|Harmonious Union: Kingston Daily Freeman|
Betty and the Baby Boomers
Bob Sherman, host of “Woody’s Children”
WQXR and WFDU, New York, NY
The name seemed like a good idea twenty years ago when Betty Boomer, Jean Valla McAvoy, Paul Rubeo, and Steve Stanne began performing togethera play on Betty’s name and the fact that all four are children of the baby boom. They’ve had second thoughts, but two decades later, it’s too late to change. “Betty and the Baby Boomers” appears on the cover of the bands’ three CDs; and the name is known to folk music fans from the mountains of Connemara in Ireland to the Catskills overlooking the Hudson Valley.
The folk genre covers many styles. The Boomers’ take on this music is suggested in a review of their second recording, Tumbling Through the Stream of Days, in the folk song magazine Sing Out! The reviewer described the group as “a refreshing reminder of the halcyon days of American folk music” and praised the CD as “an enthusiastic testament to the sheer joy of singing and playing music.” In addition to original songs from Jean, the Boomers draw on sources including traditional folk, contemporary artists like Bruce Cockburn and Dougie MacClean, and classic “folksingers” like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Phil Ochs.
Betty and the Baby Boomers have released three recordings -
Whatever the source of a song, it is “Boomerized” recast in distinctive arrangements that feature outstanding three and four part harmonies. The four voices in the band differ greatly in range and color; combined, they create a unique and resonant blend that highlights Boomer performances. This harmonic blend is coupled to impressive instrumental work on guitars, Dobro, bodhran, and kazoo, or sometimes “Look ma, no hands” uncoupled as their voices fly freely through a capella selections.
Betty, Jean, Paul, and Steve have been singing together for twenty years not to become folk stars they all enjoy satisfying careers in teachingbut, as Sing Out! noted, for the love of making good music. Their talent has been recognized. Since 1990 Betty and the Baby Boomers have frequently performed in the highly regarded Phil Ochs Song Night concerts produced by Sonny Ochs in rooms ranging from New York City’s Village Gate and the Towne Crier in upstate Pawling to the Nameless Coffeehouse in Cambridge, Mass. The group is regularly booked along with the likes of the Chieftains, Paul Brady, and Dolores Keane to perform during Clifden Community Arts Week in County Galway, Ireland. The Boomers’ most recent Clifden visit (#8) had them giving fifteen performances in five days in September, 2008 … not counting the late night sessions. For a complete list go to CONCERTS.
The Boomers’ version of Jean’s original song “Back Bay” was includedalong with selections by Magpie, Tom Paxton, Bob Zentz, Pete Seeger, and otherson the 2005 recording Songs for the Earth, released in tribute to Rachel Carson by Musicians United to Sustain the Environment.
In his recent appearances in the Hudson Valley, Seeger has been leading fellow musicians and audience members in his rendition of another of Jean’s songs, “Down By the River.”
The engaging musical and stage presence of the group’s namesake, Betty Boomer, cements the bonds between the quartet and their audiences. According to the Poughkeepsie (NY) Journal, she and Jean “have vocal talents clear as a Catskill Mountain stream.” Jean Valla McAvoy’s compositions stand out in the Boomer’s repertoire. Her singing of them was singled out as “especially impressive” by Sing Out!
Steve Stanne’s baritone and instrumental work anchor the group. His guitar and Dobro playing grace albums by a number of Hudson Valley folk artists, and his rendition of “The Farmer is the Man” appears on the Flying Fish collection Songs of the Working People produced by Earl Robinson.