a winner: (l-r) Steve Fry, Jonny Rosen, Annie Rosen,
and the Hedonists honor their folk-music roots with a
sense of humor, and a new CD
years ago at the Gottagetgon, a small annual folk festival
held at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds on Memorial Day
weekend, a knot of musicians had gathered by the snack
bar for the evening picking session. As I walked up to
them, I heard a blonde woman whom I’d never seen before
singing Ernest Tubb’s 1965 country classic “Waltz Across
She sounded like the young Bonnie Raitt, and her sweet,
sultry vocals were so exquisite—dead-on pitch, free of
strain, and full of yearning—that I was captivated. This
had to be one of the performers, I figured, but as a lifelong
fan and player of acoustic music, how come I didn’t know
her name? I turned to someone I knew and asked who she
was. He identified her as Annie Rosen, and no, she wasn’t
on the bill, either.
It turned out that Annie and her guitarist husband Jon,
the current director of safety and health for the New
York State Public Employees Federation, had formed a rootsy
acoustic quartet with Steve and Betsy Fry. (Disclosure:
In the early 1980s I was in the short-lived Apocalypso
String Band with Steve Fry, a mandolin-playing practical
joker who named his daughter Amanda Lynn.) The four Baby
Boomers called themselves Annie and the Hedonists after
a time at a banquet when they ate Baked Alaska with their
fingers, the silverware having by then been removed.
With their smorgasbord of early blues, bluegrass, country,
Celtic, Tin Pan Alley tunes and contemporary acoustic
music, they resist easy categorization. Critics are not
faulting them for this, though: Writing about their second
CD, Moonglow on the Midway (also reviewed in Metroland
on Sept. 14, 2006), the folk journal Sing Out!
said, “This Albany-area quartet swings their way through
their sophomore release with style, energy and respect
for these great old tunes.” Dirty Linen agreed
in their February-March 2007 issue, saying, “Annie and
the Hedonists have bottled an essence of bohemianism.”
On July 19, the group will mark the release of their third
CD, Good Old Wagon, with a concert at the WAMC
Performing Arts Studio.
The Rosens and the Frys all come from diverse musical
backgrounds. Jon and Annie are from Milwaukee; she is
of Yugoslavian descent, and both her parents sang and
played the accordion. “Our household was always alive
with music,” she says in an e-mail, adding, “I remember
watching Lawrence Welk and the Ed Sullivan show. I knew
from watching all those shows I wanted to become a singer.”
Jon’s father collected old 78s, and was a fan of jazzers
like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, bluesmen like
Leadbelly, and also folk music. “He said if it makes your
spine tingle, then it its good music,” says Jon in a recent
Another major influence on Jon’s tastes was Rosen’s uncle,
Arnold Berman, now an 84-year old resident of Wappingers
Falls, N.Y., who was part of the leftist collective of
folksingers who wrote “Charlie on the M.T.A.” in support
of Progressive Party candidate Walter O’Brien’s 1949 run
for mayor of Boston (O’Brien came in last, but the song
was immortalized by the Kingston Trio’s recording of it
a decade later).
Steve Fry was born in Lawrence, Kansas, but grew up mostly
here in the Capital Region. His mother was a coloratura
soprano with various choral groups, and his father a trumpeter
in various bands, playing everything from swing to oom-pah
to, as incongruous as it may seem, square-dance music.
At age 5, the smaller Fry began classical piano, and took
up trumpet from 5th grade on. He also has perfect pitch,
a genetic gift that cannot be taught and is shared by
only 2 percent of the population. “I was, for the one
year I was at University of Michigan, the ‘human pitch
pipe’ with the world-famous Men’s Glee Club. It was all
a capella, and before each song, I would give the key
pitch from which the others located their notes.” he says.
Now retired, Fry worked as an administrative law judge
for the State of New York, and in his spare time taught
himself guitar and mandolin. With five instruments in
his musical quiver, including his fine baritone voice,
he is the Hedonists’ ace picker.
Betsy Fry, a registered nurse who plays electric bass
in the group, and, like the other Hedonists, contributes
harmony vocals, grew up near Utica and started singing
at an early age before taking up clarinet (Years ago,
Steve said that if he and Betsy had had a second daughter,
he would have named her Claire Annette) and cello. She
also took part in choral ensembles, and later, while at
Swarthmore College, discovered folk music through the
ukulele. That led to the guitar, and then the bass.
On an early June evening in the living room of the Rosens’
Schenectady home, the group took time out from rehearsing
to answer a few questions about life as an eclectic folkie
One thing they don’t do is write original material. So,
for a foursome with the chops to tackle almost any genre
in the acoustic realm, why was this?
not that talented,” said Annie. That seemed far too self-effacing.
Steve explains that decades of listening to extraordinary
music has humbled them, but he didn’t rule out the idea.
“There are so many great songs out there already, that
if, by happenstance, we came up with something that was
good we would record it,” he said.
As for how they pick the diverse tunes that they perform,
some are suggested by friends or relatives like Uncle
Arnold, and others they choose themselves. But only what
they see as the best will do.
got to be a great song, period,” says Steve.
strong emotion and the rhythm,” says Jon, asked what his
That may sound vague, but it seems to be working for them,
judging by their performance schedule (they played the
Old Songs festival last weekend, for example), which is
online at www.aberman.org/ jonny/hedonist.
Looking back on past gigs, they recall amusedly how they
were playing for a folk organization in New Jersey when,
as their set was drawing to a close, one of the stage
crew came out with a sign that said, simply, “10.” They
failed to grasp that it meant they had only 10 minutes
left onstage, and thought they had earned the top rating
on a 1-to-10 scale. So they kept playing until the staff
were forced to send a blunter message.
Annie and Hedonists resume their rehearsal with an a cappella
version of the Caribbean song “Shut De Door,” marking
a foray into yet another corner of the folk tradition.
I leave, wondering what if any musical limits these four
and the Hedonists will celebrate the release of Good Old
Wagon with a concert at the Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts
Studio (339 Central Ave., Albany), on Saturday, July 19
at 8 PM. For more information, call 465-5233 ext. 4.