BEST BETS: Grosswendt, Salem-Schatz bring harmony to Friends of Folk Coffeehouse

Martin Grosswendt and Susanne Salem-Schatz will perform Saturday night for the Delaware Friends of Folk Coffeehouse at Dover’s Bennett Chapel. (Submitted photo)

Martin Grosswendt likes to joke that two Jimmie Rodgers records ruined his life.

When he was 6, his family moved into a farmhouse in Massachusetts where he came upon 200 78 rpm albums. Although most were big band, jazz and Bing Crosby records, two were by Mr. Rodgers, considered one of the first country music superstars of the early 20th century.

“The music just really grabbed me even way back then,” Mr. Grosswendt said.

That experience kicked off a lifelong love affair with country and blues tunes from the 1920s and 1930s and turned him into an internationally known interpreter of pre-war blues and other roots music.

The New England native will perform Saturday night with his musical partner Susanne Salem-Schatz at the monthly Delaware Friends of Folk Coffeehouse at Bennett Chapel in Dover.

His mastery of numerous regional styles on guitar, mandolin, five-string banjo and fiddle makes him an in-demand performer and teacher.

A harmonica player at age 13, he found a book called “Learn to Play Guitar in Seven Days or Your Money Back” in the family’s piano bench.

“I can still remember the date oddly enough — August 13, 1968. I had been pawing at the guitar for a while and this put the idea of playing groups of chords in my head. I could immediately start playing Woody Guthrie music,” said Mr. Grosswendt Tuesday afternoon from his home in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

Growing up, part of his family was musical.

“My sister took guitar lessons and my mother played piano and sang in the chorus. But my father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He would put on German brass band albums only to annoy people,” he said.

He began his musical career in the early 1970s as a session player at the original Philo Records in Vermont, recording and performing with musicians including U. Utah Phillips, Jim Ringer, Mary McCaslin and Rosalie Sorrels.

At the same time, he pursued his passion for pre-war blues and created a solo career playing the music of legendary bluesmen such as Charley Patton, Blind Blake, Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell. His first recording, “Dog on a Dance Floor,” was released by Philo in 1979.

As a solo artist, he has shared the stage with performers including Jesse Winchester, Tom Rush, Elizabeth Cotten, Sam and Dave, Taj Mahal, Paul Geremia, NRBQ and even opened two shows for legendary comedian Henny Youngman.

Dropping out of high school to play music, Mr. Grosswendt went back to get his degree later in life and received his college degree in 1989 and even went on to law school and passed the bar exam.

“I was sworn in to the bar and immediately put myself on the inactive list because I knew I couldn’t do the job,” he said.

He found a job editing for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, working there for three years until he was laid off on his birthday three months after his wife had twins.

Since his wife had a good job at Brown University, he decided to be a stay-at-home dad, all the while still making music.

One of the hallmarks of his performing style is sharing the history of the songs that he performs.

“To me, that’s what gives depth to the music and gives it real meaning,” Mr. Grosswendt said.

He says that’s part of the fun of discovering the old tunes.

“Some of the history is obvious, like if it’s a song about the Mississippi flood, you know it was written in 1927 when tremendous flooding hit the Mississippi Delta,” he said.

“But when you hear little linguistic turns, it’s great fun to chase down the history and figure out what it means.”

He says Ms. Salem-Schatz shares his love for music history. They have been a musical duo for the past three years but their history goes back before that.

“I played rhythm guitar every Sunday night for 12 years for this jam at the Skellig Pub in Waltham, Massachusetts. She came in to join one night and started singing on the chorus and the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” Mr. Grosswendt.

The two played and sang together for three years in Honky Tonk Masquerade, a Western swing band, before striking out as an acoustic duo.

“We both care a lot about what’s in the song and getting the song across. We’re pretty obsessed with harmony and we come up with some interesting harmonic stuff,” he said.

“She’s very good at figuring out harmony parts.”

