David and Anne Dodson are well established in the Midcoast music scene, so the siblings’ appearance in the Camden Library Coffeehouse Thursday night, March 2, is no surprise. But their performance marks the beginning of a month-long widening of the family circle — an event dubbed Dodson Fest that includes an art show and book release.

The idea for Dodson Fest — the siblings have taken to calling it Dodsonpalooza — has been percolating in David’s mind for years … although that may be the wrong culinary verb.

“I think David came up with it fully baked,” said Anne.

“It baked for a long time,” added David. “It was well done!”

He said he first considered the multimedia idea back when he was living in Texas. In addition to his and Anne’s music, Dodson Fest would include their father’s artwork, their mother’s writing, music by their cousin Tom, art by their cousin Jan and work by their Aunt Betty, a poet and an artist.

“Our dad one time said maybe I should’ve told you kids there was another way to make a living, other than the world of art,” said David.

“That’s part of the dedication of my book, my dad saying ‘maybe I gave you kids the idea that you can make a living doing this,’” said Anne.

Said book has also been long in the baking, some 20 years. This warm winter day, Anne and husband Matt Szostak were waiting on a contract for the second volume of what began as a single book about learning to play the mountain dulcimer for Mel Bay Publications, the motherlode of instructional music books.

“It was getting to be a long, long book … he said he’d do whatever we wanted, so we figured out we could make it into two books; there was a logical place, going back through it, to do that,” said Anne.

Books 1 and 2 of her mountain dulcimer opus will probably not see print for another year and a half. There is still a lot of material to format, between text and music files spread across two different computer programs.

“We’ve got to finish it! Matt’s doing a lot of the diddly little stuff that my hands don’t want to do,” said Anne.

And playing the mountain dulcimer is now something Anne, who has Parkinson’s Disease, wants to do, but her hands beg to differ. The books will have a downloadable audio component and there is one file she is determined to record.

“There’s one tune that I wrote a second half to that I really want to have in the book … I have, like, a little window in the mornings when we can set up a portable studio and hopefully can get that done. But if I can’t, then it’s just half a tune,” she said.

The siblings’ father, Fred ”Ted,” produced a lot of art; Anne and David were set to choose among what they have, and have borrowed, which works will hang at the library. Between the two of them, they have a lot of Ted’s work, which is primarily watercolor.

“And Matt’s mom and his dad, when he was living, took some of them and had them framed and they hang in their house in New Hampshire; we went two days ago and brought some up for the show,” Anne said.

Also on view at the Picker, albeit only during the reception, will be the jewelry and pewterware that brought Anne and David to Maine in the first place. When they were growing up, Ted — who had attended the Grand Central School of Art and Columbia University in New York City — made his living as a craftsman, creating pewter hollowware, gold and silver jewelry, candlesticks and sculpture. During the summers, the family would relocate to Deer Isle to operate a seasonal store that sold their father’s work and their mother’s weaving.

“Once I left home and he wasn’t trying to support a family, he stopped doing the pewterware; that was sort of bread and butter, the day job,” said Anne. “He always wanted to be a painter.”

She has proof of that — boxes of it. This winter, she has been reading though letters her father wrote during World War II and the subsequent Allied occupation. She said half of them are about things happening in the war and the other half are about painting.

“So he became a full-time watercolorist. We’ve been going through things our mom kept … I’m really shocked at the volume,” Anne said. “We weren’t there to see what he was doing, but he was a fairly prominent watercolorist, in Florida mostly, but the scenes were New England, Maine and Florida.”

“There are a lot of Florida swamp scenes. They would go off canoeing,” said David, pulling out a favorite photograph of “the backs of our parents, disappearing into the Everglades!”

In addition to the exhibited work, there will be prints and notecards of Ted’s work for sale at the library, as well as CDs by both Anne and David; and copies of “Stony Brook RFD,” fresh from a second printing. The latter inspired David to finally take Dodson Fest out of the oven.

 

Dodson Fest

March 2: performance by David Dodson and The Lowdown; and Anne Dodson and Matt Szostak beginning 7 p.m. in Camden Public Library’s Picker Room, admission $10 at door.

March 4: reception for art by the late Fred “Ted” Dodson; and book re-release party for the late Phyllis “Phyl” Dodson’s book “Stony Brook RFD” 2 p.m. in the Picker Room (art show runs all month).

“It seemed the time to do it, when we had the books,” he said. “We were running out of them; I want to be able to give them to people and I felt like I needed to hoard them and thought, that’s no good.”

