Contemporary Folk Week Staff – July 28-August 3, 2024


Crys Matthews |

A troubadour of truth, Nashville resident Crys Matthews is among the brightest stars of the new generation of social justice music-makers. An award-winning, prolific lyricist and composer, Matthews blends Americana, folk, blues, bluegrass, and funk into a bold, complex performance steeped in traditional melodies, punctuated by honest, original lyrics. She is made for these times. Of Matthews, ASCAP VP & Creative Director Eric Philbrook says, “By wrapping honest emotions around her socially-conscious messages and dynamically delivering them with a warm heart and a strong voice, she lifts our spirits just when we need it most in these troubled times.” Justin Hiltner of Bluegrass Situation adds that her gift is a “reminder of what beauty can occur when we bridge those divides.” In her own words, Matthews says her mission is: to amplify the voices of the unheard, to shed light on the unseen, and to be a steadfast reminder that hope and love are the truest pathways to equity and justice. Crys Matthews has taught at Sisters Folk Festival’s American Songwriting Academy, Miles of Music Camp, Rocky Mountain Song School, the Ola Belle Reed Songwriting Retreat, Dar Williams’s How to Write a Song That Matters Retreat, and others.

Tyler Ramsey |

Praised by NPR, Stereogum, WNYC and The Huffington Post, Tyler Ramsey is known as a talented fingerstyle guitarist and singer-songwriter who is perhaps most immediately recognizable, until his departure, as the guitarist and a co-writer in Band Of Horses, having played with them since 2007, prior to the release of their breakthrough album, Cease To Begin. A well-established and acclaimed guitar player and singer in the burgeoning western North Carolina music scene, where he calls home, he first learned to play music on piano before moving to the guitar. Ramsey grew up listening to and studying country-blues guitar players like Mance Lipscomb and Mississippi John Hurt, and American fingerpickers like John Fahey and Leo Kottke, absorbing their sound and making it all his own. Ramsey’s latest recording, New Lost Ages, released this year, was captured at the legendary Avast! Recording Co. in Seattle, Washington, by storied producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, The Shins, Built to Spill). The 10-song LP is an ongoing sonic quest within Ramsey, an undulating tone of indie, rock and folk stylings meticulously wandering across the musical landscape.

Don Henry |

Grammy-winner Don Henry has written songs recorded by legends Ray Charles, Patti Page, Conway Twitty, Gene Watson, and B.J. Thomas, as well as by young hitmakers Blake Shelton, Lonestar, and Miranda Lambert. Don’s played with performers as diverse as Joey Ramone at New York’s famous Bottom Line and Keith Urban at Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Cafe. The wit and wisdom of Don’s songs are widely renowned, from campfire favorites like the hilarious “B.F.D.” and biker lullaby, “Harley,” to the wonderfully poignant tribute to Martin Luther King, “Beautiful Fool.” Kathy Mattea’s version of the Grammy Award-winning “Where’ve You Been,” also won Don and co-writer Jon Vezner ‘Song of the Year’ honors from the ACM, the CMA, and the Nashville Songwriters Association International, the first song in country music history to be awarded all four honors in the same year! Miranda Lambert had a big hit in 2013 with Don and Phillip Coleman’s song, “All Kinds Of Kinds,” with Don singing background vocals on Miranda’s record. Don tours extensively as a solo performer and as a member of The Don Juans with Jon Vezner. For the past few years the Don Juans have been touring with the legendary Tom Paxton and the three of them released a live record in 2019.

John Gorka |

Red House Records recording artist John Gorka is an award-winning songwriter who got his start hanging out at eastern Pennsylvania’s venerable Godfrey Daniels coffeehouse, running sound and being inspired by the many legendary folk troubadours who appeared there. He soon began performing himself and went on to win the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk Award. After decades of national and international touring, the list of his friends and collaborators reads like singer/songwriter royalty, including Peter, Paul and Mary, Lucy Kaplansky, Patty Larkin, Nanci Griffith, Ani DiFranco, Jonatha Brooke, Eliza Gilkyson and more. In addition to his 14 critically-acclaimed albums, John has released a collector’s edition box featuring a hi-definition DVD and companion CD called The Gypsy Life. Windham Hill also released a “best of” collection of John’s recordings from the label called Pure John Gorka. Many artists have recorded and/or performed his songs, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, Mary Travers, Edwin McCain, Mary Black, David Wilcox and Maura O’Connell, among others. John has graced the stage of Austin City Limits, Mountain Stage, eTown radio and Carnegie Hall.  He has released two volumes of Tales from the Tavern, a DVD/CD set of live shows in Santa Inez, California. During the pandemic John produced a weekly One Song Concert series still available on YouTube. This will be his fifth season at Swannanoa.

Ellis Paul |

Ellis Paul is a songwriter, author, illustrator, and teacher. He has been a constant presence on the American folk circuit for over twenty-five years, and in that time he has released twenty albums of original music and performed over 5,000 shows. His work has been featured in blockbuster films such as: Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal and Hall Pass, and been recorded by country artists. His songs have been described as “descriptive narratives of people at a crossroads in their lives”. Despite the nature of their stories, they seem to be about all of us. His stage performance is a combination of humor, improv, and poignant story songs. He has performed on stages at the Newport Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall, clubs and coffeehouses all over the world, and was awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Maine and inducted into the Maine Music Hall of Fame. His latest album, released in 2019, is called The Storyteller’s Suitcase.

