august 2008

A Song Of the Younger World, A Song of the Pack

Bearfoot Storms Out Of the Wild

By David McGee

With Bearfoot, time isn't reversed; it simply doesn't seem to exist in any standard sense of the concept. (from left): Jason Norris, Kate Hamre, Annalisa Tornfelt, Angela Oudean, Mike Mickelson. (Photo by Alicia Zappier)

Producer Gene Libbea, who has no shortage of great stories to tell from his 30-plus years as a bluegrass bass player and producer, relates an instructive tale concerning Bearfoot's mandolin whiz Jason Norris. It's a good story because it illustrates the resolve and savoir-faire the members of Bearfoot exhibit in carrying on the business of being one of the most promising young bands on the circuit. Alaskans all (only fiddler Angela Oudean, daughter of a career military officer, is not native to the state, but her family moved there when she was in third grade), the five members of the band are notoriously difficult to pin down when it comes to matters they deem inconsequential in relation to more pressing issues of survival, as individuals and collectively. Thus did this reporter learn in trying to arrange interviews with the musicians for what would be the first cover story in Bearfoot's history, coming in the wake of the nationwide release of a magnificent third album, Follow Me, which follows two other long players that are available on the Internet but were otherwise difficult to find outside the group's home base or at festivals. Notes came from their publicist saying, "They're kind of hard to contact. Sorry." E-mails went unanswered. Voicemails lingered on answering machines, searching and lost, like The Twilight Zone's GlobalFlight 33, unable to locate its scheduled destination because it had broken through a window in time and had wound up in the Stone Age before attempting to retrace its path back to the future. With Bearfoot, time isn't reversed; it simply doesn't seem to exist in any standard sense of the concept.

Your faithful friend and narrator was initially unconcerned concerned about this. Having spent time in Alaska himself, he understood the inborn aloofness of the natives, an abiding suspicion of those who live in what the natives call "the States," almost as if they consider the lower 48 to be another country apart from their own, which in large measure it is. Not unfriendly are they, mind you, but wary. The Alaskan soul is hardy from enduring the long, harsh winters, and thus duly respectful of the natural world in a way you wish other Americans could be. Touch down from "the States" and you'll find you earn trust in increments—in time, as it were—as you prove yourself something other than what author Jon Krakauer referred to in Into the Wild as one of the "marginal characters (who) have marched off into the Alaska wilds over the years, never to reappear," most of them victims of their own hubris, having made inadequate preparations, mentally and physically, to withstand the deprivations and hardships of bush and tundra.

Gene Libbea understands this mindset. Prior to the start of the Follow Me sessions , he spent time with the band in Anchorage, and when recording commenced at Notably Fine Audio in Denver, CO, they all crashed with Libbea at his house about an hour away, in Loveland, for the duration.

"Hard to pin down?" Libbea chortles over a cup of coffee one morning upon hearing of your faithful friend and narrator's travails in tracking Bearfoot. "That's an underlying vibe," he admits. "The aloof part might be that they're saving the really important stuff for when it's needed. When they have to save somebody's life, or when you have to dig out of ten foot snow drifts after you've wrecked your plane. I can understand. I think that's what it is. They don't take the little stuff too seriously, because there's way big shit happening. There's other really big shit. If it's not a grizzly bear coming to eat you, you're gonna die because you're gonna freeze to death because you haven't eaten and your water's frozen. So maybe that has something to do with it. We can only surmise."

Then Libbea launches into the abovementioned story centering on lanky, tousle-haired Jason Norris. It happened shortly before the onset of the Follow Me sessions, in either February or March, when Alaska is far from being thawed out.

