"folk music"

CD Release: Take Home the Music of "The Yankee Peddler"

Songs from The Yankee Peddler
New Album by Chris Monti & Brad Shur

Now you can take your favorite folk songs from the show home with you! This 12 track album features full length recordings of "The Fox", "Cluck Old Hen" and "Jenny Jenkins," just to name a few.

Musician, Chris Monti's guitar playing paired with Puppet Showplace artist in residence, Brad Shur's amazing character voices creates an exciting adventure through New England history, folklore and rich musical traditions.

CD's are available for $14.99 at the puppet store.  

Call the Box office for more info: 617-731-6400 x 101

Folk Music at Puppet Showplace: Interview with musician, Chris Monti
by Guest Blogger: Brenda Huggins, Puppet Showplace Communications Director

As the center for puppetry arts in New England, Puppet Showplace Theatre is the home of many artists as they develop new works. In January of 2013, we presented the first “New Year, New Shows” series which included the world premiere performance of “The Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs of Old New England." The show is by New England performing artists Brad Shur (puppeteer and Puppet Showplace artist in residence) from Boston, MA and Chris Monti, a folk musician from Providence, RI.

Chris Monti and shadow puppets performed by Brad Shur during the song, "The Fox."
“The Yankee Peddler” is a 45min puppet show performed with live music and shadow puppets that take the audience on an adventure through New England history, folktales and traditional folk music.  For the past year, audiences from all over New England and beyond have flocked to experience this unique and beautiful storytelling on stage at Puppet Showplace.

Who is the real STAR of the show? Is it the intricate shadow puppets made by Brad? (Over 100 puppets make an appearance through out the show.) Brad even built a wooden contraption with a crank that scrolls a New England landscape across the bed of an overhead projector behind the puppet screen. This modern overhead projector method used for shadow puppetry is Brad’s signature style.

Is the MUSIC the main event of the performance? “The Yankee Peddler” features about a dozen traditional tunes curated by the artists from a rich history of American Folk Songs from the late 19th century.  Chris expertly performs songs including “Cluck Old Hen”, “The Fox”, “Jenny Jenkins” and others on his acoustic guitar with occasional harmonica licks or response for a kazoo. The reality is that these two important elements of the production, the shadow puppets and the folk music, work together to create a live performance of sounds and images that aptly capture the culture and community of old New England.

Chris Monti and Henrietta the Hen (performed by Brad Shur, puppeteer) in "Cluck Old Hen"
With that being said, I had the opportunity to interview folk musician, Chris Monti, specifically about the music of “The Yankee Peddler”, and the brand new CD just released featuring all of the songs from the show.  Audiences can now take home all of their favorite songs from the show and cluck along with Henrietta the Hen, sing a sea shanty with Storm Along (New England’s Paul Bunyan character) and even write a letter to a rat!

Here’s what Chris Monti had to say:

What are the songs that make up “The Yankee Peddler?”

Half of the show is music: great old traditional songs, specifically. These songs have been passed on through an oral tradition, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that musicians were able to put them on wax cylinders to document them. This was the first time that people recorded themselves and could hear what their music sounded like played back to them.

These songs are about emotion, and about people’s lives and work. The music is very different from commercial 1950 blue glass made specifically in the studio for the radio.  The songs in “The Yankee Peddler” are from the pre-recording era or right on the edge. They are all old, old songs.

What do you like about performing folk music?

I very much like the idea of playing songs that are 100’s of years old, and playing them in 2013 in a way where I’m not pretending to be anything that I'm not. I play them from the heart in an honest way, even though I am playing a character during the show.  Folk music is a big part of my music identity, and I try to learn music from other people to keep old music alive.  This is an important thing to me.  My personal folk music revolution happened when I was 19. I loved the grittiness of folk songs, the literal crackly sounds of the first recordings from the late 1800’s. 

At 19, I heard live old time string music (fiddles, banjo, mandolin, guitar) in the form of social dance music in providence, RI.  I made friends with musicians who would play this music at home and at dance parties.  From the first listen, I was inspired to take out old records from the public library.  Some of my favorite recordings are the Doc Watson Family album and folk musician Bruce Molskey.

How does the CD capture the music from “The Yankee Peddler?”

It is nice to document the show so people can listen to it, and take it home with them. The 12 tracks that make up the album are in the running order of the show, and it is a stand-alone piece of music to listen to. The main difference from the show is that the tracks on the CD are all fleshed out to full-length songs.   In the show, some of the songs are shortened to be part of the storytelling with the shadow puppets. Cluck old hen is about 1min long in the show, but on the CD, it is a fully fleshed out piece of music that tells its own story.

"Songs from the Yankee Peddler" is available for purchase at the Puppet Showplace puppet store, Brookline MA.
Another difference is that Brad over dubs many vocal parts on the CD, where in the live show, there is only his one voice.  He uses many over dubbed characters voices on “The Fox”, and “Cape Cod Girls” as examples.  There was only two of us in the studio making the album, so anytime you hear another voice, it is one of Brad’s character voices.

One of my favorite tracks on the CD is “100 Years” because I wrote a guitar arrangement specifically for the album.  When the song is performed live in the show, we sing it a cappella over a percussive beat.  I was inspired by middle eastern music when I made the guitar part for the CD, and you can hear a drone in the background as an example of that.

What advice would you give parents about encouraging their children to get into folk music?

