Music on the Mind

Bringing residents together with song.

Every Friday night in Morristown, people of all ages gather to hear singer-songwriters and top-notch instrumentalists in a family-friendly environment during The Folk Project’s Minstrel Concert Series. At a low admission cost for adults and free admittance for kids under 12, this is one of the best entertainment deals in the area. While the evening is affordable, the exposure to such high-quality music enriches the lives of children and brings the community closer together.

The Folk Project’s Minstrel performances feature two acts at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship beginning at 8pm after each workweek ends. While the entertainment changes weekly, the schedule is always the same. After the leadoff act appears, the main act performs its first set. Next comes a break at 9:10pm that is complemented by coffee and dessert. Patrons can leave during the break, such as to put the kids to bed, or stay and enjoy both acts’ second sets. The evening concludes around 10:30pm.

With open seating, some families choose to sit close to the performers to keep children engaged. Perhaps bring a blanket when you attend and lay the little ones down to dream through the music.

Why does a concert series meant for adults take strides to appeal to all audience members, including the kiddie set? “We support live music— making it and listening to it,” says Mark Schaffer, president of the Folk Project, a 600-member club of listeners and musicians. “We want everyone to know there’s more ways to make music than pushing a button or clicking a mouse. We don’t want Minstrel fans to stop coming for the 20 years that they’re raising their kids. We love the idea that parents are exposing music they love to their children. But mostly we want to inspire adults and youngsters to start making their own music.”

The Minstrel Concert Series regularly presents nationally acclaimed performers for its main act. Opening acts mostly showcase local talent and are surprisingly good. Performers play a wide range of styles, including modern acoustic, traditional folk, blues, country, rock and jazz. Upcoming shows feature jazz great Frank Vignola on January 15, folk-rocking radio and television stars Aztec Two-Step on January 22 and a Valentine’s show on February 12 with 25 Folk Project amateurs and professionals professing their love while singing with jazz, folk and rock bands. The second Friday of every month is an open stage opportunity. The Web site www.folkproject.org posts the complete upcoming schedule, as well as how you or your child can sign up for a 15-minute open stage set.

The volunteers who run the Friday series reveal that among the 90-plus adults at a recent show were a 3 year old asleep with his head on his father’s lap, a brother and sister, ages 7 and 9, listening intently in the front row, and a high school couple snuggling close and holding hands. Teenagers in the audience came reluctantly with a parent, but left in awe of an amazing blues guitar performance by headliner Little Toby Walker. One attending teen told his father later that week that his two favorite guitarists were now Ozzie Osbourne and Toby Walker.

“The really young ones can break down,” says Schaffer, referring to the occasional disturbance that might happen when children attend an adult event. “We expect it. The parent just carries the toddler out, and the show goes on. But the rewards are great when you include whole families.”

The Folk Project also holds spectacular weekend festivals. Held twice a year in rural north Jersey, the festivals offer concerts, workshops, dances, informal jam sessions, outdoor activities and a children’s program. Among the 200 attendees are families with toddlers to teens. Many of the children who attend relish making music with their festival friends, their parents and the older folks, including on the festival stage.

Learn more about The Folk Project, The Minstrel Concert Series and the weekend festivals at www.folkproject.org. The Folk Project runs more than 100 quality events every year at low prices. It’s a love of live music that encourages the nonprofit’s volunteers to bring magic to everyone’s lives by people interacting through song.