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.”
- 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.
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 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.
It’s been said that Session Americana is a rock band in a tea cup or possibly a folk band in a whiskey bottle. The musicians in the band huddle around a little bar table, playing their heart and souls out. One of the most visible players sits stage right adding his memorable harmonica licks and riffs to each song; sometimes subtly and sometimes like a locomotive. His name is Jim Fitting. Jim has been an esteemed member of the Boston music scene since the 1980s and exudes a touch of bluesy class whenever he’s on stage.
Find out more about Jim and Session Americana on their website. Here’s a great example of Jim and the band playing one of his signature songs, “The Coalburner.”
- Has harmonica always been your instrument of choice?
- Yeah pretty much. I played baritone sax for a few years. And I play guitar at home.
- How did you first become enamored with the harmonica?
- My brother in-law gave me one when I was a teenager. My brother Tom played guitar and we were listening to a lot of blues stuff at that time. So it worked out that my brother was patient and let me learn as I played along.
- Do you have any harmonica heroes?
- How long a list do you want? Little Walter, Stevie Wonder, Charlie McCoy, Norton Buffalo, Paul Butterfield, Jr. Wells, Sonny Terry, Howard Levy, Sonny Boy Williamson and Larry Adler. That’s my top ten.
- Tell us about your days with the Treat Her Right. How would you describe the music you played then?
- Treat Her Right was a lot of fun. We played a lot of gigs and got to travel all over the US. At the time we were trying to get away from the big rock sound that was predominant in the mid-eighties. Bill Conway played a cocktail drum that gave the music a much lighter touch than typical kick / snare thunder. Mark Sandman played a guitar through an octave divider so the bass wasn’t as heavy. We were trying to sound like an early Muddy Waters record, but with a more ‘modern’ context. For example we covered Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” with Dave Champagne singing and playing slide guitar. We had the good fortune to be around Fort Apache Studios when they just started and we were able to take our time and experiment in a loose recording environment with a good friend and excellent engineer Paul Kolderie. As a result we got some really good recordings right off the bat, which helped us get signed to RCA.
- I understand that you attended Yale University. What did you study there? Somehow an Ivy League education and a bluesy rock band playing dive bars in Boston doesn’t equate.
- Well that’s life. I was an English major, but it was pretty clear from the beginning that the music bug had bit me harder than academics ever would. I actually met the aforementioned Bill Conway and Paul Kolderie first semester and ended up playing in bands with them all though college.
- You’ve seen a lot of changes in the music business since you first started in the 80s. You went the major label route with RCA and now it seems that the majority of artists release their albums independently. Did you encounter pushback from the label regarding creative control of projects when you were recording for the business suits working for labels?
- It was exciting to be on a major label at that time. We didn’t have the stereotypical conflicts over material with RCA. It was much more about album cover artwork, the obligatory music video and who do we get put on tour with. There were fights about all those things, and they wasted a lot of our money (ie. future royalties) on crap we didn’t want. For example we did a big tour opening for the Athens, Georgia band Guadacanal Diary right when our record came out and it made no sense at all. But then we got to do little tours with the likes of Los Lobos, Little Feat and Bonnie Raitt which would not have happened without the record company and their ties to big booking agents. It is a lot tougher to get out there like that these days that’s for sure.
- Your list of music credits is pretty impressive. You’ve added your harmonica playing to albums by musicians as diverse as Jules Shear to Kim Richey to the The and Juliana Hatfield. Would you agree that the “art” of playing harmonica is a fine line between the spaces — knowing when to play and knowing when to be quiet to let the other instruments of vocals take precedence?
- Yeah I guess. Mostly I try to have good tone, try to be melodic and of course stay out of the way. And hope the tape is rolling when I hit a couple good notes.
- Session Americana has been playing more abroad and in other parts of the country these days. You’re fantastic ambassadors of the Cambridge / Somerville music scene. What kind of reception do you get in the UK and in Scandinavia, for instance?
- Well we just got back from Sweden, Ireland and Scotland and it was pretty incredible. We played a couple of festival shows to big crowds and they seemed to like it a lot. In Sweden they bought all the CDs we had. Ireland has been great for us. We have been there a few times now and they really get it, the idea of us sitting around the table trading songs. They appreciate live music there in a fundamental way that is a bit hard to describe. Needless to say we are ready to go back as soon as we can.
- What’s the wildest gig you’ve ever played?
- I think the wildest gig I’ve ever played was so wild I can’t remember a thing about it!
- What’s the best part of being in Session Americana?
- The guys I play with.