John Kidd, Delaware Friends of Folk president, said the two contacted his group about performing.

“We have a spot on our website that gets submissions from artists, and about seven months ago they happened to put something there at just the right moment,” Mr. Kidd said.

“We talked briefly on the phone and worked out this April date. Then they were able to get another booking near Washington, D.C. (tonight),” Mr. Kidd said.

“All I had to do is listen to a few tracks on their web site and that’s when I got on the phone. Martin is one of those musicians who dives deep into his art. He’s obviously a gifted player, expert on guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. But he also knows and teaches the history of the blues, focusing on music from the ’20s and ’30s, and has explored the geography and met the people of the Delta.

“He has picked up elements of Piedmont blues, Texas blues and the Cajun spirit of New Orleans. He sprinkles his shows with a few more recent songs, and with stories he has heard in his travels. Martin and Susanne have everything we’re looking for and we’re glad to be able to give our audience a chance to see them perform.”

Opening for the pair is the popular Dover indie blues group Hoochi Coochi.

Admission for the 7:30 show is $7, $5 for members of Delaware Friends of Folk. Bennett Chapel is at the corner of Division and North Bradford streets, Dover.

For more information, visit delfolk.org.

‘Redemption’ at Calvary

On this Easter weekend, The Creative Arts Ministry of Calvary Church, Dover, continues its production of “Redemption,” a new dramatic musical set in biblical times.

The play, which started Tuesday, will be staged tonight at 7 and at 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday in Calvary’s sanctuary/theater, 1141 E. Lebanon Road, Route 10 and South State Street.

Team-directed by Dee Gleason, Yasmin and Josh Walton and Terrence Savagel, “Redemption” is an original show created by Calvary’s Creative Arts team. Based on the biblical account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, the dramatic musical tells the Easter story through the eyes of three ordinary people whose lives were changed by meeting Christ.

“We’re taking a fresh approach by focusing on characters audiences can relate to — Nicodemus, a Pharisee; Barabbas, a zealot; and Lydia, an adulterous woman — in a story of betrayal, uncertainty, hopelessness and, ultimately, love,” said Ms. Walton.

“Longing to change their lives and find hope, freedom and truth, these three people find what they seek in Jesus, the friend of sinners, who came for us.”

Featured players in a cast of 75 include Chuck DeHoff as Jesus, Jerry Winding as Nicodemus, Kevin Staniszewski as Barabbas and Caitlyn Kuhn as Lydia.

The drama features contemporary music, including two original songs produced by Mr. Savagel.

Admission is free and open to all, with no reserved seating. Doors open one hour before performances, but seats fill up quickly, so audience members are encouraged to arrive early for the best seats. Nursery available.

For more information, call 302-697-7776, or visit www.calvarydover.org.

‘Risen’ at Schwartz

Another Easter show will take place at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover Saturday night at 7.

“Risen!” is a gospel music concert featuring performances by James Fortune, Zacardi Cortez, Donald Ashley and Millenium, Chris Maguire and The Mifflin Sisters.

The evening will be hosted by Dezzie.

Tickets are $15-$35, with a limited number of VIP opportunities to be offered for $45. VIP patrons will enjoy preferred seating, light fare and a signature beverage during a “Meet and Greet” reception with the performers from 6 to 7 p.m. prior to the show.

Tickets can be purchased at schwartzcenter.com, by calling 678-5152 or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St.

‘Deep Into The Woods’

In another stage production, the Young Actors Guild presents “Deep Into The Woods,” an original adaptation based off the Sondheim musical “Into The Woods,” at the Smyrna Opera House today and Saturday at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $5-$10 and available at smyrnaoperahouse.org, by calling 653-4236 or visiting the box office at 7 W. South St., Smyrna.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is another chapter in the “The Fast and the Furious” saga, “The Fate of the Furious.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the thriller “Split” and the biopic of McDonald’s Ray Kroc, “The Founder.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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