MISS FOLK AMERICA:
GUITARS, GUMPTION AND A LITTLE BIT OF GLAM
By Adrian Brune
SOMERVILLE, MA - Six young women adorned in their finest folk fashion graced the stage of the historic Somerville Theater last Saturday night, each one full of hopes and dreams that she would take home the coveted tiara, thereby elevating her to the pinnacle of her career.
They pawned and preened, strumming out their mightiest melodies and singing their heart-wrenching lyrics, all the while winning over the audience with sex appeal. But in the tradition of the all-inclusive genre of folk music, each one went away empty handed, learning only a lesson in the true nature of the Boston folk scene: no one singer can ever completely can hold the attention of these fickle fans.
If only every pageant were like a Faith Soloway Schlock Opera. Miss Folk America, a hilarious, sometimes wacky and enlightening parody of the competitive Boston folk music landscape made its encore performance to a sold-out crowd of more than 1,000 on May 19.
Soloway, the singer/songwriter/comedian and overall stage ham, created Miss Folk America after arriving in Boston from Chicago, and trying her hand at a few open mike nights around town. She got a feel for the dynamics between singers, agents and record companies and put them all down in a mock beauty pageant complete with video clips of the singers behind the scenes intertwined with the stage numbers.
"It's definitely represents a reaction of this folksy, all-inclusive scene dealing with the music industry and all the hang-ups of making it big and selling records," Soloway said. "I don't want to say I'm exactly holding up my middle finger at the music industry, but I'm kind of doing that in a
"My thing is really the theater. I like to write things that will make people laugh and push the limits of the audience a little bit."
For Miss Folk America, Soloway picked five of the most well known and widely received folk performers in Boston from each of the six prominently lesbian neighborhoods and tailored "talent show" numbers around their personalities. Seasoned musician Jennifer Kimball, formerly of The Story, played Miss Somerville Union Square opposite Kris Delmhorst, Miss Somerville Davis Square, which set up a competitive sub-plot, leading to an unexpected stage kiss between the singers.
Catie Curtis, dubbed a "folk rock goddess" by The New Yorker magazine, represented Cambridge and played a main role as the sensitive caretaker, who finds discomfort in the pressure of competition and brings the folk queens together with the help of psychotherapist, Sonanta Whitewoman, played by Merle Perkins. In a role loosely reflecting her Louisiana roots, country folkie Mary Gauthier, was the drawling Miss Dorchester, who couldn't get enough of washing her hands after a less-than-genteel upbringing.
The openly gay Soloway lampooned herself and the fact that she has no CDs displayed at the local Tower Records, like the other singers. She brought in the number "Queer in Revere" from one of her other Scholck Operas, "Debbie Does Falcon Ridge," and donning a mullet wig, belted out a belly-busting tune about living a straight-acting life and hitting the queer sex videos at night in the working-class town.
Finally, true to her form as a folk guitarist with an edge, Meghan Toohey played the baby -dyke rocker from Jamaica Plain, complete with the trash talk and the homegirl do-rag. She ripped it up in leather pants and a Kiss T-shirt with an electric guitar solo early in the show.
Local filmmaker Ian Brownell, the other half of Soloway's "Smell My Productions, created the behind the scenes numbers mostly around Cambridge and Somerville, with the singers receiving folk exercise classes in sashaying their guitars from Vance Gilbert, checking out the latest whiny street performers in Harvard Square and reminiscing about open mike night at Club Passim. In addition to pushing her audience a little bit further, Soloway challenged her performers as well, with some very un-PC lyrics and some very "rollicking and frolicking things you can't normally do on stage," she said.
"Sometimes I worry my material is a little too raunchy for PC Boston, but audiences have laughed at everything," Soloway, who has a large lesbian following, said. "And when something is funny and real, you don't have to separate the audiences."
Soloway cut her teeth in the famed Chicago improv group Second City and made a name for herself with "The Real Brady Bunch," a theater takeoff of the 1960s sit-com she co-wrote with her sister, which was performed all over the country. After a stint in Los Angeles as a script contributor to "The Brady Bunch Movie," Soloway followed a girl out to Boston and became known on the folk scene for her strong voice, sense of humor and her ability to create the characters that inhabit her songs.
Soloway also has a band, The Faith Soloway Crisis, and performs at local clubs all over the city.
"Folk performers just want to stick to a simple presentation on stage, but most know they have to pump it up for the audience and look sexy," Soloway said. "I literally sat down at Club Passim, wrote down what I saw and put it together piece by piece."
Soloway's next big project is an encore performance of "Jesus has Two Mommies," a production of how it really happened 2000 years ago, she said. The show, starring Catie Curtis, has Mary and Josephine meeting in a bar called the Burning Bush and, well, if you're a lesbian, you know the rest. The show goes on at the Somerville Theater at the end of November.
Miss Folk America originally appeared in December 2000 and Soloway is unsure of whether she will bring the wildly popular show back again. The production requires a lot of juggling of folk singer touring schedules and some serious planning.
In the meantime, you can see Soloway shooting scenes for "Jesus has Two Mommies" around town late this summer. As for any new ideas floating around in her head for the next Schlock Opera, it's anybody's guess.
"My shows are a blend of all my experiences," she said. "Getting it out there and keeping people laughing is always a challenge."
reprinted by permission of the author