Bennett, Edith & Mia on tour in Maine

Bennett, Edith & Mia on tour in Maine

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Come one come all! Grab your green beans and cups of tea! Hold on to your hats! We've cooked up some tasty musical treats for you composed of some of our favorite songs and tunes, stewed in the woods of mid-coast Maine, and topped off with a fine flourish of goofery. All we need now is some willing ears to sit/dance around and soak it up! Repertoire will include some Scandinavian and Old Time fiddle tunes, and songs from England, Maine, and the shape-note tradition. Catch us at one of 3.5 events in Maine: Thursday March 17 Lewiston, ME // 7pm, at the Ronj Cafe (Bates College), 32 Frye St., Lewiston, ME (Free!)

Friday March 18 Monroe, ME // 5:30pm, 3-song teaser in between halfs of the Whippersnapper Contra Dance, Monroe Town Hall, Monroe. (Suggested donation $10)

Saturday March 19th Denmark, ME // 7:30pm, at the Denmark Arts Center, 50 W Main St, Denmark, ME 04022 (Suggested donation $10)

Sunday March 20th Belfast, ME // 4pm, at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 100 Court St, Belfast, ME (Suggested donation $10)

 

Bennett Edith Mia

A feature in a Spice Catalog, of all places!

A feature in a Spice Catalog, of all places!

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konesni_slide1 Penzeys Spices, a purveyor of fine foods and spices, caught wind of these musical farmers from Maine, and decided to interview & feature them in their fall catalog. The result: an amusing piece on how we met through music, our work at Sylvester Manor, worksongs, and our new farm (Duckback Farm) in Maine. They even squeezed Edith's secret pie crust recipe out of her, and Bennett shares how to make mouth-watering pesto. Read it here!

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Have a Listen: B&E on the Radio

Have a Listen: B&E on the Radio

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Organic Farmers Bring Back Song to the Fields

Nothing's finer than singing with a group of farmers and community members in the loft of a barn. Our workshop at Sub Edge Farm brought in dozens to learn and sing worksongs from around the world. Here's a little pre-workshop article and radio snippit from WNPR in Hartford, CT. Have a listen!

Thank you Isabel and Rodger for hosting us. May you have a bountiful season!

B&E in the Sag Harbor Express

B&E in the Sag Harbor Express

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Edith & Bennett: Partners in Life, Living in Harmony

Posted on 22 January 2014

Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni strumming away at Sylvester Manor.

Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni strumming away at Sylvester Manor. Photo by Brian Halweil

Article Written By Annette Hinkle

Husband and wife Bennett Konesni and Edith Gawler are not only partners in life, they are also partners in music.

Gawler, a fiddle and banjo player, grew up in a musical family in Maine and is a member of the legendary Gawler Family Band. Konesni grew up in North Carolina and Maine, the son of an avid bluegrass aficionado.

“My dad was an insufferable fiddle fan, so all we did was listen to North Carolina fiddle music,” recalls Konesni. “If it wasn’t North Carolina fiddle music, it wasn’t music. He was a fiddle snob.”

Konesni is also co-founder of the 243-acre Sylvester Manor educational farm on Shelter Island, a property which has been in his family since 1652. Gawler is currently studying to becoming an architect — a skill which comes in handy on a 350-year-old plantation farm.

Together, they make quite a team and are living in harmony…literally.

Konesni and Gawler divide their time between Maine and Sylvester Manor where he oversees strategic planning and leads special projects while she manages the website and produces art and design materials for the organization. As musicians, they teach worksongs to the crew (a specialty of Konesni who has traveled the world studying and collecting indigenous music) and direct the manor’s annual fall “Plant & Sing” festival during which the community turns out to complete two week’s worth of garlic shucking and planting in a single morning (singing all the while, of course.)

On Friday, January 31, Edith & Bennett, as they call themselves on the performing circuit, kick off The Lounge, a new music series at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill — and for this show, no garlic planting is required.

