Here’s a closer look at the three hot female artists showcased in this year’s Mount Helena Music Festival, June 25-26 at Women’s Park: Michelle Shocked, Rosie Ledet and Mia Borders.
Indie-rocker, multi-genre artist Michelle Shocked is bringing the Jim Chayka Trio on the road with her to the Mount Helena Music Festival.
All those who love her much acclaimed country/bluegrass album, “Arkansas Traveler,” you’re in luck.
She’ll be playing a lot of songs from it in her 9 p.m. show Friday night. This concert is part of a series leading up to the album’s 20th anniversary in 2012.
“I think the audience will be really enthusiastic,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles.
The original recording brought together a who’s who of indie-alternative music— Allison Krauss, Taj Mahal, Doc Watson, Uncle Tupelo, the Red Clay Ramblers and the Hothouse Flowers — to name just a few.
As she is wont to do, she’s still busy defying conventions.
She’s launched a five-year Roadworks Tour — visiting 42 cities in the United States and England for five years in a row. (Note: Helena is a festival, so we’re not part of that tour.)
“It bucks conventional wisdom,” she admits. Record companies launch tours when an artist releases a new album, while Shocked isn’t pushing a new recording.
Since she doesn’t have a major record company promoting her name, she’s found the best way to showcase her music is in person — keeping in touch with her fans.
The theme of this year’s tour is “American Idle,” a play on words of the popular TV show. As part of the tour, she’s featuring original music by people who’ve been devastated by a job loss or a foreclosed home.
“It gives voices to people whose lives were altered by stockbrokers’ shady dealings,” she said.
She’s also deeply into a five-year “Indelible Women” project she’s creating with her partner and sweetheart, artist David Willardson.
Their multimedia creation celebrates a group of iconic women who are so well known to the world, they’re recognized by just their first names — Georgia, Frida, Ella, Amelia.
While Willardson captures that iconic quality in paint, Shocked does it through music.
They call it the HeART Project; Hear Art, See Music.
She’s leery of talking much about inspiration for her music. “Inspiration is terrifying — as if one is worthy of receiving a gift,” she said.
These days, she approaches it like archery practice.
“I may not hit the bull’s-eye every time I practice. But now, I’m able to live with the process. A lot of creative work is best when it simmers on the back burner. It coalesces. It’s delicious and wonderful and much like life.”
But one inspiration, she’s freely talked about is her father.
She and her brother watched him teach himself to play his Gibson mandolin by reading a Mel Bay music book. They followed in his footsteps — teaching themselves music.
Shocked also learned to love the music in her father’s record collection — singers that a lot of record companies dismissed as hillbillies — Norman Blake, Doc Watson, the Red Clay Ramblers.
It’s this music that she celebrates and savors in “Arkansas Traveler.”
Over her career, Shocked has earned a reputation as being fiercely independent.
She took on Mercury record company and won. And she’s been outspoken about many political issues from the Vietnam War to the BP oil spill.
She slips in and out of musical genres — from folk, country and rock to swing and doo-wop —using whatever suits her mood and message.
Shocked first earned international exposure with the bootleg release of “The Texas Campfire Tapes,” which became a hit in England in 1986.
Her 1988 album, “Short Sharp Shocked” earned her a national following. Several songs, “Anchorage,” “If Love Was a Train” and “When I Grow Up” charted in the United States and United Kingdom.
Her most recent release, “Soul of My Soul” came out in 2009.
A warm, bubbly laugh comes over the phone as Zydeco Queen Rosie Ledet jokes about playing at the Rochester International Jazz Festival.
“What am I doing here?” she laughed, during a phone interview from her Rochester hotel.
She was the lone zydeco act on the festival schedule, which was teeming with such jazz greats as Herbie Hancock, Gladys Knight and Keb’ Mo’.
But ever since her first recording in 1994, Ledet’s been garnering a chifforobe full of prestigious music awards.
Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys close out the Mount Helena Music Festival, playing at 9 p.m. Saturday.
You could also say, Ledet’s more than a bit surprised to find herself known as the Zydeco Queen.
She grew up in Louisiana with French-speaking parents who loved to listen to what she calls “French la la music,” or Creole music.
Her parents would regularly go to Richard’s, one of the original zydeco clubs, located in Lawtell, La.
Typically they’d go with her aunt and uncle, but one night her aunt took ill and Ledet was talked into going.
“I knew I wasn’t going to like it,” she recalled. “Teenagers don’t want to hear their parents’ music.
She was expecting the club to be a bunch of old folks dancing.
“The place was packed. Everybody was dancing. I was very surprised to see a lot of young people.”
After hearing the legendary Boozoo Chavis play, she was hooked.
Not only was she introduced to great zydeco music, but also to her future (now ex) husband -zydeco musician and bandleader Morris Ledet, who asked her to dance.
“I kept going to zydeco. It was such happy, fun music.”
Boredom was the major impetus that launched her into a musical career.
After she and Morris were married and had a baby, Rosie was a stay-at-home mom and housewife.
“I was kind of bored,” she said. “I used to put on zydeco tapes.”
