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Quick Q and A with Linda Sharar
 by Kathy S-B  ·  20 September 2014

Linda ShararLinda Sharar is an award-winning singer-songwriter whose songs are honest and pure. Linda expresses herself in an easy, familial, and tangible way as though she’s been a good friend for years . There’s a musical comfort zone that wraps around you with each and every song. That kind of rapport is something to appreciate and respect.

To learn more about Linda Sharar, visit her website. Here’s a sweet video of Linda playing “Harmony with You” along with Adam Michael Rothberg.
Your bio states that you started playing guitar and writing songs when you were a teenager and started playing open mikes during college. Looking back, what do you think of your songwriting back then?
In my teen years my songwriting was very predictable lyrically but had emotional truth and a strong feeling musically. My older sisters were all musically talented and encouraged me as a writer, which made me feel confident enough to keep at it. But I was a very shy about my songs and did not promote myself as a songwriter with any real effort until I graduated from college.
If you could pick up a brand new instrument and have the time to learn to play it well, what would it be?
I would love to have another go at the fiddle, and there is also a very nice Appalachian dulcimer at my home waiting for me to spend more time with it.
What’s it like playing with your sisters. Did you grow up playing together or is this something that you started to do as adults?
We’ve been playing music together forever. Our mom Helen played guitar, sang, covered songs and wrote poetry. Our dad Paul also encouraged us all to sing and recorded us often as kids with his basic tape recorder… My mom had a group that performed around town (and surrounding areas). So all of us were inspired and learned guitar and/or singing… part from Mom, part from lessons, from listening to and watching others perform. At family holiday gatherings and often just around the house we were always singing, playing instruments and carrying on. . . . As kids and into adulthood, we’ve all had different musical paths. Carol studied violin and has played professionally with large symphonies to folk acts to large pop acts from a young age. Carol also teaches orchestra, bluegrass and other instrumental classes at a NJ middle school. Connie and Kathy have both performed as singers in rock/blues bands and have learned some instruments. I took piano and tried violin but ended up mostly a guitar player and songwriter. But there have been periods in our teens, and later, where we did gigs with each other and would get up on stage at times at each other’s performances. Our divergent paths have kept us from performing as an “act,” at least until recently. Just in the past few years we’ve had regular appearances at the Black Potatoe Music Festival as well as some other smaller venues (Fox Run last year). Playing gigs with my sisters is one of my utmost favorite things to do in life.
When you moved to New York City, was your intention to make your living as a musician?
I was exploring several different options, including possibly going to law school. I worked for a year as a legal assistant in a large firm in Manhattan, then switched to a job in Business Affairs/Legal at Sony Music, where I stayed for 5 years. At that time I knew I couldn’t afford to live off of being a musician, but was exploring all the possibilities of my various skillsets. Eventually I realized I could probably work as a software engineer/IT professional (something I picked up at the Sony job), and play music at the same time. I made that career change in 1996 when I moved to Boston.
How did you hook up with the Fast Folk songwriters and what did you learn at Jack Hardy’s songwriting sessions?
Jack (and Wendy Beckerman) lived diagonally across from me in New York. I had a little apartment on MacDougal St off 6th Ave below Houston, and they were on the north east side of that large intersection. Some of my friends including Chris Bauman, Gregg Cagno, and Catie Curtis were involved with Fast Folk and so eventually through one of them, I met Wendy, and then joined the regular meetings at Jack’s. It was a wonderful community to join at that time because they had just gotten the Fast Folk Cafe going and there were not only great songs to hear but gigs to be had. My first Fast Folk gig was opening for Cliff Eberhardt, then Paul Geremia, and I played there several times over the years. I also was recorded performing my song “Nathan” on the “New Voices NYC” CD in 1996, and had a song covered, “Carriage Horse” at a Fast Folk show at the Bottom Line. Also at the same time there were songwriting meetings held over at David Seitz’s apartment (Prime CD) and just tons of great songwriters were revolving between those two meetings. I was extremely grateful for the regular nights of shared meals and creative community, which is not always easy to find in a sprawling city like New York.
Tell us about Camp Hoboken. That musical collective was a big part of your life for a few years. What was your biggest joy during that time?