Libbea: "So Jason gets here and he tells me the story of what happened. They were going hunting, had a 12 gauge with 'em. Anyway, they got caught in big snowdrifts in this truck out on this lonely road that nobody travels and the truck just bogged down, the snow got so thick. They hiked nine miles in one direction, didn't find anything. Of course they just needed to go one mile in the other direction and there was a cabin. So they get to this cabin and they're cold and everything and there's no food. Like a few grains of rice or something, pretty dismal. And I guess they were there two or three days. They were delirious. Finally Jason looks out the window and this big tire pulls up and it's a road grader guy coming by. So they have to pay five or six hundred dollars because they have this truck stuck out on the highway, it's a rented truck, kids have no sense about 'em.

"This is an average day for these Alaskans—stuck in the middle of the winter out on this road, they literally got rescued from death. Michael [Mickelson, Bearfoot's guitarist] had given me a book on the Alaskan bush pilots, all these famous names from the '30s and '40s that had come out there and ended up being the basis for Alaska Airlines, for one. Just a little bush operation, right? I read that book, and there were some hardy folks in there. Most of them died young, of course."

A Sighting, and Contact Is Made

What ho! There go Bearfoot!

It is a bright, warm July 19 Saturday in New York City. Across the harbor from Manhattan, on Governor's Island, some 100 or so visitors gather on a lawn lined on both sides with lush London Pine trees, at one end of which is a stage. The multitude brings chairs and blankets, or settles unfettered on the grass, eating, drinking, chatting, reading, napping, all awaiting music.

Bearfoot has flown in as today's featured attraction of Trinity Church's annual Folks On the Island summer series of free concerts. The Island is a beautiful, serene oasis, green and quiet, since 2003 the property of the people of New York following its 1995 closing as a Coast Guard facility. The folks bicycling and strolling around the outer edges of the island might take note of the cannons here and there, For more than 200 years this was a military facility used by both British and American forces. George Washington and his troops regrouped here during the Revolutionary War, but were driven from the Island by the British in August 1776. Following the end of the war, the Island became the property of New York State. Fort Jay, built on the high ground in the center of the island, was erected in 1794 to defend American shores. In 1800, New York transferred the Island to the U.S. government, which reconstructed Fort Jay, built Castle Williams, and, during the War of 1812, used it as a base for artillery and military troops. During the Civil War, Confederate prisoners were housed on the grounds, during the first two World Wars it was a supply base for U.S. Army ground and air forces. In 1966 the Island was transferred to the Coast Guard, which used it as a base of operations until closing it in 1995. At its height during the Coast Guard years it boasted a residential population of 3,500.

Into this historic setting stroll the five fresh young (all in their early to mid-20s) faces of Bearfoot, for their first New York performance. Dressed down during soundcheck, they emerge for their set all spiffy. Jason and Mike don black cotton dress shirts and colorful ties; Jason sports black suspenders and black kakhi slacks, Mike, shirttail out but crimson silk tie tightly knotted, is in blue jeans. The rest of Bearfoot is all female, all beautiful and all arrestingly but tastefully attired. All favor the same conservative, shoulder baring décolletage. Kate Hamre, the studious looking, wavy haired brunette bass player/vocalist, wears a white dress with minute black polka dots and a peek of crinoline at the knee; blonde-haired, hoop earinged fiddler/vocalist Angela Oudean wears a knee-length dress similar to Kate's, but in discrete grey and black checks; and willowy blonde Annalisa Tornfet, whose piercing blue eyes and distant gaze need no dressing up, is in sandals (in contrast to Kate's and Angela's heels) and an unadorned black dress, as simple and straightforward as her songs are elliptical.

Annalisa Tornfelt: 'Annalisa can write a song,' says producer Gene Libbea. 'She can write a song that has one verse, and that's all it needs. Other people got third and fourth verse and bridge to try to tell a story. It's not something you learn. She's not doing object writing or tried and true methods of composing. It's her own style. She's really something.'(Photo by Alicia Zappier)

