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Preserving ‘the long memory’ of folk music

Peardale resident and folk musician “Dakota Sid” Clifford can’t remember a time when music wasn’t in his life.

He will perform with his son, Travers Clifford, 31, at 5 p.m. today at the Third Annual Hootenanny at the North Columbia Schoolhouse on the San Juan Ridge, along with Silver Darling, the Alkali Flats and the Poplollys.

The father-and-son duo have been recording folk music since Travers was 12. Dakota Sid sings and writes the songs, plays acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano; his son plays the mandolin, bass and lead guitar.



Born Sidney Clifford in North Dakota, he grew up nurtured by gospel songs. In 1965, the young man left home and settled in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, where he played in a rock ‘n’ roll band called Project Hope at all the “important places,” including the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, he said.

Then he caught the folk music bug, became part of the New York music scene, then traveled up and down the West Coast playing clubs along Interstate 5.




“I’ve played in every state except Alaska, so I’ve traveled a lot,” Clifford said.

In 1972, he and his young wife, Jennifer, moved to Nevada County, where they settled down and had two children.

Clifford attempted to work a more reliable trade.

“I bluffed my way into printing jobs. But I never lasted long in them. I always returned to my evil ways,” Clifford said.

These days, Dakota Sid spends a lot of his time recording and mixing music for his yet-to-be released album, “Quietly Raging,” in a barn-red studio decorated with horse shoes, feathers, an old wash tub and a “keep out” sign.

Inside the dimly lit room, his manager – a plastic skeleton named Hellandwait – hangs from the ceiling above an electric keyboard. A collection of fishing poles decorates the walls, and the cracked backside of an old fiddle scrawled with the words “Chaos Campground” displays the name the Cliffords have given their homestead.

A following of his music comes from listeners of alternative radio stations all over the country, he said.

Through his music, Dakota Sid speaks about environmental and social issues, about “real-life and things I want people to understand,” he said.

“Some of it is political or just plain funny,” Clifford said.

Influences include Steve Goodman, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.

Folk musicians prefer not to define their work, and Dakota Sid is no exception.

“To me, folk music is anything passed on without a lot of financing involved,” something the late Utah Phillips called “the long memory,” he said. The two were friends for 30 years, and Clifford claimed to be the first to introduce Phillips to Nevada City.

Since before Woody Guthrie began singing working-class songs during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, folk music has followed an oral history tradition.

“Folk music reflects the times of a current situation. That’s what it always was,” Clifford said.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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