It’s hard to tell the tale of Camp Hoboken in a short answer, but my sisters were involved… one of my best friends Gregg Cagno, his best friend Chris Bauman, and I were initiators of it. We would meet in the front room at Maxwells in Hoboken, and plot how we could improve our music careers. Don Brody booked the front room and started singing with my sister Connie in a rebirth of his well-known duo, the Marys. Out of some late night imaginings we decided to create a sort of a traveling variety show with several different members, the goal being to make self-promotion, traveling and conferences easier to manage (and bear). Our first real engagement was the 1995 National Folk Alliance Conference in DC, and we made a compilation tape of all of our music, setting up several showcases as a group where we played songs in the round and together. People came to see us and said, “can we book you as a group?” We also had our own campsites at Falcon Ridge and other festivals. Don (who also worked at Razor & Tie) was in many ways our fearless leader and guru. We lost him to a heart attack in 1997. That was devastating to all of us but made us closer. Read Chris Bauman’s book “In Hoboken” to really get a feel for what our lives were about. I’d say the great joy for me in being a part of Camp Hoboken was all the incredible fun we had, anywhere we went. We focused on the fun first, and always treated each other like family. Too many wonderful stories to tell here really, but a highlight for me was a tour I did with Gregg and Chris through Atlanta, Dallas and back. We met Woody Guthrie’s daughter, were attacked by ticks, ate too many ribs and almost crashed my car but that doesn’t really capture it at all much…
You’ve released three solo records and have taken a bit of a break to raise your children. Have you been able to grab some time now and again to write some new songs so we’ll get a new addition to your discography?
I have been writing recently, I think mostly inspired by the passing of Jack Hardy. His loss really hit me in a deep way and I started to hear his voice urging me to get off my soapbox and start writing again. I also can thank Esther Friedman and Chris LaVancher who host a songwriting meeting I attend, as well as Timmy Riordan who hosts an online “Fearless Songwriting” challenge regularly. I am lucky to have so many talented musicians, engineers, promoters, DJs, etc in my life who I truly appreciate just as people. The quality of the music is enhanced by these relationships, and so I hope my musical compositions/recordings also reflect that.
You were deeply involved with the Respond compilation which was a benefit CD for domestic abuse causes. That collection caught the attention of many people and the songs were powerful. Tell us about the genesis of that project.
I had moved up to the Boston area in 1996 and started playing open mikes and gigs almost immediately. Charan Devereax was hosting the open mike at Club Passim on Tuesday nights and she invited me to a pancake breakfast at her house with some of the other women playing the open mikes, including Colleen Sexton, Kris Delmhorst, Jess Klien, Pamela Means, Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier etc. Charan spearheaded the project but got several of us on board as co-producers as well as artists. We brainstormed together at a few meetings and came up with a list of other better known artists we also wanted to involve, as well as producers, promoters etc, and once we found the Somerville organization “Respond” to be the recipient of the fundraising, lots of people jumped on board. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. What a group of women and what an amazing compilation we made!
Do you listen to much new music these days? Have you discovered any new voices that you feel are comparable to those whom you knew from the Fast Folk days?
I do love to listen and find new music, not through radio exposure or the typical channels, but mostly via house concerts, word of mouth, and/or at festivals. Mary Lou Lord has a great Facebook feed where she promotes a lot of great bands who are under the radar. I also just poke around to see who my favorite bands are working with and that kind of thing…
Will there be a new Linda Sharar recording any time soon?
In the past four years or so I’ve recorded some individual songs at different places with different levels of finish. I think I would consider putting out an EP in the next year but nothing dramatic or expensive. I suppose in this day and age it might be enough to do this online and have a few youtube videos to complement the songs. But I also am hoping the Sharar sisters get some recordings in the works, because we all realize how valuable it is to document what happens when we make music together.

Quick Q and A with Cricket Tell the Weather
 by Kathy S-B  ·  13 September 2014

After winning last year’s FreshGrass Festival Award last year, this eclectic band has continued to blossom and spread their music up and down and across the Northeast. Their music falls under the musical umbrella of bluegrass but at the same time they exhibit a bit of indie-rock, old-timey and Americana. As with most music these days, it’s simply impossible to label a band with one word. Well, to tell you the truth, we could label this band with one word:–how about “excellent”?

