Havin’ a Hootenanny

August 23, 2021 by

Sometimes I see people walking through Fox Hill with an uncommon spring in their step and a gleam in their eyes. “Hello!” I say.

“You coming to the hootenanny tonight?” they ask.

“Oh yeah, wouldn’t miss it for anything!” I’ll respond, my own eyes agleam.

I will then stride off down the cobbled pathway, eager to finish the workday as soon as possible. In the evening there’ll be a campfire outside Jason and Maureen’s house, where anyone who loves to sing or plays an instrument is welcome to howl along to old folk and rock songs until they are hoarse.


We sing from a yellow songbook called Songs of the People. The talented instrumental accompaniment that my fellows provide on drums, guitars, and banjos gets my heart beating in rhythm to timeless classics from the Seekers, the Scorpions, and the Grateful Dead. Of course, the earnest pleas from Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger are just as necessary today as they were in the 1960s. I’m an aspiring writer and the lyrics to Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In” never get old for me. I love to imagine laughing fishes, and seagulls smiling when the sand rolls out a gold carpet. And then there’s “Light One Candle.” Sure, Peter, Paul and Mary might not have had the polished sound pop singers have today, but the lyrics of that song reach a certain place in every person’s life experience – pain, yet determination never to give up.


A few weeks ago the hootenanny howlers from Fox Hill got on a bus and drove up a winding Catskill mountain road to combine our energy and passion with anyone from Platte Clove who wanted to join us. People packed their drums and other instruments in the back of the bus along with the yellow songbooks. We mingled in a joyous mass of kids on trikes, parents having passionate discussions, and energetic grandmas who had spent their youth in the glory days of the American folk revival.

When we finished eating dinner, we sat down to sing. There was a small boy from Platte Clove who had a mini ukulele – or was it a guitar? Watching him reminded me of my own childhood, singing folk songs with my siblings, parents, and grandparents for as long as I can remember. The boy was grinning broadly, and sometimes he put down his instrument and danced. His grandparents, who live in Fox Hill and had come to join the inter-community hootenanny, stood up and danced with him and everyone cheered. His grandparents are almost in their eighties, but I knew they wouldn’t get dizzy and fall. The spirit that unified the best parts of the 1960s shines in their eyes and keeps them “forever young.”


The great thing about traditional folk songs, I’ve noticed, is that everyone knows them and everyone sings them a little differently because they are passed down through generations, grandparents and parents singing to their children.

After this singing evening, I’m inspired to find new groups of singers to combine with. If you live near Fox Hill and love getting together with friends to sing, come join our hootenanny. Or could we come join yours? Let’s spend an evening singing together. You might even teach us some new songs to add to the yellow songbooks.



About the author

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling lives and works at the Fox Hill Bruderhof.

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