Nonprofit promotes folk and acoustic in County and beyond

Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO If Scott Moore has his way, Montgomery County will grow increasingly rich in folk and other acoustic music.

Moore is president of FocusMusic, which local singer/songwriter Steve Rey founded 15 years ago as a nonprofit under the auspices of the Folk Alliance 501(c)(3) umbrella.

Acoustic music venues in the area were scarce and tended to come and go, said Moore.

FocusMusic draws inspiration from places like Caffe Lena in New York City, which dates to the 1960s and featured Bob Dylan early in his career.

FocusMusic provides an intimate, “up-close” musical experience and the opportunity to discover high-quality new artists,” Moore said. “Our concerts offer personal contact with performers, a sense of belonging to a community of music-loving friends, and time to socialize.”

Another goal is building audiences for the music these artists play.

Moore would love to see folk and acoustic music “everywhere.” FocusMusic presents concerts in Bethesda and Rockville (and other DC-area venues outside Montgomery County).

One of those “high-quality artists” is folk musician/songwriter Brad Yoder. He will be performing with Jason Rafalak as the Brad Yoder Duo – on Feb. 18 in Rockville.

The two made their joint debut at the 2005 Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh.

Rafalak plays upright bass and mandolin and provides vocal harmonies.

Headlining at the Rockville concert is Heather Mae.

At one of Yoder’s concerts, a young audience member of 8 or 10 named Skyler, told him her parents had named her after one of his better-known songs.

“That’s indicative of the impact Yoder has on audiences and the rapport with them,” said Moore,

Yoder believes musical success should be measured in more than just the obvious ways. Though he’s been voted in the top three slots multiple times since 2002 for “Best Acoustic/Solo Artist” by Pittsburgh City Paper readers, he considers having a college freshman from Los Angeles request songs she’s heard only via internet downloads is “actually cooler.”

“When people are moved by a song, you can’t measure that kind of ‘success,” Yoder said. “It doesn’t pay rent or make you famous, but it’s satisfying.”

According to Moore, Yoder offers a blend of “humorous, poetic, political, funky and edgy original songs – covering a musical range from folk to indie rock with unexpected musical and lyrical twists). This has earned him a loyal following across the age spectrum, Moore added.

Moreover, he said, Yoder has a “unique voice and point of view. He writes his own material almost exclusively.”

Yoder performs some 150 times annually, at colleges, cafés, churches, festivals, First Nights and even the zoo. He sold more than 7,000 copies of self-released CDs.

As the son of a pastor, Yoder uses biblical images and allusions as well as pieces of hymns, though he sees their inclusion as “spiritual awareness” rather than church music.

One thing Yoder loves about the folk-music community is that it contains “a ton of great songwriters – people you may have heard of or not heard.”

The next Bethesda concert takes place Sunday, Feb. 25, 7.m., featuring the mid-Atlantic Song Contest Showcase. The location is the Positano Ristorante Italiano, 4948-4940 Fairmont Avenue. Jay Keating is M.C.

Moore seeks out artists at the many concerts, conferences, and festivals he and his wife, Paula, FocusMusic secretary, attend. Sometimes other venues refer singers to them, and “some stumble on our website,” he said

But getting performers is the easy part, compared with attracting audience. “We always fight the perception people have that folk music means singing “Kumbaya,” he said.

The spiritual turned campfire song became very popular during the folk revival of the 1950s and ‘60s.

The Feb. 18 concert starts at 7:30 p.m., at Cong. Tikvat Israel, 2200 Baltimore Street.

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