By Kat Bein
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Patrons flip through songbooks on a typical Saturday night at the Main Street Café in Homestead, eager to sing along with house band the Pathfinders. Packed with couples and friends sitting around small square tables, the large, airy room is warmed by votive candles, familiar greetings, and the strum of guitar strings. Owner Laurie Oudin, who bought the Forties structure with partner Steve Damsky four years ago at a low post-Hurricane Andrew rate, takes the mike to encourage requests. "“Blowin' in the Wind!'" someone screams. Lighters blaze and the room fills with song.
This beat-the-band-meets-karaoke session is one of many innovations Oudin, a former Shakespearean actor, has devised to foster the spirit of the open exchange she misses since moving to South Florida. "In New York I would spend hours going from café to café to café," she recalls. "I would have great conversations without even knowing people's names." But here she has not found a place to casually meet and mingle. Along with easy conversation, the owners of the Main Street Café hope to provide a place for the simple melodies and guitar sing-alongs that Oudin grew up with in Connecticut and New York.
Every Thursday night Oudin schedules a big folk gig. Last week it was New England songwriting sensation Ellis Paul. Tonight features the Latin-flavored folk of Venezuelan-born Oregonian, Irene Farrera. A twenty-year resident of Eugene, Farrera's principal connection to her homeland is her music. "My intention is to bring out some of the best work of Venezuelan composers and musicians," Farrera tells New Times by phone, "and to contribute my own voice."
Farrera's first three CDs have paid homage to Latin America generally, including Trinidadian steel drums as well as lyrics both Portuguese and Spanish. Farrera says her new CD, Serenata, scheduled for release in March, fuses specifically Venezuelan traditions with her own fine-tuned folk style. Never without her cuatro, the classic Venezuelan guitar, Farrera also adds bongos and maracas to the syncopated 6/8 rhythms. Electro-acoustical guitar and violin fill out the sound.
Although folk is the tried-and-true vehicle for musical protest, don't expect any topical songs about current Venezuelan populist president Hugo Chavez. "I don't pay too much attention to the news," Farrera admits. "But in many ways I identify with Chavez, because there is so much disparity [in Venezuela] that there ends up being a lack of compassion and human dignity among the people there."
Since coming to the United States as an architecture student two decades ago, Farrera has focused on making and sharing acoustic music here. She has attained some prominence in folk's nationwide network of "listening rooms," noncommercial spaces where folk fans gather. Oudin learned about Farrera through these fringe connections when she went looking to diversify the talent she booked.
"Homestead is surrounded by diversity, which is very enriching," says Oudin. "There is a language barrier, but hopefully with more [artists] like Irene Farrera, who sing in Spanish and English, this will begin to break down."