’ve learned, the more volume you get, the more nuance is lost.”

The best folk musicians, he says, delve deeply into history, social issues, working class life, romance and other topics. His albums have explored such topics as the dangers that confront firefighters, the destruction of Native American lands and the wonders of drinking wine.

“There are people open to hearing something real and hearing someone sing something real,” May says of his audience.

On the air
As Rhiger checks sound levels on their microphones, May and Smith discuss what they’ll talk about during the program. They both love Chet Atkins, the producer and guitarist who promulgated the fingerpicking style they’ve made their own.

“It’s beautiful and lyrical,” May says. “One person can be an orchestra because you’re playing the bass parts and the treble parts.”

The two players also decide to address Smith’s 2005 Grammy, which he shared with several other guitarists for “Henry Mancini – Pink Guitar.”

The album featured the guitarists’ takes on various Mancini classics, and Smith jokes that he first got turned onto Mancini by the soundtrack he wrote for “10,” the 1979 film starring sex symbol Bo Derek.

“Everyone was talking about Bo Derek, and I was like, ‘What about that piece of music?’ ” Smith recalls, adding with a laugh: “Maybe I was a guitar nerd.”

Smith plays some Cole Porter, some Atkins, the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and probably his best-known piece, “Renewal.”

Then the two guitarists duet. May stands up, straps on a guitar and jams on the Lightfoot tune “Don Quixote.” His baritone voice has a timber similar to Lightfoot’s and the listener realizes that May could probably have been a vaudeville belter in the days before electric amplification since he’s got the kind of pipes that can fill a room.

When the men finish, Rhiger notes they sounded pretty good, save for some banging of guitars on the microphones.

“If they want it better, they can buy the record,” May says as the men laugh.

Nothing wrong with mistakes
As an apostle of acoustic music, May stresses he’s no Luddite complaining about technology, but simply prefers music stripped down to its essentials.

“I’d rather see people play their music poorly than as synthesized tracks that they’ve sampled,” he says.

When he’s not on the road, May can be found doing monthly gigs at Kells Irish Pub, 112 S.W. Second Ave. He’s a big, burly friendly guy, takes requests and enjoys talking to patrons when he’s on break.

On that note, he clearly treasures the fact so many people have written to him or spoken to him for years about how his music and his radio show have touched their lives.

“You have to be able to want to give a little bit of yourself to this music,” he says. “The beauty of it is it gives back.”

- Portland Tribune

"Tom May’s been a musician for four decades; his tools and tales tell how"

From The Portland, Oregonian “Living section” June 8th, 2007

Music Career? Ask a player first

New Book/ Tom May’s been a musician for four decades; his tools and tales tell how

By John Foyston
The Oregonian

An Old Byrds song taught us how to be Rock n’ Roll stars, but until Tom May’s new book “Promoting Your Music; The Lovin’ of the Game” there have been few how-to guides about making a career writing and playing your own music.

A career is different from being a star. Although May organizes concerts such as Winterfolk, hosts weekly folk-music radio shows, has played thousands of gigs and recorded 11 albums, he wouldn’t likely consider himself a star. But he has made a living from doing his music for nearly four decades. That’s why musician and author Dick Weissman suggested May when Weissman’s publisher, Routledge, first floated the idea of a journeyman’s guide.

Weissman wrote about a quarter of the book, including the sections and passages dealing with copyrights, the musicians union, and a chapter about placing music in movies, TV, and the royalties involved. May wrote the rest, beginning about two years ago and finishing a year ago, although the book has just been published.

“It’s a guide for people who want to earn their living in music”, he said. “there are plenty of nuts and bolts in there, but the challenge was to put something together that’s not just a toolbox, but also works as a entertaining narrative- a book like this can be like wading through a pool of sawdust.”

My avoids that dry feeling with funny, instructive stores and recollections gleaned from interviews with veteran players such as Gordon Lightfoot and Eliza Gilkyson. And from his own memory banks, because he’s got a story or two from his four decades in the biz. Such as his first guitar, a Sears Silverton acoustic that he played so much he wore the paint off its fingerboard.

Or an early career gig in an Ontario bar where he was supposed to play five sets a night, five nights a week, plus a Saturday matinee. He wondered what that was, exactly. But at least he had a good crowd, he noticed, as he set up for the first matinee….all guys, though.

Then a young woman walked onstage and said she, too, was performing that afternoon. When her time came, she eased a record player’s needle onto a copy of “Proud Mary”, and started dancing- and shucking most of her clothes, to the audience’s obvious enjoyment. And then she walked offstage, leaving the room to May: “Here I was,” he said, “having to come back onstage with all of my emotion-laden young man’s folk songs and follow a stripper.”

That’s probably what some musicians and comics mean they talk about a tough room.

The book is entertaining, but May’s message that a career musician must be able to handle every aspect of his or her careeer is unflinching- and might dim the stars in some aspiring singer/songwriters eyes. “the biggest misconception is that an agent will magically resolve your joblessness and produce a lot of gigs for you” May saind, “but that’s simply not going to happen until you reach a certain level of popularity that makes it viable for the agent to spend time promoting you and still be able to make money for himself.”

