“A masterful weaver of songs whose deep, resonant voice rivals the best of his genre…”

Spirit of Change Magazine

“Beneath the friendly charisma is the heart of a purist gently leading us from the songs of our lives to the timeless traditional songs he knows so well…”


Globe Magazine

The Ancient Ballads

The American Folk Experience

The American Folk Experience is dedicated to collecting and curating the most enduring songs from our musical heritage.  Every performance and workshop is a celebration and exploration of the timeless songs and stories that have shaped and formed the musical history of America. John Fitzsimmons has been singing and performing these gems of the past for the past forty years, and he brings a folksy warmth, wry humor and massive repertoire of songs to any occasion. 

Festivals & Celebrations —Coffeehouses —School Assemblies — Library Presentations —Songwriting Workshops —Artist in Residence — House Concerts —Pub Singing — Irish & Celtic Performances —Poetry Readings — Campfires —Music Lessons —Senior Centers —Voiceovers & Recording

Ancient Ballads

Remembered Songs Passed through Time…

It is fine and rare night in a pub when a napkin with a song request is passed up to the stage, and I read the scrawled words and see the like of “Barbara Allen,” “The House Carpenter” or “Mattie Groves.”  For me it is like being given the go signal to move in a new direction, to take tar audience on a new journey down a road or river few of them have ever travelled—the road of the ancient ballads. The ancient ballads, as remembered and sung by the early colonists have their roots in the deepest—and often the darkest—recesses of in what is now Europe and Scandinavia. These ballads, while simple in structure and melody, are charged with an emotionally complex underlayment that has somehow managed to keep these songs alive in spite of the diaspora of moving to and settling in to a new world.

In my own recordings of The Ancient Ballads, I have tried to keep things simple—as simple as the ancient times dictated. Oftentimes, even the faint strum of a guitar seems more distractive than attractive; but, that is for you to decide.

This initial compilation of old ballads, is simply a scratching at the surface of the ballad tradition, but these are the ballads I know best; hence it seems like the best place to start.

And maybe for you, too…

Explore The Ancient Ballads…

More from John Fitzsimmons…

“When the eyes rest on the soul…that’s Fitzy…”

Lenny Megliola

WEEI Radio


The coyotes and fisher cats seem intent on striking some new deal with each other to toy with our fears in this gentleman's wilderness— patches of dense woods dotted with overgrown fields, riven and intersected by highways, powerlines and quiet, suburban...
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The Snow

has dropped a seamlessness before the plows and children can patch it back to a jagged and arbitrary quilting putting borders to design and impulse. I imagine myself falling everywhere softly, whispering, I am here, and I am here.
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The Mystery Within

EJ wanted a banana tree for Christmas so that early morning brought a plastic bag, a few meager roots and no directions. I bought some potting soil and a square cedar box EJ placed deliberately by a westward window. He gently splayed the roots, pressed the soil, and...
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Out of the Forge: April 6, 2017

Some nights I feel like I am singing in a mall. Tonight--in a fun way--it felt a bit like I walked into the Natick mall at Christmas time and pulled out my guitar in front of the Apple store and started to play, but like every night down at the inn it evolved into a...
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The Shapes of Stories

While I have always been a storyteller of sorts, I am not much of a writer of stories--but I have always been intrigued by the relative simplicity at the core design level of most books and movies. A lot of it is tied to my love for Joseph Campbell's work on the...
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Raccoon Welcome

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The Silver Apples of the Moon.

Stories are a communal currency of humanity. ― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights The most powerful and enduring connection we share as a human race is our desire and need to share stories. We engage in the art of storytelling more than most of us ever realize; whether we...
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"Anything worth succeeding in, is worth failing in."~by Edison?      A contractor friend showed up at my house a few weeks ago just after I finished making the hearth and installing my new wood/coal stove. He complimented me on how "awesome" it looked. I then lamented...
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I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land... ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden I’ve...
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Canobie lake

Going to Canobie Lake is always the turning point of the year for me. It is like some primal signal that It is time to turn away from the school year and towards the future.  Obviously, it is my hope that you learned some useful skills this year, but, more...
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The Tide

They are building a world and the plastic is fading: Margaret and Eddie's buckets are split, pouring out the warm Atlantic as they race along the tidal flat, filling pools connected by frantically dug canals. Tommy squats naked and screams in guttural joy at the...
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Once Burned. Twice Shy.

