As someone who wasn’t even a glimmer in my teenage mother’s eye in the mid-late 60s, the music of that era is some that I resonate with most. And if there was ever a time that feels close to the boiling tension of politics and civil unrest of that era, it’s now.
The music of that time was monumental to the movements, and God or some other divine power only knows what will emerge from the madness we’re living in now. One such band today that is bringing this timeless music back to the forefront is Long Island folk-rockers Gathering Time.
Comprised of Hillary Foxsong (percussion/guitar), Gerry McKeveny (acoustic/electric guitar/bass), Stuart Markus (acoustic guitar/bass), this trio is keeping the traditions of some of the greatest and influential music alive today with their tight harmonies and unique arrangements. The band is on the cusp of releasing their latest album, Old Friends, on September 1st.
This classic collection of covers pays homage to some of the best songs of the bygone era with such hits as The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Carry On”, and their single and perhaps *thee* song of the generation, the Youngblood’s hit “Get Together.”
The single reached #1 on The Folk Alliance International Folk DJ Chart, and the band is eager for the rest of the world to hear the rest of their highly anticipated album celebrating music that means and meant so much to so many.
Gathering Time’s first single, a 2007 remake of Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle,” was spun on stations ranging from NYC’s top-rated WCBS-FM to Israel’s Galilee Plains. Their first release, Songs of Hope and Freedom, won wide acceptance on folk stations nationwide, and in 2012, the trio’s second album, Red Apples and Gold, charted to #5 on the Folk DJ charts in September, finishing at #19 on the Folk DJ Top 100 for 2012. The trio’s 2016 release, Keepsake, debuted at #1 on the Folk DJ Charts for March 2016, with “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” being the #1 song. The album charted at #4 for the year.
We had the chance to discuss their new album, how the band formed, future plans, and much more.
So I was hoping you could talk about the inception of Gathering Time and how y’all got together?
Hillary Foxsong: I think it was Fate. Pre-pandemic, there was a weekly classic-car rally and street fair in the town where I live and work. One week I’d had a fight with my then-boyfriend and a coworker and I decided to walk over to the local pub on that street after work and check it out. That’s when I met our original third member Glen, who was doing the live music. When I just started spontaneously singing harmony he handed me a microphone. In fact, Billy Joel was showing some of his vintage motorcycles that night and he joined in — we made the cover of the town newspaper! Glen invited me to come back and I made a habit of it.
Stu Markus: Early the next season, I ran into Glen and he invited me to come down as well. As I walked up, I heard Hillary harmonizing with him, and without even any liquid courage I walked over and joined in. And immediately we realized it sounded good.
Gerry McKeveny: I’m a fan of the word “serendipity”. Stuart’s call came at a time when I was feeling some restlessness and a desire to try a new challenge. I’d always wanted to be in a harmony oriented group and to have the chance to do that and have an outlet for my writing seemed too good to not at least try.
What’s the Long Island folk scene like these days?
Stu: Very varied and wide! There are at least eight or ten, maybe a dozen monthly folk stages and house concert series, a traditional folk scene, a blues scene, and many restaurants that have acoustic music, especially in summer along the water. Then there are also libraries and museums that have live music performances, which book folk programs of various sorts. And more open mics than you could shake a stick at.
Hillary: And a good number of those shows have gone virtual, so there’s still a lot of opportunity for connection.
So you’ve got your new record, Old Friends, set for release September 1st. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this collection of songs?
Stu: These were all songs that we loved and loved playing, whose original authors influenced us in our own songwriting and arrangements. We’d gotten a lot of requests for an album of it, and once we decided to do one, the challenge became to whittle down our signature covers repertoire to a representative dozen or so. Times being what they are, we felt it important to include songs with important messages that resonate again today – and this was long before the pandemic hit and the big protest marches happened.
Hillary: It was easy to put together because there was a lot of agreement when we were assembling the song list. These songs might mean different things to any of the three of us, but they’re all songs that resonate with us.
I see it’s mostly or all covers of classic songs from the golden era of music in the 60s. Do y’all write your own songs as well?
Stu: Yes! All three of us write, and all four of our previous albums have been mostly original music.
Do you feel there’s a place for 60s-era folk rock music in the high flying technological times of the 21st century?
Stu: Absolutely. When I see teenagers and college students singing along on songs that came out decades before they were born, it confirms both the quality of the songwriting and its timelessness. A lot of modern pop music production is very reliant on digital technology, but there’s an undeniable appeal to the organic quality of instruments with actual vibrating strings, and voices blending in harmony.