For more information about Cricket Tell the Weather, visit their website. Here’s a video of Cricket Tell the Weather performing their award-winning song, “Remington.”

Cricket Tell the Weather

I’ve got to ask — where did the band name Cricket Tell the Weather come from?
Originally it was an old-time tune referenced in a play that our banjo player was in, but we love the idea that crickets actually do tell the weather! You can tell the temperature based on the number of chirps a cricket makes. The next time you hear a cricket, count the number of chirps you hear in 14 seconds, then add 40 to get the temperature.
Was the genesis of the band created when Andrea and Jason co-wrote a song for the Podunk Bluegrass Songwriting Competition?
The songwriting competition definitely helped launch the idea for writing more songs and putting together a full band. The competition helped award us a grant by the City of Bridgeport to record the song in a professional studio, and we used the tracks to help recruit the original band.
How did the band form?
Andrea and Jason met playing together in a string band in Syracuse, NY. Eventually they moved to Connecticut and NYC, respectively, and found musicians to collaborate with in the local bluegrass communities and festivals. The group of five helped arrange and record the band’s debut album and won the band competition in the 2013 FreshGrass festival. The band has since been touring our original material throughout the northeast, from Pennsylvania to Maine.
Your music is described as progressive bluegrass, What makes it progressive?
We love traditional bluegrass music and met at bluegrass festivals and jams. When we write our own songs, some come out sounding more like bluegrass than others. The roles of the instruments stay similar as in bluegrass, and the styles of each player are very much informed by the genre, but we let go a lot of the rules of the traditional genre when we’re arranging and playing our own material. What comes out is bluegrass with more jazz, chamber, and indie influence.
We’d love to know about your debut album. Tell us about what it was like in the studio
We recorded the album at Signature Sounds Studio in Pomfret Center, CT. It’s a beautiful spot in the quiet corner of Connecticut in an old farmhouse that used to be an artist co-op in the 70s. We worked with sound engineer Mark Thayer and with Wes Corbet as producer. It was our first time in a professional studio and we enjoyed learning about the process and having a few long weekends together to get the tracks where we wanted them.
What about the songs on the album. Are they all originals?
All the songs are original, except for the third track “Who’s That Knockin at My Door?” by Pat Enright, which we played as part of the FreshGrass competition. The remaining tracks are all original, including our award-winning song “Remington”, as well as songs that are more bluegrass oriented, like “No Big City” and “Rocky Mountain Skies”; softer Americana songs like “Salt and Bones” and “Let it Pass”; and songs with more indie influence like “Embers” and “So Fast So Long.”
I understand that you’ve done some work with kids in schools. What’s that like? Have you run into situations where it’s the first time that some children have heard bluegrass music. What’s their reaction?
Yes, we’ve been including workshops and performances for elementary through high school kids in public schools, Montessori schools, and educational arts centers. We’ve found that most kids, from both urban and suburban areas, have very limited experience with bluegrass music, but they enjoy seeing it up close, engaging in singing and dancing, and learning about the many influences that inspired bluegrass–from Irish fiddle to the blues and beyond. Student responses have been overwhelmingly positive to the opportunity to experience more about American traditional music.
What do you have in store for the immediate future and farther off into far away future? Any band goals?
We are starting to expand our touring schedule and head further south and west with our music. We have many new songs in the works and are excited to start work on our next album.

Quick Q and A with Tumbling Bones
 by Kathy S-B  ·  12 September 2014

Tumbling Bones is a young string band with an old sound. Their voices combine in a musical pastiche that is reminiscent of years past but they’re actually a contemporary band hailing from Portland, Maine. Pete Winn (guitar, percussive dance), Jake Hoffman (banjo, upright bass) and Kyle Morgan (guitar, upright bass) sing three-part harmonies that would make bluegrass pickin’ angels jealous. Their sound is timeless.

Pete and and Jake met as college freshman and discovered their love of roots music and formed a rock ’n’ roll string band called The Powder Kegs. They then went on to form Tumbling Bones in 2011 and started to learn bluegrass, jug band music, and class R&B that focused on their vocals. The missing part of the musical puzzle came along when they met Kyle and they were able to add more texture and fullness to their harmonies.

