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Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Concert in Peninsula, Ohio

Squeezed tightly into the G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula, Ohio, on a Thursday evening, a crowd of more than 140 people sang and swayed along to the music of Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, backed by their family band of Ruthy Ungar Merenda and Mike Merenda (formerly of the Mammals).

The sold out event on Sept. 29 was billed as "Music of the Civil War and Beyond," and featured a variety of fiddle tunes, stringband music, ballads, marches, folk songs and original music. The quartet kickstarted the evening with a rendition of "Fly Around My Little Miss," with Jay and Ruthy on fiddle, Molly and guitar, and Mike on banjo. The rollicking dance tune got the audience grooving in their seats. If it weren't for all the chairs, an impromptu square dance would have broken out for sure.

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (center), with Mike and Ruthy Merenda
at the G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula, Ohio, Sept. 29.

After the crowd broke out into song during Stephen Fosters "Hard Times Come Again No More," Jay said, "This a good room for singing. I think we'll keep it going." Next the group played what he termed the "Hits of the '60s" -- the 1860s, that is -- with a medley of the five most popular melodies of the Civil War era, including "Battle Cry of Freedom," "Dixie," and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The audience started quietly singing along with the familiar tunes and slowly built intensity until reaching its crescendo during the chorus of the final tune, filling the hall with, "Glory, glory, hallelujah!"

Jay and Molly backed up Mike and Ruthy as they played some of their music, as the couple has been touring the region on its own. They played about four tunes, including two Woody Guthrie songs, one of which, "My New York City," was never recorded by Guthrie and was given to the group by the Woody Guthrie Archives. Ruthy's powerful singing elicited a passionate response from the crowd.

Jay talked about the experience of working with Ken Burns, and the group played a number of tunes from "The Civil War" documentary and others. He said the success of such projects opened doors for him and provided the opportunity to play for three presidents. The group then played two presidential horn pipes, one for Thomas Jefferson and the other for Abraham Lincoln. He added a third tune to the mix, "Devil's Dream," and said the crowd could apply to any president of their choice.

During the finale, the group stepped out toward the edge of the stage to play acoustically for the tune "Ashokan Farewell." The result was a boistrous standing ovation. A call for an encore was accepted, with the group playing a comedic song about traffic safety.

Sponsored by the Peninsula Valley Historic and Education Foundation, this concert was a bit of a rarity for the G.A.R. Hall, but organizers said they hoped the successful turnout would lead to further events at the venue in the future.


  1. Dang. Sure wish I lived closer. Thanks for the terrific recap. Made me feel like I was there. :)


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