Cambridge Presents: Red Line Roots, Julie Rhodes, Danny Roaman, Bill Scorzari & More

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Photo Credit: Red Line Roots
Julie Rhodes at Club Passim Photo Credit: Red Line Roots

This weekend marked our very first Heartstrings visit to Cambridge, Mass., for Bill Scorzari‘s performance at Gallery 263 on Saturday night. As it turns out, Cambridge was full of great surprises.

On Friday, we received word that Danny Roaman (Jonah Tolchin‘s guitarist) would be accompanying Julie Rhodes at the famous Club Passim (formerly Club 47) Saturday afternoon, for the “Locals Covering Locals” showcase (produced by musician, Brian Carroll of Red Line Roots). Julie sang several originals and local favorites, including a cover of Jonah Tolchin’s “Mockingbird,” with Danny on guitar, alongside a second electric blues guitar, a thumpin’ stand-up bass and a smokin’ blues harp with that classic, taxi-cab microphone plugged into a dirty amp, howl. They were absolutely incredible! If you haven’t yet heard Julie sing, you need to. Julie Rhodes is the blues done right, with one of the most effortlessly authentic voices I’ve heard in years. There’s no doubt that we all will hear more about this incredible vocalist and her band in the days to come. Look for the release of Julie’s debut album (maybe this Spring?), produced by friend and mentor, Jonah Tolchin.

10325243_283753968474720_2976197881287614275_nAdditional performers featured at Club Passim were Jake Hill, Connor Millican and Haunt the House — a folk trio of guitar, accordion and stand up bass, who played a rousing set, which included Ian Fitzgerald‘s “Melinda Down the Line.” It’s inevitable that something great is on the horizon for this band. I can just feel it.
Haunt the House

The Whiskey Boys took the stage last, with their virtuoso set of bluegrass/folk music of the best kind, which even included a cover of “Feel Good Inc” by the Gorillaz.

We spoke with Brian Carroll after the show, about his vision of organizing local musicians to support each other by performing each other’s music, locally. To say this event was a great success, would be an understatement.

After the show at Club Passim, we headed to Gallery 263 for Bill Scorzari’s show with special guest, Annie Johnson — a 4th-year Berklee student from Idaho, who along with her sister, Katie Johnson, opened with a half hour of Annie’s masterfully-written original compositions.  Check out Annie’s music on Soundcloud.

Bill Scorzari then took the stage.Bill’s debut album was released this past May to critical acclaim, and can now be heard on Pandora. This night, Bill performed a collection of original Americana music slated for his second album, which is currently being recorded and produced by legendary audio engineer, Scott Hull of Masterdisk, right here in New York. Bill passionately delivered these heartfelt, real-life narratives, powered by his intense, pervading voice and sublime guitar.

An impromptu collaboration followed as Julie Rhodes and Danny Roaman joined Bill on stage to close out the night. Julie turned it on like a thousand-watt bulb, as Bill and Danny’s guitar work added to the glow. Check it out out here:


Guitar Mash 2014 at City Winery: The Photos

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We headed to New York City Sunday afternoon for Guitar Mash at City Winery. Great concept. Great performances. The Greg Allman Band’s musical director, Scott Sharrard started off the show, which included phenomenal performances led by the engaging and animated Mark Stewart (Paul Simon’s guitarist/Music Director) (see our pre-Guitar Mash interview with Mark here), Duke Robillard (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Robert Randolph (Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists), Chris Eldridge (Punch Brothers), David Bromberg, Valerie June…and a bunch more. If you couldn’t get there this year, plan ahead and be sure to get there next year.

‘a dream of my heart’: An Interview with Skaggs & White

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By Sharla McIver

6989050052_RickySharon_Hearts_Cover (1)

There are few more beloved names in the world of country and bluegrass music than Ricky Skaggs and his wife Sharon (of the legendary country music family act — The Whites). The two have been close friends since their teenage years through music, first meeting at a festival where White was performing with her father Buck White and sister Cheryl and Skaggs was performing with Keith Whitley.

It was, however a bumpy road with a few difficult curves that finally led to them to becoming husband and wife 33 years ago. But through those difficult times and sometimes painful places, the couple has built a strong relationship founded first on faith, and second on family.

Although Skaggs has performed with the White Family at a number of shows and events over the years, another duet or duet album had yet to happen. Instead they chose to continue to focus on their individual careers: Skaggs with his award-winning solo career in country music including 12 #1 songs, 14 Grammy Awards and numerous CMA Awards including Entertainer of the Year in 1985. He continued on to have a highly successful career in bluegrass, in his native state of Kentucky, with his band Kentucky Thunder; White continued to tour with her family’s band. As a couple, they chose to focus on raising their children, Molly and Luke, and making their family and faith their continued first priority.

