Scrolling Headlines:

UMass professor wins big on ‘Jeopardy!’ -

January 23, 2017

SGA president selects new vice president -

January 23, 2017

UMass women’s basketball blows 15 point fourth quarter lead, loses in double overtime to George Washington -

January 23, 2017

UMass club hockey falls to NYU 3-2 in first game back from vacation -

January 23, 2017

Cyr: Expectations for UMass men’s basketball remain consistent throughout 2016-17 season -

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The death penalty is not the answer -

January 23, 2017

Donald Trump is gutting journalism with his Twitter -

January 23, 2017

Winter break’s most overlooked releases -

January 23, 2017

Hardly anything in ‘Rogue One’ scores a direct hit -

January 23, 2017

Nineteen turnovers sink UMass men’s basketball in loss to Fordham Saturday -

January 21, 2017

UMass men’s basketball falls to Fordham behind strong defensive effort by the Rams -

January 21, 2017

UMass hockey can’t take advantage of strong start in 6-1 loss to Boston College -

January 21, 2017

High-powered Eagles soar past UMass -

January 21, 2017

UMass women’s basketball suffers disappointing loss to St. Bonaventure at Mullins Center Thursday -

January 19, 2017

REPORT: Tom Masella out as defensive coordinator for UMass football -

January 19, 2017

Zach Lewis, bench carry UMass men’s basketball in win over St. Joe’s -

January 19, 2017

UMass women’s basketball handles Duquesne at home -

January 16, 2017

UMass men’s basketball’s late comeback falls short after blowing 15-point first-half lead -

January 15, 2017

UMass hockey outlasted at home against No. 6 UMass Lowell -

January 14, 2017

Hailey Leidel hits second buzzer beater of the season to give UMass women’s basketball win over Davidson -

January 13, 2017

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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