The Hippo


Jul 5, 2020








Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons. Courtesy photo.

Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons

When: Sunday, June 14, 4 p.m.
Where: Bedrock Gardens, 45 High Road, Lee
Tickets: Sliding scale $10-$20 at the door
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Songster act
Duo brings authentic music to bucolic setting

By Michael Witthaus

 Seattle gave the world Hendrix, Heart and Nirvana. It’s also home to Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons, young musicians steeped in a bygone Americana age, a latter-day Lomax family. The two are deft at unearthing overlooked songs from a sometime neglected canon and reshaping them for contemporary audiences.

The duo’s curator instincts shine on their first album, Take Yo Time, which borrows from jug bands, Appalachian murder ballads, Robert Johnson blues and Rev. Gary Davis’s folk gospel, among others. A particular standout song is “Jazz Fiddler,” an obscure gem originally done by the Mississippi Sheiks.
Hunter and Seamons call themselves “songsters” — the quotes are theirs. The two explained the term’s meaning in a recent phone interview. 
“There were American musicians of the early 20th century whose repertoire was unlimited and spanned all genres,” said Hunter.
“Charlie Patton was a songster, and Willie McTell,” Seamons continued. “There wasn’t one style of music; there was a bunch of stuff that everybody played and liked.”
A lot of performers are thought of as blues artists because that’s what record labels paid for. 
“Actually that was just a fraction of what they could do,” Hunter said. “It was just a product of the commercialization of what they did.”
The conversation provides a taste of Hunter and Seamons’ performances, which blend robustly entertaining fiddle, banjo, guitar and singing with informative storytelling about song origins. As part of a first-ever East Coast tour, the pair will perform an outdoor afternoon show on June 14 at Bedrock Gardens in Lee. 
With multiple themed gardens containing exotic touches like a 400-foot allée formed by the saplings of Chinese fringe trees, pergolas, gazebos and welded sculptures throughout, Bedrock is a unique spot in New Hampshire. The general public is able to experience the stunning destination garden only during monthly open house days and concerts like Hunter and Seamons’.
In an email, venue representative Kate Bashline called Bedrock Gardens “the perfect natural setting to meet these Northwest traveling songsters. … We are so excited to bring them in.”
Hunter learned about Bedrock through his friend Jason Robertson, who helps run the 20-acre facility. “He’s been asking me to come here for a long time, and this was a really cool option,” he said. “Our music really goes over well in an intimate setting, and I thought that a garden was a really neat place to do a gig.”  
It’s the second big journey in recent months for the two. Last spring, Hunter and Seamons traversed the vein of America’s roots music heartland. Beginning in Chicago, with stops in Davenport, St. Louis and Cape Girardeau along the way, they made their way to Mississippi to experience musical heritage face to face. 
“When we met those people there was something significant to what they were doing that we couldn’t get from however many recordings we listened to,” Hunter said. “We felt compelled to go to the places where these recordings were made and the people lived — where the culture was that created this incredible music.  It was our way of getting to … the wellspring, the spirit that infuses our music.  I think that was a big part of the motivation.” 
“We also like to travel,” Seamons added with a laugh. 
Part of what draws them to 100-year-old music are their personal backgrounds. Seamons grew up in the Oregon backwoods and was exposed to traditional music of sawmill workers, loggers and fishermen from the region. Hunter was born in Lesotho, a small country in South Africa, and although he only lived in the region briefly — from age 7 to 9 in Zimbabwe — being exposed to traditional Shona music inspired him to learn violin. 
“We were both raised with an older sentimentality,” Hunter said. “As I got deeper into the music rabbit hole I became less and less enchanted by the music that is being made now and more enchanted by the stuff that was made before me.” 
Seamons likes the idea of creation for creation’s sake. 
“Something that stands out for me is that the priorities around playing music have changed,” he said. “The music that really interested me was the music that people were making for themselves, for their own entertainment and enjoyment in a leisurely way. In the ’20s and ’30s, they were definitely taking a stab at making it commercially, but people generally played for personal versus monetary reasons.   There is kind of an ease and relaxation and playfulness that comes from that.” 
As seen in the June 11, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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