Beat Inspired Beats: Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step

The busy year of 2016 is finally coming to a close, but now is not the time to rest – the dedicated staff at the Catskill Mountain Foundation have already been hard at work preparing a new season of top-notch events for 2017! img_2417Our first concert is Common Ground on the Mountain, on Saturday, January 14th in the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center. Common Ground brings together some incredible musicians – Professor Louie & The Crowmatix, Greg Dayton, Walt Michael, and Aztec Two-Step. I was lucky enough to catch Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step for a quick interrogation over the phone, and here’s how it went:


What was the first instrument you learned to play, and what was the first song you played on it?

I know it was a six string guitar, and I believe it was I’ll get you by the Beatles. That was a few years ago (just kidding).

Where did the name “Aztec Two-Step” come from?

The Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem, “A Coney Island of the Mind:”


it was like this when
we waltz into this place.
A couple of papish cats
is doing an Aztec two-step

And I says
Dad let's cut
but then this dame
comes up behind me see
and says
you and me could really exist

Wow I says
Only the next day
she has bad teeth
and really hates

         - A Coney Island of the Mind, Lawrence Ferlinghetti



You see the Aztec two-step there, and I guess Neal and I are a couple of papish cats, but we didn’t know what that meant. We found out later that it was slang for dysentery along with Montezuma’s revenge, but I don’t think that was the intended meaning in the poem. I always thought it was a dance step! We wanted to be different instead of just using our last names like every other duo at the time (Simon and Garfunkel, etc.), and I was very influenced by the beat poets, especially Jack Kerouac. It just went hand in hand with our persona.

What was your favorite concert that you’ve attended?

The one that stayed with me the longest was The Band. It was in 1975 at Cornell University in the Field House, and we happened to be the opening act. I watched it from the stage; I was sitting on one of their amp cases or something, and heard the whole thing from behind. Even from the back of the stage it was unbelievable.

What was your favorite concert to play?

That’s a hard one. That’s like asking your favorite song! I think it would’ve been opening for America in the mid 70’s or early 80’s, when we performed with our percussionist and bassist and just blew the doors off the place. We went out there and killed it, and probably made them step up and play a little better because of it. I love being the opener because we can go out slay dragons in a short amount of time.

What was the worst concert you’ve ever played?

When we showed up and outnumbered the audience. That was someplace in North Carolina in some little club, but we played a set anyway for the waitress and the bartender.

What’s your biggest inspiration?


As a songwriter it started with Bob Dylan, and then went into Donovan, and eventually John Lennon once I started refining my writing. I loved the Beatles but John Lennon, if I had only one artist to choose from it would be him, regarding my songwriting and what I aspire to.

What’s your favorite song to play, and why?

Probably the Highway Song. It was a seminal song for me as a songwriter. I knew that I was onto something – that I had created something that would allow me to make it in the music business. It turns out that it’s probably the one song that we get the most mail on, and it’s one that people always request from the audience. It ended our first album with a beautiful string arrangement.

How long did it take Neal to get over the girl on MTV?

He’s never gotten over it, he’s still pining away, watching all the MTV re-runs! We actually just had our 30th anniversary of that album, and I’m gonna make him play it, because it really is a lot of fun. It really captured the era. It was about Martha Quinn, the MTV video jock.

Any comments on your upcoming show at the Orpheum?

It’s going to be fun to play with the Crowmatix and the Professor, especially because of Professor Louie’s ties to the Band, and I love the Band. It’s always fun to be a part of these kinds of shows.


Make sure you have your tickets for Common Ground on the Mountain! Get them here if you still need to.

Greg Dayton on Common Ground

Greg Dayton has become sort of a fixture in Hunter and Tannersville – organizing shows at the Catskill Mountain Foundation, playing in the Orpheum and Last Chance Cheese – and in spite of all that, he’s managed to record and release a solo album! Check out his music, then check out this interview, then buy your tickets for Common Ground on the Mountain in January. Fun fact: a portion of this interview was started a year ago! (that’s how busy the man is)


What was the first instrument you learned to play, and what was the first song you learned?

I started piano lessons when I was 7. I don’t remember any of the very first songs but after a couple years I remember my favorite song to play was a simplified version of The Entertainer by Joplin.  My teacher didn’t know anything about rock so I switched to guitar when I was 12.


