James Ramsden's years in Texas built a passion for the singer-songwriters he heard in the region. In 2014, Ramsden along with partner Chris Spindler, began Roots Along The River, a music series on Long Island that brings the singer-songwriters of the Hill Country to New York, performing in a truly unique setting. Ramsden took the time to speak about his love of music, the series, its challenges and rewards and more.
What inspired you want to begin a music series on Long Island?
I grew up on Long Island in a family that was very much into music. My parents liked the old country music - Patsy Cline, Tex Ritter, and Hank Williams; Willie Nelson was about as young as it got in our house (laughing). Later, I moved to Texas and met my wife and began listening to Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, and Townes Van Zandt. It was eye opening stuff because music, and how they promote it in Texas, is just a different world. There was a station, 98.7, that played basically Texas artists, mixing the young guys next to the old - there’d be Jack Ingram and Pat Green alongside Rusty Weir, Tommy Alverson, and Larry Joe Taylor. Plus, we lived outside Austin in the heart of the Hill Country where music is everywhere. We got to experience so many live shows of bands playing original music, like Stoney LaRue and CCR and Reckless Kelly. Years later, we moved back to New York to take care of my father and we realized we really missed the music, which is a lifestyle down there, as well as the interactions with the artists.
And so a few years ago you started a series, Roots Along the River, at Peconic River Herb Farm.
Peconic River Herb Farm was a place my parents took me to when I was younger. It is a beautiful fourteen-acre paradise with a log cabin, barns, and greenhouses. It’s run by a woman, Chris Spindler, who would visit Texas and bring back things to sell, like boots, clothes and repurposed yard stuff. She also liked the music down there and we started talking. I felt that her place really called for music. She was interested and so we started planning. I didn’t know if we could do it, but I stumbled into a situation and reached out to Adam Carroll, who I spent years in Texas trying to see, and surprisingly, he called me back. It started from that one show two years ago and today we are in our third year with four shows planned beginning in August.
Nationally, there’s a growing house concert scene where you bring in an artist, feed and house them and provide an audience of about thirty people who are ready to listen - with all proceeds going to the artist. It’s an alternative for music fans instead of going to a bar and hearing music played. It’s also an alternative for the artists who play those places where although there may be more people, fewer are actually paying attention to them performing. At house concerts, there may only be thirty to fifty people, but they’re all intently listening rather than having sixty people at the bar with only ten paying attention.
That’s a wonderful alternative to the bar scene and an opportunity to expose people to artists they may not know.
Bands like Randy Rogers and Turnpike Troubadours can draw an audience in the city, but the Americana scene of singer-songwriters is not widely known up here. We wanted to focus on bringing the singer-songwriters of the Hill Country area to Long Island with the idea being that we would be a stop for the artists when they toured in the region, but it has become such that they now book their other shows around us. It’s amazing how eager the artists have been to want to come and play here. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think Walt Wilkins, who is a god in Texas, would come here and play his songs.
That’s fantastic that there is so much interest from the artists. Being that the property has so many buildings and unique areas, how do you run the shows?
We want the audience to experience that personal connection between them and the artist, so keeping that intimacy is important to us. Ours is like a hybrid house concert - we’ll set up different artists at different places on the farm. Walt was outside on a stage, Jamie Lin Wilson was in a greenhouse at night, and Robyn Ludwig was in an old barn. We don’t sell alcohol or food, but we encourage people to bring their own as well as lawn chairs and of course, their families.
Currently, you have four events planned for this year. Would you like to do more?
Ideally, I’d like to do more, but because I am in the Merchant Marines, I cannot do as many as I like. I also don’t feel comfortable with overbooking because there isn’t that fan base here yet. Right now, it’s definitely easier to find the artists willing to do this than it is to find the fans. I know there are people out there who are willing to appreciate good music, but on Long Island we’re competing with wineries, fairs, other concerts, and restaurants so it’s often hard to get people to commit. I am happy for the people that do find the music and come out – and those who do come out love it, and walk away big fans of the artist.
All of the artists we have had so far have been unbelievably appreciative, so grateful and so humble. We want them to leave happy with new fans who appreciate their music and we want the people who come to enjoy good music from talented singer-songwriters.
2016 Artists & Shows
All shows are open to the public, but seats are limited, so purchase early.
Rod Picott – Aug. 14th 4pm RodPicott.com
Keith Sykes – Sept. 11th 4pm KeithSykes.com
Jason Eady – Oct 16th 4pm JasonEady.com
Jamie Lin Wilson & Courtney Patton Nov.13th 4pm
For more information, please visit their official website
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