Come as You Are

A feast of friends at the Hendersonville Community Co-op. L-R: David Sotar Hoffman, Tom Fisch, Pam McMahon, Don McMahon. Mark Sawyer. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

“We needed a place just to sing,” says Laura Miklowitz. Her love of music rivals her passion for the outreach efforts of the Hendersonville Community Co-op, so she pitched the idea of a public music event to the facility’s Engagement Committee.

While acknowledging Hendersonville’s thriving live-band scene — an outgrowth of its rush of new breweries and bar/restaurants — Miklowitz, a board director at the Co-op, is trying for something different with the Hootenanny. “Initially, we saw [it] as a form of political expression and righteous indignation, but we realized that cooperation and unity always trump divisiveness,” says Miklowitz, offering a sly double entendre. “We still sing the occasional protest song, but welcome all musical expression,” she adds.

It is decidedly not an open mic. No one stands emotionally naked on a stage, fumbling to tune the dreadnought or hazarding an original tune.

Two generations: Mark Raymond, Michele Skeele, Jean Raymond. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

“We sing rather than perform,” explains Miklowitz. Anyone who shows up can suggest a favorite song. The group mines everything from traditional, British Isles-derived Appalachian ballads — it was, after all, Pete Seeger who rebranded the Scottish word “Hootenanny” during the first-wave folk revival — to showtunes to spirituals. There’s a natural emphasis on beloved ’60s songs, though.

“The Hoot homogenizes community so beautifully,” promises frequent guest artist Pam McMahon, a nurturing presence with her husband Don. Despite an inclination toward the refrains of the Civil Rights decade, participants connect in the centuries-old style of rounds, feeling out riffs (acoustic guitars are a given) and stacking up multiple-part harmonies.

Hobbyists, beginners, and quiet appreciators mingle with accomplished musicians. Professional folkie Tom Fisch, for example, commonly makes the scene. Songs are accompanied by casual instrumentation, including kazoos, tambourines, and a variety of drums. However, players of mandolins, Native American flutes, accordions, and violins have pitched in, too. And everyone is encouraged to print out lyric sheets.

“Turns out we don’t know all the words to our favorite songs like we thought we did,” jokes Miklowitz. To be fair, some of those songs, especially trad ballads, can go on for five verses or longer, and exploring the depth of various genres is a key part of the vibe. “It’s a musical adventure in community involvement,” says Hoot regular Mark Sawyer. “Everybody has the opportunity to participate equally, based not on skill or experience but solely on the love of music. It’s not about competition. [You have to] leave your ego at the door.”

Fisch notes that “the room swells” — not with pomp but with harmony. “It’s so friendly and welcoming — no judging,” says Hoot enthusiast Martha Huggins.

“It’s exciting to see people’s shyness fall away,” agrees singer Diane Rhoades. “Mine included.”

The Hootenanny happens every second Wednesday — this month on May 9 — at the Hendersonville Community Co-op in the adjacent Community Room (60 South Charleston Lane) from 6:15-8:30pm. Free. Contact Gretchen Schott Cummins with questions: 828-693-0505, ext. 102, or outreach@hendersonville.coop. Also see hendersonville.coop for more information.

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