By Brian M. Rafferty
Though Woody Guthrie may be dead, he is not forgotten. One of the most prolific folk singers of the 20th Century, who influenced a host of younger musicians, like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, has cast his auspicious shadow over a group of performers coming to Queensborough Community College this weekend.
The Vanaver Caravan, a group of musicians, singers and dancers will bring “Pastures of Plenty” as part of the Professional Performing Arts Series at the college on Sunday.
A celebration of what would have been Guthrie’s 90th birthday (though that won’t technically come until July), “Pastures of Plenty” is rich in American lore, music and dance styles according to the Vanaver Caravan’s co-director Bill Vanaver.
“Of course we don an American style that people associate with Woody,” Vanaver said, “but we also mix in other styles.”
A group of musicians, dancers and singers, Vanaver Caravan features the legendary John Herald, vocalist Amy Fradon, champion clog dancer Amy Sarli, renowned trumpet player Peter Ecklund, and the multi-talented composer/musician, Andre Teirstein.
The group ranges in age from the very young to the late-middle-aged. “We love the multi-generational quality of the group,” Vanaver said. “That’s what we need to keep the spirit of the music alive.”
That spirit has a direct link to Guthrie, as well. Bill Vanaver’s wife Livia, who grew up in Flushing, attended NYU with Guthrie’s daughter Nora, who is now the head of the Woody Guthrie Archives in Manhattan.
Beside the folksy “This Land is Your Land,” for which Guthrie is perhaps most famous, his style was quite varied, but always from the heart. It is that open message that Vanaver Caravan brings, with not just the folk influence, but part of its performances in mariachi, bluegrass and even French Canadian step dancing.
Vanaver Caravan has performed in venues large and small all over the country, and internationally. Before coming to Queensborough this weekend they will have spent the greater part of the week doing West Coast performances.
The production is a collaborative effort between the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives, Nora Guthrie and Bill and Livia Vanaver. The styles of dance range from high powered Appalachian Style clog dance, a signature of the Vanaver Caravan, to body percussion, from Lindy Hop to interpretive modern dance and theater.
“The rhythms and moods of Woody’s people in their dances. The warmth and high energy of the Caravan’s performance makes everyone feel part of the show,” Vanaver said.
Vanaver Caravan has performed “Pastures of Plenty” at several festivals in Europe including the Rudolstadt International Tanz and Folkfest in Germany, the Glasgow International Festival of Americana in Scotland, Habourfront in Toronto, Downtown Dance Festival in New York City.
Vanaver Caravan pulls into Queensborough Community College’s QCC Theater at 3 p.m. Sunday. Call 631-6311 or go to www.qcc.cuny.edu/BoxOffice for more tickets.