Nora Jane Struthers |

Nora Jane Struthers is guided by fire. “Struthers has come up with some of the most quietly powerful narratives within the new wave of Americana artists” – National Public Radio (NPR). A singer-songwriter and bandleader with a clear and unaffected voice, Nora Jane grew up playing and singing bluegrass-brother duets with her banjo-playing dad. She moved to Nashville in 2008 to pursue music and soon kick-started her career, winning the blue ribbon for “Best New Song” and placing first in the “Neo-Traditional” band competition at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV. In 2010, she won first place in the band competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (previous winners include Nickel Creek and The Dixie Chicks). Nora Jane has been touring full-time with her band, The Party Line, for the past five years. After her 2013 release, Carnival, a collection of story-songs written from a female perspective, NPR included Nora Jane in their end-of-year story, “Country Music’s Year of The Woman” (along with Miranda Lambert, Casey Musgraves, Patti Griffin, and Holly Williams), calling her “quietly brilliant.” Her 2017 release, Champion, landed a glowing review on NPR’s Fresh Air and was heralded by Rolling Stone and No Depression as one of the year’s top under-the-radar albums. Nora Jane’s most recent album, Bright Lights, Long Drives, First Words was released in February and is her most powerful work to date. She is thrilled to be rejoining the community of writers and musicians at Swannanoa for the fifth time.

David Wilcox |

David Wilcox was first inspired to play guitar after hearing a fellow college student playing in a stairwell. Wilcox is now more than 20 recordings into a career marked by personal revelation and wildly loyal fans. His lyrical insight is matched by a smooth baritone voice, virtuosic guitar chops, and creative open tunings, giving him a range and tenderness rare in folk music. Wilcox released View From the Edge and was named the Grand Prize Winner in the 2018 USA Songwriting Contest. Considered a ‘songwriter’s songwriter’, his songs have been covered by artists such as k.d. lang and many others. He holds audiences rapt with nothing more than a guitar, well-written songs, and a fearless ability to mine the depths of human emotions of joy, sorrow and everything in between, all tempered by a quick and wry wit. “David Wilcox’s ongoing musical journey is compelling and richly deserving of a listen.” – Rolling Stone.

Joe Craven |

After 40 years in the biz, Joe Craven wears a lot of hats; instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, actor, storyteller, visual artist, noisemaker, fashion insultant, former museologist and creativity educator. He enjoys ‘playing forward’ folk tradition and process by mashing ideas and sound tools from a variety of unexpected places, creating new music altogether. As a multi-instrumentalist, Joe has made music with Jerry Garcia, David Lindley, Alison Brown, Howard Levy, Vassar Clements, Rob Ickes and many other innovative artists. As an award-winning educator, he has taught with jazz vocalist Inga Swearengen, bassist Victor Wooten, children’s music innovator Paul Reisler and jazz percussionist Jason Marsalis; been a featured artist/educator in the PBS television Music Gone Public series, and created music and sound effects for commercials, soundtracks, computer games and contributions to several Grammy-nominated projects. Joe is the Executive Director of Vocáli Voice Camp, RiverTunes Roots Music Camp and JAMboree in California and he’s presented at over 500 schools, universities, music camps and the American String Teachers Association. Joe is a keynote clinician at Wintergrass in Seattle and a coast-to-coast Master of Ceremonies, having emcee-ed at a wide variety of music festivals, including DelFest, Grand Targhee and Telluride Bluegrass. A recipient of a Folk Alliance Far-West Performer of the Year Award and the Swannanoa Gathering’s Master Music Maker Award, Joe has taught consecutively for over a decade during our Fiddle Week and also teaches creative process during Contemporary Folk Week. From Carnegie Hall to street corner busking around the world and back – Joe’s at home and loving every minute. “Everything Joe touches turns to music” – David Grisman  

Cliff Eberhardt |

Cliff Eberhardt knew by age seven that he was going to be a singer and songwriter. As a child, Cliff taught himself to play guitar, piano, bass and drums. In his teens in Pennsylvania, he was fortunate enough to live close to the Main Point (one of the best folk clubs on the East Coast), where he received an early and impressive tutorial in acoustic music from such artists as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, and Mississippi John Hurt. A driving force of the Greenwich Village New Folk movement, Cliff ’s songs have been covered by the likes of Richie Havens, Buffy St. Marie, Erasure, Lucy Kaplansky and the folk superstar band “Cry, Cry, Cry” (Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky). A consummate performer, Cliff engages the audience with funny-but-true stories tinged with irony, accompanied by an unparalleled guitar style. Cliff has been an acclaimed instructor at many songwriting camps, colleges, schools, and workshops, and is fulfilling one of his dreams – writing music for the theater. Never one to start small, he was asked to write all of the songs for, and perform in, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, in Washington, DC and the production was awarded a coveted Helen Hayes Award for “Best Play” and “Best Ensemble.” A collection of his songs has been published in The Cliff Eberhardt Songbook, and his latest release is a collection of original songs for a NEW play by Aaron Posner called The Heal, which debuted at the Getty Villa in Malibu, CA. We’re pleased to welcome him back for his thirteenth Swannanoa Gathering.

