Common Folk performs in Monticello
Music brings people together. This is an almost universally-acknowledged truth, and Judd Steinbeck says it’s the best thing about performing traditional American folk music with his band, Common Folk. “There’s a kind of magic that happens when people play, hear and share this music,” Steinbeck says. Students throughout Southeast Arkansas will be able to experience that magic when Common Folk tours the area as part of the Seark Concert Association’s SMARTS (Schools Majoring in the Arts) program, and the group plans a series of free concerts in McGehee, Crossett, Warren and Monticello Feb. 18-21.
Common Folk is made up of Steinbeck, who lives in La Crosse, Wis., and Duane Porterfield and Grace Stormont, both of Mountain View. Steinbeck’s grandparents live in Arkansas and he has been coming here since he was a baby for vacations, to fish, and to listen to and play music. He, Porterfield and Stormont met during a festival at the Ozark Folk Center and were “just goofing around” playing music together prior to his solo set, Steinbeck explained, and he thought they sounded good, so he invited Porterfield and Stormont to join him on stage. Since then, they have performed together every chance they get, he said, although his living so far away makes that difficult.
What keeps them going is their love of folk music and desire to preserve and share it, particularly the music of Arkansas and the Ozarks. To do this, they utilize a wide variety of instruments - mountain dulcimer, clawhammer banjo, guitar, fiddle, Irish whistle and various folk percussion instruments. Asked to describe the band’s style, Steinbeck called it “old time, back before bluegrass and country,” which he said split off to form their own genres in the 1920s and 30s. Common Folk shows include the occasional gospel song or maybe a “folkified” version of a contemporary song, Steinbeck said, and in observance of February as Black History Month, they will also be performing songs with African influences. “That’s really easy to do because there are so many of those profound influences on the music we play,” he said, adding that the banjo originated in Africa.
One aspect of Common Folk that Steinbeck loves is that it is multi-generational, with Porterfield being in his 60s, Steinbeck himself nearly 40, and Stormont only 20. Discovering a shared appreciation for the music among people of different ages and backgrounds is an experience that repeats itself often at the band’s shows, Steinbeck said, and one that is gratifying to him. “When you’re listening to this music, your religious, political or ideological beliefs - none of that stuff matters,” he said. “We get to come together as people, and to be free from all of the baggage. It’s an incredible experience, free of television or screens.”
Common Folk will present free community concerts at the following locations:
• McGehee Boys & Girls Club, 205 Washington Avenue, from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, February 18
• Crossett Public Library, 1700 South Main Street, at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19
• Rob Reep Art Studio, 225 South Main Street in Warren from 5:30-6:30 on Thursday, February 20; and
• Monticello Coffee Company, 316 Hwy. 425 South, from 5 to 6:30 on Friday, February 21
The goal of the SMARTS program is to ensure that every student in grades K-12 in the seven counties served by the Seark Concert Association is exposed to professional, high-quality fine arts experiences. Seark brings a variety of performances to the 17 school districts in the area at no cost to the schools, but this is an expensive undertaking. The vision of the SMARTS program is to enrich each child’s academic experience and growth by providing exposure to and experience of the arts. More than 20,000 students were served during the 2018-2019 school year. Donations are encouraged and may be made at any of the free community concerts or by visiting searkconcert.org and clicking on the “Donate Now” button on the home page.