Phyllis “Phyl” Dodson’s book is about the family’s early years on a small farm in Stony Brook, Vt., where she and Ted raised small livestock and vegetables; and welcomed their two children.

“This was a memoir of life in the ‘40s in Vermont; it talks about being in a valley that didn’t have electricity,” David said.

It proved a little too rustic for their mother, who had a congenital heart defect, so a couple of years after Anne was born, the family moved to Acworth, N.H. Phyl’s health inspired a later move to Naples, Fla., when David was in college. Soon Anne was leaving the nest too, and Ted and Phyl enjoyed a full life of writing (Phyl had a nature column in the Naples Daily News and began writing her memoir), painting, birding and canoeing. Ted died suddenly in 1988, after which Phyl began spending summers in Camden; and she spent the last years of her life here full-time. Despite being given a life expectancy of 30 years, she was 86 when she died.

“For six years, she lived here year-round and it was great,” said Anne, who added that she and David are still discovering things left behind, including a box labeled “rocks and minerals” and a small plastic bag labeled “dirt.”

The familial soil that nurtured this brother and sister was well watered by music — especially vocal harmonies. While Anne and David’s parents are represented by art and writing in Dodson Fest, their legacy also is part of the Library Coffeehouse concert. Neither Ted, who, David said, had thought of becoming an opera singer in his youth, nor Phyl were professional musicians, but music was woven into their lives.

“The whole family sang all the time,” said Anne. “When the family would get together before the holidays, we wouldn’t say a prayer; we would sing.”

David remembered Thanksgivings when, after the “second meal” of leftovers, cousins and friends would join voices, each choosing a different harmony or melody line.

“We’d get through with a song and just go 'Wow, boy!' Those were just beautiful, touching renditions of songs,” he said.

During the 1960s, young David, Anne and their cousins Tom [Heald] and Jan [(Heald) Appel] sang together in a folk quartet called, appropriately enough, The Four Cousins. As vintage tape recordings attest, they were good — good enough to audition for “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in fact.

“Our biggest claim to fame is something we didn’t get,” said Anne with a laugh.

What they did get was a fondly remembered upbringing, as the families lived nearby, on either side of the New Hampshire/Vermont border.

“Our parents would trade off kids during vacation times, and the four of us would be together in one place or another,” said Anne.

“Tom and I were about the same age, and Anne and Jan were about the same age,” said David.

Their cousins live in North Carolina these days, so they don’t get together often. But those musical and family ties remain.

“We went down when their mother, our aunt, was in the last weeks of her life, and we sat around in the nursing home singing,” said Anne. “We hadn’t done that, the four of us, in years, and it was so moving. It was a really great thing to do.”

One of the songs David and Anne will perform together during the Library Coffeehouse is about Tom; they also will sing songs they “have been doing together forever and ever” including “Sail Away Ladies” and “In the Pines.” And they will play ensemble with family and friends. This has been both siblings’ practice for many years, as witnessed in their annual concerts, David’s in November and Anne’s capping the Camden-by-the-Sea weekend in December.

“I think both of us have dipped into traditions of Celtic and traditional folk work that has got that as a part of it,” said David. “Austin, Texas, where I lived for six years, was famous for if you’re not working that night, you bring your amp around and sit with one group and then you take your amp off and sit in with another one.”

Anne said that the sense of a supportive musical community is “really what brought me to Camden.” The former Thirsty Whale Tavern served as a focal point in those days; now, David said, the Drouthy Bear seems to be serving the purpose on Wednesday evenings.

“I think Nik Apollonio is there every week as the ringleader, and then whoever shows up — Will [Brown] shows up a lot,” said Anne.

Both siblings continue to write new songs. Although David is especially known for humorous takes on modern life, Anne will sing “The Ologist Waltz,” with her husband and brother on backup vocals.

“Part of it goes, ‘Now I need a neurologist, a dermatologist, a podiatrist’ and on like that – two choruses of doctor names,” she said.

“Matt and I are lucky, we just go ‘ooh, ooh, ooh,'” said David.

Even as they work on their set lists, the siblings are focused on presenting their parents’ work to the public. Anne said, looking around at the many framed paintings on the walls of her home, that every year she comes to appreciate even more her father as an artist. Her brother agrees.

“You look at some of the details, and he was a great draughtsman, as well as having a good eye for a beautiful composition,” David said.

In March, the Midcoast community is invited to join in their appreciation.

“I think they’d be really happy that were doing this,” and Anne, “and a little flabbergasted, too!”