Just because no one understands you,  it doesn’t mean you are an artist ~Bumper Sticker        I sometimes wonder why when you give a group of teenagers a video camera, the first impulse is to shoot something stupid. It’s as if there is some jackass switch...
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Dallas: 7/7/2016

I woke up this morning almost too fearful to read the news. I stayed up late into the night just watching for the breaking stories and updates. Now, I am simplyconfused about how to act. I feel incredibly small and pointless, unsure of where I stand and how to move...
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What’s in a Song

Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet. ~Plato         Writing a song is not just an exercise in seeking some kind of future fame. It is...
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The people, the music filledness of rush hour traffic skirting puddles work crews packing in laughswearingmudyellowed slickers lighting candle bombs. My sadness the euphoric detachment. I love this town. It breathes me.
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The Threshing

I trace her charging through the cornfield shaking the timbers of the ready crop startling up the blackbirds, and surprisingly, a jay. It’s the jay who startles me—
who with two quick pulls wrests itself from the transient green, screaming back from its familiar scrub...
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The start of the school year, and I have literally spent every free moment working on what is ostensibly pretty cool stuff, methinks...but it is work in every sense of the word, so I do miss those long summer mornings when  could literally write to my heart and heads...
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Leave the fog stillness
of a cold harbor town;
cup our hands
in the warm diesel sound—
leave while the children
are calmed in their dreams
by light buoys calling:
“Don’t play around me.”

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A New Hearth

It has been a long time since I wrote a simple old "this is what I am going to do today" post. So this is what I am going to do today: [and trust me, it will have nothing--absolutely nothing--to do with school work:)] Before the true winter settles in, I am going to...
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There is something about coming hometo this empty house, yesterday'sheavy downpours scouringclean the alreadyweathered deckwhere I sitwishing...
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Many Miles To Go

I see it in your eyes
and in the ways you try to smile;
in the ways you whisper—I don’t know—
and put it all off for a while;
then you keep on keeping on
in the only way you know:
you’re scared of where you’re going
and who’ll catch you down below.

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Wisdom starts in non-action… The doing and non-doing are the equal balance. Without the luxury of contemplation there would not be a prioritizing of need versus want. Wisdom balances physical reality… Wisdom does not shuffle tasks out of view but finds a way to...
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Zenmo Yang Ni

I lost the time I hardly knew you,
half-assed calling:
“How you doing?
Laughing at my hanging hay field;
I never knew the time
that tomorrow’d bring,
until it brung to me.

Yuan lai jui shuo: “Zenmoyang ni?”
Xianzai chang shu: “Dou hai keyi”;
Xiexie nimen, dou hen shang ni.
Xiwang wo men dou hen leyi
Dou hen leyi

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The Night Music

The house is quiet earlier than usual. I can hear Margaret playing her guitar and singing in her bedroom—door closed as she would have it, but still beautiful to hear. It reminds me of Kaleigh when she was younger singing her heart out, as if the world didn't really...
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How To Be Human

Mark Twain once wrote that it is good to be a good person, but it is better to tell people how to be good--"and a damn sight easier!" So much of my life is lived in response to the moment and not in a practiced and cultivated wisdom. I sat here this morning looking...
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Redefining Literacy

 My life is the poem I could have writ, But I could not both live and utter it ~Henry David Thoreau    The common man goes to an orchard to taste the fruit. The rich man man learns how to plant his own orchard. The poet, however,  grows an even better fruit and gives...
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I loved the rain last night. Last week, in a bow to reality, I reclaimed my gardens and made them into yard. Four of my kids got poison ivy in the process and I (and more "they") got an extra ten feet of width to add to the soccer field--for really that is about the...
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Don’t Let Go of Your Soul

