How Susan Holden and Don Armstrong Uphold the Honor, Tradition and Beauty of Folk Music

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Don Armstrong with Friends is playing the Rhythm and Roots Concert Series at Hotel Congress on Sunday, March 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. - COURTESY OF RHYTHM AND ROOTS CONCERT SERIES
  • courtesy of Rhythm and Roots Concert Series
  • Don Armstrong with Friends is playing the Rhythm and Roots Concert Series at Hotel Congress on Sunday, March 5, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The Rhythm and Roots Concert Series is showcasing a variety of folk genres including Americana, blues, bluegrass and Celtic. The series, which gives musicians the space and resources to share their craft, is taking place this week at Hotel Congress with two free shows.

“‘Music is medicine’ is our motto,” says the series director Susan Holden. “Rhythm and Roots wants to bring—especially in this day and age—some healing with music.”

Monday night features a Mardi-Gras-themed party featuring the Carnivaleros. The band pulls from Eastern European sounds, with remnants of old western movies, as well as borrowing from genres like zydeco, waltz and swing. The event starts at 5:30 p.m., with the Carnivaleros on at 7:30.

Don Armstrong with Friends will play on Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. A longtime, local folk musician, Armstrong spent 42 years performing with his wife Victoria Armstrong until her death in 2014. They recorded nine albums together, empathetic songs that could make you cry or want to hop in your car just to feel wind in your hair. His debut album comes out later this year on Ronstadt Records.

“When you hear his music, it kind of transports you to either where he was when he wrote it or what he was thinking,” Susan says. “He just has his own unique style, and you can hear sort of the history of folk music come through him.”

The concert series was founded in 1996 by Susan’s husband Jonathan Holden. Before his death in 2012, Jonathan brought some big-name folk and blues artists to the Southwest, including Richie Havens, Dave Van Ronk and New Riders of the Purple Sage. Holden was also known for his part in founding Tucson community-radio station KXCI.

Susan continues to keep the concert series active, showcasing local and national folk acts, but it’s taken a hit without its founder and chief. While Jonathan hosted 40 shows a year, at venues such as the Fox Theatre, Rialto Theatre, Berger Performing Arts Center and the Plaza Palomino, Susan does about 14 shows and sticks to Hotel Congress.

With the help of 10 core volunteers, she continues to hold space for good, intelligent, small-town music that deserves to be treasured.

“The world loves America for our music,” she says “I think that’s our greatest export.”

Don Armstrong at Victoria Armstrong's memorial service.


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