January 17, 2014
By JIM DRAKE - Hood River News
Before diving into introducing you to folk musician Avery Hill I thought you should know that my last blog post caught the attention of a think-tank based in Washington, DC, called the Tax Foundation — someone from that organization thought I might enjoy a blog post on “the historical realities of estate taxes on Downton Abbey and a discussion on how the real Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) has dealt with these same issues.”
The post was an unexpectedly interesting read; however, I did not detect any subliminal messages (22 days until Peter Rowan). The email I received from the foundation is an interesting study in how tiny newspaper stories on the web find their way around the world.
And to me, it’s fascinating how a British TV show can seep into so many aspects of American culture.
And speaking of American culture, I’m happy to report that a past cultural event in Hood River (the film festival) has resulted in the scheduling of one of the next folk-music house concerts. Avery Hill is a music teacher/emerging folk musician who lives in Portland, but as you’ll find out, she keeps an eye on Hood River music happenings.
And that’s encouraging. Avery mentioned she really likes the drive through the Gorge, and doesn’t mind putting in the effort to be here. And for us, it’s not that far to drive, walk or bike to Montello St. If you can, head on over, bring a friend and perhaps be part of a cultural event that will somehow result in the seeds of the next one.
Avery Hill will play a house concert at 401 Montello Ave., Hood River on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. Shows benefits the Mid-Columbia Folklore Society and donations are accepted at the door. For more information call Paul Blackburn at 541-387-4011.
Interview with Avery Hill
How did you find out about Paul Blackburn’s house concerts?
I had a music video that premiered at the Mt Hood Independent Film Festival last November, and I was able to perform music as part of the showing of the video. A friend of Paul’s, Bonnie New, came up to me and mentioned that I might be a good fit for the house concerts.
What was your video about?
It was the video for the title cut of my 2012 EP “Fare Thee Well.” It was a 3 minute video for the song that I filmed at Artichoke Music in Portland, and it sort of examines the tension of a performer’s life, writing at home and performing on stage. It was really nice for the film festival to accept it and I was happy with the way it came out.
Were the songs on “Fare Thee Well,” songs you collected over the years?
Most of the songs are pretty new. I was a schoolteacher, for a little while, and in 2010 I walked into Artichoke Music, which is sort of a home for us folkies, and I took a songwriting class. I was impressed with the class and instructor, and the whole culture of listening that exists there. Most of the songs on the “Fare Thee Well” are ones I started to write in that particular class. And I still take that class every year.
Listening to you reminds me of Suzanne Vega or Shawn Colvin.
I’ve been influenced by Joni Mitchell and Dar Williams. I know I have the “girl with the guitar” kind of persona, and I explore the traditions of the past. I enjoy other musical styles as well, and enjoy trying to make them my own. There’s a song that I call my “Billie Holiday” song, and get to try and put her persona on for a little bit, and play with my voice the way she did. The best thing about folk music is being able to switch around to all these different styles; it’s so open to interpretation.
For the show are you just on guitar or are you bringing other instruments?
I’m bringing my ukulele, and maybe a little banjo, but mainly guitar and voice, which is what I write with.
I enjoyed your online interview with Tom May with the River City Folk show. The impression I got is you’re from the East coast – is that where you got your interest in doing this kind of music?
I am from back east. Both of my parents were really musical, especially my dad, who was very eager to share the music of his childhood, from the 60s and 70s.
That’s where I first learned about songwriting, that’s where I discovered Dar Williams, who was the first songwriter I came across that gave me the freedom to write about the kinds of things I want to write about.
But it wasn’t until living in Portland, and walking into Artichoke, and getting connected with that community that I thought that maybe I should give this a go and be a little bit more proactive about performing and recording, and getting stuff out there.
And really get into music teaching, too. I left the school teaching job to focus on being a private music teacher.
I noticed that you’ve played with Dan Weber, who is coming to Hood River at the end of January. How did you meet up with him?
I met him through the Artichoke community, and he and I have actually performed together. We seem to come from different outlooks of folk tradition but we recently did a show at a winery in Clark County. We’ll be at Artichoke in February.
We have some similar roots when we go back to some of the traditional songs that we find most inspiring, like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” and “Hard Times.”
I lean toward the confessional, singer-songwriter genre and “lock me up so I can sing out of my soul kind of stuff,” and Dan is more “let’s get the audience rowdy,” but still within the realm of folk. So it’s fun to come together and trade some of that off.
I looked at your YouTube video for “Fishes in the Sea” and it’s obvious that the importance of family and teaching kids is evident in your songs.
Yes that was one of my very early attempts at video!
Family is one of my themes; it’s one of the things that helped me make the leap from classroom teaching to teaching music.
A lot of the students I teach are beginners, and the point of me teaching music is to introduce music in a joyful way and to help them work on what is most joyful to them about playing music.
Everyone comes at it a little differently —my primary quest as a teacher is to find opportunities to share more of what they’re interested in. And then I push them into the things they may not know so much about.
I want to make sure they maintain a joyful relationship to music, so that long after I’m gone, that they can continue to teach themselves.
That’s the way I learned the guitar, no formal lessons, but I sat down and tried to figure out with my ears how to play this song that I want to be able to sing. I came into music because it was a very joyful thing, and it was embedded in a lot of meaningful relationships.
Besides songs off the EP, what else is in store for the house concert?
It’s going to feature all the songs on the EP, and songs from my next recording project due out this year, called “Family Album,” which will be my first full length CD. All the songs are in some way inspired by the history of my family. I’m a little bit of a family history-genealogy nerd, and I’ve gathered a lot of stories over the years that I will share.
Do you get to spend any time in the Gorge?
I love Hood River; I’ve been out for a few musical performances, especially if I notice a band is not going to be in Portland. I definitely make the effort to come out. I could do the drive everyday between Hood River and Portland — it’s just so beautiful, especially this part of the Northwest.
I hope you got to see Dar Williams, who was here in October.
I did, it was a great show, and Ann Weiss is a friend of mine, too.
I know you’ll enjoy the Hood River house concert; it’s a nice room and a nice setting.
As a performer, I feel house concerts are definitely a growing trend at the moment in folk music. In the music business at large, it’s hard for people to manage the bigger venues, and house concerts have emerged as kind of a way of harkening back to the hootenannies and roots of where it started, which is in people’s homes, and living rooms.
I’m excited to see how that trend continues to develop. I can’t speak highly enough of anyone who makes the effort to support folk artists, but also bring people together in the spirit of that.