Receiving an announcement from Kat Mills recently about her forth upcoming CD, I realized it was time to check in with this long time HVBA member who was around at the very dawn of the organization.
A little history from Kat:
In late summer 1996, when Nicholas and I married, just after he graduated from Vassar College, there was no doubt in our minds that we wanted to live in the Hudson Valley. I had finished at Vassar three years before, and had spent the interim in Austin TX, Fort Collins CO and State College PA. We were looking for a community that would line up with our music, our politics, and our love of farm fresh food, good beer and nature. No place called us quite like that rich mix of towns scattered up and down the river, peacefully nestled between the mountains and the city.
During his senior year of college, Nicholas had begun playing some gigs with friends. They had varying musical backgrounds, but at the time found themselves picking up traditional string band instruments and being drawn to bluegrass. When I got there full time, I forced my way into the band with my Martin guitar and harmony chops, and GRASS was born. I had grown up listening to bluegrass. My father played guitar, and every weekend morning in our house featured a soundtrack by Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Tony Rice, and on. I grew up about a half mile from The Birchmere, the infamous Alexandria VA club where The Seldom Scene held residence every Thursday night. It was in my ear and in my blood, but I didn’t realize how much I loved it and knew it until I started playing with GRASS.
We really were just a bunch of friends, having a great time hanging out learning tunes, how to blend our voices, how to work in just enough banter to a set. We steeped ourselves in the classics, but also in those who had taken the traditional music in new directions in the 60s and 70s, like The Band, Old and in The Way, The Flying Burrito Brothers. We settled into a sound that worked. And this was BEFORE the coming wave of young musicians making traditional music popular again—what I call the “Beard and Banjos” of the twenty first century.
I don’t remember who met Jeff (Anzevino) first. Jesse, our baritone uke player, was working for Scenic Hudson. Will Solomon, on mandolin, was working at Clearwater. Nicholas, banjo, was farming with Four Winds in Gardiner. And I was working full time for Family of Woodstock. Someone met Jeff Anzevino. And knowing Jeff, he wouldn’t stop talking about the HVBA and how great the jams were.
I also don’t remember when we went to our first jam at the Pirate Canoe Club. All I remember is how we immediately felt at home. Regulars like Frank Kara, Eric Spaulding, Mike Burns and Jeff, were a little older than us, and a little better than us. But they were totally open to teaching and befriending. As our band grew and developed, the HVBA was a constant, supportive part of it. I have great memories of the jams and events all over the valley, and we were happy there. I ended up serving as secretary for a couple of years, sometime around 1998-2001.
In the fall of 2002, Nicholas and I packed up and moved to the Blue Ridge so he could study for a Ph.D at Virginia Tech. We said goodbye to GRASS and our beloved Hudson River. It was a long way from the region we loved, but we found a welcoming and surprisingly common vibe here. It’s sort of the southern version of Ulster County. Beautiful mountains. Small, independent farms. Blacksburg even looked a lot like New Paltz then. We made a new home.
I have spent the ensuing years putting together a solo career as a singer/songwriter, raising a daughter, and volunteering in this special region. I have made four solo albums, three of them in Catskill NY, so I get back up to the area any time I can. The newest, called Silver, will be released in November, and I’m currently running a pre-order campaign through PledgeMusic—an excellent platform for indie artists to get recordings out to the world. This record is not bluegrass. It is a mix of folk, soul and adult contemporary sounds. Think Ray LaMontagne or Joni Mitchell. But I like to think that the bluegrass that was in me as a child, and that continued through my time with the HVBA, is still in there somewhere. Nicholas plays a little banjo on it. Hudson Valley favorite Rachel Handman lends some fiddle. I hope current members will take a moment to visit Pledge Music to see what I do and consider a pledge.
When Nicholas and I have been in the area the last couple of summers, we have wanted so much to attend a jam, but the timing never seems to work (you all tend to be at Grey Fox when we’re around!). But we consider the HVBA to be an important part of our history, and we appreciate all you do to keep those sounds alive.
Please stop by Kat’s website for a visit.
Also check outher pledge page to pre-order her new recording Silver.