PUTNEY — Walter Parks and Rob Curto intend to take an audience at Next Stage Arts through “The Swampalachian Trail.”
Parks, longtime guitarist sideman to Woodstock legend Richie Havens, will join accordionist Curto for the March 10 show. Local musician Jason Scaggs opens at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m trying to take a new twist on Appalachian music and music that comes from England, Ireland and Scotland,” said Parks.
At the age of 64, Parks said he’s still trying to do something different with the guitar after all these years of playing. He lives in St. Louis and is driving east for some gigs and recording sessions.
Combining the electric guitar with the accordion gives the instrument “a whole different life,” Parks said. “As far as the acoustic guitar, it works great, too.”
Parks and Curto describe their acoustic and roots style as “Swampalachian.” It contains a mix of reels, hollers, spirituals and blues.
“The southern swamps mix with the Brazilian accordion when Walter and Rob meet,” said Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage Arts. “Walter is a presence on stage, showcasing his talents as a guitarist, songwriter and scholar. He spent time studying swamp hollers in the Okefenokee Swamp.”
Last year, the duo released a five-song EP “The Swampalachian Trail” featuring the Okefinokee Swamp standard “Catfish,” the Irish standard “Teetotalers Reel,” a country classic made famous by Grateful Dead called “Catfish John,” a song they co-wrote for COVID-19 times about driving to find a canceled gig and a ballad by Curto.
“Their project reimagines the historic soundtrack to the building of America, reminding us all regardless of political and cultural diversity, that whereas we may be bonded by an often painful history, we are nonetheless moved and united in the present day by the love of great music,” states a news release from Next Stage.
In 2020, the American Folklife Collection of The Library of Congress featured and archived Parks’ research work on the music of Southeast Georgia’s Okefinokee Swamp. He said he enjoyed learning how cultures combined to create new sounds.
Parks also was a founding member of the popular cello/guitar folk duo called The Nudes, which opened for Havens. Havens later asked him to play with him, a gig that lasted from 2001 to 2011 and brought him all over the world including two shows at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“For 10 years, I was in a supportive role,” Parks said. “It was really, really good for my musicality and I think for my personality. Richie is as nice as you think he would be and he loves people. He just loves talking to people, just everyday people. He was a very genuine person. I feel very fortunate to spend 10 years of my life with him.”
Curto, who relocated to Philadelphia from New York, was a founding member of the “Brazilian Bluegrass” band Matuto and more recently led the American roots band Fish Harmonics. Curto also currently studies under Irish button accordionist Billy McComiskey.
At live shows, Parks and Curto frequently use backstories to preface songs, according to the news release. They may speak about historic or original compositions or give the occasional tributes to Havens.
Parks is originally from Jacksonville, Fla., the state where Marks lived before moving to Vermont in January 2020.
“We have mutual acquaintances from my decades of living down there,” Marks said. “Apart from his Richie Havens work, he is also part of this incredible trio called Swamp Cabbage. I’ve known his name for years, and it wasn’t until a friend was asked to show a visual art piece in his gallery in Jersey City that we had the opportunity to connect.”
After seeing Parks perform, Marks became hooked. Parks “has a presence that pulls you in. He’s an elder statesman of roots music, having studied the masters, both musically and academically,” Marks said.
“Next Stage recognizes its responsibility of being a portal of a diverse palette of programming,” Marks said. “Walter’s music has the quality of going back in time while moving forward, as well. He knows his focus area, but it’s eternally a fresh perspective.”
Parks said he carries around an old guitar of Havens’, calling it “a big responsibility to play” an instrument so important to the folk movement. He described Curto as a musical genius who will blow away listeners expecting to hear an accordion performed in a more traditional setting.
Curto plays the accordion like a jazz pianist, Parks said. Both members of the duo studied jazz and will also play more contemporary tunes from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead or Sinead O’Connor.
The duo knew each other for years, said Parks, who was a road manager for a band Curto performed with in Europe.
“We always enjoyed each other’s company. We enjoy a passion for second languages,” Parks said. He’s fluent in French and Curto’s fluent in Portuguese. They would study their respective second languages while traveling to shows.
At one point, Parks recounted, Curto asked if he’d be interested in trying something different. They made plans to meet up and delve into some songs then found out they shared another interest: Americana roots music.
“He kind of turned me on to a lot of Irish music, reels and jigs and that kind of thing,” Parks said, noting the irony since his background is more Irish and English, and Curto’s is Italian.
Curto sent Parks some musical charts and they combined styles. Parks said they mixed “Florida swampy groove” with Appalachian music on an accordion.
“It’s been a really nice collaboration,” he said. “I really hope that people get out and see it because we don’t come up there too often.”
One of his biggest takeaways from playing with Havens involves interpreting other people’s music, which is what he and Curto have planned for Next Stage.
“I learned from Richie, there’s really no point in trying to perform a song the way it was originally recorded,” Parks said. “What’s important is to do it your own way.”
Scaggs, who started making music in Virginia before moving to the area, said he hasn’t formally been on a bill at the venue before.
“I’ve sat in with some different bands over the years and I’ve run sound,” he said. “I’ve done tech work over there for other shows as well. It’s kind of been on my list to try to be on an actual bill because being at a 200-person room for folk music and acoustic music, the room sounds phenomenal. It’s just the amount of live, if you know what I mean.”
With his solo folk material, Scaggs considers himself more contemporary. He calls the music a departure from the “Groove Grass” genre he plays with his band Jatoba.
“It’s more rooted in songwriting than bluegrass,” he said.
In June, Jatoba is playing a few sets during Northlands Music and Arts Festival in Swanzey, N.H. Scaggs expects to be playing banjo pretty much the entire weekend.
Scaggs just started gigging again. Most recently, he played twice at Tine Restaurant’s Local Music Showcase.
“I’ve been doing so many tech gigs since COVID blew up my band, everyone’s band,” he said. “It’s taken me a minute to get back at it but I’m excited about it.”
Last winter, Scaggs spent a lot of time playing and writing songs on a piano. From these sessions, he said he has a whole catalog of tunes not contained to any specific genre — some might be for solo, whereas others might fit in with Jatoba.
“It was a growing period for me,” he said.
These solo performances are stirring up memories of 5 Mics, a singer-songwriter concert series Scaggs started in 2016, and thoughts of bringing it back. He said many local musicians could be featured now and they’d be different than previous acts.