As a part of the sixth annual Porch Stomp season, we're working with Beehive Productions, NYC Ferry and Blue Point Brewery to bring you a series of videos featuring artists spanning the gamut of NYC folk scene (and then some). Check out our blog every month for new videos and interviews with artists, and be sure to follow us on instagram: @porchstomp and Facebook: Porch Stomp
Hilary Hawke is without a doubt one of the most recognizable faces on the NYC Folk scene. A teacher, performer, and instigator of all things community, she is a local legend of incredible rapport and among the most sought out players within her purview. Recently, her work as banjo player in the remake of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical OKLAHOMA! has led her not only to Broadway but also the Tonys where the show received the AWARD for Best Revival in 2019.
While our stompers will know her best for leading our annual Banjo Parade on Governors Island, she is also a frequent collaborator to those within the Porch Stomp world. Recently, that spirit of collaboration has led to numerous pairings with dancers, including the session below, featuring her band The Wild Goats and shot on a gorgeous sunny day on Governors Island a few months ago. As festive and jubilant as the intersection of music and dance, one must ask: is there a better representation of what Porch Stomp is all about?
Check out Hilary and The Wild Goats featuring dancers/choreographers Kathy Grabarczyk and Sara Rowbottom (and additional help from some familiar faces) performing "Cumberland Gap" live from House 5 of the historic Nolan Park. The Wild Goats have also recently released a new EP which is available on their bandcamp page. Find it here and continue reading for a Q&A with Hilary below.
You’ve been such a huge part of the Porch Stomp community let alone the NYC music scene at large. We all know a number of your successes, but what’s a favorite musical experience you’ve had that we may not know about?
I really enjoy improvising and honestly, when I’m singing and playing tunes with good friends and hitting some great ideas- that’s my favorite musical experience. I love music, I love collaborating with people. This month (August 2019) I am the featured banjo player on the cover of Banjo Newsletter and that was a huge honor, and something i’ve been striving for. I don’t think many non-banjo playing folks subscribe to that, ha ha, not like the NY times are something! Playing on the TONY awards this year with Oklahoma! was definitely the most thrilling experience I’ve ever had, and the most people I’ve ever played for.
What do you see as the greatest struggle facing NYC folk music today? Likewise, what do you like most about the NYC folk scene.
I think one of the greatest struggles with NYC is there just isn’t enough government funding or support for the Arts. Health insurance and living costs are out of control, and it can be really hard to make a living as artist. There aren’t enough residencies, grants or programs set up to give musicians the room to create an atmosphere of diversity and culture. I feel like artists literally have to live in poverty just to do what they love. It breaks my heart that so many extremely talented people have to leave the city because they can’t make it work here.
I think one of the things I like best about the NYC folk scene is that we all are driven and striving to sing and play the songs we love. We are filled with a passion to perform and learn more about the music we want to share. Since we don’t live in the mountains, we really are obsessed with hearing new songs from old sources and also collaborating with people who make us feel even more a part of the music that explodes and transforms with harmonies and colors and textures when more and more people join in.
Do you have a favorite Porch Stomp memory to date?
My favorite Porch Stomp memory (by far) is the year it poured and everyone was covered in mud. And everyone stayed till the end, and we made the giant circle and sang our hearts out! Just covered with dirt, and laughing, and singing!
How did you connect with Sara and Kathy, and tell us about the process of working with dancers from the vantage point of a musician.
Sara and Kathy are golden, magical people. Kathy is a banjo student of mine and she kept mentioning the song, Cumberland Gap from my last CD from Dubl Handi called Morning in a New Machine. She said she could really see herself dancing to it. I was like, thumbs up! Yes! You go! And then one day, she showed up with a iphone video of a routine that her and Sara worked up to the song. I was floored. I loved it and knew we needed to make a video. Kathy agreed and we set down to make it happen!
Working with dancers is fun and actually really similar to playing music when you get down to the specifics. Timing, tempo, form, how to start the song, how to stop. Really similar. The big difference is; dancers get much more physically tired after each time through. Kathy and Sara are my heros.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer to musicians looking to collaborate and connect in NYC, especially in reaching out across disciplines?
My big piece of advice is that hard work pays off. If you really sit down, and think about what you want, what’s your vision. Truly, what do you want, and be honest with yourself. What do you want, and then make a plan and stick with it. It may not take a year, or 2 years, or 5 years, or 9 years, but it will happen. You just can’t give up.
Feel free to check out more of Hilary's doings at her website : https://hilaryhawkemusic.com
Special thanks to Jeff, Sue and Redia of Beehive Productions as well as Blue Point Brewery for their support of the Porch Stomp Presents series.