The Arrogant Worms
at the 21st annual
Old Songs Festival of
Traditional Music and Dance
in Altamont, New York
(22-24 June 2001)

The Arrogant Worms proved that the Old Songs Festival was indeed ready for something new. Very new. The ever-growing crowd of folk music lovers embraced Chris Patterson's rubber-faced dramatizations of everything from a shark to Celine Dion, and they adored Trevor Strong's strong baritone that could sincerely convince an audience the neighbor's dog must die or harmonize to a head-banging ballad. The Old Songs attendees especially shared guitarist Mike McCormick's unrestrained child-like joy in discovering that something the trio was singing was especially funny.

After Friday night's introductory half hour on the mainstage, the Worms were the talk of the Altamont Fairgrounds. The irreverent songwriters from Kingston, Ontario, opened their segment of the concert with their replacement Canadian National Anthem, "Canada's Really Big," and continued the description of their homeland with "Rocks and Trees," complete with audience participation motions. Patterson's computer-era rock ballad "Log into You" sealed the audience's affection, but it was McCormick's consonant-growling "Gaelic Song" and the trio's enthusiastic step-dancing that raised a cloud of dust on the stage and laughter so intense it caused stomach cramps.

On Saturday, the Worms opened their first of four shows at the Dutch Barn with "Animal Songs," which caused them a bit of serious pondering. Apparently when the Old Songs organizers request workshop topics, the group had noted that they did quite a few animal topic songs; "We never thought they'd actually make us do this," Strong noted before the group launched into a crowd pleasing rendition of "Billy the Theme Park Shark." One of the highlights was a beaver song soloed by Strong, so new they haven't worked out the harmonies yet. The trio proceeded through songs about dogs, cows, Godzilla, fish and the various components of "The Mounted Animal Nature Trail," McCormick's tribute to an actual "low-maintenance zoo" kind of place in Northern Ontario. That workshop ended strangely with Patterson crooning Kiss's "Beth," as the audience waited for the jokes to appear.

The early afternoon segment began with a combination workshop with Artisan, an a cappella trio from England whose shiver-inducing harmonies delighted even the most ardent humor-seekers. The alternating voices of the two groups provided a wonderful counterpoint though the Worms at times seemed in awe at the clarity and word count of Artisan and a few times Artisan was laughing too hard following a Worms number to immediately step to the stage. Fortunately much microphone adjusting was needed so both groups could compose themselves. Artisan chose a few quirkier works, such as "Not in My Backyard" and "Kicking the Habit." The Worms raided the archives to bring out "Sam the Guy from Quincy" and "The Lonely Lab of Broken Hearts," the latter existing because "country songs are easy to write," McCormick explained. They also did pull out a few classic Worms hits, including their folk song about something they truly care about, "Carrot Juice is Murder," and Strong's pirate number that requires extensive and humorous explanations for those not familiar with the Saskatchewan Province.

The final Saturday show for this hard-working trio was an outdoor main-stage event following a downpour. The ever-increasing following turned out despite the wet seating and enjoyed the rock version of the Arrogant Worms, beginning with the sound check of "Big Fat Road Manager." Patterson channeled "Celine Dion" complete with appropriate mannerisms and stalking tendencies. Strong provided the gravelly quality of "The Boss" to his tribute to bad drivers, "Idiot Road," and introduced the soon-to-be children's classic, "Rippy the Gator" with his best Barney imitation. The group also proved that nothing is off-limits to their satire with their popular "Jesus' Brother Bob." Throughout the set, the trio battled through a thick smoke from a nearby chicken barbecue, working the situation into songs and joking about their plight and hunger.

Saving the best for near last, the Arrogant Worms enjoyed an unplugged "tell all" session at the side street performance area early Sunday. Scheduling the group on the smallest (actually nonexistent) stage area after they've built a huge following might not have been the best idea, but the intimate setting and lack of sound system highlighted the incredible vocal harmonies of these three singers. Though they were trying to provide even more diverse song offerings, sadly resorting at one point to "Chris is a Wallaby Wannabe," the leading questions from the audience ("Do you have a pirate song?") brought reprises of crowd favorites. With prodding they also risked offending the assembled Americans with their song, "Proud to be a Canadian," complete with a post-election verse that stopped the show for extensive laughter and applause.

The influx of the Arrogant Worms and their fans into the Old Songs Festival proved high-energy humor is alive and well among traditional music lovers.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001

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