Photo by Candace diCarlo
Administrative Assistant, Benjamin Franklin Scholars/General Honors Office
Length of service:
Responsible for keeping the group's minimalist budget in balance.
Sometime during the Disco Decade, folk music fell off the popular-culture map. Where the 1960s featured big folk festivals; nationally-known popularizers such as Peter, Paul and Mary; and protest singers like Phil Ochs, the years since have not been so kind to traditional acoustic music, as rock 'n' roll and its progeny have come to dominate popular music.
But there's still life in the genre. Take those Volkswagen commercials with music by the Irish band Clannad, for instance, or the popularity of the music that accompanied Ken Burns' "The Civil War." And a band of 40 or so dedicated Philadelphia folk fans keep the flame alive via the Cherry Tree Music Co-op, which hosts concerts just about every Sunday from September through May on the Penn campus. The group's ability to attract both local and international performers of note is largely due to the efforts of the volunteers who form its board of directors. Cherry Tree Treasurer Cheryl Shipman explained how she became one of them and talked about the Cherry Tree's program in a recent interview.
Q. How did you become involved with the Cherry Tree?
A. I'm a throwback. I've always liked traditional music ever since I was a kid and I never really cared for rock 'n' roll. I've known people for years who were part of the Cherry Tree, and I finally invited myself to come along to some concerts, and the next thing I know, I was working [there]. Being poor helps on that - you realize that you want to come to the concerts regularly, and you can't afford the ticket prices, you volunteer pretty quickly.
Q. How long have you been involved on the Cherry Tree board?
A. I've been a member for six or seven years. The Cherry Tree being a non-profit cooperative, all the volunteers are members of the board. Which means that all the working members are legally responsible for making all the decisions in addition to doing all the work.
Q. What kind of music does the Cherry Tree present?
A. The Cherry Tree does folk in its traditional and acoustic sense, from its old roots in ballads. So we've got English ballads and Celtic airs and jigs, and Appalachian ballads that grew from that; instrumentals - Delta blues, cowboy songs - and then we get the modern singer/songwriter protest stuff, somebody standing up with a guitar making music, and other more contemporary fusions - there are a number of Celtic-oriented groups that do almost-rock interpretations from traditional Celtic songs.
There are also people who do rock bluegrass - there's a group called Killjoy. And you've just never lived until you see someone do "Appalachian Stomp" to rock 'n' roll.
Q. About how many people attend a typical Cherry Tree concert?
A. Somewhere between 25 and 200. We lose an awful lot of money when it's only 25 people. And 200 fills the hall to the point that none of the Cherry Tree people are allowed to be in the hall. It really, really varies...
Q. Depending on what? The performer, the type of music?
A. Sometimes it's the type of music. We know some things, like Celtic music usually draws well. Bluegrass doesn't draw at all, but we keep trying because we have a mission to do all kinds of music, and we like it. And then there are other things out of our control. We can't throw a concert on Super Bowl Sunday and expect anybody to show up. We can't throw concerts on Mother's Day - I didn't know folk fans had mothers, but apparently they do.
Q. Have any undergraduate folklore majors ever expressed interest in attending concerts?
A. Well, we don't survey our audiences [on a regular basis], so I don't know who the people are that come. ...Most people at Penn, particularly the students, don't even notice the Cherry Tree. Partly it's a problem that this generation doesn't know what folk music is, or they have really stereotypical notions of what folk music is and therefore they assume they won't like it.
One of the other problems with folk music is that there are very few broadcast ways to hear it. The only radio playing folk music right now - WXPN does Gene Shay's show on Sunday afternoons, and then there's "Sleepy Hollow" Saturday and Sunday mornings.
'XPN does a lot for us to the extent they can. Their primary target [audience] is a little bit more "New Wave" than the Cherry Tree's, [but] where we do overlap, they work with us a great deal.
Q. It sounds like the main challenge can be summed up in three words: finding fresh blood.
A. Educating new audiences. We'll take their blood if they want, but we really would prefer their enthusiastic participation.
Cherry Tree Music Co-op concerts take place Sundays at 7:30 p.m. in the St. Mary's Church parish hall, 3916 Locust Walk; see "What's On" for specific performers and ticket prices. Anyone interested in becoming a Cherry Tree volunteer may contact Shipman via e-mail or call the co-op at 386-1640.Front page for this issue | Pennsylvania Current home page
Originally published on October 1, 1998