Konesni and Gawler first met in 2007 (the year Konesni became involved in Sylvester Manor) at Maine Fiddle Camp which the Gawler family helped start. Konesni was there to teach the indigenous fiddling songs of Tanzanian farmers. Within a year, the pair realized they had a bond and a skill set which made them incredibly compatible not only in music, but in life’s challenges — including those required to create a vision for the next phase of Sylvester Manor.

“There was a ton of simpatico,” recalls Konesni. “Edith’s got this incredible aesthetic sense. It was very soon after we met that she helped me imagine what Sylvester Manor could look like and be like. She had a great desire to help flesh out this monstrous challenge, which is just what you want — someone with a fresh and different take.”

“People think that farms are backwards, and farmers are slow and stupid,” he adds. “But great farms like those in Maine and on the East End have a tremendous amount of design and beauty in the every day,” adds Konesni. “The buildings, the tools and the fields themselves —  they’re designed landscapes. To have someone like Edith to partner with totally bumps up my game.”

When you come from a family as musical as the Gawlers you can imagine that bringing home a new beau can feel something like an audition. If that’s true, it’s one that Konesni easily passed when he met Gawler’s family.

“Musically, Bennett was astoundingly on the same page with our family,” says Gawler. “The folk music circle in Maine is pretty small and we all have a wonderfully good time, but with a new member it’s always interesting to see if they fit in the big picture in a small family.”

“I was amazed at Bennett’s skill, he added so much to our sound,” she says. “It’s like a hole we didn’t know was there and he was filling it in a magical way. I fell in love with him for that and many other reasons.”

One of those reasons just might be the music they now make together. While both Gawler and Konesni bring a bit of their family background and tradition to the mix, in the end, their music is a style that is all their own.

“You know how kids are like their parents, but also different? That’s how to describe our music,” says Konesni. “We do some traditional fiddle tunes and banjo numbers, but we also work up entirely different songs and tunes.”

Konesni, who plays guitar, banjo and fiddle, has Norwegian ancestry and is fascinated with Scandinavian music which he and Gawler include in their sets. They also do a rock cover by a band called Cake, as well as several worksongs that Konesni has picked up in his travels, which audiences at the Parrish show can expect to hear.

“Usually with American audiences, I do American worksongs — local indigenous worksongs from the Northeast and lumbering forestry songs, then a lot of southern songs from Georgia and Mississippi,” says Konesni. “I like to mix it up. Sometimes Edith will prod me and I’ll do one from Africa and central Asia.”

Ultimately for Konesni, the key to life (and music) is focusing on that which is close at hand.

“I’m into local things — local food, local cultural and having a sense of place in our lives and making that the foundation for a greater richness every day,” he says. “But it’s not about being close minded or narrow minded. That’s why I have some global and some local things.”

“The thing I love is cultural music and the way communities come together with it,” he adds. “I like happy music that you can teach someone or learn easily. I love the history of the tunes, the songs and the way they’re passed down.”

In that, Konesni sees echoes of Sylvester Manor — the idea of passing down that which is worth saving while leaving behind traditions that are best forgotten.

“Sylvester Manor has both and so does traditional music,” he says.

And along the way, Gawler and Konesni have discovered their own sound and Gawler explains that as a duo, she and her husband can pull of things musically that would not be possible with the six member family band.

“Two people on stage can really get into details and the complexities of the music or the harmony,” she explains. “We can play with tempo and all the elements of music much more nimbly than you can with a big group.”

“Often we’ll be aware where we’re headed,” she adds. “It’s this fun little game we play on stage — we’ll get quiet and change the whole mood of a song in an instant.”

About Us

About Us

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Edith & Bennett sing worksongs and play old-time dance tunes from Maine and beyond.

Reviving the culture of agriculture, they teach and perform on stage and in the field, putting a new twist on the ancient arts of field hollers, farmer's ballads and barn dances.

Recognized as worksong scholars and musical ambassadors who embody and expand the rich culture of rural american music, they perform internationally for the US State Department as Special Envoys in traditional music.

