Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest
Episode 16: Mimi and Dick Fariņa

Originally broadcast Saturday, February 26, 1966
at 7pm on channel 47, WNJU-TV.


The Background of Rainbow Quest:

Back in the mid-sixties Pete Seeger had an educational TV show called Rainbow Quest. In 1962 the Court of Appeals had ruled that the House Un-American Activities Committee was faulty in its charges against Seeger and dismissed the case against him. With his newfound freedom, Pete was anxious to appear on TV again and promote the cause of folk music. But in spite of the court ruling, networks and sponsors were still wary. The producers of the new show Hootenany claimed that they wanted Seeger, but that the sponsors weren't willing; and the sponsors claimed they wanted Seeger on the show, but that the public wouldn't stand for it.

Following the do-it-yourself ethic of folk music, Seeger finally decided to start his own show, Rainbow Quest. It began on UHF channel 47 in New York and had only been picked up by seven stations when Seeger began to run out of funds. During its brief run of 38 episodes, Pete talked and strummed with such guests as Elizabeth Cotten, Patrick Sky, Donovan, Judy Collins, and Buffy Sainte Marie. Richard and Mimi Fariņa also appeared on the show in February of 1966.

Richard & Mimi on Rainbow Quest:

This episode is a must-see for all Fariņa fans. Richard and Mimi perform several of their own songs and back up Seeger on some other songs. They also talk about their involvement with Joan's Institute for the Study of Non-Violent Action. Oddly enough, there was little talk of Richard's forthcoming novel and no mention of his work on Joan's rock album (perhaps because it was an educational show avoiding commercialism or promotion).

Seeger shows his considerable knowledge of folk music through many observations of Richard and Mimi's music. He notes how Richard combines two or three old traditions on the dulcimer and improvises and accelerates like a sitar player as he and Mimi trade off rhythms. Seeger also recalls their Newport Folk Festival performance, when the couple performed in the rain and inspired the audience to get up and dance and take off their clothes. Seeger describes this as a sight that "I'll never forget in all my life...It was was wonderful!"

Richard is suprisingly nervous in this video; readers who were enchanted by Hajdu's evocative portrait of Fariņa as the mercurial entertainer who turned every conversation into theatre, every meal into a banquet, may be surprised to find him so demure here, although both of them loosen up somewhat after a few songs, especially on the upbeat numbers, "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream" and "Joy 'Round My Brain."

Production values have changed enormously in 35 years, and the modern viewer raised on flashy MTV videos may feel something missing in this footage. There is no rapid splicing, no computer graphics flying across the screen; the set is a dark, bare kitchen in what looks like a log cabin; there is no studio audience, and when you expect applause at the end of Richard and Mimi's fantastic performances, there is only a brief, awkward silence, followed by Pete saying "WOO-WEE!" But the historical value of this video lies partly in the slight culture shock one experiences. It's like traveling back in time.

Pete clearly admired Richard and Mimi's music, and even predicted that their synthesis of various eclectic styles would be influential: "This is going to be happening all around the world." And indeed, a year or two later, popular music explored a bewildering array of styles (though Richard and Mimi received scarcely any credit for helping to initiate this trend). Pete ended the show by saying, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Sadly, we would see no more of Richard and Mimi as a duo. This was one of the last--if not the very last--recording of Richard and Mimi, as Richard died a month later.

This is a unique opportunity to observe Richard's dulcimer technique and to see Mimi's guitar playing. I found it fascinating just to watch them moving and talking. It's also impressive to hear Seeger improvise so effortlessly on the duo's songs. Although Richard and Mimi only appear on the show for maybe 35 or 40 minutes, it is nevertheless a priceless piece of history and absolutely a must-see for any fan of theirs. Unfortunately, it is currently out of print, but you can see some clips on Youtube.

