Folk festivals feed off of people like Steve and Kristi Nebel. Not only does their music reflect the ethics and values of that time long past which is the core of the Folk Life movements, but the Nebels have that ability to update without destroying the essence of what that music means to those simpler times. It is good music, pure and simple, and stands on its own. It is made to be played on small stages and between crafts exhibits at Folk Life Festivals and in living rooms with small groups of friends looking on. It is offspring of The Weavers and The Brothers Four and The Kingston Trio and their predecessors. But it is all Steve and Kristi Nebel.
With the help of folk inmate David Michael on Celtic and Germania Harps, the Nebels lay out smooth renditions of what folk music used to be and evidently still can be. With guitar, bass and harp and the occasional drum or harmonica, they take you through thirteen originals which feed on the feel of the past without sounding dated. For instance, Kristi's unadorned delivery on Papa Comin' Home paints a stark portrait of a man hardened by circumstances. Steve remembers Viet Nam on Initiation Rites, a reminder of the importance that the mind-boggling experience of Viet Nam had on many of us. A former wife enters a bedroom, razor in hand, and confronts her ex- and his new wife and slashes pillows in Clean Cut's analogy of the failures of the institution of marriage—at least, some of them (it is, indeed, a cruel thing to leave behind a wife with few skills while taking your marketable self to greener pastures).
The best, though, is Nebel's look at a world in which people are forced to wear big floppy hats and big floppy shoes and a big red nose because "who could be mean in a world like that". Big Floppy Hats separates the reality from the unrealities we are forced to deal with each day. Escapism, maybe, but maybe with a bit more of it, the world wouldn't be going to hell in a handbasket.
That is not Nebel's message, by the way. His world is one of life as life and, for him, life is pretty good. He has hope, as I suppose does Kristi and David Michael, and maybe that is another reason Folk Life comes to mind when their music plays. They are what they are and that is what counts, but they could be better (or so the occasional underlying twist of lyrics implies), as could we all. It is the core of every folk gathering, festivals included, I have attended. They nailed it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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