I was lucky enough to experience Tumbling Bones at last year’s NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) conference. I came away a fan. It was next to impossible to not be caught up in the joyful music that they make. Listening to their music makes me want to jump up and dance and I really can’t dance. Take one listen to their debut album, Loving a Fool, and you’ll feel like you’re front and center at the Grand Ole Opry. Yes, they’re that good.

Tumbling Bones was one of 24 Emerging Artists chosen for this year’s Falcon Ridge Festival. The Emerging Artist showcase is always one of the highlights of the festival in Hillsdale, NY. The musicians are chosen by a three-member jury and are given the opportunity to perform two songs (not to exceed 10 minutes). The audience votes for their favorites and three or four acts are asked to return to the main stage the following year. To say that Tumbling Bones was a hit at the festival is an understatement. They then went on to play the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival.

Here are some questions I posed to the band:

Tumbling Bones

Tumbling Bones. Tumbling Dice. Do I detect some Rolling Stones influence?
We’re definitely Stones fans, but the name comes from our practice of rolling dice on tour to decide matters like who sleeps on the bed vs. the floor, who has to get up at 7 a.m. to move the car, who gets the last chicken leg, and things like that.
Your bio states that you’re inspired by “old” music and that your music is heavily based on bluegrass and pre-World War II music. How did this kind of music take hold of your soul? Were you ostracized by your peers for not liking what was the popular music at the time?
We were all born in the ’80s, so we grew up with a good dose of rock ‘n’ roll, we all had high school rock bands, and we still listen to it a lot. Kyle (guitar, bass) still writes and plays really good rock ‘n’ roll songs. It wasn’t until our college years when we found that the influences of some of our favorite artists spoke to us in a very raw, honest way. And though we do have contemporary influences as well, it’s the basic forms of bluegrass songs, old-time ballads, blues and jug band shouts, and country songs that really make us tick. By the time we got into the “old” stuff, I think our friends actually thought it was pretty cool. We’ll keep letting them think that.
How long has the band been together?
The band has been together since early 2011, though Pete (guitar, harmonica, dancing) and Jake (banjo, bass) have played together on and off for 10 years. Kyle joined the band in early 2013, and with him he brought his incredible songwriting, which really rejuvenated our sets and also his great voice, which allows for lots of three-part harmonies, the centerpiece of our sound. We’ve been based in Portland, Maine since late 2012.
You’re known for your gospel-tinged a cappella songs. Singing together without the aid of instruments can be kind of scary. Did you figure out pretty quickly that your voices melded in such a way that you could pull off adding an a cappella element to your show or was it hit and miss for a while?
Pete and Jake had been singing together for a long time, and adding Kyle’s voice was a natural fit. We knew all along that vocals were Tumbling Bones’ strong suit, and we love the opportunity to challenge ourselves with a capella pieces. Where our vocal sound differs from other bands is that our voices are all very strong and distinct. We don’t try to sound like one unified voice, but for some reason we blend together really well, even while the listener can still identify whose voice is whose. Even if we’re singing a background part, it’s important to us that the character of the singer’s voice is still in an “oo” or “la-la-la.”
Tell us about the making of your debut album, Loving a Fool. What were the recording sessions like?
We recorded Loving a Fool at the Great North Sound Society in Maine, way out in Parsonsfield near the New Hampshire border. The live room is a new building, but the control room and the rest of the facilities are contained in an 18th century farmhouse. It was truly an inspiring place to be — beautiful, comfortable, quiet, no Internet. The takes were great, mostly because we spent a long time having former musical partners critique our songs and arrangements before ever entering the studio. We knew what we wanted out of most every song we recorded, and we feel like we nailed it. Our engineer, Chris Connors, and our guest musicians, Timmy Findlen and Tyler Leinhardt, were all really fun to hang out with and are superb workers. We had also had lots of fun toys (pianos, organs, gongs) at our fingertips, though we wanted the album to sound as similar to our live show as possible. It’s by far the best recording we’ve ever made, and we’re truly proud of it.
What’s the story behind the traditional covers that you included on the album?
