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Songs along the Mohawk

Return with us to those fabulous days of yesteryear when every bustling village had an opera house and performers journeyed from town to town to delight each eager audience. And they had willing participants in the sing-along portions – everybody knew the words to songs like “Bonnie Eloise.”

“Songs along the Mohawk” is a cabaret-style entertainment in which singer Byron Nilsson and pianist Malcolm Kogut share songs and stories from and about the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, including Erie Canal songs, vaudeville numbers, temperance ditties, and even some of those Victorian-era ballads in which people dropped dead for no apparent reason. We’ll also look at Mark Twain's fraught relationship with George W. Elliott, author of "Bonnie Eloise," which began when Twain performed in Fort Plain in 1868.

Songs of the 19th century tended to be annoyingly instructional: “She Is More to Be Pitied Than Censured” exhorts us not to mock a “fallen woman,” while “Asleep in the Deep” gets us nautical again, warning of the consequences of spooning with your honey on an upper deck while a storm rages around you.

The temperance movement got its start in upstate New York in 1808, when a group of concerned men formed an association that ran out of steam after five years. More successful (or at least longer-lived) temperance groups sprang up elsewhere, and the movement prompted a body of song that we’ll visit briefly, with the sing-along ditty “Come Home, Father” by Henry Clay Work. And to atone for that, the audience will be invited to sing along with Work’s better-known “Grandfather’s Clock.”

And we’re going to reclaim the song “Bright Mohawk Valley” as our own, trying to undo the damage wrought by Gene Autry when he re-named it “Red River Valley” and led us to believe it was some kind of a western ballad.

Saratoga Arts made this program possible with an Individual Artist Grant funded by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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Songs along the Mohawk Dates:

7 PM Friday, May 31: Old Fort Johnson, 2 Mergner Rd, Fort Johnson, NY 12070
2 PM Saturday, June 15: Arkell Museum, 2 Erie Blvd, Canajoharie, NY 13317
7 PM Saturday, June 15: Amsterdam Century Club, 130 Guy Park Ave, Amsterdam, NY 12010
7 PM Saturday, June 29: Upstate Chapel, 63 Cliff St, Canajoharie, NY 13317
7 PM Friday, July 5: Glen Conservancy Hall, 1538 Mill Point Road, Glen, NY 12072

A Pretty Pickleville

Come to Wells to help us celebrate the kind of entertainment Hamilton County might have seen a century or more ago. We'll perform some of the 19th-century songs described above, like “She Is More to Be Pitied Than Censured” and "Asleep in the Deep,” while also saluting the temperance movement with “Come Home, Father” by Henry Clay Work. And to atone for that, the audience will be invited to sing along with Work’s better-known “Grandfather’s Clock.”

We’ll also celebrate vaudeville tradition with the only song we’ve been able to unearth that salutes the state capital: “Why Do They All Take the Night Boat to Albany,” made famous by Al Jolson. There will be songs you know and songs you’ve never heard of in a funny, fast-paced show. This will be a third appearance at The Revival for Nilsson and Kogut: if you’ve seen them before, we trust you’ll be emboldened to see them again.

A Pretty Pickleville:

7:30 PM Sunday, July 7 at The Revival, 1441 State Route 30, Wells, NY