Family Folk Machine Celebrates Five Years

Press-Citizen article published May 5 about the upcoming Family Folk Machine concert

by Jean Littlejohn

The Family Folk Machine, Iowa City’s intergenerational choir, is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a concert at the Englert Theatre on Saturday, May 12, at 3 p.m. We are excited to bring back some of our favorite songs from the past five years for this concert.
In putting together a program of favorite past songs, we wanted to represent certain themes that have been important to the Machine. We included a song by Woody Guthrie (“Deportee”), a song associated with Pete Seeger and the Weavers (the Weavers’ arrangement of “When the Saints Go Marching In”), and a couple of songs with Iowa City roots (including Greg Brown’s “Wash My Eyes”). We are following the Louis Armstrong tradition of using social justice verses in “When the Saints Go Marching In,” with new words written by my sister, Rebecca Littlejohn.
One of our Iowa City songs is “Unsteady Youth,” by Alexis Stevens. The song was Stevens’ contribution to the Iowa City Song Project, a 2012 Englert commission, and it’s full of Iowa City references (“We’ll go for a walk out in spite of the cold, where the sidewalks are paved in words over gold…and the sweet angel face that’s turned black as a crow…”). We first performed this song in the spring of 2013, when the song and our choir were both brand new. It’s been rewarding for us to learn this beautiful song again this spring, with lots of new singers.
Another song that’s been a favorite for singers and for listeners is “Loon,” by Boston songwriter Oen Kennedy. A joyful wilderness encounter with loons brings Kennedy to ask “Will I keep my heart open?” The song inspired a beautiful monotype by artist and FFM member Amy Dobrian. Thanks to Amy’s generosity, we’ve been able to use her image of loons under the starry sky on our concert posters. Amy framed and donated the original piece for a raffle—it is now on display at the Senior Center, and you can purchase raffle tickets there or at our May 12 concert.
We will feature one brand-new song on our concert, a song that was written for the Folk Machine by Jeffrey Capps. Inspired by the iconic image of Woody Guthrie’s guitar, with its “This machine kills fascists” inscription, Jeff’s song states “This machine wages peace.” You may see some photos floating around Facebook of Folk Machine members with a special This Machine guitar. We’re loving Jeff’s new song. From its second verse: “Fight the fight with a lyric and a light ‘til you find the harmony/Fight the fight ‘til the darkness dies/All in all, just takes something pretty small to rock this big ol’ world.”
We hope you can come sing along with us on May 12!