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"The only performer to have shared a stage with both Kurt Cobain and Doc Watson"


Tim Eriksen claims to be interested in connections, but I suspect he is the coupling point of the myriad influences and styles that seem to swirl about in his head. I imagine a great agitator in place of his cerebral cortex churning the bits and pieces he collects along the way into a long continuous stream of consciousness that is propelled by his arresting tenor out into the cosmos.

Originally from New England, Eriksen spent most of his childhood on Long Island, where he happily passed many days pawing through the accumulated debris along the shoreline. "I would sit on the beach," he explained," and stuff would wash up. 'Oh, that's interesting,' I'd think, and then something else would wash up that would somehow connect to it."

Out of these seaside archeological experiences emerged a lifelong tendency to pick up disparate and seemingly random objects and see a relationship that eludes the rest of us. "Now I go to junk shops and I wind up with a bunch of things that are connected by a degree of happenstance. Being able to think like that allows the unanticipated to happen."

Eriksen spent a fair amount of time banging on his broken guitar and singing out in the woods alone, which could explain his earliest musical incarnation as a member of a hardcore punk/metal/garage band. However, he was not your average singleminded thrasher fully immersed in a myopic utopia. Instead, The Ramones and Black Sabbath mingled with whaling ballads, koto music, Ravi Shankar and kabuki theater in the adolescent soup of his high school years.

In 1986, Eriksen helped found Cordelia's Dad while attending Amherst College. The band has been an ongoing musical experiment that began as sort of a joke fueled by the insistent energy of punk vehemence but morphed into a hybrid through which the three founding members along with various visiting artists deliver new and unusual rocked out twists on traditional folk tunes.

Somehow it almost makes sense that Eriksen concurrently jump-started Cordelia's Dad and completed his undergraduate work in classical South Indian music. The overlapping nature of Eriksen's interests then carried him along in its current so that soon after he graduated he had secured a Watson Fellowship to play and study the vina in Madras, India.

Somewhere before the end of the '80s, Eriksen added sacred harp singing to his repertoire. "The hardcore punk scene and the sacred harp scene share an intensity and they are both very small," he said. "Though sacred harp is even more intense than punk and is even more resistant to popularization." But ultimately, Tim Eriksen is not really part of any one scene. "The scene I exist in doesn't really exist," he insists.

In the early 1990s, while working on a master's degree in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, Eriksen joined his wife, Mirjana Lausevic, in the band Zabe I Babe as a singer of traditional and popular Bosnian music. Around the same time Eriksen began researching the music of mid 19th century New England while still managing to tour and record with Cordelia's Dad. Amazingly, this time might be considered a stroll down a country lane compared to the Autobahn-paced period that followed Eriksen's graduation from Wesleyan in 1993. In one two month period in 1997, Eriksen recorded four full-length CDs. OK, so maybe they weren't all ultimately released, but still.

Since then Eriksen has become a father twice, taught music at both Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota, performed sound experiments live at Lincoln Center, arranged and conducted the soundtrack for the movie "Cold Mountain" (and sang three of the songs as well), and has released his second solo CD, "Every Sound Below."

"Every Sound Below" contains 10 traditional folk songs and four originals. On it, Eriksen accompanies his own evocative, clear voice on the guitar, fiddle and banjo, and manages to awaken old stories within the context of the 21st century. It's as if the actual recorded sounds somehow resonate with the spirit of John Colby's preaching and the boom of Civil War gunshots.

This September, Eriksen and his wife will be teaching music at Amherst College. "It's an unusual situation," he insisted. "We're sharing the position and we've got total free rein. We're putting together a Music 101 class, but we'll be teaching using the musical traditions of Sacred Harp, South India, Bosnia and punk rock. When we look historically at the punk scene, it's amazing that we were able to make interesting and vital music without even knowing the names of the strings." Again Eriksen will give license to his notions of connection, history and the unanticipated. "The music department (at Amherst) has realized that students are no longer coming in with the American cannon. They're used to iTunes and have access to so much music."

Eriksen, who would be reluctant to call himself a "folky," will perform two sets at the Newport Folk Festival. On Sunday, Aug. 6, Eriksen will assemble a large group of sacred harp singers on stage bringing back a musical genre that hasn't graced the festival since 1968. Later that day, he will take the stage again to perform some tunes from "Every Sound Below."

"The festival people have been incredibly open to this idea, they really pushed for it to happen," he said. "The festival has much bigger ears than I imagined."





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