Creative Folklore in the Deep Woods

You may have seen Andy Furgeson of Red Yarn productions performing around Portland in the last few years. Known as Red Yarn to Portland families, he’s an engaging singer/storyteller, teaching artist and dynamic performer beloved by children and adults alike. His shows manifest his passions for the critters of the American woods, puppetry, and traditional folk music that will have you listening,  jumping, singing, kicking up our heels and holding tight to our bootstraps. Red Yarn is a true gem in the Portland kindie scene and keeps us coming back for more.

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Red Yarn’s forthcoming debut album of American folk songs, The Deep Woods, will be released on October 15th. The opening song and title track introduces listeners to the magic of the deep woods and from there, the songs keep coming in an outstanding collection that has become one of our family’s favorite albums of 2013. All twelve songs in this recording feature stories about critters like Bob Rabbit and the trickster fox, and each spin tales of what happens to these animals in the forest. The kids love the old timey, layered sounds of harmonized voices, banjos, fiddles, modern synthesizers and electric guitars, and listen with anticipation to the stories within. The Deep Woods reminds us why we love Red Yarn. When we listen, we unknowingly celebrate a rich history of folk tradition and our kids are wildly entertained by his animals and songs. We recently had the chance to interview Andy. He spoke enthusiastically about his love for folk music, what he likes about performing for families and children, and the critters of the deep woods.

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 What is Red Yarn Productions and how did it come to be?

Red Yarn Productions is my folk music and puppetry company. It encompasses my work as a family performer and a teaching artist (leading classes, residencies and music lessons). I officially started the company two years ago and went full-time in June 2012. For years I was teaching kids by day and playing in grown-up bands at night, but I wanted to find a way combine these passions. RYP grew from that impulse, as well as my interest in American folksongs and puppetry. This work allows me to do so many things I love: perform for families, create and record music, build puppets, teach art to kids, collaborate with other artists, and engage with my community in positive ways.

What is your favorite thing about working with and performing for families and children?

Watching children open up and creatively engage with the world, whether in the course of single show or workshop, or over time at my regular shows and classes. So many forces push us inward, shyness and anxiety, the disconnecting effects of technology, our culture of fear, so I appreciate anything that pulls children out of their shells. Puppets can do that. Singing in groups can do that. Loving community can definitely do that. It’s wonderful to find so many families here who want to provide those rich experiences for their children.

Can you tell us a little bit about puppetry and what you love about it?

I’m a novice, but I’m hooked on puppets and all they can do. I’ve found that children feel comfortable engaging with puppets in ways they might not engage with an adult performer. Many of my puppets are vulnerable themselves, so kids feel empowered to be the helper and the teacher. Beyond that, puppets allow me to bring the characters of American folklore to life, to give them personalities, backstories, and funny quirks. Finally, since I often performer solo, it’s nice to have some other characters on stage with me to joke with … even if they are all just bizarre manifestations of my own personality.

We are excited about your debut album and have been listening to it on a loop. It’s fantastic and our kiddo loves to sing along with every song. Can you tell us what inspired The Deep Woods?

I’m thrilled that y’all are enjoying the album! The Deep Woods grew out of my exploration of animals in American folk music. I’ve been collecting and adapting these songs for almost six years. The more songs I learned, the more I imagined a whole world where these characters might live together. Meanwhile I was reading old Br’er Rabbit stories set in a similar big woods… you never know what critter will show up next! As a kid, I was drawn to books and movies that created their own universes, so I wanted to do the same when making art for families to enjoy.

Where can families see you perform and how can they get their hands on The Deep Woods? I perform four mornings a week at local family venues, most weekends at libraries and community events, in addition to schools, preschools and birthday parties. I post my full schedule on my website, redyarnproductions.com. I’m selling The Deep Woods at my shows and online at redyarn.bandcamp.com. Come out to a show and say hi!

This one comes from one of your young fans: “If you could be any animal, what animal would you be and why?”

Great question! I would want to be a trickster rabbit like my oldest companion Bob Rabbit and his grandpa, Br’er. The rabbit is a fascinating character in the folklore of many cultures. He turns up in tons of folksongs (three of which I recorded for The Deep Woods.) But mostly, rabbits are so darn cute with their floppy ears and wiggly noses. Irresistible! Lucky for me, every day I get to be a rabbit, a squirrel, a dog, a fox, or any critter I choose!

 

Don’t miss Red Yarn’s release show for families at the Village Ballroom on October 20th. He will perform songs from the album with a 7-piece band and guest puppeteers. Children are invited to dress up as their favorite Deep Woods critters. Food & drink service will be available from The Oregon Public House. Professional storyteller Will Hornyak and old-time musicians Maggie & Patrick Lind will open up the event, followed by Red Yarn and his full band. Get tickets here

About Kelley Schaefer-Levi

Kelley Schaefer-Levi is one half of the editorial duo at NW Kids. She was swaddled in flannel and grew up in the Northwest. A graduate of Portland State University and a writer and editor for the last several years, Kelley spends a lot of time behind the screen of her laptop and loves it. She lives in NE Portland with her sweet daughter, dapper husband and loyal pooch. And on days when she’s not working, she can be found exploring the world through the eyes of her toddler, dreaming about Airstream trailers and planning her next big vacation.