Twice the Folk
Ensemble revues keep musicians, fans busy

By Scott Alarik
Globe Correspondent

If you are a singer-songwriter in Boston, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that you are working in what is widely regarded as the largest and most influential folk scene in the country, with more venues, radio airplay, and media attention for this kind of music that anywhere else.

The bad news is their are also more singer-songwriters, a lot more, all clamoring to be heard, to get on stage, score record deals, and build careers. It can be difficult for even the most promising talents to simply stay busy, much less become stars.

Faith Soloway cut her teeth in the Chicago theater scene, when she and her sister Jill created a cultishly popular cabaret musical called "The Real Live Brady Bunch." She has mounted similar satires at Club Passim over the last few years, the most ambitious of which, "Miss Folk America" has grown so popular it will be held at the Somerville Theater tomorrow.

Soloway described the folk musical as "the Boston Folk scene meet 'South Park' meets a beauty pageant." In a smart, madcap blend of skits, songs, and video clips, she and local folk stars Catie Curtis, Jennifer Kimball, Kris Delmhorst, Mary Gauthier, and Meghan Toohey compete for a mythical Miss Folk America title.

"The beauty pageant is a structure to satirize the notion of superstardom in folk, and what it is to try to achieve the ultimate dream of celebrity folkdom," she said. "I'm satirizing that here is this folk community people feel they belong to, and yet there is a strong competitive element within that. I'm lucky to have these women involved who realize the traps of the songwriter game and who are willing to take some risks parodying their own images and using the format to exorcise some of the demons they see as part of the scene."

After all the broad fun and barbed satire of selecting a new Miss Folk America, Soloway will end her role in the pageant with a dark lullaby written for a folk community she fears is becoming too vain about its own star making importance, and performers too enchanted by their own ambitions, to remember why they fell in love with folk music in the first place: "Lay your head down tonight in the bosom of artificial light/ You have climbed to a high fictions height/ Where none of your dreams come true."

"That song came from trying to figure out what all this meant for me," she said. "I think the songs came first for all of us, these songs that just had to come out and that we had to share. But then other things enter in, the competition, the marketing. I think the biggest truth we all have to admit is that, in order to do this, there is competition. Doing these kinds of special shows is a way for me to make sure that the song and who I am always stays more important than the game."

excerpts reprinted by permission of the author