They kick off their set with a brisk shuffle, "I'd Rather Be Alone," featuring an airy, diffident vocal by Annalisa, silky, harmonized choruses by the gals ensemble and the first of several frisky mandolin solos in the set courtesy Jason. "Molasses," the first cut on Follow Me, opens with plaintive twin fiddle soloing by Angela and Annalisa, concludes with an extended twin fiddle passage, and throughout Kate maintains a thumping, resonant bottom on her upright electric bass. For nearly an hour and a half they play, gaining momentum as the set rolls on, keeping the audience engaged and drawing others to the lawn to witness their impressive performance. For those who are familiar with Bearfoot only from recordings (likely most of the audience), some surprises are afoot on stage. Jason, shy and cautious offstage, is a dynamo in front of an audience, not only in terms of the physical energy he exerts tearing into lightning-quick, dynamics-rich solos on "I Know What It Means To Be Lonely," "Go On Home" and on the encore of the venerable "Sally Goodin," but also in his engaging, folksy manner when he speaks to the crowd. The laid-back, Boswell Sisters-like pop-blues of "Go On Home" also is an occasion for Annalisa to showcase a wailing vocal style with even more punch and growl than the recorded version; so much, in fact, that its intensity startles. That voice coming out of that body?

Angela and Mike don't surprise but rather confirm perceptions drawn from the studio work. Both are solid, sturdy musicians. Angela practically gives a clinic in inspired fiddling and is always perfectly in sync with Annalisa on the twin passages—

Gene Libbea: Angela, all she wants to do is be the best fiddle player in the world. She's tearing it up. I remember at Rockygrass two or three years ago, Jason Carter and Ronnie McCoury were all pickin', and taking solos, and Angela was playing. And both Jason Carter and Ronnie McCoury were looking at her with their mouths open.

—and as a vocalist her earthy timbre and the slight catch in her voice makes for a unique blend with Annalisa's silky, more ethereal style. She has a couple of rousing solo spotlights on cover songs, the most memorable being an aggressive attack on Loretta Lynn's classic ultimatum to a straying beau, "Fist City," the other a rollicking, carefree take on Lefty Frizzell's "Shine, Shave, Shower (It's Saturday)."

Fashioning a couple of stinging blues guitar solos along the way, Mike digs into Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues," sounding live as he does on Follow Me, like a young Tim O'Brien, warm and affecting within a limited vocal range rendered moot by the sheer personality of his performance.

Gene Libbea: Boy, when Mike came, Mike already had his shit together. The funniest thing is, his singing is not up to the standard of the girls', but, gosh darn it, when it came time to record, he did "Deep River Blues," Annalisa and I stared at each other in amazement. He cut that one on the first take, where everybody else had been doing take after take to get their vocal part right. He does it in two takes and the second take is just excellent. He killed it. He stepped up to the plate, and he played great guitar, great rhythm guitar and great lead guitar just like I like it to be played.

If all other elements of Bearfoot are equal, one is clearly not—the songs of Annalisa Tornfelt. You can hear where the band is coming from in its range of influences, from Doc Watson's country blues to Nickel Creek's pop-bluegrass fusions to the Duhks' bracing, progressive string band drive. As a writer, though, Tornfelt is beholden to no one, really. She'll point to Gillian Welch as an influence, will say, "Sometimes I imagine myself as Alison Krauss when I'm onstage," but she was raised by parents who were both orchestra teachers and classical musicians, and her first instrument was the suzuki violin. "So I had a lot of classical background," she says, then casts her Cheshire Cat smile at you and adds, sotto voce, "and maybe some Chuck Mangione.

"To say the least," she hastens to add, "meeting Angela and Jason and Mike really brought my attention to this kind of music, which is so fun."

To Bearfoot's first two albums she contributed a couple of original songs, but Follow Me is as much her coming out as a singer-songwriter as it is the band's initial push into the wide American market beyond their state's borders. (Annalisa, alone among her Bearfoot compatriots, has released two solo recordings.) Seven of the 12 songs on the album are Tornfelt originals, all remarkable in their own way, but two especially show a heightened sensitivity to the human condition, and a poet's touch in language and images.

