Mike + Ruthy play a wide spectrum of Americana inspired equally by folk, bluegrass and alt-country.
“Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Utah Phillips and Dan Bern. These folks have led the way in the pursuit of speaking truth to power in an articulate, meaningful way—that’s been invaluable for us,” Mike Merenda said.
The husband-and-wife duo, Merenda and Ruth Ungar, will perform at the Savannah Music Festival at 12:30 p.m., March 29 at the Charles H. Morris Center. Ungar plays fiddle and Merenda is a prolific song writer and banjoist—both have a range of instrumental expertise and vocal prowess. They carry on the traditions of folk singers before, speaking on politics and social issues with catchy tunes and poignant lyrics.
From their song “Sunshiner,” the lyrics give an ode to the shift from the coal miners of yore to the renewable energy of the future: “Yes my Daddy was a miner, but I’m gonna be a sunshiner.” The song was nominated for an International Folk Music Award for Song of the Year.
Merenda and Ungar are parents, performers and poets, traveling with their kids in tow to more than 100 shows a year. The pair embody a down home approach to Americana, bouncing between festivals and intimate venues.
“Festivals give us the opportunity to play for larger audiences and present a show that hits a wide dynamic range,” Merenda said. “They also give us the chance to hear other bands and cross paths with friends on the circuit. We tour with our kids so there are a lot of museums, aquariums, thrift stores, toy stores and parks on our day-off itineraries.”
The duo have played music together for two decades, as the duo and with their quintet The Mammals.
“The folk scene in general fosters a more family-oriented audience, it’s not uncommon to have three generations represented in the audience at one of our shows,” Merenda said.
The family make their home in the lush Hudson River Valley of New York where they and friends host their own thriving community folk festival, The Hoot.
“The Hoot is a bi-annual folk festival organized by Ruthy and I going into its seventh year. The events raise money for our host site, The Ashokan Center, and their ongoing environmental education programs for school kids,” said Merenda.
Merenda and Ungar pay homage to Pete and Toshi Seeger by naming The Hoot’s two stages after them.
“Dear Mike + Ruthy, Your Hoot was one of the best song gathering I’ve seen in all my 94 years. I hope next year I can be there for more than one day,” Seeger said in a letter to Merenda and Ungar.
Although they played Savannah with Pete Seeger, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason early in their career, this will be their first Savannah Music Festival appearance.