Multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Becky Buller is the secret weapon in an already frightfully good bluegrass band, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike.
Bandleader Smith, in fact, appears on the cover of the latest issue of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine with her young protégé. After three recordings with the full Liberty Pike lineup, the two have recently made a delightful duet album, Here's a Little Song. The fan-voted Vox Populi Independent Music Awards named it the Americana Album of the Year.
Liberty Pike will play the pickin' parlor at Randy Wood Guitars July 17, with Smith on guitar, fiddle and maybe even a little clarinet; Buller will be on fiddle (she's an award winner) and clawhammer banjo. Guitar and mandolin player Ernie Evans and bassist Bobby Davis round out the acoustic ensemble.
And all four of them sing like birds.
Buller is a rising star in the world of bluegrass. Her songs have been covered by IIIrd Tyme Out, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, David Parmley & Continental Divide and others.
Alison Krauss is from Indiana, and you're from Minnesota, which I suppose means it's a misnomer that bluegrass players have to have deep Appalachian roots?
Becky Buller: Oh, it is, because there are amazing bluegrass musicians that come from all over the world. One of my favorite banjo players lives in Slovakia. He got into it from being the Boy Scouts, and his dad being into country music. I know another incredible guitar player, she's from Alaska. There are just amazing pickers all over the place.
Your parents were also bluegrass musicians, right?
Becky Buller: I think I was about 5 years old when my dad started learning to play the mandolin, taking lessons from a guy in the area. You really had to drive 100 miles in any direction to find another bluegrass picker.
But we did have festivals - in fact, Minnesota has one of the best bluegrass festivals in the country. So we have the music up there; it's just that where I was at, it was very hard to find other pickers. And especially young people.
My parents had a band called Prairie Grass, with another couple, all through my time in school. And I played with them for about five years, starting when I was 13.
Playing in your parents' band: Is that something you wanted to do from an early age, or did make you do it? Were you like "God, if I have to hear one more rabbit in the graveyard song, I'm gonna throw up"?
Becky Buller: I really wanted to sing with them. And they said "Well, with bluegrass music you have to play an instrument. That's just how it is - everybody plays something." And so I looked at the band and said "You don't have a fiddle. I'll play fiddle." And they say "OK, whatever." And it took about a year to convince them that I was serious. They finally got me lessons.
I took Suzuki violin for about six years, and was in the school orchestra. I took a couple years' lessons with a guy from the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, and then I left out for bluegrass college and haven't really played much classical since.
Bluegrass college? You mean go got on a bus and never looked back?
Becky Buller: Well, I went to college at East Tennessee State University. I got a degree in public relations, but I played music the whole time I was there. They were one of the first schools in the country to have a bluegrass and country music program. There's so much music there, I just went wild, I jammed somewhere every night. I don't know how I got my homework done.
What can we expect from the Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike show?
Becky Buller: It's a very high-energy show. Valerie took opera and jazz in college, so she incorporates that musical theater aspect into things. She does a lot of dancing. What you see is what you get - she just loves singing, and the music just pours out of her. And she can't help but move. A lot of bluegrass acts will just kind of stand there, and the music is great, but they don't move. We're not like that.
We're a four-piece band, so we switch instruments a lot. You're gonna get quite a variety - of bluegrass, yes, but we do from traditional to progressive bluegrass, we do bluegrass gospel and Americana. We do swing. It's a wide variety - hopefully people will come looking for a good time, and we'll do our best to satisfy.
Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike
Where: Randy Wood Guitars, 1304 E. Highway 80, Bloomingdale
When: 8 p.m. Friday, July 17
Phone: (912) 748-1930
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