Q&A with Joe Uehlein
Here’s our second performer Q&A. It’s Joe Uehlein, who will host our Woody Guthrie Tribute and will lead The U-Liners Trio, one of the groups performing in that session on the Abbott Stage at 2 p.m.
Question: You deliver a strong social message, but without being too “heavy” about it. How do you manage the blend?
The key is song selection. I tend not to sing too many of the “in your face” protest songs unless I’m at a rally, picket line, or political event. Even then, I prefer the less direct messages—songs that invite you to think about an issue rather than tell you how to think about an issue.
Another key for me, and for my band, The U-Liners, is to sing all kinds of songs, not just protest or political songs. Social change requires building community, and songs about love, travel, successes and failures in life in general are as useful to that effort as any kind of song. We play out a lot in the bars and clubs around town, and we would not get booked if we did all political music, so part of our approach is to play in those clubs and bars and play music people like to hear, and include message songs to get people thinking.
Question: You do a lot of tribute-type events: Woody Guthrie, Jerry Garcia, and so on. Do you try to play the songs exactly like we’ve all learned them, or do you try to make them your own?
We never try to play the songs like the artists who wrote them. We always rearrange the songs to fit our musical styles and tastes and our vocal strengths. Some people define us by saying (and we like this!): The U-Liners are kind of like Woody Guthrie meets Merle Haggard meets Jerry Garcia.
We’ve done tributes to all three of those amazing songwriters and musical artists. We do love to play all the various genres of music that Jerry Garcia loved, but we are not a Grateful Dead tribute band. There are plenty of them around, and they’re great, but that’s not us. Woody’s music is so time-tested and open to interpretation that we can have a lot of fun with it. Merle Haggard, with 40 #1 country hits, is a king in his genre, and I love country music, and so do the members of the U-Liners. So the goal is to define any song you decide sing in a way that makes it yours—try to own the song, then it comes across as genuine because it is genuine!
Question: You’ve performed at the Folk Festival many times and have deep Takoma Park roots. What does the Festival mean to you?
I moved to Takoma Park 28 years ago, and the Folk Fest was a major reason why. The arts community in Takoma Park attracted me to this wonderful town. Takoma Park means everything to me: I think it is the ideal community, and music, with the Folk Fest at the center of it all, is the heartbeat of Takoma Park! The Folk Festival attracts great talent from a variety of genres, and along with the food and crafts and booths, the Festival is a defining feature of our community. May it have a long life!
Question: Where can folks learn more about you and the U-Liners?
The U-Liners: www.uliners.com. I keep folks up to date on my solo work and about other musical projects as well on that website. Folks can sign up for our newsletter, and they won’t get more than one or two e-mails a month.