Sometimes yeah.
Sometimes no.
Sometimes it’s somehow somewhere in between.
Sometimes it’s somewhere that no one has been–
no, nobody, nowhere, no nothing can end.
So don’t you let go and hope you’ll find it again.
Don’t you ever let go–

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A New Beginning

 I guess if there is any constant in my life, it is new beginnings.  This blog--and this website--is another new beginning starting here late on a cold night on my back porch. I've been keeping a blog (in fact several blogs) since the first blogs made their way on to...
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Moby Dick: Chapters 42-51

A literary reflection to my students... The lowering for whales, the appearance of Fedallah's crew, the vivid descriptions of the first chase in a sudden and unrelenting gale, the fatalistic joy of resigning oneself to fate, the awesome poetic intensity of Melville's...
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On Writing with Rubrics

The only way out is through... Damn! Another long post... For better and worse--and through thick and thin--I keep piling on rubric after rubric to help guide the content, flow, and direction of my students' writing pieces.  The greater irony is that I never set out...
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Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

In my forty years or so of actively singing and playing folk music and writing songs, I have played together with a remarkably narrow list of musical partners: Rogue, Wally and Barry with camp songs and Hatrack and Seth with literally everything. These last few years...
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The English Soldier

There is a soldier dressed in ancient English wool guarding the entrance to the inn. He is lucky for this cool night awaiting the pomp of the out of town wedding party. He is paid to be unmoved by the bride's stunning beauty or her train of lesser escorts. He will not...
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Doing What Needs To Be Done

The rain falls;The grass grows:Nothing is done.Nothing is left undone~Buddha        Sometimes you just do what you got to do, and that never changes from the first time you take out the trash as a kid until the time in life where you are taking care of little chores...
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Last of the Boys

Come on over here
and I’ll buy the next round:
cold beer and some shooters
for the boys on the town;
Darby ain’t drinkin’
so let’s live it up
‘cause he’ll drive us all home
in his company truck

Jesus Christ, Jimmy,
man you say that you’re well;
I say we drive into Boston
and stir up some hell;
put a cap on the weekend,
a stitch in the night,
watch the Pats play on Sunday
and the welterweight fight.

That’s all she wrote boys,
there ain’t any more;
that’s why we’re standing here;
that’s what it’s for.
That’s why we all go on working all day
busting our ass for short pay:

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The Enigma

Black Pond is not as deepas it is dark, dammedsome century agobetween ledges of granite and an outcropping of leaning fir, huckleberry, and white pine. For years I have paddled and trolled;swam, fished, sailed and sometimessimply tread water in the night trying to...
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A Monday Ramble

There is always a hard shift for me at the end of the summer, and today is that day for me. I miss the freedom of last week: I'd wake in the morning, come out to the deck to write poetry or work on my novel--but now today, I feel like I should be preparing for school,...
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Ghetto of Your Eye

I wrote this song back in the winter of 1989, in the dining car of a steam driven train, somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway, after meeting a group of Russian soldiers fresh from battle in Afghanistan—that poor country that has been a battleground for way too long.

We stare together hours the snow whipped Russian plain—
rolling in the ghetto of your eye.
We share a quart of vodka
and some cold meat on the train—
you know too much to even wonder why;
I see it in the ghetto of your eye.

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What a Picture Tells

"Zou Ma Guan Hua" You can't ride a horse and smell the flowers ~Chinese Proverb Sometimes I love just browsing through old folders of pictures of my kids when they were just kids in every sense of the word. Just seeing the pictures is a visceral experience for me as I...
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Paris: 11/13/15

It is a sad day for humanity. Another sad day on top of many others happening every day--many in places we hear about only obliquley and sometimes not at all. Paris is that much closer to home for most of us here and in Europe, but freedom and tolerance has to...
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