Tornfelt's melancholic folk-styled meditation, "Sweet Pea," a wistful lament for a doomed love affair, is so explicit in the details of lingering physical memories it emits a visceral charge in unforgettable observations such as "He had the brown of a small town in Nebraska/She had the blues of the sea beside Alaska"; further references to orange sunsets, rain turning into dew, and "the tattoos of Kansas City" emphasize a fixation on specific geographies of the land and the intellect in evoking the all-consuming nature of a relationship in which two people surrendered everything, body and soul, to each other, lending the plaintive, aching, tear-stained chorus—"Oh my sweet pea, my little baby"—repeated three times-a heartbreaking eloquence born of nothing left to say. Tornfelt's finest song on the disc is a real stunner. The lilting, winsome "Just Stay" at first seems to be about a homeless single mom and her baby boy following the seasons to the next makeshift shelter, until the woman is revealed not to be abused or bereft of options, but rather surrendering to an insatiable wanderlust, to be anywhere but where she is right now, dragging her four-year-old with her while he pleads only for a real home, in one place where they can dwell together. "Maaamaa, just stay/Why you gotta go/All the time," the women plead in assuming the boy's character, their voices rising in heartbreaking harmony against a gently shuffling backdrop of fiddle, mandolin and softly fingerpicked guitar. Still harmonizing quietly, the women offer a comforting, "Ba-ay-be," then Tornfelt takes over, in a soft, soothing voice, delivering the paralyzing news that "my home is in your eyes," before the other two women join her to restate it: "My home is in my baby boy's eyes," preceding Oudean's crying fiddle outro over discreet, deft mandolin and guitar punctuations by Norris and Mickelson, respectively. Leaving unanswered the question as to whether the mother is rational and loves completely, but without complete understanding, or is so emotionally crippled she can't sense a connection between her irresponsible behavior and pain inflicted so callously even love will never heal it. Tornfelt is impressive enough as a vocalist and fiddler, but the emotional depth and narrative richness of her original material bespeak an artist capable of becoming one of her generation's most important songwriters.

Gene Libbea: Annalisa can write a song. Both her parents are string symphony grade players and educators. So that's how Annalisa was brought up musically. But she can write a song that has one verse, and that's all it needs. Other people got third and fourth verse and bridge to try to tell a story. Whether it be a nonsense lyric or a real song, she can write in either of those styles. It's not something you learn. She's not doing object writing or tried and true methods of composing. It's her own style. She's really something.

Onstage at Governor's Island, in the only moment of the show lacking any spoken setup, Annalisa steps up to the mike, and in a soft voice, barely above a whisper, over a laconic, swaying rhythm, begins singing the opening verse of "Just Stay": "He was only four/when they moved out on their own./he knew his mama couldn't sleep alone/so he held her at night/and in the morning light/she'd smile and he knew they'd be alright/maaammaaa, why we gotta go, all the time?" Behind her Angela is bowing long, keening, crying lines that are the sound of the inner anguish the song documents. It's only later, offstage, that Annalisa reveals she knows whereof she sings: she is the mother in the song, now single, and the conversation she's having in the story is with her now-seven-year-old son. As it turns out, the wrenching, achingly beautiful songs Tornfelt contributed to Follow Me, or many of them, are the result of the upheavals in her personal life that led her to move to Portland, OR, after her son's birth, "just to get out of Alaska," she says, but also to work out issues relating to her divorce and child custody arrangements.

Mike Mickelson: Annalisa has a lot of exceptional material. So what are our best options? That's basically how we decided what went on the CD. I think a lot of it too is that Annalisa was going through some hard times in her personal relationships, and she wrote all these great songs. We were obviously pretty excited to do those because they were so good.

