How it is Different

Differ From the Traditional Music of Other Regions?

What makes this particular area’s traditional music a bit different from that of other parts of the country has a lot to do with the pattern of settlement in the Adirondacks, the region’s proximity to the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and its heavily wooded landscape.

“Fiddlers went back and forth across the border (US/Canada) and played with each other, so their music is kind of merged together.  There’s a little twinge of Adirondack and a little twinge of Canadian together, and it’s a unique style all in itself, and they call it the Adirondack style....they do around here anyway .  Of course, in Canada, they call it the Canadian style! (laughs)”

-- Vic Kibler, Fiddler, Vails Mills

What might have ended up as a fairly typical blend of the musical traditions of America’s early settlers became greatly enriched and colored by the music of Canadian, French Canadian, Irish and other immigrants coming into the area for woods work in the 1840s and after.

“All of them Monica boys (were good singers) and their father, you know I could sit and listen to him sing all night and I didn’t know a word he said….he sung in French.”

-- Ted Ashlaw, Traditional Singer, Hermon

The recipe, if there were one, might read something like this:

    • Take the homemade musical traditions of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, New England and rural New York State, in roughly equal parts, and begin to interweave them so each retains its own character while starting to blend with the others.

    • Add the continuous interchange between neighbors, laborers and fellow musicians in the lumber camps and elsewhere, and stir until half of the “lumps” disappear, allowing further melding to take place.

    • Bring down from Canada two dashes of Ontario’s musical traditions, and several liberal splashes of French-Canadian music from Quebec, and stir vigorously.  Repeat often.

    • Sprinkle in new waves of Irish, Scottish, German, northeastern American and other laborers bringing their music into the area for work in the lumber woods and mines.

    • Add the relative isolation of life in the North Country.

    • Over time, mix in more modern sensibilities and influences from radio, books, traveling shows and other media - - things like guitars, banjos or pianos accompanying  the singing, country western and popular songs and themes, larger bands playing old and new square dance tunes, etc. 

This is not to say, however, that there is one “Adirondack sound.” Far from it. 

Let’s explore several different flavors of TRADITIONAL ADIRONDACK MUSIC.

When I think of Traditional Adirondack Music, I think of
influences that I hear pretty much across the board.  Country, Quebecois, bluegrass, a capella, ballads, lumbering, hunting, fishing, and outdoor themes of all kinds work into the blend.


-- Chris Shaw, Contemporary Singer, Averill Park


A note about:

Indigenous and Ethnic Traditional Music in the Adirondacks

In addition to interpreting the traditional music of the dominant culture in the Adirondacks, as described above, we have included on this website a section on Indigenous and Ethnic Traditional Music of the area.  Native Americans were the first to establish music-making traditions. Myriad smaller pockets of later immigrants including Jewish, Lebanese, Polish, Italian, Norwegian, Hungarian, Swedish, Ukrainian, Chinese, Spanish and Welsh would each bring their musical traditions.

For the most part, these traditions  either didn't meld with any others, or we simply do not know enough about melding processes that did occur.  If you can contribute something to our small but growing Indigenous and Ethnic Traditional Music section, we’d love to hear from you.