- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

“To me the folk music scene is a lot like the jazz scene,” says New Hampshire folk singer Bill Staines. “It’s not something that everybody listens to, but it has a niche that’s not going to die. It’s part of the music culture that will be here for a long, long time.”

Mr. Staines ought to know. He’s been part of the folk scene since the early ‘60s, when he performed at and ran the hootenanny at Boston’s Club 47. He continues to perform, and he’ll be the featured artist in the Vic’s Music Corner Focus series at O’Brien’s Pit Barbecue in Rockville on Wednesday.

Mr. Staines is one of folk’s quiet legends. He, as much as almost anyone performing today, carries on the traditional roots of folk music while writing and performing his own folk songs.

To Mr. Staines, a “folkie” performer must have certain qualities.

“It’s anybody that really knows and feels the roots of the music,” he says. “There’s a lot of people who are in the quote ‘folk music’ scene, whose roots go back to Crosby, Stills and Nash, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But do you call them ‘folkies’? I don’t, really.”

Then he revs up.

“When somebody comes out and does an acoustic set and they wouldn’t know Stephen Foster or the song ‘Shenandoah’ or something like that, I just don’t consider them folkies,” he says. “They may be great, I don’t mean to put them down. They just aren’t folkies.”

Such performers are part of the acoustic pop scene, according to Mr. Staines. What distinguishes the two genres is the songwriting.

“To me the folk song is sort of rich in the human experience and rich in the human spirit,” he says. “And a lot of acoustic pop is well done, but it’s not particularly meaty, if you will, or it’s not as in-depth as what I consider the folk world is.”

Mr. Staines, known for such songs as “Sweet Wyoming Home,” “The Roseville Fair” and “Yellowstone Winds,” has made an illustrious 40-year career out of writing folk songs with depth, particularly with a depth of spirit.

“I try to write great songs,” says Mr. Staines. “And when I say ‘great songs,’ I’m not necessarily talking about quality. I’m talking about songs about great things, songs that people can relate to, songs that are universal. I want to bring something of value to people with my music.”

Always considered one the contemporary folk troubadours, even today the 58-year-old Mr. Staines performs more than 175 shows a year. “I think musicians’ lot in life is to play until they drop,” he says.

• • •

The members of the band Oneside are too new to the music scene to drop. Together for only three years, the group started performing almost before they were ready — but they play the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. tomorrow, the Velvet Lounge at midnight tomorrow, and the Iota Club on Saturday.

Begun by singer-songwriter-guitarist Ned deBary and his next-door neighbor Ian Knox, the band from Boston has grown and changed in many ways.

“We started off acoustic. We started off as more of a folk band,” recalls Mr. deBary. “It was pretty mellow. We wrote some good songs in that period, but we were kind of looking for something a little more ‘rock.’ ”

They didn’t want to be labeled as a mid-tempo folk ballad band, so they shifted things around.

“I was playing acoustic guitar through a fender amp and one day I just picked up the bass,” Mr. deBary says. “Ian plugged his banjo pickup into the electric and through a distortion pedal. That’s sort of the moment where we realized, ‘This is cool.’ ”

What they found was an exciting and very different sound, which they’ve continued to develop while expanding to a four-piece rock band. Their songs are solid pop-rock tunes, but they get an added drive from the electric banjo that begins to send them towards almost a “grunge band” sound of machine gun power chords.

What is unique is that the rolling banjo picking takes the edge off the speed rock without losing the energy. The banjo definitely doesn’t sound like the typical bluegrass banjo, but Mr. Knox uses banjo techniques to move from a wall of sound to distinctive lead guitar-like notes reminiscent of U2 or Jimi Hendrix.

The thoroughly contemporary and entertaining mix works perfectly with Mr. deBary’s well-written songs.


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