What do you like performing better, covers or originals?

I love doing both originals and covers, but my main focus now in terms of working on things is Continue reading

Gallery Gab: Fred G. Sanford

You know the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery, sure…but do you know the things that live there? We decided to do a series of interviews with some of the art – not the artist, but the art itself – so you could really get to know some of the amazing things our little gallery has to offer. First up is the subject of Larry Gambon’s composite photograph, “Fox in Flight,” which is back in the gallery for this season’s holiday show.


You’re titled “Fox In Flight,” but who are you? What’s your name?

My name is Fred G. Sanford, I’m a red fox.

Where are you from?

I’m from Yellowstone National Park. It’s beautiful out there. My picture is at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery in Hunter.

When was your picture taken?

Oh let’s see, that winter we had a surplus of mice, so it had to be 2013. I believe it was February.

Why are you diving into the snow?

Fox in Flight

“Fox in Flight” by Larry Gambon

Well, Continue reading

A Spotlight on Phil Ochs: interview with Sonny Ochs

Up next for the Catskill Mountain Foundation is an exciting simulcast with WIOX Community Radio: Phil Ochs Song Night comes to the Doctorow! Sonny Ochs, host of Folk Music and Other Stuff (on WIOX, every Friday from 2-4PM) has celebrated her brother’s music across the country, and now it’s time for Hunter to join in on the fun. I had the chance to do a quick interview with her about Phil’s music, passions, and her memories of him.


Sonny and Phil


Where was the first place you saw Phil play in public?

It was in a small room behind a bar in Cleveland called Faraghers.

Why do you do these events?

Because it is important to me to keep Phil’s songs alive.

His music must be pretty powerful if it affected so many people and continues to do so. Why do you think his music is important?

His music is important because it informs about the issues of the day. Unfortunately,  his songs which were written more than 40 years ago are still relevant.

What’s your favorite song of his?

“When I’m Gone.” It points out that we can’t do anything to help the situation when we’re gone, so we have to do it while we here. It also has a beautiful melody.

What would Phil think of today’s political environment?tumblr_mg4i25mui21raxbbko1_400

I think Phil would be just as shocked as the rest of us because someone like Trump has gone as far as he has. So much material for songs!

Was music Phil’s only passion, or did he have something else, like a hobby?

Phil was a movie freak. He watched movies non-stop from the time he was a teenager.

What would Phil think of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, and what do you think?

He’d probably think it’s wonderful. I don’t agree.

What’s your favorite memory of your brother?

My favorite memory is seeing him on stage at Carnegie Hall all by himself sounding so great. What a glorious moment!


Don’t miss Phil Ochs Song Night at the Doctorow Center for the Arts. Get your tickets here, while they’re still left!

We’re Glad she Never Played the Flute: Leyla McCalla

For some, heritage and ancestry is a minimal part of life – my great-grandparents are from Ireland, so mom makes corned beef and cabbage. For others, delving into who and where they come from is a large part of examining who they are as an individual. Leyla McCalla would most definitely be the latter, detailing her heritage and interpreting what she finds to see how it fits into the bigger picture. I was lucky enough to ask her a few questions; read on to learn more about her journey and what she’s found so far!

Your debut album was a tribute to Langston Hughes. What got you into Langston Hughes?a3004908863_10

Langston Hughes was a writer that I became familiar with, first through my parents, and second through school. For my 16th birthday, my dad gave me a book of Langston Hughes’ poetry and that’s when I really got into his poetry and started to understand his work in the larger context of American history and racial politics.

You released Vari-Colored Songs in 2014. What makes the poetry of Langston Hughes relevant today?

The New York Times recently published an article featuring Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too, America” questioning whether a poem could affect the course of the upcoming election. To me, that is great example of how Hughes’ work continues to be relevant. His poems ask us to question what our real values are, to be honest about that and if our values really benefit the good of the whole and even what we consider the whole to be. His work asks us questions that we’re still stumbling over as a society. He was an extremely insightful and visionary artist and I think we’ll be talking about his work for centuries to come.

What’s it like having your family on the road with you?