It’s a lot of fork to set up gigs, the publicity mill grinding and attend to the logistics of touring-not to mention the music part of a music career. But May prefers to do everything himself: he’s had agents and managers in the past, but these days he does it all, and saves the 20 percent or 40 percent fee off the top. He likes the autonomy and the freedom afforded by controlling every part of his career.

He also believes in the rule of three: playing your music must be your primary goral and passion, but look for an opportunity to help pay the rent by working at jobs that are related to your goals. For May, that includes his weekly national radio program “River City folk”, and the concerts such as Winterfolk, that he organizes.

If you’re hesitant about assuming that kind of responsibility for your own fate, he said, you might consdieer anoth line of work. “There’s a reason that the subtitle of the book is of a Pat Garvey song, “The Lovin of the Game”. If you’re doing this for any other reason other than the love of playing music, then you’ve missed are there is as far as the journey goes.”

Promoting Your Music; The Lovin’ of the Game
Routledge, $35.95 paperback, 208 pages

John Foyston: 503-221-8368

- Oregonian newspaper, 6/8/07


Tom May National albums/CD's
1. "Blue Roads, Red Wine" 2008 (Waterbug Records, Chicago)
2. “Vested” 2002 (Blue Vignette)
3. “Trace of the Troubador” 2001 (Blue Vignette) live compilation
4. "From the Prairies to the Past” 1999 (Blue Vignette)
5. “River and the Road” 1995 (Folk Era)
6. "Blue Northern” 1991 (Blue Vignette)
7. “Open Spaces, Prairie Winds” 1987 (Blue Vignette)
8. “Coming Home” 1982 (Blue Vignette)
9. “Vignette” 1980 (originally Capitol Records, Canada)
10. “Just Another Night at Kells” 2006 (Blue Vignette)
11. “Winterfolk 10” compilation” 1998 (Producer and performer-Sisters of the Road)
12. “Winterfolk 15” compilation” 2003 (Producer and performer-Sisters of the Road)



In his 36 years as a professional singer/songwriter/performer Tom May has touched thousands of lives with his songs, through his concerts across the U.S. and overseas; with his weekly radio program “River City Folk”, heard on over 200 stations and XM satellite radio; and his work on events that benefit entire communities and states, such as “Winterfolk”. (Portland, Oregon’s largest annual folk music event, which Tom founded and directs; a benefit for “Sister’s of the Road Café” which provides thousands of low cost and no cost meals each week )

Tom has performed in every state in the Union, as well as Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Belgium. His performing venues have included prestigious concert halls, small town auditoriums, and humble coffeehouses. His festival appearances include the Kerrville Folk Festival (Texas); The Napa Valley Folk Festival; Sisters Folk Festival (Oregon) The Juan De Fuca Festival (Port Angeles, Washington) and dozens more.

Tom still performs between 150-200 shows per year, every year.

Tom’s music was chosen to represent Nebraska at the National Arts Council’s annual conference in 1994 and 1995 in South Carolina and Omaha. In September of 1994, Tom headlined a special series of concerts with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, one of the most acclaimed regional orchestras in the U.S. He performed a set of his music with full orchestral accompaniment to capacity crowds and rave reviews. In 1997 and 1998, Tom did a series of concerts throughout Alaska in honor of the Klondike Gold Rush centennial. He also performed at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics with his "Songs of the New and Old West" program.

Tom has toured with and opened for many well known artists, Gordon Lightfoot, Alabama, Willie Nelson, and many others. He currently performs and tours solo or with his acoustic trio, and has released twelve critically acclaimed, widely distributed albums; the most recent, 2008's "Blue Roads, Red Wine", on Waterbug Records out of Chicago.

In addition to his live concert appearances, Tom has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs National Public Radio’s syndicated Mountain Stage; Radio Eirhenn’s (Ireland) Andy O’Mahoney show, and the CBC’s Ian Tyson Show(Television) to name a few.

Tom also produces and hosts his own national radio/TV broadcast, River City Folk. The show is heard weekly on over 160 radio stations and on XM Satellite Radio from Alaska to New York. River City Folk highlights the vitality of the acoustic music scene by featuring diverse performers and styles. The radio version of River City Folk remains one of the premier showcases for acoustic singer/songwriters nationally.

In addition to directing “Winterfolk” in Portland, Tom is also the director of the “North Coast Folk Festival”, in Ocean Shores, Washington. Through the years Tom has directed and consulted for many festivals, including the Festival at the Fort in Omaha, Nebraska and The Lark at the Mountain festival at Mt. Rainier, Washington.

He is author a book for Routledge Publishers of New York, called “Promoting Your Music; The Loving of the Game”. The book features anecdotes and advice from Tom's life in music, as well as interviews with Grodon Lightfoot, Eliza Gilkyson, Harry Manx, and representatives of other aspects of this multi-faceted enterprise.

Sisters, Oregon Folk Festival mainstage
Brewery Arts Center, Carson City, Nevada
College of Du Page Arts Center, Chicago, Illinois
Coaster Theatre, Cannon Beach, Oregon
Ozarks Folk Festival, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Seattle Folklore Society, Phinney Ridge Center
Seattle, Washington
Civic Auditorium, The Dalles, Oregon
Orpheum Theatre ( with the Omaha Symphony
orchestra accompanying Tom) Omaha, Nebraska
The Alladin Theatre, Portland Oregon
(yearly Winterfolk performance)
Passim, Boston ( many appearances)

and hundreds of others.............................