Saturday, 19 November, 8 pm
Hollis Cornell Auditorium,
Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell Arts Quad
Theater in NYC drew them together, but it is music that has found sweet union in this couple. For seven years, Ruthy Ungar Merenda and Mike Merenda made an impressive worldwide splash as founders, with Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, of The Mammals, a “subversive” acoustic string band (who gave a riveting concert for the Cornell Folk Song Society back in 2004). They’ve played with Arlo Guthrie on his 40th Anniversary Alice’s Restaurant tour and for Pete Seeger’s 89th birthday appearance on Letterman. Mike & Ruthy tour with Jay Ungar (Ruthy’s father) and Molly Mason (of Ken Burns’ Civil War and contra and swing dance fame); this stellar Family Band did a great show for CFSS back in 2008. Ruthy also performs with her mother Lyn Hardy, Abby Newton, and Rosie Newton (local old-timey darling of the Pearly Snaps and Evil City) as the Mother Daughter String Band.
The birth of their son in 2008 did not slow their music-making, but gave Mike & Ruthy a new focus. Since then, they have performed mostly as a duo. And what a duo! Love infuses their instrumental give and take and the twining together of their voices. Says Ruthy, “I’ve always loved singing harmony. Mike’s voice is very breathy and mine is really strong, so it was a challenge at first. But I think that’s part of what makes us sound different than other duos.” Their interplay creates a “disarmingly laid-back yet tensile feel,” writes Jeff Rosenberg (Willamette Week).
In concert, Mike & Ruthy offer a no-limits repertoire from original to contemporary indie roots-rock, blues, stompin’ honky tonk, and traditional American folk delivered with passion and respect. They’re edgy, sensual, literate, political, and full of heart. Dazzling fiddle, banjo, guitar, and ukulele, and sweet, soulful harmony singing are alive with this young couple’s natural chemistry. Ruthy was raised on a diet of Ashokan folk music camps, swing, and contra dances (as a child, she created the wildly fun “Wizard’s Walk” dance), while Mike grew up honing his lyrical skills as a songwriter and playwright, and playing in alternative and ska bands. They’re willing to experiment, but are solidly planted; their songs have meaning and their music-making is organic, never copied. The Valley Voice declares that “Mike & Ruthy bravely and successfully bring folk music to a new place, while holding on to the timelessness of the of the genre, namely, the telling of a story.”
In addition to their recordings with The Mammals, Mike & Ruthy have produced seven CDs, including the ambitious Million to One in 2010. Of this most recent project, David Bromberg says, “The songwriting, singing, and production are all first rate.” Come hear for yourself the continuing evolution of this surprising and endearing duo. For sound clips and fun photos, check out http://www.mikeandruthy.com/
$15 advance/$17 door; $3 rebate for CFSS members, seniors, teens. Cornell students $10/$12. Children 12 and under free. Tickets: Ludgate’s, Ithaca Guitar Works, GreenStar, Autumn Leaves, Bound for Glory, and online at www.cornellfolksong.org. Info: website or 607-279-2027.
– Margaret Shepard