It’s no surprise that longtime Rhode Island folk favorites Atwater-Donnelly recently moved to a new spot in the East Bay. From Brown Bird to Joe Fletcher, Warren’s Water Street has been transforming into a homegrown music destination in the state, with local shop The Wooden Midshipman (who recently hosted Atwater-Donnelly for a backyard Midsummer’s Dream-esque evening) and artist Will Schaff hosting intimate acoustic gigs for neighbors and friends passing through town.
On October 20, Warren’s historic Baptist Church will fill with the sound of harmonicas, harmonies and heels as the Atwater-Donnelly Band, husband and wife duo Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly joined by U.S. Champion Irish step and master American tap dancer, Barrington’s Kevin Doyle, take the stage to treat the town to their blend of traditional music and dance for Warren Walkabout.
Atwater-Donnelly’s music takes audiences back in time and across the ocean and back, mixing Celtic folk favorites and Irish step routines with traditional American tunes, from folk to old-time gospel, complemented with the added percussion of North Carolina-originated clogging. Instrument-wise, it seems there are no bounds to what the band can pick up and play, with a standard performance incorporat- ing everything from guitar, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, mandolin, tin whistle, harmonica, banjo, bones, spoons and limberjacks, in addition to the rap, tap, click and beat of three types of dancing.
Bringing together the unique storytelling elements of each music and cultural dancing genre, along with ever-engaging showmanship and good humor, Atwater-Donnelly shows are a seamless sum of their parts and a tribute to their history together, both as a couple and a band. Audrey and Elwood first met while volunteering at Providence’s Stone Soup Coffee House, a venue they continue to value and patronize Touring both nationally and internationally, the Atwater-Donnelly audience appeal reaches across age groups and geographic lines.
I spoke with Aubrey about the vibrancy of the folk music scene here in the Ocean State. Between the statewide variety of folk-centric venues, Newport Folk Fest and the number of both older and newer groups making waves in the national folk market, our small state is truly a gem for the genre. Atwater credits the great appreciation that Rhode Islanders have for their local art, culture and music, along with the diversity of rich and tight-knit immigrant and cultural communities throughout the state, each bringing bits and pieces of their own histories to the mix. From French Canadian fiddling, Cambodian Khmer and Maritime sea shanties, an array of influences keep the folk genre both rich and relevant, constantly evolving with new modern interpretations and amalgamations.
Aubrey also credits more recent mass-marketing of traditional folk forms, from the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, to the worldwide popularity gained by Riverdance, with broadening the appeal and accessibility of their craft and bridging the gap from old to new generations. I for one look forward to welcoming the talented trio home at their October 20 show. Bring the family, your background, whatever it may be, and your best toe-tapping shoes, as Atwater-Donnelly celebrate song, dance and culture. Warren Walkabout will also feature open studios, sidewalk shopping, food sampling and a free trolley. The day runs from 12-5pm. October 20, 1-4pm Baptist Church. 407 Main Street, Warren.