Back in 2012 my wife Kathy and I splurged on a then rare night out to take in a concert teaming Loudin Wainwright III and feminist/lesbian folkie Dar Williams. Wainwright was the draw for us. I was only dimly aware of Williams and don’t think I had ever heard one of her songs. She ended up blowing us away. And one of her most memorable songs was The Christians and The Pagans. Like many of her compositions it was autobiographical about she and her lesbian lover unexpectedly spending a Christmas dinner with disapproving Christian relatives. The stress was not just over gender identity but over their self-proclaimed paganism. The song was funny, poignant, and in the end oddly hopeful.Williams in a festival performance.
Dorothy Snowden “Dar” Williams was born on April 19, 1967 in Mount Kisco, New York and grew up in Chappaqua with two older sisters. Her nickname Dar came from a mispronunciation of Dorothy by one of them. She has described her parents as liberal and loving but her communities as a conservative bastion.
“A lot of my career came because I was [later] in communities where people were ahead of the curve with gender exploration,” said Williams, who toured tiny coffeehouses while attending Wesleyan University in the mid-’80s. She later lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, a liberal enclave, which, like many such neighborhoods of the time, did its share of questioning societal roles. “Northampton, where the women are strong and the men are defensive,” she used to joke.Williams built her following in small venues like coffee houses and this bookstore performance in 1989.
Early in her music career, she opened for Joan Baez, who would make her relatively well known by recording some of her songs. Her growing popularity has since relied heavily on word of mouth, community coffeehouses, public radio, and an extensive internet fan base. She is beloved in indie folk circles with devoted feminist, LGBTQ, and left progressives audiences. Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker ha described Williams as “one of America’s very best singer-songwriters.”Williams's original EP release of The Christians and the Pagans.
The Christians and the Pagans was first released on an Extended Play (EP) recording of the same name in 1996 on the Razor and Tie label and later included on a subsequent LP, Mortal City.