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Migratory Musician:

The tale of one nomads migration to the West Coast during the counter culture.

Kef In Concert. Ken Sokolov, far left, the drummer for the Eastern European folk band from Eugene, Oregon, has had a love for music since he was a young kid. Photo Credit: Rebecca Gibson

By Rebecca Gibson Eugene Weekly Jan. 30, 2013 ravelling town to town with a group of street performers, Ken Sokolov found himself at the Worlds Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was set to be the musical accompaniment alongside entertainers juggling torches atop six-foot unicycles. A er a long hitchhiking journey from New Hampshire, a bed, or even a roof, would have su ced. But he wasnt a novice to makeshi homes, so Sokolov, a self-proclaimed urban outdoorsman, loaded his stack of instruments into a wayward shopping cart. He then laid down on a park bench for the night, one hand clutching the cart full of his music makers, clinging to music then as he would his entire life. Sokolov was born in Queens in the late 1950s. His family moved to the New Jersey countryside when he was 9, where Sokolov found himself with plenty of open space and time to make mischief. He was running with older kids, and by age 11 Sokolov had fallen

in with the wrong crowd. Purely out of boredom, he began breaking and entering. Even as a kid running wild, Sokolov had an intention; he knew with certainty that he wanted to be a musician. His brothers would o en play rock music, and Sokolov followed suit. I was already so into it, he says. It was an exciting time musically--very vibrant and creative. One day he uncovered a forgotten drum set in the con nes of his attic rescued the set, assembled it, and began drumming. Soon a er, at age 9, Sokolov attended his rst concert at the RKO eater in Manhattan catching the debut performances of e Who and Cream in the U.S. Alongside his two older brothers, he absorbed the music saturated air. Even though the headliners only played for three minutes, Sokolov says, it was still amazing. At that point, I knew it was my path. Sokolov was never classically trained. He had a few lessons, but wasnt interested in the jazz approach--he just wanted to play rock. So he taught himself by ear,

listened to musicians he liked, and began improvising. I was going o on a snare drum one day in [middle school band] class, Sokolov says, and my teacher told me, Dont look at the notes anymore, just do what you do. His interests expanded, and Sokolov tried his hand at acoustic guitar, going on to add the mandolin, ddle, and banjo by the time he was 15. Sokolov used to hitchhike to NYC to see live music. It was really my saving grace, he says, It was a crazy time; it wasnt always great. I overdid it for sure, I was just pushing my luck. Sokolov continued to travel by the pad of his thumb, nding music everywhere he went. He travelled to the freakshow hippie scene of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. I just got there and took o with it, Sokolov recalls. He felt alive that summer surrounded by musicians of all types. Following a brief romance, which also gave Sokolov a place to stay, things fell apart. I didnt know how to get it together in New York City. I didnt have the skills, he says. e city was noisy and crazy, and it stunk. It wasnt something I believed in. He headed to New Hampshire, where he delved into ddle music and the abstract world of jazz. ere he gained an understanding of the amount of practice and technique it would take for him to be a real musician. He found a restaurant job and eventually made enough money to roam south to Key West. Sokolov reminisces about his rst night there: I got o the bus and crashed underneath a tree. I woke up, and it was like paradise. [I was] next to the gnarly roots of this tree, and it smelled like fruits, and it was just amazing. I had never been anywhere like it. With the warm tropical air in his bones, Sokolov again turned to

music. He started playing for the tourists on Sunset Pier, where he met a troupe of jugglers, and eventually became part of their crew. A er a stop in Knoxville, Tenn., to perform at the 1982 Worlds Fair, they parted ways--Sokolov heading to the Rainbow Gathering in Idaho with a bunch of hippies and musicians. From there he made his way to Seattle, where he learned from a street musician of the Oregon Country Fair in Eugene. Since attending his rst Country Fair in 1982, Sokolov hasnt le . He decided it was time to throw down some roots, and Eugene was an easy place for him to do it. Sokolov

I love it. Its really my most spiritual thing, its when Im most connected, its when I feel my best.

met his rst wife at the Country Fair, and from that point on has become a part of the Eugene community. He joined a Celtic band called Woodland, and later helped found Kef--an Eastern European Balkan folk band that began ve years ago. I had played a lot of progressive music, but I would kind of fake my way and count my way through it. But I really loved Balkan music, Sokolov says. Balkan music comes from eastern Europe, including countries such as Albania, Romania, and Turkey. e celebratory songs have a-typical rhythm that doesnt follow a simple scale. It takes skill to play music of this complexity. Kef has gained a loyal fan base in the Eugene community with line-dancers that follow them to shows in Seattle or northern Calif. One will nd the band of two trumpet players, a cellist, an accordion player, a guitarist and Sokolov

on drums at Saturday Markets or at the Oregon Country Fair every summer. During concerts, Sokolov appears to fade into the rhythm of the music. His face remains composed and relaxed, as he keeps the fast tempo for the rest of his bandmates to follow. e members of Kef truly value Sokolov. Alex Lowe, one of the trumpet players, remarks that when he rst met him, I could tell that he was doing some pretty complicated stu , so I knew he was really talented. Dan Gibson, Kef s guitar player, also praises Sokolov: Hes by far the best drummer Ive played with. No matter what the style is, he elevates everyone elses skill. Kef s band members also regard him as a true performer. He can deliver comedy as well as he can sing, as well he can play drums, guitar, cello, violin, and all these instruments I didnt even know he could play until he picks one up, Lowe says. As Sokolov recounts his life journey, nothing seems to get under his skin. When asked if he was scared or felt defeated while living without a home, he smirks and waves o the question simply saying, Yeah, I would dumpster dive sometimes, and it was a little freaky, but when youre on the street trying to make it, you do what you can to survive. You work with what youve got. Lowe believes that, Ken travels lightly through life, he doesnt seem to have a lot of baggage. He never weighed himself down with a lot of worry and doubt. Sokolov has three children now, all of adult age, and life may have less upheaval than before. But one thing remains the same, music will always be in his grasp. I love it. Its really my most spiritual thing, its when Im most connected, its when I feel my best. e blood is pumping through you, and, you know, I just love it.