If you were to pick a meaningful date for an annual reunion concert, you could do a lot worse than the winter solstice, a celestial return when the sun begins its cycle anew. But fiddler and hammered dulcimer player Ken Kolodner and flutist Chris Norman weren’t really thinking about that when they staged their first solstice concert in 1986 at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on North Charles Street.
The duo—who originally met at a local folk-music festival in the early ’80s—were just excited that 400 people had turned up to hear their eclectic mix of American and world folk music. In fact, it went down so well that they returned the next year with another kindred musical spirit in tow—multi-instrumentalist Robin Bullock. And so it was that Helicon—named for the mountain in Greece where the muses were said to congregate—was born.
The group began performing year-round, cultivating an ever-larger fan base. “We moved [the concert] to Goucher College, and NPR came in and recorded it,” recalls Kolodner, 61, who lives in Guilford. The trio’s sterling musicianship and wide-ranging repertoire—“There might be some Israeli tune, then some Christmas music, then something from Ireland,” says Kolodner—attracted special guests such as acoustic guitar virtuoso Doc Watson and bluegrass favorites Alison Krauss & Union Station. Records deals, albums, and more touring followed, but, eventually, the trio disbanded. Bullock, now lives in Asheville, NC, while Norman, splits his time between Nova Scotia, Canada, and New York City.
Still, the solstice always summons them back. Says Kolodner: “We said, ‘Why should we stop doing this? This is a lot of fun.’”
Kolodner is particularly pumped about this year’s back-to-back shows at Goucher College on December 19 because they are both musical and family reunions: His son’s band Charm City Junction will share the bill, as will Norman’s daughter, Marlys, a former Peabody instructor.
Irish dancing champion Jonathon Srour, who grew up attending the concerts, will also take the stage. “It is a true honor to perform with these guys,” says Srour, 27. “They are musical geniuses. This is easily one of my favorite nights every year.”