Edith Gawler grew up in Maine as a member of the legendary Gawler Family Band.  She plays fiddle, banjo and upright bass, and belts out songs in a rich sonorous alto.  Not long ago, Edith finished her architectural thesis at Syracuse University, which looks to draw on the principles of the local sustainable food movement as a model for a new architecture. When not singing in the fields with Bennett, she works as a junior architect at award-winning G.O. Logic.

Also a native Mainer, Bennett Konesni runs the family farm, Duckback Farm, where they grow and sell gourmet garlic, teas, and culinary herbs.  He runs worksongs.org, where he shares his 20 years of worksong research and development.

Bennett is also the co-founder of Sylvester Manor, a 243-acre educational farm on Shelter Island, NY on a piece of land that has been in his family since 1652.  His roles there include teaching worksongs to the farm crew and directing the annual fall festival “Plant & Sing”, which brings the community to the farm to complete two week’s worth of garlic shucking and planting in a single morning, all while singing worksongs.

As a student at Middlebury College, Bennett co-founded the student farm, and majored in Music, Anthropology and Environmental Studies, and upon graduation he was awarded a Thomas J Watson fellowship to spend a year studying worksongs on three continents.  Though he received his MBA from Antioch University New England in 2009, his passion is still worksongs, music that transforms labor into something between work and play.  He envisions a world in which farmers, cooks, and eaters once again sing in fields, kitchens, and at the table.

Bennett has recently toured Mongolia and Ukraine with the string band "Old Grey Goose" as musical ambassadors for the U.S. Department of State.

Together, Edith and Bennett balance their life on Shelter Island with their home in Maine. They perform with several bands, including their Shelter Island-based group, The Sylvester Manor Worksongers, their Maine groups, the Gawler Sisters and Family bands, and their roots-music duo “Edith & Bennett.” For more about us, please feel free to send us an email.

 

Edith and Bennett recently performed at the Parrish Art Museum to a sold-out crowd, enthusiastically kicking off the new music series, The Lounge. The audience and staff in attendance agreed that it was one of the best nights of music the Parrish has ever experienced, and the dynamism, charm, and talent of Edith and Bennett have made an everlasting imprint. We cannot wait to bring them back for a repeat performance!

- Amy Kirwin, Parrish Art Museum

 

We started a new winter series at The Parlor Room in Northampton, Massachusetts, called Parlor Sessions. Each Sunday would be a gig followed by an all-comers jam. It was a risky venture: Not every band would like the abrupt switch, in the middle of an evening, from a stage performance to a kitchen party. Someone who knows Edith & Bennett said we should start the series with them because they would get it.

Well, that was good advice. The night came and Edith & Bennett sat unassumingly with their fiddle and guitar on the stage, and proceeded to construct a Great Hall for us in that room -- built it out of their imaginations, their scholarship, their know-how, their far-ranging tunes, their ease with our house band, their sense of place and history, their festivity with each other, the heap of worksongs they brought from cotton fields and coal mines.

There is this expansiveness about the two of them that makes the room bigger and older and sets it somewhere north of here and fills it with wood smoke and firelight. After a while we all sat in a circle with them and played and sang until no one knew what time it was, or even where we were. It was part ceilidh, part campfire, part sing, part field work, part love fest, and, oddly, and due to E&B's curiously beautiful voices, part jazz lounge ...

- Lynne Bertrand, The Parlor Room at Signature Sounds

High Res Promo Photos:

We're really excited about this one: B&E at the Parrish Art Museum

We're really excited about this one: B&E at the Parrish Art Museum

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The Lounge: Edith and Bennett

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 6:00pm Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

$10 | Free for Members, Children, and Students Includes Museum admission. Space is limited; advance reservations recommended

Edith and Bennett will kick-off The Lounge - an eclectic music program of talented singers and instrumentalists performing in an informal club setting in the Lichtenstein Theater. Edith and Bennett (Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni) are musicians and worksong scholars who together play old-time fiddle, banjo music, Swedish dance tunes, and farmer’s ballads and hollers. Edith Gawler grew up in Maine as a member of the legendary Gawler Family Band.

