Sunday night April 7th marks the end of an era in Woods Hole. It’s the final concert to be produced by the Woods Hole Folk Music Society.
Since 1972, the society has presented live acoustic music at the village’s old wood-shingled Community Hall on the waterfront, featuring some of the most revered folk, blues, bluegrass and traditional music artists from this country and abroad. Over the years the concert series amassed a large and faithful following.
Started by folk music DJ Dick Pleasants, the concerts were originally broadcast on his program “Sail Loft” on a local radio station. Clyde Tyndale joined to help Dick with the sound after the first broadcast and eventually ended up taking over the concert series when Dick left a few years later.
In the early days, Tyndale said recently, “On a Sunday night in Woods Hole nothing was going on… we were the only game in town.” As a result, people began attending and were amazed that many of their folk music idols could be attracted to play in their small village.
Word quickly spread and people from all over the Cape and Islands and throughout southern New England began making the Sunday night trek to Woods Hole to hear talent usually featured at much larger venues.
Woods Hole has hosted some of the best performers of the folk world, including Peggy Seeger, Mike Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Geoff Muldaur, Gordon Bok, Jean Ritchie ,Tony Trischka, Utah Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels, Michael Cooney, Guy Davis, Oscar Brand, Priscilla Herdman, Claudia Schmidt, David Mallett, Peter Rowan, Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys, to name just a few.
Tyndale estimates that he has booked and overseen most of the more than 700 concerts in the last 47 years, and he’s ready to retire.
“We're all graying and getting older, and there's no younger volunteers coming out,” he said. “This is an all-volunteer organization.”
Without more and younger volunteers joining, Tyndale said, there aren’t enough people to set up and take down the sound system, lights, portable stage, and more than 100 folding chairs every 2 weeks. Although he will miss hearing the music he loves, Tyndale said he “won’t miss schlepping the gear around” with the other volunteers, who are now in their 70s and 80s, many with hip and knee replacements.
The concerts still draw good-sized audiences that pay the bills, but Tyndale said they, too, are aging and getting smaller every year. But, he said, “We have nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve been around longer than a lot of other organizations, and we wanted to go out with a bang, not a whimper.” So the society’s favorite performers were invited back to play this final year.
They include one of New England’s best known and beloved troubadours: New Hampshire’s Bill Staines. He not only played in Woods Hole that first year in 1972 – but he’s performed there every year since, and that, said Tyndale, “made him the obvious choice to close the series.”
Staines said Woods Hole has always been one of his favorite places to play and to be the final performer is “an honor.” Staines, who plays all over the country, said the folk music scene is changing. Some larger urban venues are doing well, while many smaller rural ones like Woods Hole are closing. But what has emerged is a very strong house concert scene. Staines said, “I can make a living playing almost every night of the week in peoples’ houses at various places around the country”.
But it is the experience of hearing live music in a larger space like the Woods Hole Community Hall that volunteer Debra Segal will miss. “When I see the people singing the same songs,” she said, “all together, joining in that community of singing together… It's something that’s going to be a terrible loss.”
Bill Staines always has plenty of singalongs during his concerts, so one can expect one grand finale Sunday night. Segal said the concert series may be ending, but the Society is not shutting down. It will remain active and will work with anyone who would like to revive what has been such a vital part of cultural life in Woods Hole and throughout southern New England.
Here is an extended interview excerpt with Clyde Tyndale about how the Society's concert series began.