Doctorow Brings New Life to Folk Traditions

Caroline Doctorow and her band will perform in Bridgehampton on Saturday.

Caroline Doctorow’s childhood home was once filled with the music, melodies and messages of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Richard and Mimi Fariña.

And she never minded.

“I was lucky because, my parents and I, we all liked the same kind of music. Isn’t that amazing?” she said. “It was music for social change and music that was attempting to help people by pointing out things that were cruel and wrong being done to people — a no-nonsense approach to speaking the truth.”

The daughter of author E.L. Doctorow — who performed in a hobby folk music band with his wife, Helen, throughout her youth — cannot imagine a life separate from the folk music that was her soundtrack.

Without intending to, it became a part of her.

“In the troubling times we’re living in now, it’s almost as if I’m even more drawn to it than ever,” she said. “It’s hard to be me without this kind of music. It’s basically who I am, other than a mom and a wife. It’s my identity. In order to be me, I have to do this.”

This past summer, Doctorow and her band, The Ballad Makers, launched the music series, “Summer Songs: The Great American Songbook… and other Stories,” which has drawn full capacity crowds since the first concert in May. Its last concert will be held on Saturday night at The Bridgehampton Museum Archive Building, which is as much a player as the music itself.

“The vibe has been, throughout the whole summer, really upbeat with the sense of fellowship and community and social justice,” she said. “The actual space itself is very rustic, comfortable and perfectly sized. It fits about 100 people and the walls are rough-sawn lumber, and the lighting is industrial and really cool. Our music is really well suited to that.”

The band has opened each concert with “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” a traditional American folk song featuring dueling fiddles — a new addition to The Ballad Makers, Doctorow explained.

“People don’t really remember that they know these melodies, but once they hear them, they just make you feel good,” she said. “That is just a beautiful way to start the evening and hopefully it tells us what’s to come, musically, in the hour and a half that we perform.”

Joined by guest musician Walt Michael — who plays the hammered dulcimer, a version of which Doctorow’s father made for her when she was a child — The Ballad Makers will navigate a set list of folk standards, Americana favorites, classic fiddle tunes and originals, some from the frontwoman’s most recent album, “Dreaming in Vinyl,” which reached #2 on the national folk radio airplay chart.

“One of the songs about social justice is entitled, ‘Abraham, Martin and John,’ which people seem to love revisiting,” Doctorow said. “Another top favorite has been a song I wrote about traveling around the country in a Ford Country Squire station wagon, trying to live in the moment, entitled, ‘To Be Here.’

“And one song people wait for every time — and if we don’t do it, people seem to get upset — is the Everly Brothers’ ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream,’” she continued. “Everybody in the audience sings along with that. That’s really been a highlight.”

As the final concert rapidly approaches, Doctorow has her eye on the journey ahead, which may include a holiday series called “Seasonal Songs” — in keeping with the theme, and alliteration.

“I don’t really think of it as an ending,” she said. “Also, my shows take me out of the area a lot — so it’s time to get back on the road again. But it’s been wonderful. It really has.”

When she leaves home in Bridgehampton, Doctorow will bring the traditions of folk music with her, she said, no matter where she goes.

“I don’t really have a political mind in the sense that I can articulate all these incidences and history, but what I can do is sing you a protest song — and maybe I can even write you a protest song,” she said, “which, actually, I’m working on one now.”

“Summer Songs: The Great American Songbook… and other Stories” with Caroline Doctorow and The Ballad Makers will be held on Saturday, August 25, at 7:30 p.m. at The Bridgehampton Museum Archive Building, located at 2539A Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. Tickets are $20. For more information, call (631) 537-1088 or visit