Todd Crowley's Musical Petting Zoo
Ever pluck a harp or drum on a djembe? Ever womp-womp on a didgeridoo or buzz into a shofar? Ever strum a mountain dulcimer or frail a banjo? All of these traditional folk instruments and about 100 more are part of Todd Crowley’s Traveling Musical Petting Zoo. It is a fully interactive, hands-on exhibition for musicians, young and old, novice to professional. The instruments tell a story of their own each time a child connects to the folk tradition by trying an instrument for the first time, or an adult rediscovers the joy of making music.
ARTIST WEBSITE: www.diatoddnics.com
Friday 5:00-7:00, Saturday 10:00-6:00, Sunday 10:00-6:00
Todd Crowley - folk musician, performance artist, autoharp sales and repair, Play Station ring master, musical petting zookeeper.
Folk music took up residence in my soul when I was a kid listening and singing along with my sister Sheila's Chad Mitchell Trio, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan LPs. It has never left me. I am a folkie. I am not a rocker or bluesman or singer-songwriter. I sing and play folk songs, old and new.
Woody Guthrie once said, "It is the job of the folksinger to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable."
Often in my life folk music has provided me with great comfort. When I have been sad, it has lifted my spirits. When I have been angry, it has given words to feelings I could not express any other way. When I have felt happy, it has made me exuberant beyond measure.
Early on, I also connected with the politics of folk music and the way it often brings dignity to the stories of the poor and dispossessed. Whether a Civil Rights era Phil Ochs song or an old Irish ballad about resisting English oppression, folk songs tell a history not often found in the history books.
As a folk singer, I want to be part of the oral tradition that gives voice to the sacrifices men and women have made to promote peace and justice in an often-troubled world.
In the summer of 2008, I turned 55, qualifying me for the Denny's AARP Early Bird Blue Plate special. With this milestone, I feel ever more indebted for what folk music has given me. Performing at open mics and small festivals has opened a range of doors in the Universe I never imagined possible when I first started singing as a kid. I've become a regular on the West Coast autoharp festival circuit and at Common Ground on the Hill in Westminster MD. I have shared the stage with such folk icons as Mike and Peggy Seeger, Bryan Bowers, and Andy Cohen. I have had the privilege of teaching peace and protest songs to the beautiful children of migrant workers in the mythical San Joaquin Valley.
To me, a folk song, like a good piece of writing, is a living organism with breath, a pulse, and something even more ineffable we can only call a soul. In the Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell writes, "Anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the work talks to you and builds itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the Muses - or, in Biblical language, 'God.' This is no fancy, it is a fact."
Singing a folk song is as much a creative act as writing a poem or painting a picture. When I sing a song, if I really listen, it starts to talk to me and does build itself. I know that sounds crazy, but that's how I do what I do. I'm often asked to sing Woody Guthrie's "Deportees" to the point where I wonder if I’m overdoing it...except that every time I sing "Deportees" something new happens. It will always be a work in progress, but that's what I love most about singing. I guess I like being just the carrier of something given to me.
I have found the diatonic autoharp, first introduced to me by my friend Bryan Bowers more than a quarter century ago, to be the perfect accompanying instrument for the songs I sing. The autoharp lets me keep the instrumental part of the song simple, so the words in story and poetry can take center stage. I have since added mountain dulcimer and bouzouki to my repertoire, but the combination of voice and autoharp remains my primary vehicle of expression.
Finally, without great folk songwriters, there would be no great folk songs to sing. So from all the unnamed traditional songwriters to Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Tom Russell to Nanci Griffith and a host of others in an unbroken circle, I give thanks and honor for the songs I love.
More About Todd
A high school English teacher of for more than thirty years, Todd received his MA in the Teaching of Writing and Literature from George Mason University 2005. Part of his M.A. studies included research into the life and songwriting of Woody Guthrie. He has been a teacher-consultant with the Northern Virginia Writing Project since 1999 and sought after workshop leader on teaching writing and folk music. For several years Todd has taught beginning autoharp and song classes on migrant workers and peace & protest at Walt Michael’s Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Westminster MD.
Todd performs regularly at The Folk Club of Reston-Herndon in Herndon, Virginia and has appeared at the Washington Folk Festival, the Herndon Folk Festival, the Bluemont Fair, the Phoenix Folk Festival and the American Roots Music & Arts Festival. He is also a long time member of the Washington D. C.
area Capital 'Harpers'.