Laurie MacAllister |

As a young girl, Laurie dreamed of being a singer. Her career began when, on a dare, she sang spontaneously for a crowd in Washington Square Park, and soon she was singing at a steady stream of open mic stages around New York City. Her first album of original songs was called These Old Clothes. She discovered a passion for harmony singing while touring the country with folk luminary Cliff Eberhardt, who produced Laurie’s next album, The Things I Choose To Do. While at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Laurie began making music with a few campmates, and the Americana trio Red Molly was born. With a focus on beautiful songs, soaring harmonies, and a deep relationship with their fans, Red Molly quickly became the darlings of the folk/Americana scene and for sixteen years they shared their voices with an ever-growing fanbase around the world from America to Australia. Laurie’s voice has been featured in a national television commercial for Folgers Coffee, and in 2018, she released a solo album called The Lies the Poets Tell, featuring duets with six male vocalists, including the late Americana master Jimmy LaFave. She’s written and sung harmony parts on dozens of recordings, including those by Cliff Eberhardt, Susan Werner, and Ellis Paul. Laurie has taught singing and performance around the country, at such venues as Folk Alliance International, Targhee Music Camp, and the New England Songwriters Retreat.  

Vance Gilbert |

Vance Gilbert burst onto the singer/songwriter scene in the early 90’s when the buzz started spreading in the folk clubs of Boston about an ex-multicultural arts teacher and jazz singer who was knocking ’em dead at open mikes. The word spread to New York of this Philadelphia-area born-and-raised performer; Shawn Colvin invited Vance Gilbert to be a special guest on her Fat City tour, and Gilbert took audiences across the country by storm. “With the voice of an angel, the wit of a devil, and the guitar playing of a god, it was enough to earn him that rarity: an encore for an opener” wrote the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in its review of a show from that tour. Gilbert’s first three albums for the Rounder/Philo label are all essential additions to the American singer-songwriter collection, and his subsequent eleven releases cement his place in the pantheon of North American singer/songwriters. His songwriting/performance combo workshops are legendary at such venues as the Rocky Mountain Song School and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Berklee College of Music, and the University of Colorado. And now, after 14 albums, a solid forty-year solo career, two years opening tours for the late George Carlin, being the opener of choice for The Milk Carton Kids, Paul Reiser, and The Subdudes, and songwriting recognized by artists ranging from rocker Mike Posner to children’s music icons Trout Fishing In America (with a song on their Grammy-nominated album Infinity), his workshops are not to be missed.

Greg Greenway |

Born in the shadows of the now-famous fallen statues of Richmond, VA, Greg Greenway moved to Boston for its rich folk music tradition and has since become one of its most unique and superlative emissaries. Musically raised on the magically percussive right hand of Richie Havens, and the flowing lyricism of Eric Andersen, these seminal influences became the DNA of his own unique and continuing voice. He has blended them into a multi-instrumental, genre-crossing style: the never-ending process of a musical omnivore. He has played at such venues as Carnegie Hall and been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered and Mountain Stage. Greg considers it a career achievement that his song “Driving in Massachusetts” was played on Car Talk. His eight-year collaboration with Pat Wictor and Joe Jencks as Brother Sun reached thousands of fans with their intricate three-part harmonies being heard in festivals and concert halls across the US and Canada. Two of their CDs reached #1 on the Folk DJ list. His newest project with his beloved friend of 35 years, Reggie Harris, is a musical presentation on race in America called Deeper Than The Skin. It is the bringing together of both of their stories, born three years apart, passing through the same portal of Richmond, VA. One is African-American, one white; together they convey a quintessential American story. Between Hello and Goodbye, Greg’s latest recording, was the #1 CD for April ’23 on the Folk DJ list and with songs #2, #5, & #7 for that month, he was the #1 Artist. The Boston Globe wrote, “Confessional one moment, rambunctiously disarming the next, few modern folk singers can own a coffeehouse stage as completely as Greenway.”

Elise Witt|

Elise’s concerts of Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ and her Impromptu Glorious Chorus™ workshops create and connect singing communities around the world. Born in Switzerland, raised in NC, and living in Atlanta since 1977, Elise speaks five languages fluently and sings in at least a dozen more. Elise has released twelve recordings on EMWorld Records and she recently published fifty-eight original songs in All Singing: The Elise Witt Songbook. In addition to her global touring, Elise serves as Director of Music Programs at the Global Village Project, a special purpose middle school for teenage refugee girls in Decatur, Georgia. She is the recipient of numerous awards including Music Composer for the National League of American Pen Women, the William L. Womack Creative Arts Award, and she represented the State of Georgia at the Kennedy Center’s 25th Anniversary. Elise loves teaching and collaborating with multi-disciplinary artists around the world.