Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen: Americana’s Vanishing Breed of Troubadours
Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen represent a vanishing breed – self-styled, American troubadours in the tradition of those who plied the dance halls, saloons and camp gatherings in this new land long before the advent of what’s become today’s music industry.
“Joyce and I are modern troubadours, which for some reason is hard for some people to understand, presumably because it doesn’t scale up in size that well,” Reid said.
The York, Maine, residents Reid and Andersen often can be found playing the New England folk scene, such as Friday’s show at Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead. But much of their music these days can be found closer to home.
In a beautiful old house and its 1880s barn, they’ve taken the concept of “uberlocal” to heart and set up a limited-seating venue at their home.
“It’s been very successful,” Reid said, “We’re drawing consistent and excellent audiences of both our fans and our neighbors, and performing our concert shows with dignity in a great performing environment. And we’re having a blast doing it and enjoying not traveling and being with our kids.”
Andersen said she’s thrilled with the early experiences so far.
“We are committing to our community as well as giving fans from a two-hour radius a top-notch venue to come see us play,” she said. “They are just private parties spread by word of mouth. It attracts good people.”
They present weekend hometown shows, sometimes alternating nights between Hank & Dixie, the couple’s countrified duo, and Reid and Andersen, playing pretty much everything found on the American songbook. Musically, they spread their seed far afield. Traditional folk, blues, Celtic, bluegrass, fiddle tunes and mountain music are interspersed with brilliant original compositions. When the holiday season rolls around, Reid and Andersen present a series of popular Christmas shows that are among the Seacoast’s holiday highlights.
With 35 releases encompassing almost 500 songs and numerous books, Reid and Andersen – no slouch with a half-dozen solo recordings – could be called the first family of New England Americana music.
He’s a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music educator who has been dubbed a “giant of the steel strings” and a modern master and innovator of the acoustic guitar, autoharp and six-string banjo. She’s a veteran musician who has enjoyed a 20-plus-year career as side and session player, singer-songwriter and band leader. Her live performances and recordings showcase her versatility as a vocalist and violinist.
The home setup is almost an extension of the coffeehouse scene frequented by the couple both as solo acts and as a duo.
The shows there are really “house” concerts — a phenomenon popping up across the American musical landscape these days. Concerts are not widely publicized, typically spread by word of mouth or email blast. The shows are small, friendly, donation-based affairs that also offer snack foods typically found at the best coffeehouse gigs.
Andersen and Reid say they see the region’s long-standing tradition of coffeehouses as one of the last refuges of Americana music.
“It’s kind of amazing that it has gone on for decades, without either exploding in popularity or withering away. It’s kind of a utopian musical world,” he said.
Andersen finds the coffeehouse gigs to be a rare oasis for performers in a sea of noise.
“In bars, it’s hard to get people to stop talking and listen, and ignore their phones,” she said. “After a lifetime of learning how to cast deep musical spells, and at a time in history when the torrential digital river of sound bites, tweets and photos threaten to distract us at every turn, the New England coffeehouse scene is a rare and beautiful island where musicians can show up and play for audiences that still believe in making time for showing up and sitting and listening to live music.”
Because making music, recording and songwriting are basically the “family” business, are Reid and Andersen encouraging their sons, Levi, 8, and Otto, 11, to pick up musical instruments? The boys already have been known to join their parents onstage during Christmas shows, and play a role at the “merch” table or ticket taking at some concerts.
While Andersen says no, Reid is a bit more philosophical about the idea.
“My kids are gifted musically, but not yet drawn to it like the moth to the flame that it was for me. The reason they are playing is because I have developed a new way — the Liberty Guitar Method — that allows elementary-school kids to play real guitar, but they don’t have all the teen angst yet and hormones that seems to be the fuel of most music we know,” he said. “There are not a lot of second-graders singing about their feelings in their concerts, and it is probably too soon for my boys to find their own music as art.
“Though I wish they could learn to play piano or something while their brains are so elastic, I’m not a fan of the way music is usually taught in our culture, and am anxious for them and their friends to just find their own way musically.”
Reid isn’t so sure about even encouraging their to make music a career.
“The party as I know it might be over. I sold a lot of CDs and bought a nice house where I can raise my kids, but it’s unclear if musicians can support themselves in a DIY way these days,” he said. “Music is still valuable to people, but the way it is monetized is changing wildly. Giant artists are pimping cosmetics and even underwear (Blake Shelton), which indicates that you can’t even support yourself playing music at a very high level in the business.”
Business, and making money, has become less of a priority for Reid as family life takes precedent.
“I’ve greatly neglected my career the last few years, which may be OK and may be not,” he said. “My taking a sabbatical from decades of touring to raise a family has coincided with the collapse of the recorded music business and the economy in general.
“It’s a brave new world now, and the things that used to work aren’t working that well anymore. I’m not sure it makes sense to keep doing things the way I always did them as far as the business of selling recordings or tickets to performances.”
The carriage house concerts are a perfect example of doing things differently — instead of going to fans in far-flung places, they’re bringing the fans to them.
Transforming their carriage house into “a mini-Branson,” Andersen said, “was a big step toward balancing both career and family.”
“We are also lucky to have a big house where we have room to escape when we’re working on a song,” she said.
For a Q&A with Reid and Andersen, check out interviews here on no.depression.com