One encore, "Sally Goodin," and it's over, a set that ranged from classic bluegrass to classic country (Hank Williams's "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It, the Lefty Frizzell and Loretta Lynn tunes) to classic country blues (Doc Watson) to the riveting originality of Annalisa's heart tugging, folk flavored laments. Bearfoot retreats to change clothes, and then to make their individual ways to the next gig. They have a stopover at the Rockygrass festival ahead, where they will not only perform, but also will do what they most like to do at summer festivals, and that is to teach music classes to young people, kindergarten to mid-teens, at their "Bluegrass Camps for Kids," seven sessions all told this year: in addition to one at Rockygrass in Colorado, the band holds one camp each in Connecticut and North Carolina, four in Alaska. The Bearfooters all came up and came together in music camps, both Mike and Kate have degrees in education and have taught in secondary schools in Alaska as well as in music camps in and out of their home state, Annalisa teaches violin when she's off the road. Angela graduated from East Tennesse State in 2006 with a degree in Sociology, which she says, whimsically, that she'll use to "socialize". In the winter they do what they call "residencies," which entail visiting a school for a day and teaching the kids what Kate calls "the basic stuff" about bluegrass, from the fundamentals of instruments to the fundamental texts ('bluegrass was invented by Bill Monroe...").

And so they go, leaving your faithful friend and narrator to begin the chase anew for more of their time to get the particulars of their intriguing story. But after Rockygrass they disperse, and for awhile both Mike and Kate are holed up in Homer, Alaska, with no phone or Internet access. Like the pilot of Global Flight 33, the reporter grinds on towards an uncertain future as deadline nears and the silence from Alaska deepens. Eventually, in true Bearfoot fashion, both Mike and Kate surface, and piece by piece the story emerges in greater detail, no less fascinating for the frustrations in trying to pin it down, as the saying goes.

It was 1999...

when Angela, Annalisa, Jason and Kate, who lived in Anchorage, were united with Mike, whose home was, and remains in Cordova. All had been playing musical instruments since their childhood years and were attending the Alaska Folk Arts Camp in Anchorage. Then Mike's mother, Belle Mickelson, a fiddler and guitarist herself, decided to start a music camp in order to encourage her son's interest in music—"she realized I wasn't going to play music unless other kids were playing music, so she started the camp," says Mike, who recruited his new friends to attend his mother's 4H Fiddle and Dance Camp in Cordova. In 1999 Belle decided to put a camp band together, and asked her son for recommendations as to which campers should be in the lineup. But as Mike reveals, the band came together to do more than play music for fun and recreation.

"The whole idea of Bearfoot Bluegrass, as it was called at the time, was to promote music camps, so people would see this group of kids who had been to the music camps in Alaska and would want to send their kids to music camps." In time, Belle expanded her mission. After being ordained as a priest, she used her connections with the church to reach out to rural school districts and bring music instruction to underprivileged areas.

Mike: "We've been going out to places like Arctic Village, which is right on the edge of Anwar, the oil reserves that are surrounded by so much controversy now. We've been going out there teaching native kids music. So I've been working with school districts in teaching kids music."

2001 proved a pivotal year for the young Bearfooters. With financial support from friends and family (Kate's father and Mike's mother had both been serving as managers without portfolio to help the youngsters manage band affairs and secure bookings), the group holed-up at Anchorage's state of the art Surreal Studios and cut its first album, Only Time Knows, self-released on the Bearfoot label. At this stage the band was a sextet that included another female, Malani O'Toole, the "lost" Bearfoot member who dropped out of the endeavor following the album's completion in order to attend Stanford University on scholarship. Although the debut album captures the band's energy, it's a raw recording in sound and execution.

"Raw," Mike says with a laugh. "That's a nice way to put it. That first record was pretty interesting because basically, at that point, we were still in music camp mode. And people were donating air miles so we could fly back and forth, because I lived in Cordova, which was several hundred dollars away, and Malani did also. So we had a lot of extra support to make that CD and we didn't really have a producer for it. It was just kind of us making music."

Something else, far more important, happened in 2001 as well. Bearfoot, which had been playing in the Pacific Northwest and around Alaska, mostly to promote the music camp (they had also made one trip to Kentucky, vividly recalled by Angela as "huge for us. We'd never really been out of the northwest. We played at a 4H convention, for a thousand people, and we were like, Whoa! I was 16, Kate was 14 or something, and we were like, Oh, my God, this is so awesome!"), ventured to the Telluride Festival and won the band contest.

