NICOLE S. COLSON
By definition, folk is the people’s music—and Deb McWethy gives the people what they want, helping to make the art form accessible to everyone.
As the founder of the Peterborough Folk Music Society (PFMS), McWethy has planned an annual performance series in Peterborough for the past 25 years.
It’s been her mission to further the folk legacy by welcoming long-time audiences of the genre and attracting new generations of the earliest American form of music, keeping the tradition vital.
The Peterborough Folk Music Society’s beginnings
McWethy, whose love of folk and connection to folk musicians stretches back decades (she was an entertainment booker for the legendary Folkway in town), started the non-profit organization dedicated to bringing innovative and diverse musicians to the region in 1996. She built the series from relationships she’d formed with musicians, presenters, and listeners she’d met while attending countless festivals and performances over the years.
She opened the living room of her Harrisville home in the spring and fall for Deb’s House Concerts. She’d been hosting them since 2002 up until right before the pandemic.
The biggest concerts are at Peterborough Players, which seats around 230, while the Monadnock Center for History and Culture’s Bass Hall in Peterborough or the Spinning Room at Harrisville Designs hold smaller ones of around 100. All theaters are accessible and welcoming to all. Board members help with parking at each concert and each ticket holder is greeted at the door.
The Bass Hall shows are perhaps the most important for keeping the legacy of folk music vibrant, according to McWethy. They’re the most accessible to younger musicians.
McWethy diversifies folk music
Another of her goals is to bring in singer/songwriters from different cultures who play different types of music. She draws more people to shows featuring “crossover” artists who play a blend of folk and other genres. Often, fans come from up and down the East Coast to attend shows, she said.
Younger audiences typically find out about the shows through social media and on streaming platforms like YouTube. The majority of the rest of McWethy’s clientele come from word-of-mouth and her weekly email list of about 2,000 recipients. Kate McNally, host of NHPR’s “The Folk Show,” gives away two tickets to each concert on her show. McWethy gladly hands out her business card to interested music lovers.
Peterborough Folk Music Society makes concerts accessible
She also gathers information she uses in future planning of her concert season. At every concert, audiences fill out and return a survey. Questions ask whether they ate dinner (or will) in town, if they plan to spend the night in the area, whether they’ve attended a PFMS concert before and how much they would spend on a concert ticket.
Her keeping ticket prices low—around $25-$35—attracts more people. However, this season McWethy said sales were down about 30 to 50 percent, she believes because of the trailing pandemic.
Still, she’s noticed the most enthusiastic crowds she’s seen in a long time for so many concerts this year.
“The whole room is full of music-loving people looking for that passion to be filled,” she said.
The annual PFMS fundraising drive also brought in more money during the pandemic, she added, than it has at any other time in the organization’s history.
In the future, McWethy plans to re-introduce outreach in area schools by inviting musicians to perform for children.
Her hope is that everyone will appreciate music in the way she does and keep it alive, support musicians, and spread the word.
“Music speaks to my heart, soul and mind,” she said. “It gives me so much peace and happiness.”
For more information about the Arts Access Project: opening doors to the arts, visit Arts Access project and resources.
Photos courtesy of https://pfmsconcerts.org/