"Thanks so much, you
just made my day!" said the grinning visitor at the San Juan National Historical
"Pig War" Park. She expressed her delight to Mike
Cohen, a volunteer interpreter there
who sings old time songs of the period accompanied on the 5-string
The woman had just selected
this question from Cohen's published Antique Song Menu: "Do
pigs have any pride with regard to alcoholism?" Mike's rendition
of the ditty provided an answer to the question and some big
laughs. For the next question she selected, Mike responded with
a dramatic ballad that conveyed this country's sentiment during
the American Revolution.
From his family roots in folkways,
traditional singer and musician Mike Cohen,
brings to life the fabric, tales, and impact of many forgotten
Most of us forget that before
electricity was available, rural America was like a local folk
opera written and directed by nobody. It just happened. Either
you helped make music or you had none until performers arrived.
Intimate, heart-felt, folk tunes, songs and poems punctuated
rural life. They
served as yesterday's newspaper, talk show and morality story.
Mike's museum quality musical
antiques celebrate the history, quirks and values found in rare
folk songs. A lifetime friend of old time music, Mike, a veteran
performer and collector, plays the 5-string
banjo, guitar and button accordion. The Smithsonian Institute
credits him with being a catalyst for the 1950's NYC folk music
revival where he professionally and informally sang and recorded
with well known folk artists.
This folk artist's repertoire
of over 200 delightful songs results from his musical family
(including brother John Cohen, of the New Lost City Ramblers,)
contact with many traditional singers in outdoor settings, and
from Oscar Brand's Folk Song Festival broadcasts on NYC public
radio where Mike sang and played for years as part of Electra
Record's Shantyboy folk trio in 1956-59.
Mike has had two song collections
published and has enjoyed performing since he was encouraged
to by Burl Ives in 1940. A San Juan Island resident, his music
is sought at local contra dances, the County Fair, George
Pickett historical programs, period reenactments, elderhostel
and coffee houses and the Sugar on the Floor folk group. He often lines out words
and tunes so that audiences can join in the fun. He also has written a fascinating article about his adventures with root music and nature.
of Antique Songs" contains questions from events
described in the musical gems in his repetoire. Audience members
select a question of interest and he sings a song that answers
it. His programs capture three centuries of unheralded frontier
memoirs that listeners relive with pleasure and increased respect.
In his professional life, Dr.
Mike is an Ecopsychologist who directs nature-psychology
distance learning courses and degree
programs on the internet for the Institute of Global
Education and Portland State, Akamai and West Coast Universities.
Some of his published material
programs center around this topic.
Farm Songs and their Stories
Sugar On the Floor at Home
Folk Song Antiques: Pig War Period
and the George Pickett stage show
Michael J. Cohen
With 5-string banjo, guitar, and button accordion
60 minutes...by donation.
A collection of 21 museum quality antique
songs and tunes used in San Juan Island National Historical Park interpretive programs
to depict homemade rural music 1850-75.
Questions these old songs raise and
1. How do young folks foolishly agonize?
2. Where did his love wear skins and rags?
3. Who became a winner as he lost a war?
4. How can the sex of a baby make a man quit sailing?
5. What Celtic fiddle tune caused feet to fly?
6. What harmless "crime" caused a mother great pain?
7. How did killing buffalo weirdly kill him?
8. What made her darling look so queer?
9. Who on the river makes the valleys ring?
10. What gleams like blue gentian on the shieling?
1. How can you make no mean yes?
2. How do you resolve an insult to the Irish?
3. Who was vital to the success of the Union Army?
4. What was the most popular dance and tune?
5. What must you do before crossing over the plains?
6. What war resulted from insulting Rogers?
7. Where do you make a great haul while sailing?
8. What made Lucy weep her poor life's heart away?
9. Who didn't give a damn about the Constitution?
10. Why does a woman 2 feet tall make a good wife?
11. How could his penmanship win him true love?
12. Where did the pretty maiden chew tobacco?