Tag Archives: PigPen Theatre Co

PigPen Theatre Co and the Parkington Sisters: Folk Forces

PigPen Theatre Co

Allow me to obsess over PigPen Theatre Co again. The stars aligned in Boston on Wednesday night and this swoon-worthy seven-piece left their NYC hometown for a trip to New England. The combination of sweet harmonies, small venue (at Berklee, no less, where performing is encouraged) and earnest crowd made for an incredibly warm concert. Their journey-seeking songs took on new meaning in this unfamiliar territory. It was interesting to locate the plot of this folk musical, seamlessly showcased in concert form. The men of PigPen carry equal weight, which emphasizes the importance and vibrance of their collective talent.

Lest us not forget their powerful opener, Massachusetts’ own Parkington Sisters. This sister quartet have incredible vocal and instrumental strength; four bandmates rival PigPen’s seven.  The evening ended in a “sing-off” between the two groups. This potential battle of the sexes turned into the most beautiful collaboration of The Band’s “The Weight.” Combine two groups who understand the importance of harmony and BAM- literal music to your ears. Thanks for making the trip up north, PigPen. You’re welcome here anytime.

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Cover Songs: I’ll Cover You

Sure, everyone wants to take a stab at “Call Me Maybe” (I’m talking to you Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard, Cookie Monster, etc) or any Beatles song (Apparently “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” are the two most covered songs). As mentioned in a previous post- I love a good cover song. While I enjoy when they’re produced and recorded on albums, my favorites usually stem from impromptu concerts or requests. I especially love when musicians cross-genres and sounds, like when James Vincent McMorrow sings Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” or when Anya Maria croons T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” Covers bring new meaning and interpretations to music, and are the highest form of flattery. Here are my top cover picks (for this week, at least).

  • Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) covering Cold War Kids’ “Hospital Beds” – I could honestly put any Flo Flo cover here; it was really difficult choosing between her rendition of Beyonce’s “Halo” and this one. Her voice has similar qualities to Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willett; haunting and borderline-screechy. I like that her version is stripped down, but she still belts the “put out the fire boys, don’t stop, don’t stop” coda. It further exemplifies the pain found in the lyrics.
    • Alex Winston covering the Black Keys’ “Everlasting Light” – Just like Winston’s voice, her version is a little off-kilter. She pairs banjo, heavy guitar, airy female backup vocals, and the slightest accordion with a pounding tempo. Cool.
    • Ellie Goulding covering Bon Iver’s “The Wolves” – I gasped outloud the first time I heard this cover. Goulding’s vocals are so pure and beautiful, and much less muddled that Justin Vernon’s. Plus it’s a capella.
    • Cee Lo Green covering Kings of Leon’s “Radioactive” – I’m not the biggest Kings of Leon fan and honeslty needed to hear’s Green’s version before giving the original a chance. Clearly acoustic covers hold a special place in my heart, but it’s refreshing to hear Cee Lo sing something other than “F You.”
  • Julia Stone covering The National’s “Buzzblood Ohio” – This song reminds me of a train-ride; Stone is contemplative and escaping worries of the past. Her falsetto contrasts The National’s Matt Berninger’s bass in a beautiful way.

If these tickled your fancy, check out my favorite cover blog Cover Lay Down for millions of folk wonders. Or, if you’re the giving kind, The Voice Project is a really great philanthropic organization that works with musicians to raise money for various peace initiatives in Africa. The “Episodes” section of their website features a wonderful web of cover songs.

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Publicly-Funded Music Projects: Thee Ultimate Fan Request

Big music names like Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer did it (although the latter is facing some legal complications because she didn’t do it correctly). My personal favorites Ben Sollee, PigPen Theatre Co., and Elizabeth & the Catapult did it. Crowdsourcing is music’s Next Big Thing. Websites like Pledgemusic, Kickstarter, and Crowdrise make fans donors and “producers” of their favorite artists’ music projects. While fans are usually left out of the loop during the album-making process, these websites break down the industry barrier between musicians and listeners.

The shape-shifting music industry is constantly exploring new ways to make a profit and battle music sharing, streaming and pirating. Some artists increase their tour time and offer more inclusive and preferential concert experiences to early buyers. Others take a less aggressive approach and simply give albums away, hoping listeners will show support through merchandise, concerts, or future releases.

In my opinion, it is a genius idea and perfect for the emerging role of new media sector in the music business. Fans feel inches closer to their favorite performers and are engaged in a very personal process. Musicians receive input, connect to listeners, and ultimately boost music sales (fans who feel part of the process will probably be more inclined to buy the album.) Have any of you every contributed to an album through these crowdsourcing websites? Did you feel more valued?

Take a look at Elizabeth Ziman, also known as Elizabeth & the Catapult.  The Brooklyn singer/songwriter has a small but dedicated fanbase, and was able to raise money for her album in about three weeks. During the recording process, donors gain access to exclusive videos and pre-released clips. There are also perks to funding, like dinner with Elizabeth, a piano lesson, and a knitted scarf. Ben Sollee started a similar initiative, which took only 4 days to fund. It’s a win-win situation. Albums are funded, artists gain support from their current fan base (an extremely important new media strategy), and fans are satiated with new music at a faster rate. Publicly funded music projects are an exceptionally great resource for lesser-known niche artists. Since their tours travel to small venues and don’t produce much revenue, these musicians can’t afford to tour at the same rate of artists who sell out large venues. Crowdsourcing helps them produce an album without sacrificing tours. And ultimately, it puts the interactive social world to use in a music business setting.

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PigPen Theatre Co: Fusing Folk and Theatre

When asked if they are a theatre company or a folk band, PigPen Theatre Co is unsure how to answer. Although they technically started as a theatre troupe before releasing a full-length folk album Bremen, it’s best to call this seven-piece outfit as a group of fantastic storytellers. And according to a guest blog post they wrote for American Songwriter last week after the start of their first full-length production The Old Man and The Old Moon, the men of PigPen describe great storytellers as, “musicians, actors, directors, animators, bands, designers, authors, composers, singers, or illustrators [who]…use every tool at their disposal – music, imagery, poetry – to take you on a journey.  And on our very best day, we like to think that’s what we do.”

Troupe members conceptualized Pig Pen Theatre Co. during their freshmen year at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama. After winning the top award at the NYC International Fringe Festival for two consecutive years (the only company in the festival’s history to do so) with their productions of The Nightmare Story and The Mountain Song, PigPen soon produced their album through Kickstarter. (Post coming soon about publicly-funded arts projects, I promise!)

The Old Man and The Old Moon, which opened on October 7, 2012, is currently playing through January 6, 2013 at The Gym at Judson in Greenwich Village. It features shadow puppetry, live action, artistic lighting, and, of course, sweet folk music. After my best friend Tori saw it this week and gave a raving review, we immediately made plans to see it around Christmastime. Thanks to her suggestion, I’ve since become certifiably obsessed with their album.

That being said, I categorize PigPen as…well…perfect. Rather than try to pigeonhole (or cage them up, amiright? Couldn’t help a pen-related pun…) into either a theatre or music category, what’s important and unique is the experience they’ve created. PigPen uses their multifaceted talents across many mediums: music, theatre, film, social outreach, book-writing, etc. Not to mention, they do a killer cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Although the concept is complicated to explain, the NY theatre community has still fallen for PigPen. Do you know of any other music group/theatre troup stagings in New York other than Once? The group adds a whole new dimension to folk music, and connects to the musical and theatrical roots of the Big Apple on a deep, creative level.

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