In trying to convey just how rich and strange his life has been, Tim Eriksen likes to travel back to 2002, when he was working on the film Cold Mountain as a consultant to music producer T Bone Burnett.
“In one week, two things happened to me; one was a dream, and the other actually happened,” the singer, scholar, and multi-instrumentalist recalls from his Hadley, Massachusetts, home. “The first one is that it’s midnight, I’m in Transylvania, and it’s a full moon. Nicole Kidman is dancing to Eminem, and somebody goes and puts a big pile of meat out in the driveway. At some point later, somebody starts shouting, ‘Bear! There’s a bear!’ And then Nicole Kidman and I go out with my baby son, Luka, who’s nine months old, and there’s this big, giant, fairy-tale bear in the driveway. Nicole Kidman shouts, ‘Not the baby! Don’t bring the baby to see the bear!’ And then she goes off chasing the bear down the street in a Land Rover.
“The other is that I’m in Home Depot choosing tile,” he continues. “Of course, the one that’s the dream was the tile. I have been to Home Depot and chosen tile before, but that particular week, that was my dream. And I actually have a video of the bear somewhere on my YouTube channel.”
A cursory search of the Internet turns up little evidence of this ursine encounter, but it’s worthwhile nonetheless. Among the treasures caught on video are Eriksen singing “Farewell to Old Bedford” in the middle of a snowstorm, playing a frolicsome banjo version of “Amazing Grace” atop an autumnal mountain, and using the rock walls of a Colorado park as a resonator while he sings the Macedonian classic “Zajdi Zajdi”. There’s also a clip of Eriksen and his Trio de Pumpkintown bandmates Zoë Darrow (fiddle) and Peter Irvine (percussion) playing the world’s largest hurdy-gurdy.
What stands out from the videos, and from his Josh Billings Voyage album, is that Eriksen is a deep and deadly serious interpreter of traditional music, and that he’s having a hell of a lot of fun in that role.
“That hits the nail on the head,” the former Cordelia’s Dad frontman says, adding that his latest project is to take Josh Billings Voyage, a loose concept album about a 19th-century mariner, and turn it into a fully fleshed-out folk opera.
“We just this Saturday did our first performance, and it was really cool,” he says. “Once I realized that it was taking place in a fictional village, it all came together. And then I realized that it was just one in a long series of fictional villages, especially New England villages. There’s this amazingly rich intersection between fiction and history here.”
Fact and fiction are similarly blurred in Trio de Pumpkintown’s more conventional concerts, like its upcoming Rogue Folk Club show. As in conversation, it’s hard to tell when Eriksen is telling it straight and when he’s playing the Yankee trickster, but at least on-stage he has someone to answer to.
“Peter actually monitors it,” he says, laughing. “He’s a lawyer in real life, so he monitors my storytelling, and I look to him periodically to reassure the audience that I’m not lying.”
Which brings us back to that bear story and its accompanying video. Further online sleuthing eventually found it, under the title “Soul of the January Hills, plus Famous People Chasing a Bear”. Enjoy!
Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown play a Rogue Folk Club show at St. James Hall on Tuesday (June 24).