Click here to buy tickets!

Teaching a Yootz at Stone Barns YFC

Teaching a Yootz at Stone Barns YFC

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Teaching Utes at YFC 2013 from Susan Paykin on Vimeo.

Bennett & Edith teach worksongs, including this Swiss ute, at the 2013 Young Farmers Conference at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Workshop participants are learning songs over a common farm task: shelling beans, in this case, black edamame beans.

Wa-hoo-hoo-hoo!

December 5, 2013

6th Annual Young Farmers Concert at Stone Barns Center

6th Annual Young Farmers Concert at Stone Barns Center

We are still on cloud nine, and are likely to be up there for a good while longer. Why? This year's Young Farmers Conference that we participated in again last week was absolutely epic. In addition to teaching our usual worksong workshop while digging parsnips and shelling edemame beans, we were the soundtrack for "Farmscape" - a fantastic verbatim play about Iowa farmers by Mary Swander, we played a great contradance for the hundreds of energetic young participants, AND, and... we sang a song with everyone right after Wendell Berry's Keynote address, which was absolutely phenomenal. Anyway... we are so tickled and honored to be asked back year after year. If you're a young farmer or know of one, be sure to check out this event. It is an absolute highlight for us every year. Here are some photos from the event:

Worksongs and Workhorses at North Branch Farm, July 31!

Worksongs and Workhorses at North Branch Farm, July 31!

You won't want to miss this workshop hosted by North Branch Farm, MOFGA, and Bennett & Edith! Wednesday, July 31, 5pm at North Branch Farm, Monroe Using animals for draft power has a number of economic, environmental, and social benefits; but it is not easy. North Branch Farm is a highly diversified, multi-family farm that incorporates draft horses into their field and woods work. Come learn the basics of this genuinely solar-based system of farming; and meet a few of Maine's skilled horsefolk. We’ll also have a an opportunity to learn and sing work songs, led by Bennett Konesni and Edith Gawler.

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Bennett on BBC World

Bennett on BBC World

From the BBC News Magazine, First Person Series:

" 8 June 2013 Last updated at 19:33 ET, Produced by Michael Maher from BBC World

One of the oldest estates in the US is being turned into a not-for-profit study centre by the family that has owned it for more than 360 years.

Sylvester Manor - on Shelter Island in New York - was once one of the biggest slave plantations in the North. It was a place where Africans and local Manhansett Indians toiled side by side to service the lucrative sugar and rum trade between the Atlantic coast and the Caribbean.

Now the family's 10th and 11th generations - led by owner Eben Ostby and his nephew, the musician and farmer Bennett Konesni, are in the midst of giving away the remaining 243 acres (98 hectares) of the estate.

Mr Konesni has been speaking to Michael Maher about his family's plans to turn Sylvester Manor into an educational farm and a centre for the study of slavery, food and rural archaeology on the east coast of America."

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B&E Upstate New York Worksong Tour, going on NOW!

B&E Upstate New York Worksong Tour, going on NOW!

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Upstate New York Worksong Tour

Sunday, May 5 Peaceworks Organic CSA 40th Anniversary & May Day Party - Music, Maypole, Worksongs, 2pm - 6pm Newark, NY (near Rochester)

Monday, May 6 House Concert with Fruition Seeds, 7pm Potluck, music to follow 290 Basset Road, Naples NY $10 - $30 sliding scale suggested donation

Tuesday, May 7 Hamilton College Community Farm 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323 Worksong Workshop, 5pm - 7pm Free and open to all comers

Friday, May 10 Mark Twain Camp Saranac Lake, NY House Concert at 7:30 PM. Last house at west end of Lake Street - Jack & Phyllis' house. $10 - $30 sliding scale suggested donation

Saturday, May 11 Asparaganza Worksongs on the Farm - Noon to 2pm - The festival continues until 7pm and includes two other great bands. at the Good Life Farm Interlaken, NY

B&E in the Bangor Daily News: "Midcoast couple reviving traditional work songs among younger generations"

B&E in the Bangor Daily News: "Midcoast couple reviving traditional work songs among younger generations"

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Watch the Video ON BDN.COM! By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff Posted April 28, 2013, at 3:30 p.m.

