Club News

Musical Meetings

Musical meetings of the San Francisco Folk Music Club are held every other Friday at 885 Clayton Street, between Carl & Parnassus Streets in San Francisco. Singing and jamming in three separate rooms start at 8:00 p.m. Snacks are provided through $1 food kitty donations or finger food contributions. Guests are always welcome, no one is expected to “perform” and there is no charge.

“I’m a little nuts. I’m a lot nuts. All I know is that in the midst of the madness of this world, it’s my therapy. The music touches my heartstrings.”
—Gordon Lightfoot
Date March 9 March 23 April 6 April 20 April 4
Setup Debbie Klein Joel Rutledge Tom Sleckman Debbie Klein Joel Rutledge
Bulletin Board Bob Allen Debbie Klein Rick Myers Dave Sahn Debbie Klein
Host/ess Betsy Bannerman Marisa Malvino Forest McDonald Bob Allen Tes Welborn
Host/ess Melissa Sarenac Joel Rutledge Lyla Menzel Lyla Menzel Glen Van Lehn
Singing Room Estelle Freedman Francesca Dechich Debbie Klein Tom Sleckman Dave Sahn
Theme Women of the World Travel Songs Funny Songs Dixie Devils Songs of the Road, Rail, Sea and Air
Cleanup Kim Probst Lyla Menzel Morgan Cowin David Vasquez Kim Probst

Board Meetings

The SFFMC board meets on the second Tuesday of each month — potluck at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 8:00 p.m. All Club members are welcome to attend the potluck dinner and the Board meeting.

NEXT FOLKNIK FOLD-IN/FOLK SING: Sunday, April 29 at home of Marv Sternberg and Shary Levy,

Club News

Many club members have asked about how things are going with Faith Petric, who broke her hip at Camp Harmony, received hip replacement surgery, and spent some time in rehab. Faith is now at home, and her daughter Carole recently wrote: “Hooray, Faith has been given the all clear by her surgeon to be her old, dear self. The only thing she needs now is to exercise (don’t we all?) to rebuild strength. Thank you everyone for all the help. I’m going to have two more cover periods and after that try leaving her for short periods. If that doesn’t work I’ll come back and ask for some cover. I know it has been very, very important to Faith that people have come to help her and to us (Carole, daughter, and Alex, granddaughter), as well.”

Singer-songwriter Avital Raz has recently moved to San Francisco from Berlin and joined the folk club. Her songs have diverse influences: old English lute songs, Indian classical ragas, cabaret, blues, American country music and Eastern-European Jewish melodies. On January 30, she released a digital album on Bandcamp: The album’s songs, Sad Songs about the End of Love, are based on James Joyce’s Chamber Music poem cycle. The album was recorded in 2004 in India and in Israel. However, until this year, Joyce’s work was under copyright and his estate would not allow this music to be released. See more about Avital at her Web site:

Upcoming Club Campouts

Memorial Day Weekend: Friday night, May 25; Saturday night, May 26; and Sunday night, May 27. Location: Waterman Creek (Mark Levy’s)

July 4 Weekend: Friday night, June 29; Saturday night, June 30; and Sunday night, July 1. (the weekend before July 4.) Location: Boulder Creek Scout Reservation 

Labor Day Weekend: Friday night, August 31; Saturday night, September 1; and Sunday night, September 2. Location: Boulder Creek Scout Reservation 

More details will be in future folkniks.

Warren Hellman 1934-2011

Founder and funder of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Warren Hellman died on December 18, 2011, from complications of leukemia.

In a deeply polarized city, where Occupy’s paradigm of the 99% versus the 1% resonates more than anywhere, Hellman showed how an extremely wealthy investment banker could champion the interests of all San Franciscans.

He was born into the family that founded Wells Fargo Bank, yet his fortune was largely self-made. He became the youngest partner to join Lehman Brothers, and then founded one of San Francisco’s largest investment banking firms, Hellman &Friedman. Although he was solidly in the 1 percent, Warren was a man with curiosity, a good heart, compassion, and integrity.

Warren was a philanthropist. He provided much-needed funding to the San Francisco Free Clinic. He was a donor and supporter of Jewish Vocational Services, a nonprofit that helps people transform their lives through work. Concerned about dwindling local news coverage in the Internet age, and bothered that the San Francisco Chronicle was being decimated by an out-of-town corporation, he helped form the Bay Citizen on-line journalism site, a non-profit professional newsroom, subsidized it with millions of his own money, and encouraged his rich friends to give millions more.

Those are among his many legacies, but he was most proud of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, probably the country’s best free concert, and at least for those in the folk music community, he will be probably most remembered as the founder of that festival. Since 2001, Warren has sponsored the free outdoor festival. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival has grown into an annual three-day event drawing more than 300,000 people to Golden Gate Park. It is still free, with costs covered by an endowment that Hellman, a banjo player, created to ensure that the festival would continue “after I croak,” he said.

