Folk Singers to Present "City in Concert" by Kevan Goff
Folk artists Elkin Thomas and his wife, Aileen, know well that poets, prophets and folk singers "all run parallel to life's mainstream."
But the Thomases are content to perform their music and carefully avoid the commercial music jungle. Their messages are simple. Love, family, joy and hope.
The Oklahoma Traditional Music Association will present the Thomases in concert at 8 tonight in the City Arts Center on the State Fairgrounds, 3000 Pershing Blvd.
Elkin Thomas says he has a deep respect for the power of words and music and blends them together to be "more art then entertainment."
"I want my songs to be a vehicle which will roll," he said. "I want them to be solid, uplifting, provoking and stimulating. . .there is a resurgence in recognizing the power of folk music. It isn't a tidal wave, just a little underground ripple. People are wanting to say things, but more than that, I think there are more people wanting to hear what is being said."
After successful careers in the music business (Aileen as a back-up vocalist and Elkin as a studio musician/songwriter), the pair fell in love while touring Europe with Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen. "We came back to America after finding each other, and bought an old boat,: Elkin Thomas said. "We restored and lived aboard it for more than four years. It was a wonderful time and we began to grow together. We found the beginning of our song. We hadn't found our song in the commercial music area, although we had done very well financially. We were just destined to do what we are doing."
Elkin Thomas began his musical career at the age of 7. He studied piano, music theory, cornet, arranging and conducting before getting a degree in education. He then toured the world with a brass ensemble. In 1964, Elkin Thomas formed a folk trio named the Bordermen and recorded an album. The group later became the Avant-Garde and recorded another album.
By 1970, the Avant-Garde had had two hit singles, including "Naturally Stoned."
But Elkin Thomas' real success came as a studio musician. He worked with Bob Dylan, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, and many others. He also wrote a top ten hit for Marty Robbins, called "Joli Girl."
But he said it wasn't until he met Aileen that his life truly began. She was a pianist with vocal training who had performed at the White House in 1967. Later, Aileen Thomas became a member of the Groop. Elkin and Aileen met in Nashville while doing studio work. During their years on the boat, he wrote many of the songs they now perform.
When musician friends asked the couple to open a show in Texas, the Thomases sold their yacht, moved to Texas and never looked back. They live on a 713-acre farm "a million miles from everything" on the north Texas prairie near Denton. In order to simplify their lives they started a garden, raised chickens, milked goats and toured the Texas music scene.
"We left the commercial end of the music business because commercialization in art is another word for exploitation," Elkin Thomas said. "Our songs are really about a lifestyle."
"I believe our lifestyle is one which more and more people are relating to. We're finding a real community spirit."
"Folk music blossoms in different times and in different areas. Historically speaking, this kind of thing will always be underground. One of the main powers of folk music is its ability to reach a certain type of people."
The Thomases now find their music growing by popular demand. They tour the country in "The Prairie Eagle," a 35-foot motor coach, and perform often on public radio and public television. "There are a number of people of idea and heart which bring balance to this crazy world we live in," Elkin Thomas said.. "What we do is strum their heartstrings. It's so great to see that first excitement when they see us perform."
"They say, 'Wow, where have you been?' It's the excitement of surprise."