Folksinger David Mallett. COURTESY PHOTOFolksinger-songwriter David Mallett grew up in rural Maine, in a somewhat-isolated existence. That changed when, at the age of 12, he acquired a Martin – the cream of the crop of guitars – for only $120.
“My mother used to sing hillbilly songs and the songs of Jimmy Rogers around the house,” Mallett said. “And it was the time the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary were getting their start.”
Mallett and his brother formed a duo, which played at talent shows and even won one when he was 12.
“From then on, we were on TV shows, made records,” he said. “All our spending money came from shows.”
Since releasing his first record 40 years ago, Mallett has been “doing music full time” – recording an additional 13 albums, performing, and providing material for a list of artists that includes Alison Krauss, Pete Seeger, Hal Ketchum, Emmylou Harris, John Denver and the Muppets.
One of the venues he has performed at frequently, and revisited on April 15, is Positano Ristorante Italiano in Bethesda – where the Washington, D.C.-based World Folk Music Association presents its events.
In existence since 1983, the organization is dedicated to promoting contemporary and traditional folk music, and spreading the word to both fans and folk artists, said WFMA President Chuck Morse.
“David is very special and well-known,” said Morse. “He’s the featured and only performer at our upcoming concert.”
The association offers two types of events. Showcases take place generally on the second Sunday of each month and feature primarily local performers or groups.
WFMA doesn’t sell tickets in advance for these, but does take advance reservations.
The association does sell advance tickets for concerts, which focus on individual artists.
Mallett found inspiration in Gene Autry and Johnny Cash as well as other country singers such as Marty Ross. “Basically, anyone who didn’t sing with a deep twang,” he joked.
He also sings songs by Don Gibson, the Everly Brothers, the Kingston Trio, and even the Beatles.
Despite the doubters, Mallett believes folk music and acoustic music in general are “stronger than ever. Guitar sales are up, and every day there’s a new little band,” he said.
Although it may not as obvious as during the 1960s, folk music is also the voice of “social conscience,” Mallett added. “Its appeal is also about optimism. Most of my life I wrote songs that celebrated life, love, and especially nature.”
One of Mallett’s celebratory songs – probably his most-famous in general – is “Garden Song.” He started composing the chorus when he and his father were planting together, and completed the verses later that same day, at a friend’s house.
“I still sing it at every show,” Mallett said. “I’m very proud of it.”
The folksinger-songwriter has another reason for optimism about the future of his genre of music. His sons are continuing the tradition by performing together as the Mallett Brothers.
Michelle Murray, in contrast, debuted at a WMFA event – a Showcase – on March 11.
Influenced by Joan Baez, she started playing guitar and writing songs during her first year in college.
“I heard about WFMA through the general music community,” Murray said. “Specifically, Brent Ruggles, vice president of the Association, invited me to participate in a showcase after hearing me perform at an open mic and listening to my CD. It meant a great deal to be invited to play in their concert series they provide a wonderful venue with an attentive audience.”
The showcase was also a “perfect place” to release her new EP, “This Life, My Life,” Murray added.
WFMA concerts and showcases take place at the Positano Ristorante Italiano, 4948-4940 Fairmont Avenue, Bethesda. 301-654-1717. For information about the association, visit: http://wfma.net.