“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

Searching for an Alibi

Here I am out on the road again
and it feels longer than it was back then;
when I was younger, man, it saw me through—
now it don’t do
what I want it to—

Too ra loo ra loo ra lady I—
I’m just out searching for an alibi
Too ra loo ra loo ra lady I
I’m just out searching for an alibi.

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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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Winter in Caribou

I know your name. It’s written there.
I wonder if you care.
A six-pack of Narragansett beer,
Some Camels and the brownie over there.
Every day I stop by like I
Got some place I’ve got to go;
I’m buying things I don’t really need:
I don’t read the Boston Globe.

But I, I think that I
Caught the corner of your eye.
But why, why can’t I try
To say the things I’ve got inside
To you ….

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I am surprised sometimes by the suddenness of November: beauty abruptly shed to a common nakedness— grasses deadened by hoarfrost, persistent memories of people I’ve lost. It is left to those of us dressed in the hard barky skin of experience to insist on a decorum...
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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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A Late Night Metacognition

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after ~Henry David Thoreau           When you need something done, find a busy person to help you get it done. My mother loved repeating that to me all the way to her dying day,...
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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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It seems like it ain’t been a long time,
But I’m damn pleased your coming by again.
It’s been a while since we sat down and rambled
About this and that and why and who and then
You said that you had to get a move on,
Move on and leave a space behind.
So I spent a while hitting all those old roads:
Old friends and kicking down the wine.

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The Litter in Concord

I have been following a Facebook thread about the movement in my beloved hometown of Concord to ban plastic water bottles, plastic bags and styrofoam cups. I am trying to discern whether or not my initial responses are pure and true and not simply reactionary and...
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A New Paradigm

     Sometimes, like right now, I long for a pile of papers on my lap that I could speed through, grade with a series of checks and circles, a few scribbled lines of praise or condemnation, and drop into a shoebox on my desk and say, "Here are your essays!" But I...
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The Teacher’s Couch

It’s not just a couch; it’s a sofa, too ~Fitz           I remember my first year teaching at Fenn—and it was really my first stint as a true worker with responsibilities outside of what I already had in my wheelhouse—and on this day, some twenty something years ago, I...
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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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There is something about coming hometo this empty house, yesterday'sheavy downpours scouringclean the alreadyweathered deckwhere I sitwishing...
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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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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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Life Ain’t Hard; Its Just a Waterfall

You say, hey,
who are you to say that you’re the one
to go telling me just where I’m coming from.
You can have your cake
but don’t frost me ‘til I’m done.
I can’t be fixed and I can’t afford to stall;
because life ain’t hard it’s just a waterfall.

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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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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 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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I’ve stopped the chinks with newspaper and rags wedged tightly against the wind blowing cold three days now. I feed the fire and curse its hissing and steaming mixing green oak with sticks of dried pine calling myself Raccoon grown fat in the suburbs sleeping in...
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I am surprised sometimesby the suddenness of November:beauty abruptly shedto a common nakedness--grasses deadenedby hoarfrost,persistent memoriesof people I’ve lost.It is left to those of us dressed in the hard barky skin of experienceto insist on a decorumthat rises...
Read More

The Fallacy of Philanthropy

There are thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root. ~Henry David Thoreau     I just spent a long day deconstructing our backyard. EJ sold his alpacas, and so our fenced in pasture and barn can now return to its suburban origins as a shed...
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Quit Your Whining

Anything worth succeeding in is worth failing in~Ben Franklin     "Quit your whining and complaining" is probably a clause that can easily be translated into every language in every culture on earth, for, from what I know and have seen in the world, bitching about...
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Hallows Lake

Foreward Thanks for taking a look at this "work in progress. It originally started out as an experimental one-man play. Maybe it still will be. Later I thought of making it into a novel, but it's hard to see it happening as there is (intentionally) no real plot, and...
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Reflecting on Literature

I am constantly asking my students (and myself) to reflect on the literature they, and I, read. As I have grown older—and not necessarily wiser—I find myself only reading literature that I am sure will prod me out of my intellectual and emotional torpor, like a lizard...
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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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Make Something out of Something

It's hard to make chicken salad out of chicken manure      Dirty hands are a good sign, so hopefully, you got some mental mud on your hands and created some content to work with today.  To a starving man, any food is good food--unless it...
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Joshua Sawyer

I doubt I’d ever have taken this road
had I known how fallen it really was
to disrepair: driving comically,
skirting ruts and high boulders, grimacing
at every bang on the oil pan.
I tell you it’s the old road to Wendell —
that they don’t make them like this anymore.

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The Blathering of Teachers

To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities  as you do at conclusions. ~Benjamin Franklin             Maybe we are born more to ignore than to listen. I understand too well how easy it is to ignore the blatherings of teachers. I was a master of it once myself, so why...
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The Mystery in the Cradle

This picture is from Christmas eleven years ago when Tommy was only two weeks old, and now all of them—and Gio and Pipo--are playing charades or some such game in the dining room, shouting and laughing at each other's miscues and fortifying another enduring memory...
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Moaning like a lost whale the thin ice bellowed behind us then cracked and rang as if spit from a whip. The sharp steel of my over-sized skates etched unspeakable joy into the slate-grey, reptilian skin of Walden Pond. Our mismatched hands gripped together in the...
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How do I know

what I know? The sharp angles of this simple cottage perfected in every board sawn, shingle split and beam hewn into place goes together placed, splined, slid together, bound more by intuition than...
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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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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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The End Is the Beginning

For the past twenty years this night has always been a bittersweet moment. I have never been hobbled by boredom or a lack of "things I love to do," so whatever supposed free time I have is rewarding in whatever I choose to do. The flip side is that I am teacher, and I...
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The Storm of Fallibility

       One good cigar is better than two bad cigars, or so it seems right now. It is a beautiful and stormy night--pouring rain and howling wind, and I thought a good smoke would be a fitting end to a busy and over-booked week. As it goes, I bought a couple of cheap...
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Last night the August supermoon reminded me of the fickleness of time and how substance becomes shadow and memories begin to etch themselves immutably into the hardness of what is already lost.
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You Are All a Bunch of Punks

Poetry without form is like tennis without a net. ~Robert Frost       Free verse poetry is not, as many assume, poetry without rules. It is a measured and thoughtful crafting of an idea into lines, spaces, and breaks intentionally and willfully crafted to heighten and...
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These trees have driven so many friends batty, wedged in unstable crotches, embracing hollow, heart-rotted limbs, reaching tentatively, maddened with indecision. From a distance your gestures are very lobsterlike— waving a last embattled claw, as if dueling some...
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A Priori

How do I know what I know? The sharp angles of this simple cottage perfected  in every board sawn, shingle split and beam hewn into place goes together placed, splined, slid together, bound more by intuition than...
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