All female “supergroup” from Boston making Old Songs Festival debut in Altamont

Long Time Courting, a neo-traditional folk band from Boston, will bring its high-energy music to the Old Songs Festival at the Altamont fairgrounds this weekend. From left: Shannon Heaton, Liz Simmons, Katie McNally, and Valerie Thompson. The band will play a main stage set on Saturday evening. 

Somehow, in 2014, all-female bands are still a rarity in music, and it’s a shame.

Sexism or gender rules aside, rocking out is rocking out, and it’s almost always awesome. But when a woman owns her instrument or sings loudly for all to hear, it’s a level of empowerment that men can rarely touch.

“It’s all girl time all of the time,” Liz Simmons, guitarist and vocalist for the Boston-based neo-traditional band, Long Time Courting, said this week. “We know what we want and how to get it.”

Taking influences from Irish, Scottish, and American music, Long Time Courting tries to put a fresh spin on folk music with meaty arrangements. All four women in the band sing, and frequently harmonize with each other.

“It makes for an extraordinary sound, a fifth element,” said Shannon Heaton, who plays flute and accordion.

The Old Songs Festival, which is dedicated to preserving traditional music and dance, starts on Friday at the Altamont fairgrounds and runs through Sunday. Long Time Courting will be playing a main stage set on Saturday evening.

Before forming Long Time Courting in 2010, Simmons, Heaton, Valerie Thompson, and Katie McNally all played in other bands connected by the tight acoustic scene in Boston, and still play in those other bands currently. After the four met, and realized each other’s individual talents, they thought it would be fun to be an all-female band.

There is a 21-year age gap between McNally (21) and Heaton (42), but Simmons says the band doesn’t feel it. People are people, and, in a way, Simmons said, musicians are ageless.

“Musicians, or anyone involved in the arts, stay young because their life is based around connecting with people, personalizing the experience,” Simmons added. “You’re doing what you love, being creative.”

Simmons said that the members of Long Time Courting, although indebted to the Boston scene, each come from slightly different places. “Shannon is more about the Irish, but I’m passionate about the American side,” she said. “Valerie studied at Berklee [College of Music], so she has the conservative chops, and Katie, she’s from the Scottish world.”

Individual talents can shine in Long Time Courting, but it’s all about the blend, Simmons said.

The band has a cello combined with an Irish flute, which isn’t typical in a folk line-up.

“It’s unique, and performing is always fun,” Simmons said. “On stage, we have the best time. It can be really exhilarating or challenging or funny. We appreciate the crowd; they get to know us.”

Long Time Courting often enjoys a show, said Simmons, but a set at the Acoustic Brew in State College, Pennsylvania stands out for being extremely uplifting. The band played with no amplification, and, after the encore, the audience marched out of the door with the band.

“If you’re spontaneous, and run with an idea, it can be really awesome,” Simmons said. “You learn to roll with it.”

Long Time Courting plays fast and slow songs, but the energy is always high, Simmons said. The band has one full-length album called Alternate Routes, and its favorite cover song to play is “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster.

The name Long Time Courting is a line from a traditional song, said Simmons, but it’s also a nod to Boston’s dating scene.

“Couples always seem to date for at least 20 years,” said Simmons, who is married with a 12-year-old son. “That’s what it seems like, at least.”

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The Old Songs Festival, held from Friday, June 27 to Sunday, June 29 at the Altamont Fairgrounds, 123 Grand Street, Altamont, NY 12009, is a family-friendly festival of folk, traditional, Celtic, and world music and dance, known for its relaxed atmosphere, interactive sessions and workshops, hands-on experience, and participatory nature. In addition to three days of main stage acts, there are 120 daytime workshops given by performers. Also featured are a juried craft show, food and instrument vendors, and a well-run children's activity area. A three-day ticket, with camping, is $145.00 for adults; it’s $125.00 without camping. Single-day tickets start at $45.00 for adults and increase to $75.00 for Saturday. Prices are discounted for seniors and youth, and children 12-years-old and younger are free.

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