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Musicians will share stages and genres

August 29, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

"I'm so excited," says Beth Nielsen Chapman, who will perform on the Field Stage at the fourth annual Country Roads Folk Festival at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30.

Among the things she's excited about is sharing that stage - one of four at the festival - with folk icon Richie Havens. The man who opened Woodstock in 1969 will follow Chapman at 8:15 p.m.

She loves Richie Havens.

"That voice," she says. "I think he's a consummate artist."

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, the eight-time Grammy-nominated duo, will perform at 2:30 p.m. on the festival's Barn Stage and precede Chapman on the Field Stage at 6 p.m.

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Music - including bluegrass, folk, rock and Celtic - will be nonstop from noon until a campfire song circle, which starts at 9:45 p.m., is over. There also will be workshops: clogging with Kim Forry and Jan Scopel, banjo, guitar and fiddle. There will be hay and pony rides, arts and crafts for kids, games and a barn dance. As if all that isn't cool enough, there's a water mister and a creek to splash in.

There will be a Phil Ochs song circle and a John Denver tribute complete with John Sommers, Denver's fiddler, the man who wrote "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

And, if you're so inclined, spend the night and stick around for pancakes and gospel music in the morning, Sunday, Aug. 31.

Chapman is looking forward to seeing her friend Paul Reisler, who will conduct a guitar workshop and perform with Anna Wolfe. And she is looking forward to the festival.

Despite having had three hours of sleep the night before a recent phone interview from a California airport, Chapman didn't sound a bit tired. She had been up finishing a song for a movie, then found an injured red-tailed hawk in her yard and had to call animal control for help.

"He was my messenger bird," she says.

What's he telling her?

"Slow down," she says. It's a message she thinks many people need to hear. Too many people are shuttered in their homes, playing too many video games, she says. During the recent blackout, people met their neighbors for the first time, she adds.

The 46-year-old had flown from Nashville, Tenn., where she's lived since 1985. The city has become the songwriting capital of the world, she says, and that's a good place for someone who has penned top country hits for the likes of Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride and Faith Hill. Her friend Bonnie Raitt, a hero of Chapman's for 20 years, also has recorded one of her songs and sings on two cuts on Chapman's latest CD, "Deeper Still." Other voices in the background belong to John Hiatt, John Prine, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris.

Chapman's albums have held Top 10 slots on Adult Contemporary charts, but she doesn't really fit neatly in any one category. She says she likes the way Linda Ronstadt, who inspired her music, could sing and record a wide range of musical styles and just be called an artist.

Chapman's been writing songs since she was a kid. The melody comes first. A self-taught guitarist and pianist, Chapman can't read or write musical notation so she uses a tape recorder to capture her tunes. She says her songs come sort of subliminally - she sort of downloads them. "It's a pretty spooky way to write," she says.

She's described her technique to songwriting students as "kind of hanging one foot over the edge of what you know."

Chapman has written songs for films, including "The Prince Of Egypt," "Message In A Bottle" and "Practical Magic." She describes the process as more of a tightrope walk with deadlines and scriptwriters whose perspectives may be different from hers.

"My thing is to serve the song," Chapman says. The song should stand on its own without the movie attached to it, she explains.

Chapman's life has provided material for many of her compositions. Her husband died in 1994 of a cancer. Three years ago, Chapman was diagnosed with breast cancer, after having been told not to worry about a lump for two years.

"I'm doing great," she says.

If you can find a way to use the events in your life, you usually can learn something along the way, she says.

"It's pretty powerful."

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