Having my family on the road with me is intense! I love it, I’m so grateful for it! But it comes with its challenges. Continue reading

Fred Pohlman, van Gogh, and All That Jazz

In order to get into an artist’s head, sometimes it takes a good friend of the artist – they’ve heard it all before, and consequently they know just the right questions to ask! Take another glimpse into Fred Pohlman’s world of history, passion, and creation, lead by none other than Carolyn Bennett. I enjoy all of her interviews; I think you will, too.


When and how did your fascination with Vincent van Gogh begin?

Well, I was well aware of van Gogh’s works since I was quite young, but my first real fascination with the ‘artist’ himself came after I began to read his letters. I had read fictional accounts of Vincent’s life previously, but it was those letters that took me over the top.

Can you give me a brief description of what your Musical ‘Starry Nights, The Life and Times of Theo and Vincent van Gogh is about?

Well I could go into a long dissertation here and give a detailed description of my Musical, but I feel that the words of the opening Song of the Musical serve to convey the overall message and ‘emotional tone’ of this work. Anyone who has read Vincent’s letters will ‘immediately’ connect with the imagery I am conveying here. The song is related ‘directly’ to the audience and is sung by the character of Theo van Gogh’s widowed wife Johanna…



There is a space beyond your windowpane Continue reading

Post-everything Poetry: an interview with Kirby Olson

It’s no secret that at the Catskill Mountain Foundation we’re working to expand our literary programming. This month, our program has grown to include Kirby Olson, poet and professor of philosophy and humanity at SUNY Delhi. I was lucky enough to catch him for a quick interview, in which we discuss several movements of poetry, politics, and the intersection of religion and art. I realize that the title of this interview may not make sense, since we didn’t really talk about post-anything; the idea comes from a review of Kirby’s book by Andrew Tully (which, by the way, you can and should read here). So scroll on, dear reader.

Trust me. He’s an interesting guy.


When did you study with Allen Ginsberg?


Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg had opened a Buddhist poetry college in Boulder, Colorado in 1976. It was called Naropa Institute.  I went there in the summer of 1977 and the summer of 1979.  Had I been able to finish my Evergreen State College degree there, I would have remained.  Although I was from the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, my guidance counselor at East Stroudsburg University suggested I go to Evergreen State College, which is a non-traditional college in Olympia, Washington.  However, while there, I found a catalog for Naropa Institute, in the student lounge. I recognized all the poets in the Naropa Catalog. I wanted to study poetry. That’s about all that I knew at the time.  I studied with almost all of the Beat poets and lived in the same housing complex. In addition to Ginsberg, I talked daily with the poet Gregory Corso, and with Philip Whalen, and many others.  There were some New York School poets there, too. Kenneth Koch was there, and Kenward Elmslie, for example.  I met all of them, and found them all quite fascinating.

How much influence does surrealism and the New York school still have on your work?

While at Evergreen State College, I had begun to read surrealist and Beat and New York School writings, even though none of the professors at that time were poets.  I found their work in the library.  It was much better to study with the Beats and New York School writers in person.  This summer I met the poet Peter Schjeldahl, who was a New York School poet in the 1960s and 1970s, but gave up his poetry in order to write art criticism for The New Yorker.  He no longer writes poetry, as he didn’t apparently feel that there was much of an audience for his work. His poems were really good New York School work.  He’s like Frank O’Hara, to an extent, but with a more honest feel, a more Lutheran feel. He’s from Fargo, North Dakota, and was raised as a Lutheran.  There is a certain honesty in his poems that I feel in general is missing in the New York School poets.  I had sent him my poetry book, and he Continue reading

Guest Blog: Fred Pohlman’s “Vistas”

Sometimes getting multiple points of view is the only way to explain just how great something is. So – here’s a short guest blog by Heather Martin, reviewing Fred Pohlman’s current exhibition in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery.

“Vistas” by Fred Pohlman

“From the darkness springs ethereal wisps of light and bursts of intense color. This painting evokes the atmospheric  splendor of such Hudson River School painters as Frederick Church and Thomas Cole.

Unlike the Hudson River School tradition, Fred Pohlman’s paintings are not painted with a subject in mind. The content emerges subconsciously as he works the paint. He captures subtle nuances of color, shape and tone directly onto the canvas. Although these paintings have a layered look, and fine, cloud-like details, Pohlman accomplishes this with paint, not additives. His black tones are mixed from colors on the painting surface. The subtlety of this painting is highlighted by its gloss finish which adds to the appearance of its layered depths.