Edith & Bennett Bangor Daily News photo by Abigail Curtis of BDN

BELFAST, Maine — When the smiling young woman with a banjo and the man with a guitar started to play some tunes on Saturday night during the Free Range Music Festival in Belfast, the audience started tapping their toes.

Then they started to sing along to the call-and-response songs that workers on boats in the Caribbean, on the railroad in West Virginia and in Zulu villages also sing — much to the delight of Edith Gawler, 25, and her husband and musical partner Bennett Konesni, 30. The couple dream of spreading their love of work songs to people everywhere, and were thrilled that the Belfast audience filled up the room at Waterfall Arts with their own voices.

“We grew up singing as we stacked wood. We sang while we worked,” Gawler, who grew up in Belgrade, said Sunday. “We weren’t consciously practicing work songs. Bennett recognizes how special and unique and rare they are. He’s very actively bringing them to our family now … It’s a really incredible way to connect with people.”

According to Konesni, who grew up in Appleton and on Islesboro, where his mom ran the health center for many years, work songs are the music that people have long created to turn hard labor into something else. He first got into the idea of singing on the job when he toiled summers as a deckhand on Schooner J&E Riggin out of Rockland.

“We would sing while raising the sails and raising the anchor,” he said. “It’s a way to transform that drudgery somewhere between work and play. I love that idea — of productive fun. You can find that middle ground, of doing useful, productive work and having a great time doing it.”

When Konesni went to Middlebury College in Vermont, his love of work songs grew as he learned about different cultures. One of his roommates was from Tanzania, and taught the young Maine man and others how to sing while running, a tradition in that country. Then, in 2005, Konesni won a $25,000 Watson Fellowship, which allowed him to travel around the world for a year to learn work songs. He went to Africa, Europe and Asia, diving in to the traditions of the people he met in those places.

“I’m not native Zulu, I’m not native Swiss, I’m not native Mongolian,” Konesni said. “I went to those countries because I wanted to learn how work songs work. What is a good work songs leader like? What’s a good follower? Which songs work well in big, open spaces?”

His continued interest in the work songs tradition has led him to start teaching it to students at the non-profit educational farm he founded five years ago on land his family has long owned on Shelter Island in New York.

“I just started trying it out at the farm, and it worked!” he said of getting others to sing. “It’s really great. People just react well to it. It’s a very universal thing. We all have to work … it’s less about creating a perfect sound, and more about creating a joyful noise. That, to me, really captures what I try to inspire people to do out in the fields — to get away from perfection and start embracing fun and joy, and realize you can just turn the switch in your own brain to have a good time again.”

Since then, he and Gawler have traveled far afield teaching work songs, from leading workshops at the Mystic Seaport Sea Music Festival in Mystic, Conn., to giving a TEDx talk in Fruitvale, Calif., to a tour of upstate New York next week with workshops and concerts.

Gawler said that she first spotted Konesni several years ago while he was leading a group of kids at Maine Fiddle Camp in a singing-while-jogging outing, during which they were “grinning like fools and having so much fun.”

“Who is that guy?” she remembers wondering.

The following year, they began dating.

“We’ve been jogging and singing together and playing and singing together ever since,” Gawler said.

They’ve been busy with the farm they’re starting this summer in Belfast, Allemande Farm, located on 17 acres of overgrown cow pasture on Jesse Robbins Road. They’ll be planting specialty crops, including garlic, and making a homestead, she said. Music and art will be central to their new enterprise.

“Work songs — it takes the whole idea of passive entertainment and flips it on its head,” Gawler said. “We all make music together. That’s my favorite part — people who think they can’t sing coming and having a really good time. It’s transformative in a really exciting way. It’s an old art. We’re bringing it back to a new way of doing things. It’s fun to think that we’re going backwards and forwards at the same time.”

