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January 19, 2018

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January 17, 2018

UMass three-game win streak snapped in Rhode Island humbling -

January 17, 2018

Trio of second period goals leads Maine to 3-1 win over UMass hockey -

January 16, 2018

Small-ball lineup sparks UMass men’s basketball comeback over Saint Joseph’s -

January 14, 2018

UMass men’s basketball tops St. Joe’s in wild comeback -

January 14, 2018

UMass women’s track and field have record day at Beantown Challenge -

January 14, 2018

UMass women’s basketball blows halftime lead to Saint Joseph’s, fall to the Hawks 84-79. -

January 14, 2018

UMass hockey beats Vermont 6-3 in courageous win -

January 13, 2018

Makar, Leonard score but UMass can only muster 2-2 tie with Vermont -

January 13, 2018

Pipkins breaks UMass single game scoring record in comeback win over La Salle -

January 10, 2018

Conservative student activism group sues UMass over free speech policy -

January 10, 2018

Report: Makar declines invite from Team Canada Olympic team -

January 10, 2018

Prince Hall flood over winter break -

January 10, 2018

Minutemen look to avoid three straight losses with pair against Vermont -

January 10, 2018

Men’s and women’s track and field open seasons at Dartmouth Relays -

January 10, 2018

Turnovers and poor shooting hurt UMass women’s basketball in another conference loss at St. Bonaventure -

January 8, 2018

Shorthanded, UMass men’s basketball shocks Dayton with 62-60 win -

January 7, 2018

Northampton City Council elects Ryan O’Donnell as new council president -

January 7, 2018

Valley native, Tim Eriksen breaks from his punk rock roots

Tim Eriksen, the folk music laureate of Western Massachusetts, has come quite a long way from his hardcore punk roots. Friday night, he came back to Northampton for a solo concert at the Iron Horse Music Hall.

Though flanked by a stable of at least five stringed instruments of various persuasions, he led off with an affecting a cappella performance of “Farewell to Old Bedford,” showcasing the precision and power of his unique singing technique. His vocals are heavily influenced by the Sacred Harp musical tradition; its slightly nasally style, coupled with well controlled dynamics that seem to follow the melody, perfectly suits the classic folk songs with which Eriksen is most comfortable.

Slowly building steam from the vocal solo, he raised his fiddle and transitioned into the somber “O Death.” Finally, he gave the audience something with a little pep, picking up the tempo (but only a little bit) for “Friendship.” His rhythm was driving, even if his only means of percussion was his left foot.

From there, he moved through a range of folk tunes, often leading in with an appropriate story. He preceded one song with a story of a dusty old Tennessee craftsman who built the unusual looking banjo he was about to use. Another story detailed the extent of a mouse infestation in an old house he once lived in. The stories themselves were funny and well-told, feeling at times like understated tall tales, and the relevant songs somehow kept the relatable charm of the stories while throwing them earnestly into the folk timelessness.

Besides personal accounts, he gave several pieces of historical background on the music. About half of the songs came from a particular place of origin – Finland, Macedonia, Ireland and Northampton to name a few. The last song before the encore was prefaced with the story of its author (or arranger, at least), the eccentric preacher “Crazy” Lorenzo Dow.

The stories and the histories certainly enhanced the already impressive performance, but Eriksen fortunately has his priorities straight. At one point in between songs, he quipped that in a parallel career to his musical one, he would become a comedian who told exclusively old jokes; he proceeded to carefully butcher the one about the elephant in the pajamas. Appropriately, the layers of hilarious irony stopped there, and he went on to another song.

Thanks to his musical prowess and commanding vocal presence, Eriksen performed songs usually played with a band, like “Sweet William” (from “Can I Sleep?” by his band Cordelia’s Dad), bringing a stirring intimacy to each arrangement. Also thanks to his musical mastery, he was able to use all of the instruments on stage at least once. Over the course of the performance, he commanded the hypnotic acoustic majesty of the fiddle, banjo, guitar, bajo sexto and even the (perhaps not so majestic but definitely hypnotic) jaw harp.

And it wouldn’t be a folk show (and he couldn’t call himself a Sacred Harp man) without a little audience participation. Twice during the set, he started a song by informing the audience, unobtrusively and without presumptuousness, that “it’s got this chorus” – he would then proceed to sing said chorus a few times, and when it next rolled around, the room would echo with voices.

This is how a hardcore punk guy becomes family friendly without selling out. His stage presence Friday night was consistently sincere and unassuming, his stories were surprisingly funny without being edgy, and his songs’ lyrics – usually detailing either unrequited love or death, or more often a combination thereof – may have been tragic and reflective, but their memorable melodies (they’ve lasted this long, haven’t they?) offered enough comfort to keep the darkness of their lyrical content at bay.

Tim Eriksen’s performance at the Iron Horse was a warm reminder of the universal appeal of folk music played well. Hopefully, he will continue to perform in the Pioneer Valley for a long time to come; we will need something to wet our appetites while we wait for the Cordelia’s Dad live double album, which, Eriksen joked, will come out just as soon as record companies exist again.

            Garth Brody can be reached at gbrody@student.umass.edu.

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