Surviving the pandemic with a song in her heart
Kathy Kallick has been one of the Bay Area’s premier bluegrass musicians, since she first came on the scene with the Good Ol’ Persons in 1975. The Persons, a group she started with singer and multi-instrumentalist Laurie Lewis, was the first all-woman bluegrass group on the West Coast. “When Laurie and I started playing, it was unusual for women to be onstage, unless they were in a family band,” Kallick said. “Today, some of the most exciting bluegrass music is being made by women.”
The Persons stayed together, with shifting personnel, including several men, until the late ’80s. In 1996, after making several solo albums, Kallick put together the Kathy Kallick Band. “I think the reason this band has lasted so long is that we give each band member a chance to shine, take the lead and take the wheel. Yeah, the band has my name in it, but everybody has a say. Everybody can say, ‘This is my band,’ and mean it,” she explained.
Since their formation, the band has gone through many iterations, before settling into today’s line-up of Tom Bekeny on mandolin, Annie Staninec on fiddle, Greg Booth on dobro and banjo, and Cary Black on bass, with Kallick often singing lead and playing guitar. “We always feature each band member as much as possible, giving each player a time to step out front,” she said. “This band is a collaboration between five folks with a lot to say musically.
“Tom Bekany [mandolin] and I have been playing together since 1996. He still has the ability to surprise me in every performance. The newest band member, bassist Cary Black, has been with us for 10 years now. He’s really well versed in many styles of music, is a fabulous soloist and has a flare for arrangement as well, so we give him a big voice whenever we can,” she continued.
Kallick said the COVID lockdown hit the band hard. “We never imagined it would be so long until we could be together and play our music again,” she recalled. “We had a Bay Area tour booked for March, 2020, and made the tough call on Wednesday night, March 11, to cancel, before band members flew in from Portland and Anchorage. Some of the presenters were upset because there was no notice, and they couldn’t see how their event would happen.
“I remember assuring one festival presenter that everybody would be canceling their plans, and nobody would be coming to his event. By Friday, it was obvious to everyone: This was not normal,” Kallick remembered.
As the weeks turned into years, the band was forced to adjust to the new reality. “We tried to rehearse by Zoom, but everybody learned that doesn’t work,” Kallick said. “We all practiced individually until we could be in the same place. I learned for myself that I am reliant on other musicians to play music. It’s collaborative for me, a conversation. I couldn’t sustain interest in playing along with my metronome, so my guitar languished in its stand, in a corner. Finally, I put it away in its case.”
With the music scene slowly moving back toward a normal schedule, the band is rehearsing live again and recording. Kallick has already completed several songs for their next album, The Lonesome Chronicles. “Lonesome is a big part of bluegrass, and it has been universal, truly global, to have experienced this deep isolation,” she said.
“As we came back to playing music, I found I had new songs just waiting for me to give them my attention,” Kallick continued. “I wrote many songs about being lonesome, as we all found ourselves separated from each other. Songwriting is a fine way to process experiences and emotions and, for me, much of it goes on in my subconscious, before I feel the tingle of the new song playing in my head.”
Kallick said the band’s upcoming show at the Freight & Salvage on Sunday, Feb. 19 will involve some collaboration between her band and the opening act, the duo of Canadian bluegrass fiddler April Verch and multi-instrumentalist Joe Newberry. “I’ve known Joe for a while,” Kallick said. “We’ve taught singing together. I love singing with him, as well as swapping songs and talking about songwriting. He sang with me on my last album, What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?, a tribute to my mom, folksinger Dodi Kallick.
“That album gave me a chance to sing some classics, with different people on each track. That project also had a companion CD of archival recordings of my mom from the 1960s. Joe joined me, along with our pal, Mike Compton on mandolin, singing the old gospel song, ‘Farther Along,’” she said. “I hope we’ll get a chance to sing that one at the Freight, as well as having some thrilling twin fiddle tunes with April and Annie. The best fun of a double bill is the chance to cook up a couple of things to play together.”
The Kathy Kallick Band plays The Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley, on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 7pm. 510-644-2020. More information at thefreight.org. Kallick’s website is kathykallick.com.