“Woody’s Children” composer to perform folk music favorites at Hevreh on April 15
GREAT BARRINGTON – On Saturday, April 15 at 8 p.m., folk singer Doug Mishkin will be at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire to perform folk music favorites and his own compositions, including his anthem “Woody’s Children.”
All proceeds will benefit The Religious Action Center of Massachusetts and Construct, Inc.
Tickets are $36 for adults and $16 for students. A livestream option is available for $36. For tickets and information, visit Hevreh.org/Mishkin or call (413) 528-6378.
In February, the BJV caught up with Doug, who was at home in Egremont. Here are some of his thoughts on his musical, Jewish, and Berkshire journeys, edited for length and clarity.
BJV Interview: Doug Mishkin
It may sound odd to say, but I always have thought that I was conceived the night that my mother took me to my first Pete Seeger concert. And when I heard that, I knew there was something going on. But I was born the summer of 1968 when I was 14 years old, and my parents sent me to Eisner. I grew up in Monroe, New York. It was a congregation, a small congregation, and Monroe Woodbury High School was not a hotbed of folk music. But when I got to Eisner, there were 500 kids and there must have been 250 guitars – this was the greatest. And I remember when the song leader took out his guitar at the campfire and started playing a Tom Paxton song, and I thought, wow, this song speaks to me. And all those songs spoke to me, and they still do. So I like to say I got to Eisner and I got to hear all the great contemporary Jewish music of the time: Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and lots of other stuff. So I was off to the races with folk music based on that.
And then I got involved in NFTY, and that was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. V became my life. I had the greatest job ever invented to be the national song leader at Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York. I did that for five summers, the last three of which were with my great good friend, Merri Lovinger Arian, who is a professor of practice at the Hebrew Union College at the Cantorial School. But that was where everything began, and it gave me a life in music where I didn't it wasn't my professional career. I'm a lawyer, but I always got to do music in the Reform movement with a social action bent to it. And I used to joke that when I was invited to sing, it meant that good people had gathered. They had gathered for a good cause, and they couldn't get Peter Yarrow.
I learned a long time ago, and I learned it from the teacher of all of us, Pete Seeger, that songs of social justice are one thing, but people show up and they generally want to and deserve to be entertained. So I very much regard myself as an entertainer, and I have a high degree of confidence that people will leave the evening feeling entertained, among other things. When I lived in Washington, I was very proud to be involved regularly with the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement – “The RAC.” It was headed for many years by Rabbi David Saperstein, who is a close personal friend. It was not uncommon for my secretary at the law firm to get a message, “Tell Doug, get his guitar – Jesse Jackson is coming over to the RAC to commemorate Kristallnacht.” That was one memorable message.
The other beneficiary of this concert is Construct, which is a marvelous affordable housing nonprofit here in Great Barrington. The president of Construct, Elizabeth Rosenberg, is a leading member of Hevreh, and I'm delighted that the concert will be for the benefit of Construct. as well.
I've been coming to the Berkshires ever since I graduated law school. [My wife] Wendy and I bought our house in Egremont 16 years ago, but I transitioned up here essentially full time in the fall of 2018 to work with this law firm doing housing work. The bulk of my music scene experience in the Berkshires has been with the Guthrie Center, which is a great music venue. The other work of the Guthrie Center, which I suppose one could regard as the primary work of the Guthrie Center, is to be a kind of social service center to provide things for folks who need some help. I have loved going to the Guthrie Center over many years to see the music that I love, and part of the fun for me is some of the people whose music I most enjoy have, through a strange set of wonderful circumstances, become friends of mine. When my kids were very young, I thought kids’ music eas not my thing. Then I heard Tom Chapin, and I thought, wow, this guy is doing a different kind of what he calls “family music.” Tom and I got to be good friends – and when he plays the Guthrie Center, he stays with us – largely because we met and would see each other regularly on the anniversary shows of the Woody's Children Radio Show in New York City.
My song “Woody's Children” is one of those things that didn't see it coming, and it became a blessing in my life. Pete Seeger said that all folk singers who came after Woody Guthrie were Woody's children. In my house, growing up in the 60s, my father – who was not a folk music guy, but he was a justice guy – said, “Folk singers in America, they're the conscience of the country. And that made an impression on me.” I thought, well, if folk singers are Woody's children and the folk singers are the conscience of the country, we better all be the conscience of the country. So I thought, you know what? We're all Woody's children. And I wrote the song in college and then sent it to Bob Sherman, the host of The Woody's Children Radio Show in New York.
In 2012, it was Woody's hundredth birthday, I emailed Tom Chapin and I said, you know, I'd like to do a re-recording of the song. Would you do it with me? I want to get a bunch of people to do it, and Tom said, sure, let's do it. Tom said, the chorus is good, but maybe you want to take a look at the lyrics. And I thought, you know what? I wrote the song when I was 18. I could probably do that now. So I rewrote them. And I'm glad that I did. We got Tom Paxton and Peter Yarrow and Christine Lavin, Aztec Two-Step, and Catie Curtis. These are people whose music I'm crazy about. And then we have a video of it on Woodyschildren.com.
Image: Doug Mishkin singing at service in Selma, Alabama, in 2015, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights.