Sing Our American Pie
Original Americana Music By Local Band, Paint Branch Creek, Celebrates A New Album And Helps Open A New Era In County Culture
By Raoul Dennis & Maria Lopez-Bernstein
It was a celebration of local acoustic talent at MilkBoy ArtHouse May 4 as College Park, Md-based Americana band, Paint Branch Creek, released their new album “In the Home of the Brave.”
Like the venue, MilkBoy ArtHouse, and the evolving arts community surrounding it, the entire experience is new. True, College Park has been a social hub for years. And for years, Paint Branch Creek members have been playing together. And Olson isn’t a twenty-something Don McClean. They’ve each been around but not like this. Now, each of these is finding a voice of their own. Paint Branch Creek is no longer merely singing in the neighborhood. College Park isn’t just another cookie cutter college spot and Mr. Olson is no longer simply a former elected official. Like much of Prince George’s, a specific identity is shaping through these venues and voices.
“It’s all new to me,” says Olson who began writing lyrics just months after he left the county council. Olson, who now works as executive director with a community development corporation, says he was originally moved to write lyrics by the story of a train wreck in the Chester, Mass. hometown of his grandparents (years before either of them were born). In the time that it took for Olson to wait for his daughter to finish her bath, he’d written something that he thought was worth sharing with his close friend, Eric Maring.
“I called up Eric and said: ‘hey I think I wrote a song lyric.’ He said: ‘Come over and we’ll see what we can do.’ We did. He put music to the lyrics. It worked. And he said write some more. I haven’t stopped since. That was February 2015. Now we have close to 50 songs,” Olson explains.
The two men and the entire band had been close for years. “We are all friends and we all get each other,” he says. Olson and Maring, whose fathers both grew up on farms, share a kindred spirit through their roots, music and storytelling.
“I think that has something to do with the tenor of the music and these stories,” Olson says of the relationship between them. “We both have similar connections to a different time. Both our families talk a lot about family history.”
Paint Branch Creek has created deep connections with its enthusiastic audiences and earned loyal fans. Engaging and personable on stage, the group creates shows that are thoroughly entertaining, deeply moving.
The group is born of a passionate dedication to family, history and culture. The soul of Paint Branch Creek is dipped in the music of folk heroes such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan whose work told the story of America through the stories of common American lives.
But it all comes down to local community and sharing good times with a good local band, he says. Over 250 attended the show and children were welcome – making it a family night.
“People were loving it,” he says. “They were glad to see local music in a local music venue. It’s wonderful to be a part of this,” says Olson.
“I will continue to write lyrics. I have a lot of lyrics that are half done. When inspiration hits you gotta run with it. I will continue to run with it.”
The quiet father of two believes that his grandfather’s influence is a big part of why he’s written lyrics like “White Stars” in memory of his grandmother’s brother who fell in World War II and “3 o’clock Parade” as a result of the images of the workers leaving the mill each day where his grandfather worked.
“[My grandfather] took me everywhere. We would just get in the car and drive around. We would see his friends, family, we'd go to the cemetery. And there were always the stories behind it that he would share.”
The UMD graduate and former history major loves developing as a lyricist. “It’s pretty amazing being able to work with these guys who are tremendous musicians and historians,” he says. Olson is not a musician but a storyteller. “I have always picked up on different pieces of history and narratives. I see them out there in history and in everyday life. We walk by hundreds of stories every day. A lot of our songs are about regular people, everyday heroes. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”
Catch them next at Riverdale Farmer’s Market May 10 at 5pm and CPCUP Outdoor Performance Series in College Park, Md. on May 25 at 6pm. Also, check them out at the Washington Folk Festival.
Paint Branch Creek: In Their Own Words
Bringing a taste of Americana to the masses, Paint Branch Creek features bold harmonies, rich guitar, mandolin, and violin. Band members include Eric Maring (“Mr. M” to his young students at UMD’s Center for Young Children and in the community) on guitar, banjo, and vocals; Patrick Lynch and Greg Heelan on guitar and vocals; Allison Hughes (director of the College Park Chorale) on vocals; and Arun Ivatury on mandolin and violin.
With lyrics by former Prince George’s County Councilman Eric Olson, the band’s songs are original and true to the folk theme; they have come about during late College Park nights and sessions in a Gettysburg barn. Conjuring visions of America – night shifts and mill towns; prairie lands and open roads – some reflect on where they’ve been, some question where they’re going, and some just linger on old memories. Their music is bound to stir the hearts and bring back memories of life’s journey.
Paint Branch Creek casts a musical spell that delights fans of acoustic performance. Evocative lyrics inspire the group’s bold original music. Daring guitar work coupled with the sweet sound of mandolin and violin form the perfect instrumental base for rich three-, four-, and even five-part vocal harmonies. Whether delicate or hard-driving, each song is unforgettable.