For more information about the couple’s project, visit www.worksongs.org.

Edith & Bennett at the Free Range Music Festival

Edith & Bennett at the Free Range Music Festival

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Come join us in what we consider Maine's awesome-sauciest town, BELFAST, for the Free Range Music Festival, this Saturday!! We, Bennett & Edith, are playing at 6:30 in the Waterfall Arts building.

There are tons of great acts playing all day, the tickets are actually super cheap, and it looks like the weather is going to be nice... so you have no excuse! Come on out for some great live music.

Click here for more info!

Edith & Bennett in the New York Times

Edith & Bennett in the New York Times

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We were so honored to be featured in the Home & Gardens section of the New York Times last Thursday. Written by Anne Raver and photographed by Randy Harris, the piece tells the story of the complex history here at Sylvester Manor and how Bennett and the staff here are breathing new life into this old family plantation. Read the full article Here! We had a great time showing Anne Raver and Randy Harris around the house and grounds. We ended up cooking dinner for Anne at the manor, and ended desert with a rousing rendition of  Hal an Tow, which is one of our favorites to sing with the worksongers. When Randy was here, we played him a few tunes in the living room before our house concert with Cindy Kallet and Grey Larson, which is one of the best performances I have ever seen in my life. A banner week, for sure.

Stone Barns Films, ft. B&E

Stone Barns Films, ft. B&E

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We're honored to have our music present on some of the Stone Barns Films on their AWESOME new website, virtualgrange.org. Here, young farmers are asking great questions and getting great answers. Kudos to everyone working hard to build this amazing support system.

Cross Pollinating Peas from Stone Barns Center on Vimeo.

Challenges Facing Young Farmers from Stone Barns Center on Vimeo.

Identifying Engine Parts and Operations from Stone Barns Center on Vimeo.

About Forced Air Composting from Stone Barns Center on Vimeo.

Edith, Bennett & the Worksongers at Stone Barns

Edith, Bennett & the Worksongers at Stone Barns

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We're preparing with the rest of the worksong crew for this year's YOUNG FARMERS CONFERENCE at STONE BARNS CENTER FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE.  

This conference is one of the most anticipated events for any young farmer in the area (all the conference tickets sold out in less than a day!!!), and WE get to be the farmer musicians on the scene, teaching a worksong workshop, playing a contra dance, and singing songs throughout the conference. We can't wait!!

Check out more about Stone Barns Here

Check out Bennett's profile on Stone Barns' "Virtual Grange".

And more about the conference Here

Living at Sylvester Manor

Living at Sylvester Manor

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It's great fun working and living at Sylvester Manor, and we try to play music as often as we can. I wonder how Bennett's ancestors feel about fiddle tunes in the great hall...

Edith & Bennett at TEDx Fruitvale

Edith & Bennett at TEDx Fruitvale

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In September, 2011, we were invited to San Fransisco for the TED x Fruitvale event, all about Harvesting Change and fair labor on farms. We talked a little bit about the manor's complicated legacy with slavery, and how we're working to understand what fair labor means in the context of a modern educational farm.  With our farming techniques we're trying to take the best of what the farm had to offer from the past and the best practices that are available in the present, but what does that mean on the site of an old plantation?  Alongside remembering and honoring those who worked here before us, one approach we're trying is to bring cultivate a culture of joy in the work itself.  Worksongs.

July 2, 2011 - Edith & Bennett get hitched!

Welcome to our website. I suppose the official creation date of our band would be our wedding day, July 2, 2011, on top of Buttermilk Hill in Maine, in the company of 400 of our closest friends and family members. As a wedding gift for everyone who came, we made our first self titled album, recorded in our bedroom at Sylvester Manor, on Shelter Island, NY. If you came to a show, workshop, or contradance, thank you. We just love sharing our music with everyone.

Happy Trails,

Edith & Bennett