In 1987, after being married for about six years, the couple won CMA Vocal Duo of the Year for “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This,” the first married couple to win the award. The likely decision in the commercial world of music would have been another duet soon to follow their win, if not an entire album of Skaggs/White duets. But once again, the pair did not choose the seemingly obvious course. It wasn’t necessarily their personal choice, Skaggs explained. “We thought then it was a good idea. We loved singing together, we had a hit and the next step would be to do a record. But at the time we were on competing labels. And the label I was on didn’t want to have me recording with an artist on a competing label, even though she was my wife. At the time there was disappointment, but looking back it was probably a good thing. Our hearts might not have been in the right place at the time and our motives wouldn’t have been what they are now. Looking back I know God already knew that, and He knew then when the time would be right.” Apparently that time is now.

Decades in the making, the couple have finally released a duet album, Hearts Like Ours, a beautiful collection displaying the faith, values and love that only time together through the years could authenticate.  The collection contains honest, soul-searching and heartfelt love songs, about the good and the bad and the dreams we all have for lifetime love. A good measure of sound relationship advice is interspersed throughout. If you had asked the pair just a while ago, they would likely have told you a duet album was not likely in their future — “I had really decided it would probably never happen,” White explained. “We were invited to sing some songs at a couple’s event a couple years ago, and share a testimony, and we put together some songs. They were songs we had been singing for years. Ricky was really the one who brought in the idea of recording. The timing just felt right. We are at a place where we have learned some things together, about love and commitment, family and faith. I’ve always had the desire in my heart to do this, but if we’d done it back then it couldn’t have been what it is now, or meant what it means to us,” White said.  “I am so happy that Ricky and I have finally done a duet CD, which we have wanted to do for years and I think our hearts are in the right place to do this now. It was great to pick songs together and share ideas about how we wanted to do them. I have always enjoyed making music with Ricky, so this album is the fulfillment of a dream of my heart.”

Her husband agrees — “Hearts Like Ours is a dream come true for Sharon and I,” said Skaggs. “Being married for 33 years, you get to know someone’s heart. I know hers and she knows mine, and we hope you can hear that on this CD. I loved getting to work with her.” Skaggs believes in White’s ability to find and choose songs, and although it was a joint project from beginning to end, he relied on her to choose much of the music for the album. The couple said they listened to a number of songs and put a great amount of thought into their choices, mostly reflecting on what message they wanted to send, and songs that were meaningful to them. And although Skaggs has produced a number of records, many of the technical aspects were a new experience for White. “That’s where trust comes in,” she said. “Ricky made the final call, and he listened to me if I had a strong feeling one way or the other. It’s not my area, but we both agreed that we would agree. And it really ended up being exactly what we both wanted.”

Although they don’t consider the album a gospel album, they do hope it will be inspiring to others. “It expresses our commitment to the Lord and to each other,” Skaggs said, and that priority is obvious in each track. Their faith and strong family values are evident throughout the album, from the acknowledgement that marriage is sometimes just difficult, and their faith in God is what keeps theirs working. Starting with the award winning duet “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This,” the pair chose songs that would best reflect their faith and family values, from the acknowledgement that marriage is sometimes just plain difficult, and their faith in God is what keeps theirs working on the song “It Takes Three.” The title track and the song “I Run To You,” serve as a clear proclamation of love and security between the two of them. Both were penned by Skaggs’ family friends, Connie Smith and Marty Stuart. “Home is Wherever You Are” comes across as absolutely genuine, in a way that might not be so obvious without the heartfelt love and spiritual connection between the two.

“Hold On Tight, Let It Go” features Skaggs on vocals and is a treasure of relationship advice for ALL relationships. The lyrics: “Hold on tight; let it go. Our love is always strongest when we let our weakness show. We don’t have to give in to the prideful winds that blow if we hold on tight; let it go,”  are a few words any couple, young or old, and any friends, old or new, would be wise to heed. “Be Kind” features vocals by Skaggs and is a testament to the importance of simple acts like kindness and forgiveness in every relationship.

White chose the bluegrass tune “No Doubt About It,” most famously recorded by Flatt and Scruggs, after hearing it one day and deciding it would sound great as a male/female duet, and thinking it would be a fun song, a solid old bluegrass standard, to include among the others. As for something a little different from the theme of love songs, every person can relate to “When I’m Good and Gone” written by Buddy Jewell and Leslie Satcher, which features White on vocals. The song reflects on what we each want to leave behind when we are no longer on this earth; how we want to be remembered. Skaggs said he had joked a little about the song, saying, “You don’t want the preacher to have to lie about you at your funeral.” He added more seriously, “You want to leave something good for people to remember when you’re gone.”

