By David Hinckley
A good song accompanied by a quiet melodic guitar can be the right antidote to a noisy world.
The producers of this tonic are often called singer-songwriters, or folksingers, and five folk veterans are coming to the Jeanne Rimsky at the Landmark in Port Washington on March 5.
It’s the latest round of a long-running folk music project called On a Winter’s Night, which began with a compilation CD in 1989 and went on the road as a tour in 1994.
The tour has had a rotating cast in various incarnations, and this year’s lineup includes Cliff Eberhardt, John Gorka, Patty Larkin, Cheryl Wheeler, and Christine Lavin, who had the original idea to turn a sampler LP into a roadshow.
The evening’s format has each performer doing a 13-minute solo set for an opener, then everyone returning together to close it out in the second half.
That arrangement was suggested by Allan Pepper, a long-time owner of New York’s famed Bottom Line club.
“It lets the audience see each of us,” Lavin said, “or in some cases perhaps get introduced to us. And then they’ll be eager to see how we sound together.
“It’s like a mini-folk festival in one evening. And this is a great group because we all like each other and respect each other’s music.”
She jokingly adds that all the musicians sit for the second half of the show, perhaps reflecting the fact that collectively they have some logged 200 years in the singer-songwriter game.
Several began their musical careers in the New York folk music scene of the 1980s when a loose collective called Fast Folk issued a new album, or CD, of original singer-songwriter material each month.
Gorka, a New Jersey native who now lives in Minneapolis, was among those who participated in that scene. He won the New Folk award at the Kerrville Folk Festival and over the years has recorded 14 CDs.
Eberhardt, from Amherst, Mass., combines traditional folk and blues with his original songs. He’s known as an exceptional guitar player.
Larkin, of Cape Cod, is a former artist in residence at Berklee College of Music and is on the faculty at Fine Arts Work Center. She has just finished her 14th CD.
Lavin, who lives in Manhattan, also came up in the New York folk scene of the ‘80s. She is known for witty songs on subjects like people who try to go through a supermarket express checkout lane with too many items, but she also has a repertoire of serious songs like “The Kind of Love You Never Recover From.” She is working on her 24th CD.
Wheeler, from Swansea, Mass., is known for her engaging live performances. Her songs have been recorded by the likes of Garth Brooks, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bette Midler.
One of the biggest challenges these days for singer-songwriters, as for all musicians, is how to get their songs to their audience in the world of digital distribution.
“A lot of people today don’t even own CD players,” Lavin said. “You have to reach them digitally. So we’re all trying to figure how you stay in the business.”
On the positive side, folk music itself never goes away, because people have been writing songs and singing them with basic musical accompaniment since the dawn of time. Lavin notes that twice a month she joins a circle of singer-songwriters who try out their new songs for each other.
“It’s a good way to get opinions you respect,” she said. “It gives you a better perspective on how your audience will respond when you sing it in public.”
The Landmark show will be emceed by John Platt, long-time host of the Sunday Breakfast and now Sunday Supper program on WFUV.
(“On A Winter’s Night,” March 5 at 7:30 p.m., at the Jeanne Rimsky Theater at the Landmark, 232 Main St., Port Washington. Featuring Cliff Eberhardt, John Gorka, Patty Larkin, Christine Lavin and Cheryl Wheeler. Tickets $40-$60. Call 516-767-6444 or contact www.landmarkonmainstreet.org.)