You can see this painting and more of Fred Pohlman’s work at “The Emerging Self: Psychological Abstracts” a solo exhibit of Pohlman’s works on view at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts Gallery through September 25th. The Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery is located within the Village Square Center at 7950 Main Street, Hunter NY. Gallery hours are Friday and Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, and Sundays and Mondays 10 am to 3 pm until Labor Day, after which the gallery will be closed on Mondays. For more information call 518-263-2060 or visit .”     – Heather Martin

Night and the Emerging Self: in Conversation with Fred Pohlman

Next up in the gallery: Fred Pohlman! His show, Night and the Emerging Self, will be in the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery from August 13th to September 25th. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and ask some unexpected questions – read on to find out how he handled that.


From where do you draw inspiration?


“Trial of Job”


Experience as in…

Experience is just what happens. For example you read the book of Job, and you have a dream that says, “you will know the trials of Job.” The next thing you know you’ve got a painting that you can’t stand, so you put it down and leave it for two years. All of a sudden you pick it up, add something, and it’s the trial of Job! Then you wind up writing a song and you realize it’s also about the trial of Job. I have the painting and the song – but where do they come from? You read the book of Job, and it had more magnetism than you thought. It starts to invade your dreams, your artwork, everything.  

I have this painting, “The Road to Kandahar” – where is it coming from? Then I realize it must be from my fascination with scheherazade and The Arabian Nights. You produce something out of it, it just comes out of your hand by accident. All of this stuff comes from the love of something.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up mostly in New York City; in lower Harlem and the Upper East Side. I spent my summers out in the country, in Pattenburg, New Jersey. I lived in a home for kids for a few years, too.

Who is your favorite painter?

My favorite painters are Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Do you have a favorite painting by either of them?

Do I have a favorite painting? Well.

Hard question, right?

It’s impossible. Depends on my mood. But I love Braque and I love Picasso; in fact I love all of the cubists. If I say I love Diego Rivera most people will think oh, he did murals. No. Continue reading

Rory Block…on Rory Block!

Rory Block is crazy busy…seriously. She’s been touring for 34 years, and touring AT ALL makes for a very busy musician. Lucky for us, she made some time to say a few words about herself and the upcoming New York Blues Hall of Fame Concert & Ceremony. Did we mention that she’s one of the inductees? Well, now you know. By the way, you should probably get your tickets for the show – it is this Saturday. But we’ll let Rory tell you all about it:

This special event at the Orpheum Theater in Tannersville comes at a very exciting time for me. I have just completed the sixth and last recording of a project I call “The Mentor Series,” which will eventually be released as a boxed set. This series is my life’s work in a box, consisting entirely of tributes to the rediscovered blues masters who I met in person as a teenager growing up in New York City. In retrospect, who would have thought that Greenwich Village was the place to be to meet people like Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis, Bukka White and others? Now I understand more than ever how lucky I was to have been in the right place at the right time. Today it seems ever more precious, fleeting and almost magical. The inspiration I got from this face to face, personal experience has lasted throughout my life, and the Mentor Series is my way of saying “thank you.” I will have my autobiography, my Robert Johnson teaching dvd, and the first five of the Mentor Series with me at Tannersville, and we await the sixth release by fall.

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Credit: Shonna Valeska

During the last 34 years of touring, I have enjoyed each and every place I have performed. There are great people everywhere, and I think music really brings us together like almost nothing else can. I like to say that my biggest problem these days is that I am having “too much fun.” In particular I love telling stories about the history which has unfolded for all of us who love and value American roots music, and I weave these tales and perspectives into the show.
After years of struggling and trying to get a handle on slide, I have finally come to terms with it, in particular after an inspirational nugget I gleaned from the playing of the wonderful Bonnie Raitt, and I love to squeeze a little bit of a guitar workshop into every set just for fun. I am looking forward to the night and being there with the other wonderful artists on the show.
With gratitude,

The New York Blues Hall of Fame Concert & Ceremony is this Saturday, July 16th, at 8PM in the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center. Get your seats NOW before time runs out: call 518-263-2063 or visit our ticketing website.