PORTLAND, Maine — When Joseph Brackett took pen in hand in Alfred, Maine, in 1848 and wrote a song called “Simple Gifts,” he had no idea he was composing a classic, a work that would be performed at the inaugurations of three presidents and covered by artists ranging from Jewel to the West Virginia University marching band to the Icelandic singer Jonsi to the British punk band Toy Dolls.
The song is simple and straightforward, exactly what one would expect from a work by a Shaker for Shakers, members of a religious community which shunned the fancy, the elaborate, the immodest. One likes to think that Brackett would be pleased to know that the 7th annual Simple Gifts Music Festival will take place at the Shaker Museum in Alfred at 5:00 p.m. on July 21st, and that all of the musicians performing there will play the song.
He’d also probably want people to get up and move when they hear the tune. After all, according to AmericanMusicPreservation.com, it is not a hymn, but a dance song. And while it seems unlikely that Elder Joseph Brackett was anything close to a dancing machine, there is this point to consider: when you examine a photo of him closely, it sure looks as though he has a mullet.