Friday, March 7, 2008

creating a legacy: the "folk ghetto" of silver spring (updated)

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Teachers' Union endorses Navarro for District 4; Residents ambivalent over new speed cameras on Briggs Chaney Road; Silver Spring documentary premieres on WETA this Sunday.

Part FOUR of a series about Lisa Null, Silver Spring folk artist, who performed solo for the first time in twenty years last month. In our last installment, we look at the so-called "folk ghetto" of East Silver Spring.

Lisa Null thrived in Washington's long-standing folk, blues and bluegrass scene. "There's a conversation about the music you can be a part of in the D.C. area," she says. For seven years, she was an adjunct professor at Georgetown, teaching variations on a course she designed called "American Music and Life."

"It was all I know, playing folk music and academics," jokes Null. When her partner, Charlie Baum, wanted to be closer to the Jewish community in lower Montgomery County, she didn't leave the District without putting up a fight.

"I had the Library of Congress within walking distance. For someone in research, it was like the Emerald City," she says. "I came out here kicking and screaming," she recalls of the move thirteen years ago. When they arrived in Silver Spring, however, they also discovered an outpost of D.C.'s folk scene.

"We call it folk-ghetto or folk-shtetl, if you will," she says. "I think people came here because it was cheap and it was near Takoma Park when they couldn't afford to live there."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Folk dancers live next door. Across the street is a banjo maker. Occasionally, Null and Baum have a "ballad night" in their home on Bonifant Street, inviting their neighbors for an evening of self-made entertainment. "When there's no commercial base for your music, that's very nourishing," she says.

Outside of the "folk ghetto," Null's found another world to explore in the ethnic shops lining Bonifant and Fenton. Living on disability after a fight with cancer that forced her to retire eight years ago and unable to walk long distances on her own, she keeps mainly to her immediate neighborhood. "I live next door to all these Ethiopians," says Null, who wrote about the so-called "micro-neighborhood" on Bonifant last summer. "I feel like they're my brothers, and I barely know them."

Null's even written a song about her neighborhood, entitled "Fenton Street Rag." "It reminds me of those little old Southern towns," she says.

The Internet has been another way for Null to stay in touch. "This area has an extraordinary sense of community," she says. "I think it's been enhanced by the listservs. These lists have kept me in touch with my neighbors."

Silver Spring's beauty, she says, is most evident in the places where people can come together, like "The Turf" at Ellsworth and Fenton. "I go down there at night and see so many people I know walking around talking. The scene is like it's some kind of Spanish village," she says. "I see men in suits on the ground with their computers, doing Wi-Fi stuff, teenagers flirting or roughhousing . . . it's wonderful."


Anonymous said...

According to the teachers list serve, the MCEA did not have a quorom at their recent business meeting. How, then, did they vote to endorse Nancy Navarro for the council seat? This is just more shady business by a union that is becoming more and more trivial with each election cycle. Their thought process is obvious...get someone on the county council who will view teacher raises as sacred when it comes time to making tough cuts. We need a council member who will keep cost cutting options open. That's why I will not be voting for Nancy Navarro.

Anonymous said...

Why does this one obese woman deserve two posts. Is it to pander to the Takoma Park pot-smoking hippies or the local hobos/Mayor Lane lovers.

Anonymous said...

Because the woman is a fine singer with a love of her community and the writer is a good writer interested in creating an in-depth profile. Each person, with all their strengths and weaknesses, has a story to tell.

Anonymous said...

Dan, You have some real ignorant, intolerant, anon. posts. Obese! Weight takes a back seat when you fight cancer, I've been there. As far as hippie music, well... folk pre-dates written language as a verbal history. And for the intolerant, anon. coward, "if you don't learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it". Lisa Null is a beautifull, human, and I hope these anonymous assholes live "up the pike", because we don't need amy more intolerance down here.