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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 29, 2010

Songs to celebrate summer at Thacher Park

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — Summer’s siren song calls people to the Helderberg escarpment every year.  This Saturday, it will be given a defined voice as Thacher Park hosts a day-long concert.

George Robinson, a biology professor at the University at Albany, will play traditional folk music that features natural elements.

“I was into music before I was into biology,” he said — his two interests have become entwined.

Growing up in an Irish family, music was always around.  He spent his Friday and Saturday nights in Chicago, singing Celtic music at a Welsh pub, and on Sunday morning he rode his motorcycle to a Presbyterian church to teach old hymns.

“I like to find the roots of music,” he said of learning the hymns.

“If you go back to the roots, you realize why people write songs,” Robinson said.  They do it to tell stories, he said — the stories of lives, movements, and the things they love.

The songs he likes best are those that relate to nature and conservation.  They aren’t hard to come by, he said, explaining that any love song usually invokes spring, summer, trees, birds, or skies.

Robinson has made a habit of going to an introductory biology class each year to sing and closes the year with a song at the biology department’s commencement ceremony.  He sings “It’s a Long Way from Amphioxus” for graduation and notes that everyone, including parents, get into it.  “They’re all singing along.  It just blows me away,” he said.

The human interaction is what Russ Pokorny, of the Traditional Strings, thinks is important about small-town concerts.

“You’re really involved with other people and you’re creating something on your own,” he said.

The Traditional Strings started out in the Knox Store, when he owned it with his wife.  “It can be a little boring,” he said of running the store, which is why he brought in his piano and started to offer lessons.  Before long, a dozen or so musicians gathered and “every other Friday night in front of the beer cooler, we would play,” he said.

The couple sold the store in 2002, but the Traditional Strings remained and continue to play at community events around the area.

At a chicken barbecue held to benefit a library this summer, Pokorny said, the band had 15 people playing, including a tuba.  Each event has a different arrangement that depends on who shows up. 

“One night, we had seven fiddle players,” he said, and that included a 6-year-old.

In the hour-and-a-half that the group will perform at Thacher Park, the Traditional Strings will probably play half of its repertoire, or about 25 songs, Pokorny guessed.

His favorite is “Ragtime Annie.”  “It’s interesting on the piano; I think it sounds good, and other people like it,” he explained.

“It’s hard to pick one,” Robinson said when asked about his favorite song.  “They’re like children,” he said.

Kyle Miller and Home Brewed will also be playing at the John Boyd Thacher State Park concert. It will begin at 11 a.m. and last until at least 5 p.m., said Joy Scism, who planned the event.  There will be a $6 fee to park.

The Berne-Knox-Westerlo cross-country team will be selling picnic fare to benefit the school’s team, since money for sports was cut in this year’s budget, said Amy Anderson, who is organizing the fund-raiser.  The team will offer meal deals, including a hamburger with chips, a drink, and a dessert for $4; a hotdog meal for $3; and a cheeseburger meal for $4.50.  Veggie burgers and corn will also be available, she said.

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