The album is poignant, inspiring, and filled with a treasure of relationship advice for every couple – or any kind of relationship.  And although none of the 13 songs they selected were written by either Skaggs or White, they are not at all opposed to the idea.  Rather than focus on what will play on the radio or the commercial aspect of an album, they are focused on ways to incorporate some of the songs, or how to do some of the songs from each of their vast inventory of recorded songs, into their live shows. And for all of the fans already loving the album, there is good news ahead: the two are already discussing songs they would like to do together at some point in the future.

The CD can be purchased on iTunes, and it is also available on the Skaggs’ family web site,  Fans of Ricky Skaggs may also want to check out his recently published autobiography, Kentucky Traveler, which has just been made available in a paperback version.

Every Mile: Nathan Stanley’s “Bluegrass Album of the Year”

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By Sharla McIver

Nathan Stanley EVERY MILE cover art

Individual God-given talents run deep within Nathan Stanley’s family. Stanley, the grandson of Bluegrass icon and Grammy Award-winning musician Dr. Ralph Stanley, won the “Bluegrass Album of the Year” at the 2014 Dove Awards this month for his most recent album, Every Mile. The Dove Awards took place on October 7, and Stanley, who was described by the Dove Awards as “such a genuine heart,” displayed his humble and gracious character in his reaction to his first nomination and win after the announcement was made.

“I am truly honored!” said Stanley.  “I was so honored to even be included among the nominations with the great artists I was nominated with in the category. I’ve known the Isaacs since I was a little boy, and was truly humbled and grateful for the nomination alone. This was my first Dove nomination.  I cannot express how thrilled I am to have won this award, not just for me, but for my Papaw.  He has paved the way for so many including me.  Having him on this album was special enough, but to now share a Dove Award with him takes it to another place.  I want to thank everyone who played a part in making this happen. Most of all, I give all of the praise and glory to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Without him, this would not have been possible.”

Every Mile includes a combination of Southern Gospel, Bluegrass and Country styles and features collaborations with a number of well-known artists from each genre, including his grandfather on “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” Vince Gill on “Hand in Hand With Jesus,” Jeff and Sheri Easter on “Heart That Will Never Break Again” and T Graham Brown on “Baptism of Jesse Taylor.”

Stanley expressed his gratitude to the artists for taking their time to work with him on the album. “I know it’s a gift for them to lend their time. I have my hands full as Band Leader for Papaw’s band, trying to direct the show and keep it rolling, taking care of as much of his stuff as I can and working on my own music as well, but it’s worth it. So I really appreciate the gift of their time in making this album.”

Of Brown, Stanley said, “He is just a wonderful guy. As nice as it gets. He is also an amazing vocalist, and stylist. I was really honored to have him work with me on the track.”  Another favorite for Stanley on the album is the song “Lord, You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”  Stanley said, “The words are so powerful. A lot of people will be able to relate to those words. Everyone has ups and downs in this life. Wes Hampton did this song with me, and he is a dear friend and one of the best singers around.” One song almost didn’t make the final cut, and has turned out to be one of the most meaningful and poignant songs for Stanley. “”You Can’t Make Old Friends” was very emotional to sing and to record, especially with my Papaw. It was also recorded recently by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, but bringing the Grandfather/Grandson point of view to the song makes it different, a different meaning,” he explained.

Stanley is proud of and grateful for his heritage and honored to have spent many of his 22 years touring with his grandfather, Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Cinch Mountain Boys, starting by playing the spoons to serving for the past seven years as band leader, rhythm guitarist and singing lead vocals for the group. He is quick to add, however, his desire to not ride the coattails of his legendary grandfather but to make his own place in music based on the gifts God has given him. His grandfather is proud of him as well. Dr. Ralph Stanley said of his grandson’s album Every Mile: “I’m very proud of my grandson Nathan. I think he is doing a wonderful job of building his own legacy in the music industry. If you like good gospel music, I highly recommend this new album. It’s a good one!”

 “I started touring with my Papaw when I was two years old, one of the first times being on the Grand Ole Opry. I’ve stood beside him, watched what he did, and try to be the same but in my own way. I don’t want to be Ralph Stanley. I want to be Nathan Stanley,” he explained. “At a concert not too long ago, some folks came up to me and said they saw me on stage with my Papaw when I was 6 or 7 years old. They said I had become so tired that I ended up laying my head down on his boots and fell asleep, and Papaw just stood there so as not to disturb me and kept playing and singing. It’s really fun to run into people who have watched me grow up on the stage and share their memories with me.”