The SF Board of Supervisors, after his death, renamed the main venue of Speedway Meadows as Hellman’s Hollow.

Final Lesson

Letter to the Editor of the Chronicle on 12/21/11, reprinted with permission:

Two months ago I gave Warren Hellman a banjo lesson. Upon arriving in the lobby of his building, I was ushered by two stern guards into an elevator that took me to a fancy office with a stunning view of the bay. I spent the next 90 minutes with a man who was higher up in the 1 percent than anyone I had ever met. He was also very ill.

But neither fortune nor misfortune seemed to be getting in the way of his appreciation for the simplest of pleasures. Warren longed to be a better banjo player, and nothing was going to steer him off course. I like to think he may have learned something from me that day. But I learned more from him. I probably should have waived my fee. He deserved it.

Thanks, Warren. May we all be more like you through our highs and lows.

Steve Baughman, San Francisco

Slavyanka Seeking Singers and Director

Slavyanka, Bay Area Men’s Slavic Chorus, is looking for sopranos and altos to join them for a unique concert of Russian choral music in June. “This music is extraordinarily moving,” says Slavyanka Director Paul Andrews. “And Americans simply don’t very often get to hear this repertoire— from mystical sacred music to compositions by the Russian greats, to rousing folk songs.”

Any sopranos and altos out there interested? Rehearsals will start this spring; the music is straightforward and easily accessible. And you don’t have to read Russian to participate.

Contact interim music director Paul Andrews, , or at

The Chorus is also seeking an inspiring and visionary individual to assume the post of Music Director. This is a professional part-time paid position. Slavyanka has been bringing music of Russia and Eastern Europe to audiences in the Bay Area and beyond for over 33 years, since 1979, and is well respected nationally and internationally for their efforts. They have had four international tours, including concerts in major Russian cities, Georgia, Armenia, and other former Soviet Republics. They have put out six recordings of their repertoire. The chorus has toured Russia and Eastern Europe 4 times, made 11 recordings, and sung in the sound tracks for 5 movies and television productions. For more information, see and

If you or someone you know might be interested, please send an e-mail to executive director Andy Anderson

Music, a Power All Its Own

by Robert Rodriquez

The old adage goes, music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. But, with all things, there is more than meets the eye. In its original form, it was different. In William Congreve’s 1697 production, “The Mourning Bride,” Almira really says music has charms to soothe the savage breast. Be it has or hath, breast or beast, the final result is pretty much the same. Music indeed has a power all its own, and it’s no accident that this is reflected in various stories and legends from here, there and everywhere else from the most ancient of times into our present century.

In a classic Russian tale, a wicked czar lusts after the wife of one of his soldiers, an archer by profession. In a final attempt to do away with the fellow, the czar sends him on a quest to bring back I Know Not What from the land of I Know Not Where. While searching for this fabled realm, the archer comes to possess a remarkable musical instrument, a gusle. The instrument has several remarkable properties. When its first string is plucked, a vast ocean appears without warning! When its second string is plucked, a vast armada of ships comes into view. When its third string is plucked, the ships unleash a barrage of fire-power that knocks down castles and walls of mighty cities. When the czar sends his formidable army to take the archer’s wife by force, our hero needs every bit of this fire-power to repel the wicked monarch, save his beloved wife, and teach the nasty ruler a lesson he will never forget.

Finland’s great epic poem, the Kalevala, tells that Vainamoinen, the first man in Finland, mighty magician, and creator of the very first kantele-harp, was such a skillful musician and singer that nature itself stood at attention when he played and sang his songs. Even the sun and moon were awed by his music-making, and once, both of them left their places in the heavens to descend to earth to hear his music. They rested atop a birch and pine tree, and thus were easy prey for the wicked Louhi, mistress of the north country, who captured them, locked them inside a forbidding mountain, and plunged all of Kalevala into perpetual darkness. It took all of the combined efforts of the various heroes in Kalevala, including the crafty smith Ilmarinen, to force Louhi to liberate the sun and moon from her mountain stronghold and return them to their places in the sky, thus bringing sunlight and warmth back into the world.

In a tale known from Ireland to Japan and from Cape Breton to the Scottish highlands, a hunchback so delights the faerie folk with new words to a familiar song that they reward him with the removal of his hump, while a fellow hunchback is punished because he adds more words, very discordantly, thus ruining a new song. They place the first hunchback’s hump on his back alongside his own, giving him two.

In a story from the Czech tradition, a shepherd, wishing to bring his dead wife back to life, visits the realm of the dead and sings so sweetly for the ruler of the underworld that his wife is restored to him in the same manner as in the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Sadly, however, the shepherd violates the same taboo put upon Orpheus, looks back before they have emerged from the underworld, and in the end his wife must return down below, thus leaving the poor fellow without a living spouse for the remainder of his days.

