|Euclid I. Williams on fife (center); his son, Leo (right) on the bass drum, and Euclid's younger brother, John (left) on the snare drum.|
What happens when a researcher (Helen C. Pike) with a flair for history re-discovers a local family band from the 1930s -- and finds an actual recording of their music? In Waterford, Vermont, that's reason to celebrate, and to renew that music with today's bluegrass and folk band! Read on:
Welcome Home to Waterford Music
WATERFORD – The sounds of music new and old will reverberate in this Connecticut River town when the Waterford Historical Society and the Lower Waterford Congregational Church host a unique benefit concert on June 18.
“Welcome Home to Waterford Music” features the harmonies of the UnCommon Folk Band, string musicians who chose the post-Revolutionary War settlement as their home base: Samantha Amey who plays upright bass and folk guitar; Paul Amey on guitar, fiddle viola, and mandolin, and Tom Bishop, who not only plays the upright bass and frailing banjo, but also the harmonica. All three sing.
“We started out sitting around the woodstove just jamming on cold winter nights,” according Sam Amey who runs a sugaring operation with her husband. “After a while people started liking our sound, so we formed the band sometime in 2005 in order to play at a variety show... The rest is history!”
Performing a mix of folk and bluegrass, UnCommon Folk is popular at First Night in St. Johnsbury, the Cabin Fever Reliever series in Guildhall, and at open-air festivals throughout the North Country.
Their repertoire of old-time music was exactly what the historical society and the Ladies Social Circle at church were looking for this past winter when they began brainstorming about their third joint production.
The intersection of community interests with broad appeal occurred with the discovery of Helen Hartness Flanders’ 1933 recording of country fiddler Euclid I. Williams, a Waterford dairy farmer and church member. Flanders, daughter of a Vermont governor and wife of a U.S. senator, was internationally recognized as a ballad collector and authority on New England and British folk music.
Her 4,500 field recordings, transcriptions and analyses are housed as the Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College, including the wax cylinders she used to record Williams when she visited Waterford. Those recordings have since been digitally converted, but the sound quality is poor.
Remembering the Band from Farming Days
Geneva Powers Wright of Waterford who is in her mid-90s recalled, as a child, listening to Williams and his family playing music when they came in from their fields at lunchtime. The Powers dairy farm was the nearest neighbor in an era of rolling pastureland with no trees to stop the sound.
“We could hear their music floating down,” Wright said of their fellow hill farmers.
In all, there were nine tunes that Flanders recorded. To recreate the sound of the Williams Family and make new memories that come from music, the UnCommon Folk Band will include the slightly bawdy “Tim Finnegan’s Wake” in its playlist for the evening.
The historical society will mount a captioned display of Williams family photographs taken at Highland View Farm, today owned by Dr. Clare Wilmot and her husband, poet Peter Goreau. A true hill farm, the historic homestead stands on Old County Road South with views of the Connecticut River valley and the spires and rooftops of Lower Waterford. The display will reference Euclid and Jennie’s son, Leo, who also played music, and his wife, Bertha, a member of the Congregational Church’s Ladies Social Circle.
Collaboration of Historic Church and Historical Society
The June 18th event is the third joint fund raiser between the church and the history group. Members of the mid-19th century church are redoubling their efforts for contributions, both in-kind and financial, that will help restore the iconic edifice.
One of the three main village structures that give Waterford both its civic and historic identity, the church was built in 1859 using repurposed timbers from an 1818 meetinghouse on Old County Road South. Earlier fund raisers intended for the sanctuary’s interior were diverted to repair a leaky steeple and part of a rotting foundation on the building’s southwest side believed to have been constructed with beams from that meetinghouse.
For its part, Vermont’s newest historical society is asking for contributions that will help it continue to record Waterford’s early to mid-20th century history by those who lived it. Monies raised at the first joint benefit with the church, “Barn to Table”, were used to buy a secure archives cabinet and materials needed to organize family and business histories. Last year’s hugely successful combined fund raiser, “The Waterford Historic House & Garden Tour & Rhubarb Café”, enabled the society to pay its non-profit incorporation fees.
The church is located on Lower Waterford Road, between Route 18 and Maple Street. Church doors open at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. The concert is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. The historical society is providing light refreshments during intermission.
Admission is at the door: $10, adults; $5, children 12 and younger, kids under five, free. Anyone who cannot make it, but would like to make a donation to either organization’s projects is welcomed to mail a gift to the church: P.O. Box 111, Lower Waterford 05848 or the historical society: P.O. Box 56, Lower Waterford 05848. (article by Helen C. Pike)