Despite his desire to be unique and himself, he knows he stands in a tall shadow. “You have to prove yourself when you have a name with such a legacy. There are some positives and there are some negatives, just like everything in life. I’m not competing but there will always be people who are comparing. But I’m so grateful for my heritage and I don’t take it lightly,” he explained.

Stanley has recorded and released seven solo albums including My Kind of Country, which in 2011 was voted “Classic Country Album of the Year” by the National Traditional Country Music Association. This project featured collaborations with Ricky Skaggs, Connie Smith, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Gene Watson, Rhonda Vincent, Marty Stuart, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jim Lauderdale and others. Two music videos were released from the album, “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Long Black Veil”.

These artists have high praise for (Nathan) Stanley as well. T Graham Brown said, “Nathan’s version of ‘Hand in Hand with Jesus’ makes me want to tighten my grip. This is a standout cut and I know that he is making Dr. Ralph proud. I’m a Big Fan!” Gene Watson added, “Very seldom do you get to work with someone destined to become a Legend. So it was a great privilege for me to record with Nathan Stanley who is definitely on his way to becoming just that, A True Legend. Nathan has got the gift of music in his bones. At his young age, he’s already a super talented musician with a great sense of style and superb vocal talent.”

In addition to his responsibilities with Ralph Stanley and the Cinch Mountain Boys and his career as a solo artist, (Nathan) Stanley currently hosts his own television show The Nathan Stanley Ministry Show, which airs on Saturday nights on the Living Faith network. He has appeared on a number of television shows including Bill Gaither’s Bluegrass Homecoming and The Late Show with David Letterman.

1. Every Mile (feat Wes Hampton)
2. Baptism Of Jesse Taylor (feat T Graham Brown and Judy Marshall)
3. Heart That Will Never Break Again (feat Jeff and Sheri Easter)
4. I Know Jesus Will See Me Through (feat Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Becky Isaacs Bowman)
5. Let Me In Your Heart
6. Green Pastures (feat Jeff Bates and Judy Marshall)
7. Piece Of Clay
8. Where No One Stands Alone
9. Hand In Hand With Jesus (feat Vince Gill)
10. Where Will You Go
11. Would You Be Ready (feat Adam Crabb)
12. Lord You’re The Best Thing (feat Wes Hampton)
13. You Can’t Make Old Friends (feat Dr. Ralph Stanley)

Requited Love: Pickathon 2014

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By: Lauren Jahoda


The praise I have for Pickathon is boundless and can only be exceeded by the experience they have given me as a festival-goer. Pickathon prevails among its fellow festivals by lifting the distinction between owner, performer, volunteer and patron and designing an event that guarantees each of their attendees an equally rewarding experience. While I was at the merch table, buying my two-year-old niece a Pickathon-stamped tee (so that she could spread the word of Pickathon all the way to the parks and playgrounds of the East coast), I met a Portlander, originally from Pennsylvania. As he and I relished in our discussion of  our favorite performances “so far”, and the anticipation of the acts to come, he expressed one of the best descriptions of the festival that I had the pleasure of hearing:

“You know the feeling of putting 100% effort into something, only to receive half or even just a quarter of that back? Well, with Pickathon, the return is exponential.”

I first began to realize that I was in for an uncommon festival experience when I was one of only five people on the school bus shuttled from the Clackamas Town Center to Pickathon on Happy Valley’s Pendarvis Farm. I am aware that many camp and some drive, and while this may not be the most profound clue, my past festival-going experiences usually entail the competitive “If we want to get a good spot…!” mentality and the anxiety-ridden strategizing in order to avoid swarming crowds and long lines. We arrived at the farm and the easiness carried through every step of the way. Registration/Check-in, no line. Entrance, no-line. It was all very inviting. In fact, I had so much freedom that I found I needed a little direction once I passed through the yellow fabric gates. It’s very obvious that this freedom to wander is not only allowed, it’s highly encouraged. Unsure of which direction to head, I wandered to the right towards the Pendarvis house, as I noticed several women gathered at the right corner of the porch harmonizing, with the pluck of a banjo here and there, as if to be practicing for an upcoming performance. I listened and captured a couple of photos of the home and the red tractor that sits out front, labeled “Pendarvis Farm”—the lettering, since having ventured all the way from New York, confirmed a personal accomplishment—I had officially made it.

Here, the confines of designated press areas, audience areas, backstage-only areas, staff-only areas and artists trailers just aren’t necessary. After drifting as far right as possible, I turned around and headed left. I eventually greeted a pair of volunteers at the first checkpoint and asked for some recommendations on where to head first. One of the young women rose without hesitation and led me to the nearest large board map (no print-outs to reduce waste) and spent at least 10 minutes looking over and discussing some of the history of the festival grounds with me.

