Eighth Step Announces Its Fall Season
“We’re part of a string of stages that extends across the country and exists internationally for people who want to stay away from mainstream music and really have something to say that’s worth listening to.”
Margie Rosenkranz is the engine that runs the Eighth Step, a cornerstone of America’s gift to culture and folk music. The Eighth Step enjoys the distinction of being the oldest continuously running not-for-profit coffeehouse in the country (Caffe Lena is the oldest continuously running coffeehouse but didn’t get their non-profit status until after Lena passed). For 36 years, Margie has shepherded this home for folk singers on tour in locations that have ranged from a church in Albany, a haunted theater in Cohoes, and more recently at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady.
Eighth Step’s 2023-24 season’s opening act on Saturday, September 16th, is an award-winning pioneer of women’s music, singer-songwriter-guitarist Tret Fure, introducing in concert her new CD Lavender Moonshine. Her performance kicks off a string of veteran artists that carry the torch lit by Pete Seeger, the patriarch of an American tradition that mirrors the missions and lifestyles of a segment of society that came to prominence in the early ’60s with artists like Tom Paxton, who appears on Friday, October 27th.
Paxton once told me he remembered an early conversation with Dylan about the roles they each were playing in codifying the folk revival in the early ’60s. “We talked about what were good songs, and we even made up a song one day walking up Sixth Ave. We wrote ‘Talking Central Park Muggers Blues,’ and it was about as good as it sounds, and no more. I forgot everything about it. Just as well.”
Appearing with Tom will be John McCutcheon, an artist The New York Times called “The multi-instrumentalist wonder, a master at leading into a song with a story.”
Here’s a look at the rest of Eighth Step’s fall season.
Saturday, September 30th: Magpie’s 50th Anniversary concert spotlighting Terry Leonino & Greg Artzner celebrating their long career as artists and activists. The Washington Post says, “The breadth of their musical tastes, the depth of their commitment to humanist ideals, the precision of their chamber-folk arrangements and, above all, the graceful sympathy of their vocal harmonies…refined over the years to an effortless rapport.”
Saturday, October 14th: Contemporary folk icon Tom Rush on vocals & guitar in concert accompanied by Seth Glier on piano. One of my favorite acts from my days in Harvard Square in the ’60s, Rush, mixes blues guitar with folk, and his songs are richly drawn stories.
Margie: “I think one of the most special things this year is Tom Paxton and John McCutchen are putting out an album of all songs that they wrote together, and that’s pretty spectacular, really.”
“I love the Eighth Step,” Tom Rush told me in 2021 at age 81. “I think I’m actually singing better than I ever did before. It’s more expressive, is the way I would put it. My high notes aren’t as dazzling as ever, but…” and he trails off. “They (his classic songs) come out a little different each time, depending on what I’m going through at the moment or how things are.” He proves that every time in concert.
Saturday, October 28th: master songwriter-performers Lui Collins and Bob Franke. “Lui Collins and Bob Franke, who played for us back in Albany in particular, are two of our best songwriters, and they’re coming together to do a show with us,” says Margie. Chicago Magazine said, “Franke songs are often devastatingly simple, joyfully anthemic, just plain quirky or wonderfully suggestive— but always unforgettable.”
Tuesday, October 31st: Whispering Bones: An Evening of Ghost Stories. A mini-festival of Halloween stories hosted by Professor Betterov Underhill & his coven of storytellers.
Saturday, November 4th: Singer-songwriter-guitarists Joe Jencks and Deidre McCalla.
Saturday, November 11th: Notoriously funny and poignant singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler returns with her longtime musical cohort Kenny White on piano.
Saturday, December 2nd: The Grammy-winning Klezmatics celebrate Hanukkah. “We’ve never done the Klezmatics before,” says Margie. “I’ve wanted to do them for a long time. This is a collaboration with Proctors. It’s something I hope is gonna grow.”
Saturday, December 9th: The quartet of Kim & Reggie Harris and Magpie (Terry Leonino & Greg Artzner) with Sing Solstice.
Margie has a long history of working with the late Pete Seeger, the patriarch of folk music. She recalls one poignant moment at the end of a festival with Pete. “We were standing in the cafeteria, and Pete came over to me and put his arm around my shoulder, and this is the only comment I got out of the festival. He said, “Nice signage!”
It made her day.
“Made my day!”
I asked Margie what she’d like people to know about her legacy with Eighth Step. She paused.
“That’s a good question.”
That means that you don’t have a ready answer, I responded. “I don’t really. You know, at the Step, I’m part of a group of really hard working people. So, it’s not just me. That’s just not true. All these people enable me to do what I do, and they’re (integral) at what we do and to keep this up, but you know there’s a great deal of joy in it in this community and in this work.
“I think (our moves) have taught us that we can present who we want to present wherever we want to present them honestly. We found out we can persevere and have a great time while we’re doing it. We do a lot of singing. There are some really fine musicians among our volunteers, people who come in and support us, and people who come and stick around. And I remember (doing) some shorter-term jobs for financial reasons once in a while and just getting a bird’s eye view of the dysfunction of some other organizations, and I’ve never understood what makes this work so well, but it’s irresistible.”
The Tret Fure concert on Saturday, September 16th, begins at 7:30 at The Addy in Proctor’s Theatre. 432 State Street, Schenectady.