February 24, 2011

Behind the folk music

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Telling the seldom-heard stories behind some of America’s best-loved folk songs is something the acoustic folk trio Random Acts of Harmony prides itself on.
The group will perform its musical program, “Folk Music: Singing History,” at Londonderry’s Leach Library early
 next month. 

Made up of Exeter-area band members Randy Filliger, Rob Becker and Dick Kruppa, Random Acts of Harmony specializes in both traditional and contemporary folk tunes, sung with acoustic guitar, banjo and stand-up bass accompaniment. 
The trio, all seasoned musicians in their own right, have been performing together for the past five years and individually have long musical histories, with members previously performing in groups that opened for the likes of The Beach Boys, The Lettermen and Pete Seeger. 
Known for their crisp and tight three-part harmonies, Random Acts of Harmony counts folk groups The Weavers and The Kingston Trio among their many influences. A self-professed history buff, Becker will put his acting talents to good use during next month’s performance, sharing the historical tidbits and events that inspired various tunes. 
“We like to sing fairly familiar folk songs, ones where the audience might feel welcome to join in,” Becker said, noting that during the library performance, he plans on offering colorful introductions to each number. 
“I have a great interest in history, and I love to find out what’s behind each song,” he added. 
For example “The City of New Orleans,” a song made popular by Arlo Guthrie, is much more than a catchy tune. 
“It was actually written by Steve Goodman, a Chicago native whose wife was from New Orleans,” Becker said. 
Listen closer, he added, and you’ll hear the tale of a trip to The Big Easy taken by train, in the days when rail travel was still very much a huge slice of the American experience. 
“Goodman was struck by the fact that only a handful of people were traveling with him that day,” Becker said. “What he was seeing was the steady demise of passenger trains in this country. It’s a bittersweet and beautiful song: He was anticipating the end of an era.” 
When Goodman approached Guthrie with the song he’d written, the folk legend reportedly replied, “Buy me a beer, and as long as my glass stays full, I’ll listen to your song.” 
“It’s those kinds of stories we tell our audiences,” Becker said. “And I’ll bet Arlo stayed and listened long after his cup had gone empty.” 
A century or two before Guthrie first strummed his guitar, Scottish and Irish immigrants settling in the Appalachian regions wrote ballads as a way of sharing events and happenings with far-off relatives on distant shores. 
“Songs like the Broadside Ballad told stories like these, they were a way of importing news from town to town,” Becker said. 
Becker, who retired from the advertising industry several years ago, said he’s always had a passion for performing. In that spirit, Random Acts of Harmony has performed at a variety of venues over the years, from fairs to coffeehouses, as well as at music clubs and libraries. 
Folk music lovers of all ages will enjoy the upcoming library performance, he said. 
“We don’t do children’s songs, but a lot of times kids do know our songs,” Becker said. “Our defining sound is our three-part harmony: It’s a tight, three-part sound.” 
Random Acts of Harmony will play at the Leach Library on Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and will be held in the library’s lower level meeting room. Light refreshments will be served. 

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