Hillary: Well… define ‘folk music.’ A lot of kinds of music are somebody’s folk music, if folk music is about regular people’s lives and struggles. If you listen to rap music — and I do — then I think you can say folk music is alive and well in the 21st century. I’m sure there’s a place for the kind of folk-rock we’re doing because of the way people respond to it.
Gerry: In many ways the advent of more affordable recording equipment and the rise of social media, YouTube and streaming have made more room for all genres.
Of all the timeless songs from that era let alone the ones on your album, what made you choose the Youngbloods song “Get Together” to release as the album’s single?
Stu: It was one of those that we’d embraced as a timeless classic, and we loved the new groove Gerry had come up with for it. But when the Black Lives Matter protests erupted and we realized the extent of the problem that exists within the justice system, then the counter protests, not to mention the sometimes vitriolic polarization of the pandemic, we started thinking it was a message that really needed to be heard again. When a Folk DJ friend of ours in NYC emailed and asked us to send him an MP3 of the unmastered mix to use on his show, it clinched the decision.
Hillary: (thinking Stu said it all)
What have been one or two milestones the band has had so far?
Stu: Well, our first tour in Europe, in Ireland and Germany, was a big one. So was our last album, Keepsake, taking the #1 song, #1 album and #1 artist position on the Folk DJ Chart the month it came out in 2016. But some moments are just magical for other reasons — like when we opened for, then sang with Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary) before a crowd of about 1,500 a few years ago, and he told us how happy he was that we were keeping the tradition going.
Hillary: Oh yes, the show with Peter Yarrow comes to mind. PP&M’s first album is the earliest music I remember from my childhood. When Peter walked up to me with open arms and said, “I love the way you sing!” I knew I could die happy.
What do y’all do when you’re not making music?
Stu: I’m a full-time musician, so due to the pandemic I’ve had a lot of time to work on the house and practice lately — although we’ve been able to open up a good bit on Long Island, especially outdoor venues.
Hillary: I’ve been a mail carrier for 25 years. I didn’t know when I embarked on that career that there was a history of musical mail carriers — John Prine, for instance. He used to write songs while he was delivering his route, just like me.
Gerry: For all but four of the last 37 years, I’ve been a full-time musician. Nowadays, I’m a part-time addictions counselor, and the two pursuits have proven to be complementary-though music absolutely remains my first love.
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process? (or perhaps neither)
Stu: I wrote a couple of songs early on, then started devoting more time to other things, including getting the mixes and the album finalized. But it’s definitely caused me to do some thinking and reflecting, and some of those will probably end up in songs sometime.
Hillary: It may have hurt mine, honestly, at least in the short term. What with people staying home and ordering everything online, my day job at the post office went crazy. I barely had time to eat and sleep for the first few months. There have been plenty of strong feelings, of course, and when I’ve had time to process them I won’t be surprised if some songs show up.
Have you picked up any new hobbies throughout it or tapped into other creative endeavors?
Stu: I had a whole bunch of small and medium sized projects on my ongoing home renovation process that are now done, or close to it, LOL.
Hillary: I’ve been really interested in the livestreaming-from-home phenomenon. I hadn’t watched a lot of streaming shows until there weren’t live shows to go to. Now there are a few recurring ones that I make time to sit down and watch.
Gerry: I have two grown children and the ongoing adventure of marriage and parenthood continue to surprise me and teach me new lessons every day. I also have the joy of playing a small role in my son, Travis McKeveny’s creative pursuits.
What might fans expect from Gathering Time to close out the year?
Stu: A lot depends on what’s happening with the pandemic and the race for a vaccine. The more we can get out and play, the better we like it, but we want people to be safe. We’re hoping these songs resonate with people again, like they did years ago, in which case maybe we’ll be heard on the radio or even some high-profile concerts.
Hillary: Sigh. More socially-distanced shows, I guess. But any way to get the music out and connect is good, under the circumstances. I think more people might be taking refuge in music now, so however we can help, I’m on board.
If you could sit and indulge in a beverage with one of your living idols and pick their brain, who might it be?
Stu: So many! Paul Simon, Crosby, Stills OR Nash, Billy Joel, Roger McGuinn, Jim Messina, Pete Townshend, Jackson Browne…
Hillary: Don’t laugh — Weird Al Yankovic. Here’s a guy who’s carved out an entire niche of music for himself and made a stunning success of it. And the fact that he’s had the same guys playing in his band for decades, with no turnover at all, is really unusual.
Gerry: Paul Simon, Richard Thompson, Joni, Joe Henry…we could be here for a while 🙂