We are often asked, “What kind of music do you do.” We always have a problem in coming up with a simple answer.
The music of Woodchucks’ Revenge begins, of course, with the “Great Folk Scare” - the “pop-folk” of the end of the 1950s and the early ‘60s; when the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Ian and Sylvia, and a host of others, stepped into the vacancy left by the drafted Elvis and the lost Buddy Holly for a few years, until the Beatles brought rock back stronger than ever. But a great many other styles and influences came along in the intervening years.
There is Bluegrass. The Woodchucks are sometimes referred to as a “Bluegrass group,” simply because there are several of us, playing essentially the same mix of instruments that Bluegrass bands play. We are not any such thing. Mr. Bill Monroe, the acknowledged “Father of Bluegrass,” himself, would have shuddered at the suggestion. There are, however, a fair number of songs in the setlist that are usually thought of as Bluegrass standards, even though some of them go back to long before Bluegrass existed as a genre. And some of our vocal harmonies show the influence of the best of the newer Bluegrass groups; in particular, the Seldom Scene up to the death of John Duffey. Since Mike has joined us, the Bluegrass influence is a little more noticeable. Mike loudly denies being a Bluegrass banjo player. He is, to some extent, lying. He should be saying that he is not Only a Bluegrass banjo player.
There is cowboy and western music. Peter, in particular, as a little boy, wanted very much to be a cowboy, and can remember playing Tex Ritter 78s in the family living room. Attempts at horseback riding - and related work in the horse barns at summer camp - cured him of any actual desire to be a cowboy, but not of a love for the music. He went from Ritter to Marty Robbins, to Ian and Sylvia, Tom Russell, Utah Phillips, Ian Tyson (again, in his second career), and some lesser known composers (Greg Keeler - Montana’s answer to Tom Lehrer; and a certain lady doctor who confesses to having spent her recording royalties on whiskey) and lifted songs with more vigor and greed than Jesse James in the Northfield, Minnesota, bank.
There is “Irish” and British Isles music. After growing up thinking of Irish music as “Bing Crosby and them,” the emergence of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem during the Folk Scare came as somewhat of an epiphany. We still do some of the Clancys’ wonderful happy songs about getting drunk and going off to shoot at, and get shot by, the British, and their wonderful utterly miserable songs of love. Peter is also fond of the more bawdy Scots songs, which provide an interesting contrast to the image of the dour, puritanical Scot. And Kristina is particularly fond of the Scots fiddle music. In Mike’s former group, the Irish folk sound was a major component. His becoming a Woodchuck has, naturally enough, increased the “Celtic” content of the music.
There is original music. Peter has stated that he writes one good song, worth keeping and performing, every decade. The ‘80s one (“Daddy Come Home”) and the ‘90s one (“Gunfighters’ Eyes”) appear on our first CD, “Loose in the Hills” (1996). The one for the “aughts” was a filksong that hasn’t been recorded on a published record. The one for the ‘teens hasn’t happened yet, so no one knows what to expect. Kristina has a gift for coming up with concepts for parodies, which she usually writes in rough form for Peter to fill in the blanks. Most of the parodies we do are suitable for family audiences. Most. And we are beginning to retrieve some of the great songs Mike wrote in the days of the “classic” WTC.
There are songs of the Vermont experience. From colonial times (“The Song of the Vermonters, 1779,” with lyrics attributed to John Greenleaf Whittier, c. 1830, and a new melody by Peter and Kristina - it has had several melodies over the years) to the ‘60s (Jesse Winchester’s classic “Yankee Lady.”) and more recent years. We have a particular weakness for the fine songs of our friend Dick McCormack, one of Vermont’s foremost singer-songwriters from the early ‘70s until he succumbed to the lure of politics in the ‘90s. He’s not singing his songs in public much now, so someone has to.
There is blues and swing. Sandy, in particular, has always brought to the mix a real love of both the old country blues and urban swing of the ‘20s and ‘30s, and as good a voice for them as is likely to be heard in an old New England Yankee and descendant of others of the same. Kristina has described her favorite instrumental music as “Northeastern Gypsy Ragtime,” although she has trouble giving specific examples of the genre.
There is commercial country music. Not, heaven forbid, the “hot new country” that gets all the radio play now, but the great old stuff, from the earliest recordings of Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family, through about the mid-‘80s, and our own parodies of some of them. Also the work of “Alt-Country” singers and songwriters that have kept the older genre unsullied.
All of the above may appear in a single set at a Woodchucks’ Revenge performance.