In a story from sub-Saharan Africa, a wicked ruler learns from a wandering bard that the sword is not the mightiest weapon, but that a musical verse can topple the mightiest rulers from their perches of seeming invincibility. The bard is eventually made the new ruler, but always remembers that a praise song today can become a bitter mocking satire tomorrow, with devastating consequences. And of course music does have power over the beasts of land, air, and water, whether they be snakes in the southern U.S., wolves in central France, kelpies in the Scottish Hebrides, savage lions in India, nasty trolls in Scandinavia, river goblins in rural Russia, or wicked ghouls in haunted Arabic deserts and mountains.

An old saying from Bolivia tells us that a good song is worth much more than a whipping to bring a naughty child back to good behavior. Music can, after all, bring peace to warring factions, heal the broken hearts of hitherto unrequited lovers, and bring peace, goodness, and light to an otherwise troubled and difficult world. Let us pray fervently that this is always the case, and good stories and good music always go together, which is the way it should always be.

Editor Needed for Page 7, folknik

Basic requirements: have own computer, knowledge of e‑mail, and experience with page layouts on word processors or page layout programs.

If you’re interested and qualified, please contact Phyllis Jardine,

Who Was John Henry, the Steel-Driving Man?

I think he was John Henry Dabney, an ex-slave from Crystal Springs, Mississippi. In 1887, when he died, he was driving steel in Alabama.

Rock is blasted away by drilling holes, packing them with explosives, and detonating. In hand drilling, a steel driver uses a sledgehammer to pound on steel drills. Steam-powered mechanical drilling slowly replaced hand drilling after the Civil War.

Legends, including the ballad “John Henry,” tell us that somewhere in the South John Henry raced a steam drill. He won, then collapsed and died. Many versions of “John Henry” put him at “Big Bend Tunnel on the C & O road,” which was bored in 1869-72 in Summers County, West Virginia. This became the conventional wisdom when scholars Guy Johnson and Louis Chappell favored it in the 1920s.

Their evidence is weak. The testimonies of a dozen men who had worked on Big Bend Tunnel are incoherent. One of them, an especially important witness, fabricated his story. C. S. “Neal” Miller told Johnson that he had watched John Henry”s contest while working at Big Bend Tunnel in 1870. In fact, Miller was then eight years old, attended school, and did not live near Big Bend Tunnel.

Johnson and Chappell decided to follow the tradition, but tradition is fluid. Locations change as lore is passed around. “Big Bend Tunnel” sings well, but it is not the historical John Henry site.

In 1927, Johnson received testimonial letters from C. C. Spencer, F. P. Barker, and Glendora Cannon Cummings. All three put John Henry in Alabama in the 1880s. He had worked at “Cruzee”/”Cursey” Mountain and had died at Oak Mountain. Johnson and Chappell were unable to locate “Cruzee”/”Cursey” Mountain, so they disregarded the Alabama testimony.

Spencer had seen John Henry die. He described how John Henry fell into a faint at the end of the all-day contest, regained consciousness, said that he was blind and dying, and asked for his wife. He died with his head cradled in her lap on September 20, 1882. The actual year had to have been 1887.

According to Spencer, John Henry was an ex-slave from Holly Springs, Mississippi, who had taken his former master”s surname, Dabner. He had worked for Shea and Dabner when he died. Cummings gave the names as Shay and Dabney, C. S. Farquharson as Shea and Dabner. This remarkable agreement forces the conclusion that Shea/Shay and Dabner/Dabney had been bosses on a railroad construction job where John Henry had probably worked.

In fact, Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney was Chief Engineer for the Columbus & Western Railway Company, owned by the Central of Georgia. He built the extension of the C & W from Goodwater, Alabama, to Birmingham in 1887-88.

Captain Dabney was born in Virginia in 1835; raised in Raymond, Mississippi; and settled his family in nearby Crystal Springs, Mississippi, in about 1875. Before the Civil War, his uncle Thomas Dabney owned over 150 slaves in nearby Hinds County.

About 15 miles east of Birmingham, the C &W passes through Coosa and Oak Mountain Tunnels, two miles apart and just south of Leeds. “Coosa,” often pronounced “KOO-see,” is what Spencer and Barker intended by “Cruzee” and “Cursey.”

The discoveries that Coosa and Oak Tunnels exist, that they are in Alabama, that they have railroad tunnels through them, that they were built in 1887-88, that a Dabney was in charge of construction, that he was from Mississippi, and that his family had owned slaves near Crystal Springs lends great credence to the testimonies of Spencer, Barker, and Cummings. In citing “Holly Springs,” Spencer just got his “Springs” towns confused.

It turns out that there is a strong local tradition around Leeds that John Henry raced a steam drill and died just outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel. This tradition seems to go back to the event itself.

A dozen versions of the “John Henry” ballad contain lines that point to Alabama. At least two pre-1930 versions place him on “the Georgia line” or “the Central o” Georgia Rail Road.”

The accumulated evidence strongly supports Alabama as the John Henry site and John Henry Dabney as the steel-driving man.