By Dawn Watson
If Tom Hashagen were to look to the heavens and ask the musical gods to hand-pick Sylvester Manor’s perfect playlist, Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project would most certainly be on it.
The Lomax Project—a collaborative collective of music makers who have come together to bring focus to the songs captured by folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, commonly referred to as “the man who recorded the world,” who archived thousands of recordings and interviews for the Library of Congress—is all about reviving, recycling and re-imagining traditional music. The group includes Mr. Stone, a two-time Juno-winning banjoist and composer who has been called “the Yo-Yo Ma of the banjo;” Grammy-winning songwriter Tim O’Brien; Bruce Molsky; Margaret Glaspy; Moira Smiley; Brittany Haas; Julian Lage; Sumaia Jackson; Andrew Ryan; and Eli West, to name a few. The Lomax Project’s repertoire includes Bahamian sea chanties, African-American a cappella singing from the Georgia Sea Islands, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: sea captains, cowhands, fishermen, prisoners and homemakers.
“What this band is all about is what Sylvester Manor is all about: historical preservation, work songs, folk songs,” says Mr. Hashagen. “I can just imagine Alan working for Sylvester Manor back in the day. And now, the Lomax Project, through their music, they are highlighting the historical aspects of music specifically, and of Americana in general.”
Mr. Stone, who hasn’t yet been to Sylvester Manor, is excited to come play the Shelter Island historic plantation for its Creekside Concerts finale on Saturday, September 17.
“I’m intrigued,” says the Denver, Colorado-based musician. “Ever since they first contacted me, I started researching the place and just took in the beautiful thing that they’re doing. How many places do you know where they’re singing farm-and-work songs? I love it. Can’t wait to experience it.”
A voracious student of music, Mr. Stone reports that he first came across the work of Mr. Lomax when he was just learning the banjo many years ago. He was immediately hooked.
“I sort of lit up,” he recalls of the first time he heard one of Lomax’s recordings. “The stories, the people, the songs. I just had to keep listening, and listening and listening.”
Several decades later, after reading a biography on the music preservationist, “The Man Who Recorded the World” by John Szwed, the acclaimed solo artist thought it would be fun to gather up a group of like-minded musicians to get together and play some of the songs recorded by Lomax. A one-off jam session turned to weekly get-togethers, and eventually an album of original songs paying homage to the historical recordings.
“We ended up making collaborations from scratch from these old songs. And we just kept doing them,” says Mr. Stone of how the album “Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project,” released in 2015 by Borealis Records, was born. “It’s grown ever since.”
As a result of the collaboration, Mr. Stone, who plays approximately 80 shows a year, now regularly tours with some of his fellow Lomax Project contributors. A quartet consisting of him on banjo and vocals; Ms. Smiley, who sings, plays the banjo and accordion; Ms. Jackson, who fiddles and sings; and Mr. Ryan, who plays the double bass and sings; will play at Sylvester Manor on Saturday.
Far from being old-fashioned and out of place in today’s musical universe, the composer reports that there’s definitely an audience for exactly this type of arrangement. He likens his group’s “dusting off” of this type of historic music to the growing artisanal, back-to-the-land movement, minus the hipster factor.
“These songs are our heirlooms,” he says. “They are time capsules that Lomax saved for us like farmers who saved seeds.”
There’s a growing hunger for this type of music and performance, he says. And audience members at the Sylvester Manor show should expect a rousing participatory experience.
“More and more I feel like this program and the chemistry of the band and the whole act of reviving and recirculating these songs is a very moving experience. And that’s contagious,” says Mr. Stone. “The connection to older folkways and ways of being, especially through music and song and singing and clapping, is earthy and organic. I need more of it in my life, and I think that’s a common thing.”
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project will play the Creekside Concert series finale at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island on Saturday, September 17, at 5 p.m. Bring a blanket or low chair for the outdoor concert. Tickets are $35. For additional information, visit www.sylvestermanor.org.