Basic Folk Podcast: Ruth Merenda (The Mammals)

Ever since I saw her playing with The Mammals in the early 2000s, I have had a healthy obsession with Ruth Merenda. She is very easy to obsess over: her soaring musicianship onstage and tape as well as the amazing community she’s cultivated along with her husband (and bandmate) Mike Merenda through touring and through their bi-annual music festival, The Hoot.

Raised basically with a fiddle in her hand, Ruth spent her childhood surrounded by professional musicians, which included her father, the much loved Jay Ungar, who, along with his wife and bandmate, Molly Mason, is probably best known for his song “Ashokan Farewell.” In 1990, Ungar’s song was used as the centerpiece to Ken Burns’ nine-part documentary “The Civil War” (you are hearing that lonesome fiddle in your head right now, aren’t you?)

Although Ruth loved singing and playing fiddle, she saw a different path for herself as an actress. She attended Bard College to study her craft and moved to New York City for a few years after that. There, she was introduced to a group of rabble rouser who loved traditional folk music, which was the music that Ruth had grown up with. What is so funny is that she never realized that other, younger people were interested in that kind of music. She stuck around that group and immersed herself in that style of playing again. Someone who made quite the impression on Ruth was a young indie rock drummer named Michael Merenda. The two started a personal and musical relationship, which eventually morphed into the Mammals. Eventually the pair moved back to Ruth’s home in the Woodstock, NY area, took a break from The Mammals, got married, made duo records, had two amazing kids and started recording under The Mammals again (in just the last few years)!

There is a lot of say about Ruth and a lot of questions to ask Ruth. We’ll have to have her back on, because I was only able to ask about 40% of my questions. Ruth is a treasure and I’m grateful she appeared on the pod!

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