The Robinsons will play Folk, Americana and Old Time Music at Washington County Free Library
Dana Robinson was born in Oregon and raised in the Bay area of northern California. As a young man, he studied the lyrics of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, James Taylor, Neil Young, “all those folks,” he said. At 17, he began hitchhiking the western states, playing the sounds he studied at cafes and coffeehouses.
In the mid-80s, he expanded his travels to Europe, before returning to Vermont and building a cabin in a secluded area and becoming the owner of a cafe and bakery.
During that time, he discovered the sounds of Appalachian mountain music. He recorded his first CD, “Elemental Lullabye” and before long, performed onstage at New York’s Carnegie Hall. From the mid ‘90s to the early 2000s, he recorded three more albums and toured the U.S. as a solo act. In 2001, Dana relocated to Asheville, N.C., to immerse himself in the roots music scene.
While gigging at a house concert in Santa Clara, Calif., the following year, Dana met Susan, who was working as a grant writer for environmental non-profits. Born on Long Island, N.Y., Susan was raised in a musical family in Vermont where “sing-around-the piano” was a regular occurrence. Though Susan had earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in another field, she held onto her passion for music and played piano, oboe and the Scottish-style fiddle most of her life.
The duo hit it off and Dana took a sabbatical from his work. He quickly caught on to banjo and guitar, and by 2004, they’d completed “Native Soil,” their first recording together. Today, the couple resides in Cabot, Vt., and travels internationally playing southern old time music, traditional English and Southern Mountain ballads.
The Robinsons will perform in concert on Sunday, Feb. 16, at Washington County Free Library Fletcher branch in Hagerstown as part of the Noteworthy Sundays series.
“We play banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and harmonies, a nice blend of original songs and traditional songs,” Dana Robinson said during a phone interview with a What’s NXT reporter.
As the years pass by, he said, the duo brings more traditional music into the act.
“It’s a good balance now between the two,” he said. “Sue and I travel across the country, the United Kingdom, Europe and Canada.”
They play a wide range of venues, including theaters, concert series, churches, cafes, house concerts, festivals and New England town halls. They view roots music as an instrumental part of people’s lives.
“It’s how people, how individuals and communities connect and stay together,” Robinson said. “Oral tradition is, you know, how people communicate with each other through stories and such. That is becoming increasingly challenging in these times with attention spans getting shorter.”
Many people no longer play CDs let alone LPs, he said.
“People don’t sit and have listening experiences anymore by and large. It’s really sad. I suppose what we are doing is our bit of keeping this way of life alive,” he said.
Robinson compared actively listening to music to “sitting down and reading a full book.”
“This experience of sitting and listening to stories and great acoustic, American music, we want to continue that tradition,” he said.
Though people don’t commonly hear storytelling and roots music in popular American culture, those who do respond favorably to it.
“People are just kind of blown away by it and they’re grateful for the experience. You know, they recognize this isn’t everywhere,” Dana said. “That’s why we are so thankful for places like the library that offer the opportunity to sit and have a nice concert.”
The library event is likely to feature a number of songs from the couple’s new album, “The Town That Music Saved.” The CD was inspired by a book penned by Cabot author Ben Hewitt entitled, “The Town That Food Saved.” It highlights how local farmers, restauranteurs, seed growers and other food-related businesses transformed the economy of a Vermont town.
Dana Robinson, who does the songwriting for the duo, said he takes a lot of notes.
“A lot of the process of writing is to observe, to take notes and have conversations, then to go to a dark room in the back of the house. You need to pay attention to beautiful places, beautiful people, interesting and funny stories, anything that moves you,” he said. “Sometimes if you go to a movie or read a book you feel moved by something. That’s where the songs come from.”
While the Robinsons have played world-wide, Dana said he counts longevity among his greatest successes.
“We’ve played some fabulous venues, some great tours and made great friends all over the world. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the continued support of our audiences,” he said.
He also is thankful for venues that support the artists of the genre.
“What we do is simple. It’s a person with an instrument, singing,” Dana explained. “It sounds so simple, but if people don’t have any experience of this so they can see it with their own eyes, then they are not going to feel connected to it. That’s why it’s important to have places like the library doing this.”
Top photo: Vermont-based Americana duo Dana and Susan Robinson will perform at the Washington County Free Library’s Fletcher branch on Sunday, Feb. 16, as part of the Noteworthy Sundays series. The event is free for all ages. (Submitted photo)