Because our live show is a mix of old songs and originals, we wanted the album to reflect our love of old and new. The traditionals we included on Loving a Fool are songs on which we feel like we put our own Tumbling Bones stamp. We wanted to show our passion for old music and how a simple song can stand the test of time while also displaying our distinct styles of instrumental and vocal arrangement. We didn’t dare take any traditionals and make them unrecognizable from their older forms, but instead added our own strengths to them and show that old songs can be just as powerful today.
We need to know about your experience on Prairie Home Companion. How did that come about?
Pete and Jake were in a five-piece string band called The Powder Kegs from ’06-‘08. Pete’s mom entered our CD into Prairie Home’s “People In Their Twenties” talent contest, and we were chosen as finalists to play live on the show in St. Paul. Luckily our fiddler had just turned 20 by the time we flew to Minnesota. Each of the six finalists got to play some songs, and then the audience as well as any radio listeners voted by paper, phone, or online ballots, and by the end of the show the winner was announced. We ended up edging out the Sweetback Sisters for the title. We also got to be involved in the Guy Noir sketch and we got to sing a bunch of songs with Garrison at the after-party. It was an incredible experience to be behind-the-scenes at that show. Everyone was really professional while at the same time very relaxed and flexible. They do an amazing production.
Also, you’ve been chosen to do some shows courtesy of the U.S. State Department. What’s all that about?
We haven’t yet gone on tour with American Music Abroad, a program run by the non-profit organization American Voices in conjunction with the U.S. State Department. This fall we’ll be traveling to a developing part of the world to perform, teach, and collaborate with local musicians in four or five different countries. It was our third year applying, our second year as finalists, and to be chosen this year was really a dream-come-true. We can’t wait to find out where we’re going!
Pete, the fact that you do percussive dance as part of your show is a real crowd-pleaser. Is this a skill you’ve had for a while or did you learn how to do it once you got into the music scene?
Definitely the latter. Attending old-time music festivals down south I picked it up at workshops and just by observing other dancers. I’ve been toying with dance for about five years, but I’ve only been performing it for a year and a half.
I noticed that you keep a grip type material on the underside of your wooden dance block. Have you ever had any close calls while dancing? I wouldn’t want to hear about you slipping off a stage or into the audience!
I actually usually only bring my portable dance platform to festivals since most of the ground at festivals is grass (and hence, not danceable). Most of the time I just leave myself at the mercy of whatever surface is available be it wood, stone, brick, hard plastic, or tile. The surfaces I dance on would probably make tap-dancing purists cringe.
Tell us about your experience at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. You were chosen as part of the Emerging Artists of 2014. Were your expectations met by this well-respected fest?
Everyone was super helpful and welcoming from our arrival to our departure. Being an Emerging Artist was great: we got to perform for hundreds of appreciative listeners.
You also made an appearance at the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival this summer. What was that event like?
Podunk was fun, especially since I personally grew up in central Connecticut. The prize we received for winning the competition was a new Telefunken microphone. Coincidentally, it turns out the representative from Telefunken at the festival — Alan Venitosh — is an old friend of mine from growing up. He actually recorded my high school band in his studio 12 years ago! So it was pretty cool to be handed the prize from an old friend and collaborator.
What’s the most fun about touring? And what’s your least favorite aspect of touring?
Most fun: meeting new people, seeing new places, and collaborating with new musicians. Least favorite: the unhealthy lifestyle that comes with sitting in a car all the time and eating road food.
What’s up next for Tumbling Bones?
We’ve been touring a lot behind the release of Loving a Fool in the U.S. and Europe. This March we went from Maine to Pennsylvania, April we were all over Ireland, May took us to Germany and England, and in June we started in North Carolina and ended back in Maine. The rest of the summer was more northeast touring from Pennsylvania to Prince Edward Island. This fall we’ll be going to yet-unidentified countries in the developing world. We’re in the middle of a folk/​Americana radio campaign pushing Loving a Fool as far as it will go. We’re getting a lot of spins in Ireland and the UK, and we’re doing our best to break into American airwaves, ears, and hearts.
Get some of that old-time spirit by visiting the band on the web.

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