Songs (with Richard and Mimi songs in red):

Oh, Had I A Golden Thread (Rainbow Quest theme song)

Pete: banjo & vocals

I Know Where I'm Going (Handsome Johnny)
Pete: 12-string guitar, vocals

Lonesome Valley
Pete: banjo

Dopico / Celebration for a Grey Day
Richard: dulcimer; Mimi: guitar, tapping; Pete: maracas

Pack Up Your Sorrows
Richard: dulcimer, vocals; Mimi: guitar, vocals; Pete: guitar, backup vocals

Bold Marauder
Richard: dulcimer, vocals; Mimi: guitar, vocals, tapping

House Un-American Blues Activity Dream
Richard: dulcimer, vocals, harmonica, kazoo; Mimi: guitar, vocals

All Mixed Up
Pete: guitar, vocals; light backing by Mimi

Traveling Man
[light dulcimer, guitar, and percussion backing by Richard and Mimi]

Joy 'Round My Brain
Richard: vocals, harmonica; Mimi: guitar, vocals; Pete: banjo, backup vocals

Careless Love
Pete: guitar, vocals

Oh, Had I A Golden Thread
Pete: banjo, vocals

A Review:
Excerpt from Local Lore, newsletter of the Portland Folklore Society, vol. 27, no. 2, March-April 2003. By Erik Wikner.

I'm familiar with the Farinas, having played most of their music on dulcimer and guitar. Even so, it was exciting to see a video of their performance, to actually see them, and to watch their playing styles.

Richard ran his left-hand dulcimer bass sequences using his thumb as a noter, with his fingers serving as a sliding guide along the outer edge of the fretboard. In treble, he palmed a noter, gripping it with thumb and forefinger, the other fingers curled in. For multi-string treble note sequences, hammer-ons/ pull-offs, single-note and barre-harmonics, he'd anchor his hand with thumb on the soundboard and play it like a piano.

With his right hand, it looked like he used a Fender full triangle light-guage pick, chasing his fretting fingers and thumb up the scalloped fretboard as far toward the nut as the existing playing range comfortably allowed, unless it was necessary to shade the tone by dropping back to the recession near the bridge.

Mimi and Richard played a dazzling mix of rhythms with dulcimer and guitar, accenting them with open and muted strums, blending them with the same intrigue and enchantment as their vocal harmonies. Into this mix throw a blues harp, maracas, a duck-call and Pete Seeger's 12-string guitar and 5-string banjo. Yes! (Did I mention that I was a fan?)

A review wouldn't be complete without commenting on Richard's lyrics. He has written many beautiful and poetic pieces, but among his work are quite controversial songs criticizing and lampooning irresponsible government and the senseless pursuit of war (this was during the Viet Nam conflict). Like Pete, Phil Ochs, et al, they didn't get much in the way of air play on radio or television. Pete had to be affected by Richard and Mimi's performance of "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream", having so recently been freed from the years of haranguing pursuit by HUAC and the resultant ostracizing, threats and violence to which he and his family had been subjected (HUAC got plenty of air play). A similar song "Bold Marauder" depicts a nation of hubris, making because it can, insatiably seeking greater power and wealth....

Rainbow Quest episodes on video and DVD:

At one point all 37 episodes were available on video from Norman Ross Publishing. Unfortunately, all the videos are out of print. Shanachie has released a few episodes on DVD. Sadly the Fariņa episode is not among them, but they are moderately priced and with two episodes per disc, and they are all of great historical importance and worth watching.

605 - Stanely Brothers & the Clinch Mountain Boys with Cousin Emmy; Doc Watson with Clint Howard & Fred Price
606 - Johnny Cash & June Carter; Roscoe Holcomb with Jean Redpath
607 - Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; Mississippi John Hurt, Hedy West & Paul Cadwell
608 - New Lost City Ramblers; The Greenbriar Boys
609 - Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem; Mamou Cajun Band
610 - Judy Collins; Rosa Valentin & Rafael Martinez and Elizabeth Cotten

Finally, an ad for the show from Sing Out! magazine, vol. 16, no. 1, February/March 1966, page 84.