A sold-out crowd sang along and tapped their toes to the strumming of guitars and the beat of a tambourine on Thursday evening.
MSC OPAS hosted “Lonesome Traveler: The Concert” in Rudder Theater as the last performance of their 2018-2019 Intimate Gatherings series. The concert’s music is from the 2015 off-Broadway musical of the same name and featured songs from folk-rock musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.
Rubicon Theatre Company producing artistic director Karyl Lynn Burns helped produce the original musical alongside her husband, James O’Neil, who wrote and directed “Lonesome Traveler.”
The original musical followed the development of folk music from the Appalachian mountains to the nightclubs in New York and San Francisco, paying homage to individual influential musicians along the way, according to Burns. The musical first premiered at Rubicon Theatre before moving on to New York, where “Lonesome Traveler” received a 2015 Drama Desk Nomination alongside “Hamilton” and an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Best New Show.
“James had grown up with a deep love and appreciation for folk music that came from his father, who played guitar for his own enjoyment and his family’s enjoyment,” Burns said. “His father loved folk singers and was really inspired by their nature as activists.”
The music from the original performance was compiled into a concert that has played in about 30 cities so far since 2017, according to Burns. Music from the ‘70s and later was added to represent the Americana movement.
“With this sort of resurgence of interest in folk music, we were really interested in a concert version,” Burns said. “We just decided to take the music and pair it down, and instead of playing the characters themselves, they’re providing a little narration in between that helps us understand the context.”
Three-time Grammy winner, folk singer and children’s song writer Tom Chapin appeared as a special guest for the College Station show. He performed songs such as “This Pretty Planet”, “Pass the Music On” and “Cats in the Cradle,” a song originally written and performed by his older brother Harry Chapin.
Chapin said he had performed at A&M in the ‘90s doing family and school shows. According to Chapin, when he was 12 years old, he and his brothers Harry and Steve listened to The Weavers, a seminal folk band from the ‘50s, and were inspired to create their own trio.
“It changed our world, as it did American music,” Chapin said. “Those great songs are very much present still with me now.”
Chapin said he was very grateful to have been involved in the show and to have shared music that hadn’t been a part of the show previously.
“There’s a magical thing about these songs, they’re about real people going through real experiences,” Chapin said. “There’s a sense of community. [The songs] speak to the human condition. There’s a reason they’re classics.”
Agriculture communications and journalism sophomore Hannah Chambers said her favorite song performed on Thursday was “Midnight Special.”
“I thought it was really fun,” Chambers said. “I liked how they added in a bit of history to the songs before each song. I learned how it transitioned through the ages, and it was kind of interesting what songs I didn’t originally consider folk music, but [are] classified as folk music.”