She’d pick up her husband’s squeezebox and “I would mimic what I heard.”
One day when Morris came home for lunch, she “played him a couple of songs.”
Soon she was up playing with his band, the Zydeco Playboys, first two or three songs. Then a half-set. Eventually the whole show.
You’d never guess it by watching her YouTube videos, but Rosie admits, “I’ve been shy my entire life. I was shy by nature.”
It’s one reason she started closing her eyes when she performed, she said.
“Now when I close my eyes, I’m just feeling the music.”
She never planned to go into music. “I always wanted to be a writer.”
This passion is now channeled into penning her own songs.
“The songs come from everywhere,” she said.
They’re based on everyday life — a conversation with a girlfriend about a break-up, a book she’s read, a movie she’s seen or even the cartoon Scooby Doo.
Describing her music, Ledet said, “I think of it like gumbo. It’s got a little something of everything - a little blues, a little rock, a little jazz, some country.”
In the blend is some R&B, Cajun and Creole.
She sings and writes in both Creole French and English.
“I like to listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I listen to a lot of blues. I like classic rock. We keep it rolling — we keep it fresh.”
Louisiana Folklife lists Rosie among its legendary musicians, crediting her with bringing “zest, youth and spicy feminity,” to a male-dominated genre.
The Wall Street Journal writes, “Today’s premier female artist is Rosie Ledet, whose soulful voice kicks her male counterparts right out of the club. Her songs are often sly and lusty. Combined with her natural good looks and distinctive, bluesy singing voice, she wows audiences wherever she goes.”
Rosie’s released eight CDs, her latest in 2005, “Pick it Up.”
Zydeco Playboys band members are Rosie, vocals and squeezebox; Andre Nizzari, lead guitar; Pernell Babineaux, bass guitar; Kevin Stelly, drums; and Malcolm Walker, washboard.
Among Rosie’s recent awards are: 2008 Louisiana Treasure Award by the Black Heritage Association of Louisiana; 2007 Zydeco Music and Creole Heritage Award-Best Female Vocalist; 2006 New Orleans Big Easy Awards for Best Zydeco Artist; 2003 Louisiana Treasure Award Presented by the Black Heritage Association of Louisiana; 2001 three Best of the Beat Awards by Off Beat Magazine: Best Zydeco Vocalist; Best Performer, Best Band.
Mia Borders is only 22, but this sultry-voiced singer is creating a lot of buzz in New Orleans.
She’s already caught the ear of an admiring national press.
Her 2010 release “Magnolia Blue,” was nominated for Best Emerging Artist from the Big Easy Music Awards. And her recent debut performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was nationally broadcast.
There’s more than a few predictions that this rising star is destined to shine forth on the national stage.
So you’ll want to be there at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, when she and her band play their unique blend of funk, rock and soul at the Mount Helena Music Festival.
Borders is hesitant to attach labels to her music.
“People have concrete ideas about New Orleans music,” she said in a phone interview from the Big Easy. “But we don’t fit any of those categories.”
Sensual, fresh and intelligent are just a few of the adjectives that spring to mind when describing her lyrics. Add her compelling voice, and Saturday’s concert should make for an unforgettable evening of music.
The Wolf Magazine, describes Borders’ album “Southern Fried Soul” as “pure New Orleans; it’s infused with soul and sex appeal and it oozes musical talent.”
“With emotions as varying as hers, this CD is full of surprises,” wrote Offbeat Magazine. “There’s no telling what Mia Borders will come up with next, and that’s half the fun.”
“Borders is one of those rare young talents that can sing about life, love, and loss and make listeners feel it. With lyrics so personal, so mature, and so direct she established herself as an artist to watch,” writes Keith I. Marszalek at NOLA.com, of Borders’ new release, “Magnolia Blue.”
A native of New Orleans, Borders can’t point to one particular moment that drew her to music. She was surrounded by it all the time and began writing lyrics and playing the guitar when she was 11.
During her high school years, she attended a boarding school in Connecticut, but returned to New Orleans the spring before Hurricane Katrina, and has since made it her home.
She began performing about four years ago.
After Katrina “the music clubs were all struggling for performers,” she said, so there were suddenly opportunities to get gigs.
Through her brother, she hooked up with a band, and they’ve been playing together ever since.
A recent graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans with a degree in English, Borders has been pouring her energy into song writing.
“I’m constantly writing new material,” she said. She will likely have a couple of new songs to share by the time she comes to Helena.
Inspiration for songs comes from reflecting on a truth in her life, she said, or sometimes it’s a word she likes or a turn of a phrase — such as “I keep your picture in my frame of mind.”
This is the band’s first trip to Montana.
“We’re all real excited to come to Montana, especially my drummer,” Borders said. “He’s really into nature.”
“We don’t go out for long stretches of time on tour,” she added. All the band members are married with kids and hold day jobs — as lawyers and a child psychologist.
The band includes Borders doing vocals and rhythm guitar; Nick Hingel, drummer; Pablo Gonzalez, bass; and Kyle Sclafani, lead guitar/vocals.