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Superstition in Early America
"...Full thousand ten of folk I will not fear..."
By Bill Schustik

Bill on stage Bill Schustik in early American garb
The first songs to be published on American shores were included in The Bay Psalm Book in 1640. "Psalm III" was one of them. It was not the kind of song most would be inclined to whistle as they walked through the woods. It was, as it's described in this same old book, a "sober tune". It is also a deceptively somber beginning to a lyrically delightful and sometimes poignant journey into one of the more deceptive realms of American history; folklore, folk and superstition

Most of the songs Bill sings in this show are ancient in origin. The "Riddle Song", a beautiful rendition of courting rites, is considered to be the oldest in the English language. (Never mind that Johnny Mathis made a hit record out of it in the mid-sixties.) Within the voices of The Devil's Nine Questions are the practical and ecclesiastical visions of 12th and 13th century folk theater. Pilgrim children spooked each other by singing the already old Skin and Bones. It still works today.

We'll meet some of the real characters of early colonial America. When Bill sings of Jolly Old Roger, the tin maker man, one can't help but feel good about the old fellow. But why are those people of other occupations, the miller, the weaver, and the tailor always getting themselves caught up in things unnatural (The Good Old Colony Days, The Foggy, Foggy Dew, The Devil's Nine Questions, and Old Meg) A rollicking, ribald, (think naughty) Puritan drinking song adds to the fun even though it evokes the spirit of one of Satan's minions...Robin Goodfellow. And there's the metaphysically haunting American favorite from the 15th century, The Foggy, Foggy Dew. (It's also the first song ever to be censored on American network television [1949].)

Perhaps our New England forebearers took their biblical law just a little too seriously. "Old Mammy Red from Marblehead, hanged from a tree 'til she was dead! " Whimsy begins to take on a darker tone of tragedy as another woman, Susanna Martin, is condemned to die by the Puritan cleric Cotton Mather ...."Thou shall not suffer a witch to live!" (Susanna Martin). Bill then carries us out of these disturbing visions with a funny, yet beautifully sad and uplifting story of Old Meg, the witch of Narraganset. This is a true Witches' Tale.


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