The festival began in 1999 as a rather small gathering at Horning’s Hideout in Portland, which after seven years, became unsuitable in size for the audience they were attracting. They then moved to the present festival grounds of Pendarvis Farm, situated on 80-acres and privately-owned by Scott and Sherry Pendarvis, who for a long time had been hosting local festival jams for incoming musicians and the surrounding community. Without even having met the pair, it’s obvious that the rare and ultra-positive spirit of Pickathon is largely due to Scott and Sherry’s involvement. Just prior to Robbie Fulk’s performance in the Lucky Barn, I noticed a laminated message posted to the porch side of the building. The notice contained rules, guidelines and humble advice about time spent while on the farm, directly from the owners themselves, along with their cell phone numbers, should you need to reach them.

“’People have always described [the farm] as having a cyclone of creative energy swirling around it,’ Sherry says. ‘It sounds very hippie and woo-woo, but that’s what people have said so many times. But I know that when I first moved here that I was feeling this sense of history.’ She continues, ‘I try to think of the farm as a canvas for possibility.’” (Hillary Saunders, Paste Magazine).

The festival contains 6 stages: Mountain View, Fir Meadows, Galaxy Barn, Woods, Starlight, Lucky Barn (formerly the Workshop Barn) and the Tree Line Stage. Each has its own ambience and flavor, and is as extraordinary as the next. With 6 stages and 50+ performers, each as attractive as the others, Pickathon designs a schedule during which each artist performs twice throughout the weekend. Rather than having to leave half way through The Sadies to catch the last ten minutes of Nickel Creek, you can remain seated (or standing) and make less sacrifices when ranking your must-see bands, with a better chance to discover someone new. To top it off however, if you do have the opportunity and availability to see the same band twice, you most definitely should, because you will experience two very different performances–each on a different stage. The Blind Pilot you get on the Mountain View Stage will be a completely different adventure than the Blind Pilot you get on the Woods Stage.

The first stage I visited (once I figured out how to get there upon my arrival on Friday morning), was the Woods Stage. Photographs I had previously seen of this stage alone, are what prompted my discovery and following of Pickathon several years ago. I headed straight for the woods, while frequently catching overwhelming views of everything along the way, and fighting the urge to interrupt my mission to meet the idyllic woods before all else; this inaugural mission was necessary, as for me, it marked the point of transition from being a remote spectator, viewing the picturesque scene on the screen of my laptop miles away in NY, to a traveler, just steps away from the oh-so tangible forest that lied ahead of me. It was incredibly hot that day, but as I entered the woods I instantly cooled under the shade amidst the aromatic soil and lush foliage. I felt calmed by the ethereal atmosphere of the woods, the multicolored fabric balloons propelled in the air and the comfort of walking in an enormous shared living space. 

For those of you who were fans of Fern Gully as a kid, the Pickathon woods are as close as it gets. So much so that, before, during and after the festival, the Pickathon team marked all their media with the hashtag “#notadream,” assuring their audience that as magical and unbelievable as it may be, Pickathon was and is, in fact, wonderfully real.

Over the next several days, I will be posting reviews and photos of some of my favorite performances at the festival, and the tales of a Pickathon camper. Until then, please enjoy our photos from the weekend and be prepared to fall in love over and over again.

(Photography by Lauren Jahoda)



Homegrown: The Restoration Farm’s ‘Tin House Music’

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By: Lauren Jahoda

The Restoration Farm, founded in 2007 by Daniel Holmes and Caroline Fanning, is a seven-acre farm situated on the grounds of Long Island’s one-of-a-kind Old Bethpage Village Restoration. The Restoration Farm’s mission is to provide the surrounding community with fresh, sustainable and herbicide/pesticide/synthetic fertilizer-free produce. This summer, the Farm has expanded its community offerings with the inception of “Tin House Music” Concert Series. Tin House’s first concert took place on May 4 with alternative folk band, Miles to Dayton, and continues on the first Sunday of each month until their final show of the season on September 7th. All shows begin at 2 PM with an open-mic hour. Last Sunday’s show featured the Long Island Bluegrass Quartet and brought in incredible local talent, including Bill Scorzari and Tin House’s own MC.

Tin House nourishes our community, offering a combination of homegrown food and sound within the bounds of a down-to-earth and organic backdrop. Come down to the final September 7th show to sample the harvest and harmonies. Check out the calendar and get your tickets here:

(Photos by Megan Jahoda)