Getting to Know Laney Jones and the Lively Spirits

Laney Jones is one spunky bluegrass musician.  You’ve gotta love it.  She’s got the chops. She’s got the tunes.  She’s tearing up the bluegrass circuit with her band, The Lively Spirits. A DJ once referred to her voice  as “mixture of lemon, molasses, gin and gun powder.” After listening to her songs, I totally understand that comparison.

Laney Jones and The Lively Spirits are one of 24 Emerging Artists chosen for this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.  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.

For more information about Laney Jones and The Lively Spirits, visit their website.

Check out this video of Laney and the Lively Spirits performing their song “Colorado and Washington.”  Be prepared.  You won’t be able to control your foot.  It’s going to start tappin’ and pretty soon you may need to get up and starting moving and then before you know it…. you may be sashaying around the room.

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So what’s this about you growing up on an exotic animal farm in rural Florida?  What on earth was that like?

About a year before I was born, my parents got into raising swamp wallabies they got from Connecticut and the farm grew from there. We always had a weird assortment of animals at our place; goats, foxes, dogs, and kangaroos would run around the house together. I was born into the quirkiness so it was normal to me. Instead of a dog insert a kangaroo and that was my childhood!   I moved to Florida from Maryland when I was 6 and grew up exploring outside in the orange groves and marshy areas surrounding my house. I think that influenced my leaning towards older, more down-to-earth sounds in music.

When did you start making music? Did you come from a musical family?

I actually didn’t start making music until I was 18 and going to college for International Business at a small school in Florida. I had been singing a long time because I was in plays growing up and had few piano lessons but it was never something I took seriously. But after going to college for a few months, I started toying around on a friend’s guitar. Then I wrote a song one night and that was it. My addiction for writing escalated quickly.

And when did the banjo come into the picture?

A friend had a banjo and let me borrow it for a night. I felt an instant connection to it and traded the mandolin I got for my birthday in for a banjo. I especially loved the sound of clawhammer banjo and completely lucked out that Mark Johnson lived only an hour away from me in Florida. He’s been an inspiration to me and wonderful mentor on the instrument.

What’s your favorite banjo joke?

Okay this one is a little morbid… “How do you get two banjoists to play in tune? Shoot one.”

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Was it culture shock to come north to live in a busy city like Boston?
A little bit. I live on 10 acres in Florida and to be reduced to sharing a 350 sq foot apartment was a change. Mostly because I love going outside and writing/practicing in the sun. Not as much space to do that in Boston unfortunately but at the same time it’s an amazing opportunity to be in a city like this with so many talented people and lots of great music.

What’s it been like studying at Berklee?  Are you in for the long haul or are you getting too busy with gigging to be able to stay enrolled in classes?

I love Berklee. I’ve been there for a year now and it’s totally exceeded all the expectations I had. Not only are the faculty and students world-class but Berklee has even given me a lot of opportunities and gigs. They sent me to the Kennedy Center my first semester! I was not expecting that at all!  It’s tough because I have been touring a lot this summer and would love to continue on into the Fall, but for now I am really grateful to be where I’m at.

Last summer you were part of the Grey Fox Emerging Artists showcase. What was that like? Was that your first festival appearance?

Pure awesome. I had played festivals in Florida and Shakori Hills in North Carolina but never something on the scale of Grey Fox. I got to meet some of my heroes like Del McCorry, and even played in a songwriter’s circle with Celia Woodsmith from Della Mae!  I love music festivals as both a fan and a performer. You get to connect with the true music lovers, the people who are really dedicated to it because they love it. It was an absolute honor to be a part of Grey Fox and I can’t wait for Falcon Ridge!

Tell us about the Lively Spirits. How is this band different than previous bands you’ve worked with in the past?  How would you describe your sound?

I actually have been using the Lively Spirits name for a few different groups of musicians and we have had kind of a revolving door lineup for the past few years. When I’m in New England we have a solid lineup that augments my banjo and harmonica sound with fiddle, guitar and bass. I really love to work with other multi-instrumentalists so we love to switch off on different twangy instruments like mandolin and dobro, as well as more surprising textures of clarinet and melodica. I would say we are a string band with a progressive twist.

You were chosen to take a vocal master session with Alison Krauss last fall. What did that entail?

I got to play two songs for Alison and Dr. Thomas Cleveland in front of an audience at the Kennedy Center. I was originally only supposed to play a cover but because there were only three singers instead of four in the session I got to do an original song as well. They both were super nice and reassuring. I love that I get to say “Alison Krauss likes this song” whenever I play my song Broken Hearts.  I also got notified that my performance will be aired on PBS in a documentary about the event sometime this year!

How did you get hooked up to play upcoming shows with Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban?

I totally lucked out again and got a sort of sponsorship from the southern department store Belk. They held a competition called Southern Musician Showcase where they chose six artists/bands from different genres. The Lively Spirits and I got it for Bluegrass. As part of the prize for winning we get to play in the Belk Lounge at these big concerts, be in a commercial, and get some free new clothes. My band has never looked better!

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