Getting to Know Annalivia

Annalivia is one of 24 Emerging Artists at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, NY.   Annalivia is a “roots and branch” band and hail from the greater Boston area.  To learn more about the band, check out their website.

Here’s a video for you to get an idea of what their music sounds like.

Falcon Ridge is celebrating its 25th anniversary the first weekend in August and the Emerging Artist showcase is always one of the highlights of the festival. The musicians are chosen by a three-member jury* and are given the opportunity to perform two songs (not to exceed ten minutes).  The audience votes for their favorites and three or four acts are asked to return to the main stage the following year.  This is the first of 24 interviews!

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Tell us about the members of the current line-up.

The current lineup is: myself (Liz Simmons) on lead vocals and guitar, Flynn Cohen on mandolin, guitar and vocals, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle. Flynn and I are both founding members, and have worked with various fiddlers over the past 4 years since the band’s inception. Bronwyn is brand new as of April! She is a Berklee graduate and well versed in bluegrass, Old Time and Irish traditional music- very versatile and a great improviser. She won’t be with us at Falcon Ridge; we will be appearing as a duo for that gig.

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Is it fair to say that the kind of roots music that Annalivia plays is deeply rooted in Celtic music—Scottish / Irish fiddle music — so can you explain how that kind of music is so connected to American roots music.

Yes, our approach now is pretty rooted in American roots, but since we all have backgrounds in traditional Irish, Scottish and English folk music these ‘roots’ styles also find their way into our arrangements. These styles are more connected to American musical traditions than some people may think, since most of the people from the region of Appalachia where Old Time music began were immigrants of the British Isles and Ireland. Most Appalachian songs are direct descendants of songs from Scotland, Ireland and England. Old Time and bluegrass is where British Isles-descended music meets the influences of blues and other southern styles. I think that more and more roots musicians are making that connection and finding the history there. Tim O’Brien’s The Crossing is a good example of a roots/bluegrass musician exploring that connection– but there are others. The thing these styles all have in common– and the best thing about them– is that they’re all social music, and it’s all about connecting with people.

For those who want to learn more about the origin of this kind of music, what would you suggest they listen to so that they can be more well informed about what inspired you to write and perform the music you do today.

Let’s see– for some good old Appalachian balladry, try Sheila Kay Adams, Dillard Chandler, and Jean Ritchie. Also the young Elizabeth LaPrelle is fabulous. We are also big fans of Doc Boggs, Tommy Jarrell, Bill Monroe, and the Lonesome River Band. For the British Isles connection, we love ballad singers like Nic Jones, Anne Briggs, John Renbourne, Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy (English) and Paul Brady & Andy Irvine Dolores Keane and the Bothy Band (Irish).

Annalivia is sometimes called a “roots and branches” band.  What does this mean? 

I like to call us this because I think of American roots as the “roots” part and “branches” as the multitude of influences feeding what creates our sound– and that includes the British Isles traditions but also the newer influences– jazz, contemporary folk, etc.

Did all the members of the group gravitate to this music as children or was it something that you came to love as adults?

Well we each have somewhat different histories with the stuff. I grew up in a family of musicians who played and sang music ranging from Irish ballads to New Orleans brass music to classical, so I went through phases of exploration of different styles throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Flynn was exposed to classical music and pop as a child and found English folk revival music as a teen and bluegrass and Irish trad as a young adult, and he also studied Early and Avant-Garde music in college. Bronwyn began her studies of fiddle music as a young child with Cape Breton and Irish trad, and picked up Old Time and bluegrass in her teens, and then at Berklee studied bluegrass further as well as new acoustic styles.

Do you play at dances as well as concerts?  Do you prefer one experience over the other?  There must be something special about people moving about as you play but also something very rewarding about being listened to intently.

We’ve all played for dances in other permutations and it can be very enjoyable– the music can get wilder– there’s something freeing about it. Annalivia has only played one dance and that was at Champlain Valley Folk Festival a couple years ago, and it was great fun. Normally we play for listening audiences, but we love when listeners respond by whooping or tapping their feet. Coming from traditional music one is just used to that sort of thing more. Tacit audiences are also nice in that you feel like all the subtleties are coming across, but feedback, however small, can close the gap between musicians and audience, which is great– that is what folk music is really about: the interchange. It’s not just about being on display.

*The judging panel changes year to year. Many thanks to this year’s panel, Carter Smith, producer of Common Ground Community Concerts in Hastings-on-Hudson NY, Dennis O’Brien, talent buyer for the Newtown Theater in Newtown PA and Kathy Sands-Boehmer, booker for the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead MA now in its 43rd year of presenting great acoustic music.

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