Nothing takes the place of seeing live music. It is a completely visceral experience to watch someone play, or to sing along with someone who is playing.  I heard my dad play the guitar when I was 4 years old, and it was in that moment that I knew that I wanted to do that too.

"The Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs
 from Old New England"
By Brad Shur and Chris Monti

Friday-Sunday, October 25-27/ PURCHASE TICKETS

World Premiere Performance Series starts with Songs and Shadows

Chris Monti and "The Fox"
“Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs from Old New England” by Brad Shur and Chris Monti
Saturday & Sunday | Jan 19 & 20 at 1pm & 3pm
Monday | Jan 21 at 10:30am and 1pm 


Puppet Showplace Theatre (PST) will present two world premiere performances of puppetry works created by Boston-based artists as part of the theatre’s “New Year, New Shows!” series, running from January 12 – February 3. The series begins with "The Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs from Old New England", by PST Artist-in-Residence Brad Shur and Folk Musician Christopher Monti.  There are additional performances on Monday, Jan 21st at 10:30am and 1pm.  PST is open for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday!  As part of the theatre's shows in repertoire, look for "Yankee Peddler" on our calendar in the spring and beyond- it is sure to become a fan favorite!

Behind the puppet stage: Brad Shur's signature shadow puppets
performed on an overhead projector

In this brand new show, two very different types of media come together to create storytelling magic! Both shadow puppetry and live music have a long history and tradition rooted in rich cultures of many peoples all over the globe. Brad Shur’s signature shadow puppetry style uses cut-outs manipulated on a overhead, and then projected onto a large screen.  During the entire show,  Chris Monti is the only performer visible to the audience. This creates a unique interaction between performer, spectators and characters on the puppet screen. Chris as the live performer acts as a go-between to draw the audience into the two dimensional world of the shadow puppets.

Chris Monti and Brad Shur

Puppeteer Brad Shur knew he wanted to make a show with live music, so he tapped folk musician Chris Monti to collaborate on “Peddler.” Comrades and past roommates, this storytelling team is a perfect pairing of sound making and tale-crafting. Together, they scoured songbooks and dusted off folklore anthologies in search of material that would make for good visual storytelling while celebrating life in the Northeast.  Chris dove into the depths of his own repetorie that comes from playing with New England folk musicians and old time musicians. As an example, the song “The fox” comes from the Scotts who compiled a book called “Ballad of America.” The text is a history of America through folk song. 


After narrowing down an enormous list to 10 songs and stories, the result is a collection of unique folktales. All of the stories are pieces of folklore from the New England region. Some are based on historical facts, others express interesting cultural practices, and a few even tell the tall-tales of local mythology folk heroes. Every part of the world has their own arts and stories. New England has its own history with its own flavor, and “Yankee Peddler” reflects those traditions and local culture.

From "The Mammoth Cheese of
Cheshire Massachusetts"
One of the stories is a piece of real history about giant cheese. This is clearly the kind of history you can’t ignore! The performers picked stories that had unexpected elements, with a lot of energy, and room for silliness. “The Mammoth Cheese of Cheshire Massachusetts , is the true story about Thomas Jefferson and the gift of a giant piece of cheese. Another historically inspired story is “Letters to Rats” which comes from actual letters found in old houses written by people in colonial times addressed to vermin infesting their homes and eating their food. These stories come from a broad range of social classes, including characters from a mayor to the president, and sailors, and even animals!
Often when we study American History, we first address the Revolutionary War, or the Civil war, but Brad and Chris didn’t want to explore Old New England culture using military history. War is only one small facet of history, and it is not something these performers wanted to glorify. They are instead interested in celebrating a different kind of hero. 

One such hero in “Yankee Peddler” is the famous Stormalong who battles with his own demons and whose hero status emerges because of his determination- and also his enormous girth! Stormalong is part of the same tradition as Paul Bunyan and John Henry who found fame in being very good at the thing they loved, and putting their passion into it. Have you ever seen Stormalong face-off with the Kracken, a giant octopus sea creature? Now is your chance! 

From "Cluck Old Hen"

Other stories in the show feature man’s connection to nature. Living more closely to the grand out doors was a huge part of life in old New England. In “Yankee Peddler”, expect to see forest creatures galore, like “The Fox” who dives into his den, and a bear who needs a little help getting dressed in “Jenny Jenkins”, some rats who love to eat cheese and crackers with jam in “Letters to Rats”, and the fastest egg-slinging hen in the east in “Cluck Old Hen.”

Chris Monti rehearsing in the PST lobby

All of the music in the show is performed live by Chris Monti.  The orchestration is mainly vocals, harmonica, guitar, kazoo and a few other noise makers like a triangle and symbol crashes for those pointed moments requiring special effects. Chris composed original music and adapted licks from fiddle tunes for incidental music that underscores about half of the shadow puppets stories.   Other visuals in the show are entirely based on the songs themselves.


“Yankee Peddler” has benefited a lot from wonderful feedback of other local puppeteers and performing artist during its development. Scenes from the show were workshopped in 2010 at the Eugene O’Neil Puppetry Conference in Connecticut, as well as at PST’s own Incubator program for the development of new works. The show received support from the Harris Grant Program of the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America.


Rehearsal footage from "Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs of Old New England"


“This is Americana, but a different kind of Americana. It will make you proud to be a New Englander for reasons you never thought!” –Brad Shur

Brad Shur created over 100 shadow puppets for
"Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs from Old New England"