Q&A: Mike + Ruthy on The Second Annual Summer Hoot at The Ashokan

Hoot Sings with Pete Seeger - Photo by Scott Harris
Hoot Sings with Pete Seeger – Photo by Scott Harris

On Friday, August 22 through Sunday, August 24, our friends Mike + Ruthy will present the second annual Summer Hoot at The Ashokan Center near Woodstock. The lineup is looking strong, including gcb favorites like David Bromberg, Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Amy Helm & Friends, Spirit Family Reunion and Kristin Andreassen.

Pete Seeger Postcard to Mike + Ruthy
Pete Seeger’s Postcard to Mike + Ruthy

Last year’s Summer Hoot was one of the late Pete Seeger’s last public appearances. Afterwards, he sent a postcard to Mike + Ruthy requesting that Molly Mason (Ruthy’s stepmother) perform a song that Pete wrote for his wife, Toshi, who had died just weeks prior to that event, at this year’s Hoot. That will indeed happen.

We caught up with Mike + Ruthy for their take on the hoot. Here’s what they said.

This is the second Summer Hoot. How did all of this come about?

Ruthy: Over a decade of touring folk festivals we have fallen in love with lots of special places and communities. It took time to build up the courage to cultivate our own thing here. Last year really showed us that the ingredients are present: great local musicians, food vendors, crafters, and a team of volunteers who want to help organize, set-up, lift, carry, design, count, sort, manage and celebrate with us. Plus an audience, of course! A vibrant, multi-generational audience.

gcb: What’s different about the Hoot from some of the larger festivals around? (NOTE: Ruthy mentioned that being a teen at music festivals can kinda suck, so I’d love to hear about that if there’s anything to share.)

Ruthy: I grew up being dragged to folk fests far and wide with my parents and it was pretty fun. But the kid contingent at these events was usually small-ish, and the teen scene was nearly non-existent. It wasn’t until our old band The Mammals played Hiawatha in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that I saw what is been missing. Hundreds of teenagers were flooding into the site on day one, collecting in large giddy mobs and shrieking with excitement when they’d see another one of their friends. They weren’t sulking beside their parents trying to make the best of it. These kids were STOKED to be there. I nearly wept. And it hit me: they’re not here because someone did such a great job of marketing a folk festival to teenagers. They are here because they’ve been coming since they were 5. It’s a tradition. All their friends are here and they wouldn’t dream of missing it! Late that night we saw the “teen scene” tent hopping with dancers til 2am. It was awesome. We want to be like that. It is SO important to me to be the kind of festival where parents want to bring their small kids. The feedback from families so far makes me very proud. If we play our cards right we will have a wonderful throng of Hoot teens in 10 years. Teenagers who are into square dancing, nature, sustainability and lyrics!

How are you curating the lineup?

Ruthy: We book our friends and people we admire.

What’s the mix you’re going for?

Ruthy: Roots music of all kinda, local and beyond, plenty of women (you’d be surprised how many festivals seem to overlook that), a mixture of bands, duos and solo acts, great songwriting or music that honors some kind of traditional arc.

What are some of the smaller acts that we should know about this year?

Ruthy: Kristin Andreassen is our square dance caller but she is also a stunning songwriter with a new CD coming out soon. I’m really looking forward to her set!

Simi Stone is an uber-local pal with pipes and a presence that are one of a kind. Her new CD just came out with tag-line “where mountain meets Motown.” Check her out for sure.

My Mom and Dad along with John Cohen and Abby Newton are doing a “reunion” set as the Putnam String County Band. They made one LP in the mid 70’s which is incredible and had a big effect on me. In many ways I think the PSCB informed what The Mammals became.

What else is different about the Hoot?

Ruthy: Our music festival is a benefit for The Ashokan Center and their environmental education programs for kids. I envision The Hoot “at the crossroads of music and nature” bringing together all of the aspects of The Ashokan Center’s history and future. School sleepaway groups have been learning about nature and colonial crafts at Ashokan for over 60 years and my family has run music and dance summer camps there for over 35 years. Recently, these entities merged. Now one organization collectively keeps all of these activities going, plus retreats, weddings, and festivals! The Hoot helps tie it all together, and connects the local community with this great place!

Mike: Last year we dedicated our main stage, built with all volunteer labor from reclaimed building materials, to Toshi Seeger. That stage is now known as the Toshi Stage. Next to the Toshi stage is our second stage, a repurposed BBQ shed that at last year’s fest was powered by solar power (as it will be again this year.) This year we’ll be dedicating the Solar stage to Pete.  The Pete & Toshi stages will stand side by side for as long as the festival exists. All of the Hoot artists have been encouraged to perform a Pete Seeger song during their set if they’d like. In addition, the Pete set from last year (11:30am on Sunday) is a tribute set specifically to remember Pete & Toshi and to celebrate and lead the audience through many of Pete’s best sing-a-longs.

See the schedule, full lineup and buy tickets here. Watch a reel from last year’s hoot here.