Modern music for the Erie Canal
by Erik Svensson
Hey Mavis has a surprise up its sleeve. With a new collection of 10 songs, the band defies predictability by putting its own modern twist on traditional Appalachian folk music.
Silver Ribbon Dream is a collection of tracks that reimagine traditional folk songs from the perspective of 19th century canal workers, with the instrumentation and execution of a modern Americana band. In this new album, its first since 2015, Hey Mavis crafts Pete Seeger-esque songs of workers and events related to the construction and operation of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
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The tracks are not just folksy narratives played by a modern band; they are a collection of vignettes from the perspectives of various fictional characters that all hold kernels of truth.
The project is a collaboration between Hey Mavis’s Laurie Michelle Caner and artist Leandra Drumm and was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In the album’s accompanying book, each song is prefaced with context about the historical events and figures that inspired it. The book features Drumm’s artwork, with a unique illustration complementing each track.
Hey Mavis creates a new fiction from real events, as heard on songs like “Johnnycake Lock.” The book explains that this track is about a flood that stranded several boats at one of the canal’s locks in 1828. Crew members only had cornmeal to eat.
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The band also creates events and characters inspired by other works. One such influence made clear on the album and in the book is Pearl Nye’s music about the canal. In the preface for the titular track “Silver Ribbon Dream,” readers learn that Nye once described the canal as a “silver ribbon” that runs across the state.
The album references Nye again in “Dearest Place.” The track opens with a recording of Nye singing one of his original songs, before fading into Hey Mavis’s own song from his perspective, detailing his love for a canal that has become obsolete.
Hey Mavis and Drumm have created a multimedia work that requires full context to be completely appreciated. The book that accompanies Silver Ribbon Dream is essential to the listening experience. The information it provides to explain the characters, both real and fictional, and their motivations make the songs at once more accessible and more meaningful.
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Silver Ribbon Dream is a hard album to classify due its marriage of modern musicianship and stories from the mid-1800s. It is a historical-fiction concept album with a wide cast of canal-centric characters that makes sure not to lose its sense of time, making it all the stronger for its consistency.
Silver Ribbon Dream debuts in October. Hey Mavis is set to play release shows for the project, including one on Saturday, Oct. 18 at the First Congressional Church of Akron.
More information about Hey Mavis is available at https://www.heymavis.com/.
Erik Svensson is a senior at Kent State University, where he studies journalism.
(Image used with permission from Laurie Caner.)