Most students visit The Log for Thursday-night trivia and cavity-inducing cinnamon knots, not close harmony and Irish fiddle. The Williamstown Folk Club is here to change that. Starting tonight at 7 p.m., the Williamstown Folk Club, a group of Berkshire-based singer-songwriters, will host a free Songwriters Night at The Log every other Wednesday.
“The idea is to encourage songwriters of all ages and types in the area to come with original songs or even half-formed songs and try them out with safety and comfort and try to develop songwriting in the area,” Karl Mullen said, an artist from Williamstown and Williamstown Folk Club member who hosts Songwriters Night.
The Williamstown Folk Club began the song circle as an informal way to connect like-minded artists and nurture talent in the area. Songwriters Night cycled through many homes before settling at The Log. “We started it in my living room about four to five years ago,” Mullen said. “We were in the Williams Inn for a while, we were at the Water Street Grill for a while, at the ’6 House Pub, a few people’s living rooms, but it comes and goes as people come and go from the area.”
While in the summer months, it’s easy to arrange outdoor jam sessions, anyone who’s spent a winter in Williamstown knows that in colder months, it’s sometimes difficult to get out of bed, much less write songs. Songwriters Night serves as an antidote by providing an informal space to experiment with others. “In the dark of winter, there’s not too many gigs available,” said Mullen. “Sometimes people improvise on each other’s songs or end up co-writing songs.”
Mullen is part of a core group of singer-songwriters who normally host Songwriters Night, along with fellow locals Sarah McNair and Jackie Sedlock, as well as Ethan Eldred, who students may know as a theatre technician at the ’62 Center. Mullen, McNair and Eldred are all members of Double Diamond, an alternative folk group that features three-part harmonies, Americana inspired guitar from Mullen and Eldred on cello. Mullen’s style is in part inspired by his Irish roots — Mullen hails from Dublin and moved to the United States at 20. Since settling in the Berkshires, he has handled musical bookings for Hancock Shaker Village, runs the BarN concert series at his barn on Green River Road and works as an art teacher at the Pine Cobble School. Mullen is a self-taught painter of folk and outsider art, which informs his songwriting practice.
“I like to write — I’m also a painter, and I find I have the same approach: I need to edit,” Mullen said. “Sometimes I need to do something and leave it there, even for a long period of time. I’ve written songs and ten years later I’ve gone back and changed the words.” The frequent, informal meetings of the song circle, however, give artists like Mullen time to workshop their material. “I like starting from things I overhear, and I drive people nuts sometimes by saying, ‘Oh, that would be a great lyric!’ But that everyday-ness is an interesting place to start,” said Mullen. “One of the most famous examples, of course, was Paul McCartney of the Beatles, who started out writing a song that went, ‘Ham and eggs, oh baby how I like your hairy legs,’ which became ‘Yesterday,’ but that was a way, a little germ, a little door, of getting down that idea that would end up becoming one of the most famous songs of all time that got developed through editing.”
Mullen has also met and brought a host of younger songwriters to the event over the years. “There’s surprisingly talented young people in this area,” said Mullen. “Every so often we get some high school kids and middle school kids to come. I particularly like when the different age groups come together and the young people see people in their 20s writing songs, people in their 20s see people their dad’s age writing songs and even some people their grandparents’ age writing some.” The different age groups represented, Mullen stressed, foster not only creative collaboration, but community. “We have a variety of folks who come from age 87 or 88 down to young people and teenagers. We’d really like if some Williams students were interested in joining us — people can even come and just listen.”
In a town that has little going on past 8 p.m., Songwriters Night will hopefully inject some liveliness into sleepy Spring Street, allowing songwriters of every ilk to find new collaborators. “Sometimes when touring artists are in town and they hear about this, they stop by as well, especially if it’s cool, which it will be,” said Mullen. “And you might even come if you’re shy just to check it out, and you might go ‘Wow, that chord they were playing, that gives me an idea of starting my chorus that way.’” However, Mullen cautions, leave the power amp at home — Songwriters Night is acoustic only. If bluegrass, harmony and community are your thing, though, stop by Songwriters Night tonight from 7-10 p.m. or catch it again in two weeks.