The win at Telluride upped the ante for the young musicians, who were determined to complete their schooling and continue their work in bluegrass camps, but also recognized the momentousness of their achievement. A sophomore album, Back Home (with a whimsical cover photo of a polar bear sprawled out like a drunk on the ice while his partner looks on impassively), teamed the band with a true progressive bluegrass legend in producer/bassist Todd Phillips, a founding member of the David Grisman Quartet and two-time Grammy winner. No "raw" record for Phillips—he put the musicians through what all agree was "rhythm boot camp," a rigorous pre-production regimen aimed at making them more conscious of tempo and dynamics.

"Todd Phillips really had a huge impact on us," Mike says. "He really took it to the next level musically. He heard the first album and it didn't take him long to pick it apart and tell us what we needed to work on for the second album. We spent an enormous amount of time working on that second album. You know, he basically took us from a beginner band and taught us about timing and rhythm, advanced arrangements. The first album has a lot of energy but it's missing those things like timing and really good arrangements."

"He helped me a lot with my singing and phrasing, and brought my attention to detail," says Annalisa. "I think you can really hear that on the record. We did a lot of cut and paste and a lot of re-doing parts."

"Todd's really hard," Angela says emphatically. "He wanted to analyze every tiny thing, so the whole band really started paying more attention to the details."

"We grew a lot from working with him on that record," Annalisa adds. "We worked so hard on it. He really pushed us to, because he wanted us to mature in a way that was, in my opinion, very parental as well. So it was more of a teaching aspect—he took on more of a teacher role."

"So we went through Todd Phillips' 'Bluegrass Boot Camp,' and I learned a lot of rhythms, where to place the notes and what kind of notes to play, tone," Kate says. "Lot of timing issues I had to go through with Todd. Gene was more about feel. When we got to Gene we already had timing down, or enough so he wasn't too worried about it. It was more about feel with Gene. Both of those approaches, for where we were at the time, were really good for us."

All the Bearfooters agree

on one fact: When they approached Gene Libbea about producing their third album (they had been impressed with his work producing mandolin wunderkind Dominick Leslie, and knew him from Rockygrass—he was one of the judges when they won the band competition, although he didn't make their acquaintance until a couple of years later), they were a very different band than the one that had gone to work with Todd Phillips. Libbea, who flew up to Alaska for a week of pre-production rehearsals, noticed something immediately upon listening to the playback of each day's work. These were no neophytes anymore—"they can play this stuff and their timing is great. So we decided to cut everything live."

Gene: "Live meaning we would record the rhythm tracks in a big room, everybody in a circle, no isolation, and I kind of stood in the middle and directed traffic. The other issue was, anything twin fiddles had to be cut live. Those girls play off each other. So they sat facing each other about seven feet away, on two big Neumann U87 microphones. Anything that had a fiddle kickoff was totally live, both fiddles playing at the same time. Everybody was wearing headphones because some were 10, 12 feet away from somebody, in a big circle. So when the mandolin solo would come around, I would point to him and say, 'Cut!' and he would stop playing and leave a hole for his solo. So that he didn't have to try and cut the solo live, thus ruining the take if he didn't make it through. There's a couple of solos on these songs—fiddle solos, same thing—'Just don't play it right now.' So we would cut the rhythm track like that, Annalisa sang live lead vocal on several things. She's that good. All the fiddle stuff was live, any twin fiddle stuff was live, to capture that. And by cutting live tracks like that, then you do capture the energy. There's no click track. People aren't paying attention to something like that. They're playing it, and you can tell if the tempo's sped up or slowed down, and I could stop them. But generally their tempos were slow close that we could even edit if we needed to. Take three or four takes of the same song and say, 'Wait a second. When you get to that bridge, we'll lift it from this other place, from this other take,' and the tempos would match up, so you could not tell. So that when the edit was done, you forgot what was edited."

