Ani DiFranco, Mike, Ruthy and Restless Age make festival a real Hoot

Ani DiFranco. Photo by Daymon Gardner

There’s no getting around it — this festival is a real Hoot.

And as organizers of The Hoot gear up for yet another Covid-19 pandemic pivot, they are revealing just how resilient this gathering is. As we all come to grips with the fact that nearly a year has passed since the coronavirus slammed the brakes on live music, Ruthy Ungar and Mike Merenda of New York’s Hudson Valley offer a virtual touchstone, a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest, a reason to push on toward the finish line, wherever and whenever that may be.

I mean, come on, after the madness of the past 12 months, and with no sign of it letting up, aren’t you just dying to turn to the person next to you after experiencing something amazing and saying to them, “Well THAT was a real hoot.”

All will be revealed on Saturday Feb. 6, when The Winter Hoot From Home: A Resilience Revue is staged at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, New York, at the edge of the Catskill Mountains, not far from the Town of Woodstock. Admission is free for the virtual streaming event, which also has a live, in-person component. But donations are encouraged. Click here to donate now.

Scheduled to perform by livestream are Mike and Ruthy of The Mammals; Jay Ungar and Molly Mason; The Restless Age; Joakim Lartey and Joan Henry. Set to perform remotely are Ani DiFranco from New Orleans; Dawn Pemberton from Vancouver, Canada; Lyre from London; Gail Ann Dorsey from the Hudson Valley; Jose Ayerve from Quito; and Coolie Ranx from New York City. The musicians are expected to play one song, “a song of resilience or related to the spirit of supporting each other making it through this,” Ruthy Ungar said.

Ruthy Ungar and Mike Merenda. Photo by Tom Eberhardt-Smith

The Winter Hoot From Home illustrates the tight-knit, vibrant, emboldened and empowered Hudson Valley music community, which includes the Town of Woodstock and the spirit of the 1969 Woodstock festival. These music makers, primarily from Ulster and Dutchess counties, not far from Manhattan, defy expectations, live for collaborations and typically send audiences home from gigs feeling like they got much more than they paid for.

And the musical caliber of this community, not to mention that of this weekend’s Hoot, packs considerable fire power. Just consider that Jay Ungar wrote “Ashokan Farewell,” the song featured prominently in the Ken Burns PBS documentary, “The Civil War.” Dorsey for years played bass for David Bowie and more recently was enlisted by Lenny Kravitz for his band. And The Restless Age’s Lee Falco, Brandon Morrison and Will Bryant toured with Steely Dan‘s Donald Fagen in the Nightflyers.

For the most part, the manner in which the Catskill Mountain foothills typically open their arms to folks making their way to the Hoot will be missing this time around, as will the sense of being nestled in a hideaway at the Ashokan Center. But Ruthy Ungar and Merenda, who are married, say live streams they’ve been a part of since the pandemic tightened its grip showed that all was not lost by taking things online, and the Hoot spirit transfers from one dimension to the other.

“I feel like it comes through in the songs that people will choose to sing,” she said. “Although it’s being enjoyed on a two-dimensional screen, it still has the flavor, it still has the spirit.”

Added Merenda, “I think the music speaks for itself.”

The Restless Age

Visit for information on how to watch the live stream, the remote performances and a third hour of The Hoot that will feature archived performances from past Winter Hoots. The entire stream will feature real-time peeks of ice sculptor Thomas Brown indulging his passion for winter artistry, live from the grounds of the Ashokan Center.

The indoor performance hall will be set-up for broadcast only, without an audience because of pandemic restrictions on public gatherings. But day passes are available for a socially distant opportunity to enjoy the live music by way of outdoor amplification, outside of the performance hall. Warm coats, warm socks and sturdy boots are recommended. Overnight stays in socially-distant, on-site lodging are also available. And Ashokan Center day passes for hiking, as well as to-go meals, will also be available.

Pre-pandemic, the spirit of community nurtured by Ruthy Ungar and Merenda crystallized twice annually at the Ashokan Center, during the Winter and Summer Hoots. With the audience perched on “Hoot Hill” and outdoor stages named for Pete and Toshi Seeger, the Summer Hoot invited attendees to enjoy the crisp Catskill Mountain air and the serene setting that can only be found in the land of Rip Van Winkle. The Winter Hoot quite simply provided a dazzling, compelling and technicolor break from the doldrums of winter.

But this year the pandemic is requiring a bigger lift to stage the Winter Hoot. There are the logistics of hosting remote performances from around the world to combing through video archives to stoke the coals and remind everyone, performers, hosts and audience members alike, why all the schlepping that The Hoot demands is worth the effort.

“Underneath all the exhuastion,” Merenda said, “we know what’s right, we know we have to push through and do it because we know what it means to people, including ourselves.”

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