Gene Libbea: "They're not like another bluegrass band sitting among all the other bluegrass bands pounding it out. This is way different, and it's art."

Even Libbea, who spent 13 years with the Nashville Bluegrass Band, has toured with the likes of John Hartford and been featured on numerous sessions over the course of three decades, was impressed by the no muss-no fuss sessions. He talks excitedly about what good house guests the Bearfooters were, how disciplined they were in and out of the studio, and how receptive they were to his minimal suggestions. Kate credits the work with Todd Phillips for putting the band in a place where it was ready for the challenge Gene posed of playing live in the studio.

"These were two really different bands," Kate says of Bearfoot pre- and post-Phillips. "Todd had a band that needed a lot of work, and Gene got us after Todd. I learned a lot of rhythms, where to place the notes and what kind of notes to play, tone, lot of timing issues I had to go through with Todd. Gene was more about feel. When we got to Gene we already had timing down, or enough so he wasn't too worried about it. It was more about feel with Gene. Both of those approaches, for where we were at the time, were really good for us."

"Todd really sculptured a lot of what was happening," Mike explains. "Gene, he had a more laissez-faire approach, letting us do what we do and acting as a producer. When someone was having trouble with something, he knew when to stop and tell them to take a break, work on something else. If we were having trouble with rhythm, he would be a human metronome."

Six days of rehearsals in Alaska, eleven days of live sessions in Denver. Quick, clean and masterful. A friend of Libbea's declared Follow Me a work of art, to which Libbea responds, "I took it as a piece of artwork, or as a painting we were all making together.

"They actually played their record; there's no gimmicks or tricks, very little fixing of anything. You're pretty much hearing the raw stuff. The idea was to capture them, because what they could do on their own was stunning. I heard that right away and thought, My God, they're gonna be able to just cut this stuff. And that's when I decided to go with live. And those tracks hold together because they were actually played."

Now What?

Now what, indeed. Follow Me was actually released in 2006, but 2008 marks its full-bore national coming-out, and the band is treating it as if it were brand new, which it is, to most of the world. The ante has clearly been raised with back-to-back stellar albums with name producers, along with word getting out about a hot young band on the verge of big things.

The quintet itself, though, is taking a sober approach to its burgeoning profile. Angela says she's not sure the band even has "specific goals," other than keeping the momentum going. "I guess one goal would be to make more of a career out of it. Just try to make our business run a little bit better and keep going further. Basically the longer we can do this and sustain ourselves, the better. And of course we want our music to keep progressing.

"I really want to go to Europe," Annalisa says.

"Growth," Kate states unequivocally. "I don't have any specific goals in mind as long as it keeps growing. I don't want to be in something that's stalemated."

"That's a really interesting question," says Mike. "With five people in the band it is really hard to get everybody focused. Obviously we want to be successful and continue to build our profile. But what we've learned in the last few years is that the ultimate place for us to go is these large festivals. We pull in an audience that doesn't really know about bluegrass. And though we're not a pure bluegrass band we play a little bit of it and I think it helps open peoples' eyes. A lot of people have come up to me and said, 'I've never really listened to this kind of music before and I really like what you guys are doing.' That's really cool and I think we just want to continue to have more exposure to those broader audiences that we may not have had before. So playing things like the Philadelphia Folk Festival is really cool. And that's kind of the way we are wanting to go."

Gene Libbea sees the Bearfoot future in both commercial and aesthetic terms, and either way it looks rich to him. "Bearfoot can take over the hole that Nickel Creek left and go pop and really move some product," he states. "They're not like another bluegrass band sitting among all the other bluegrass bands pounding it out. This is not the Virginia scene, where there's a bunch of bands and they all sound the same. This is way different, and it's art."

And like Jack London's Buck, in "Call Of the Wild," Bearfoot, only the tip of a looming iceberg of truly amazing young artists gravitating to bluegrass and traditional music, waiting only for their moment to arrive, is not alone, but rather is "running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack."


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
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