"Guitar work that rings in the hall like the bells of Rhymney...singing and harmonies filled with subtle voices of the past combined with a sultry presence..."
"Fabulous...ethereal...wonderful ensemble. Wow, that sounds good to me. These guys are winners".
"A fascinating mix of American and English Folk, with a touch of Tin Pan Alley. Like me, they have a great fondness for Pentangle and the late great Bert Jansch. If you are a music person you will enjoy... I love their style."
"Great guitar, great fiddle and a voice that bring Traditional music to life..."
-- David Stafford, host of KKUP Friday Folk-Off http://www.kkup.com/
"one of my favorite Celtic genre bending local artists"
-- Tony Becker, http://www.facebook.com/AmeriCeltic
"one of the best fingerpicking guitarists I've met...these guys have mad chops"
-- Phil Toole, host of Unbound Sound Show on http://www.fccfreeradio.com/
"Cool...I'm flattered when people like one of my tunes well enough to do something with it like that."
-- Al Petteway, Grammy-winning composer and guitarist
"Finding New Ways With Very Old Music"
(Palo Alto Daily News and MercuryNews.com March 2012)
"I love that...that is fabulous! Clever boy, Jon"
– Rosemary Chalmers, KSCO Morning Show http://www.ksco.com/
“a f***ing brilliant guitar player”
– Ted Silverman, N. Calif. Bluegrass Society 2010 Award Nominee
"great show! I'm loving this trio, you guys are an awesome group together...skilled, controlled, thoughtful performance"
-- John Mount, videographer http://www.youtube.com/user/JohnEMount
"technically tight and risk-taking" -- Monterey County Weekly
"Excellent! Man I dig that slick jazz style mixed with the 'frailing' chop. Most of all though, I am really impressed with your singing...the harmonies with the young lady...cool"
-- Philip Ball, luthier
Erica Hockett's early listening favorites were The Clash and The Jam. As a vocalist, she has sung behind Japanese cult rocker Demon Kogure, as well as with a trip hop/electronica producer. Her vocals have also graced groups ranging from classical to pop to barbershop. But it's with the folk music of her native England that Hockett has found her true voice. "I love to sing it. I think my voice lends itself very well to that genre. I've sung many types of music, but I like the way it feels to sing British folk. My voice is suited to it."
You can hear Hockett's beautiful voice in person, if you attend the Hardly Strictly Trad performances at Mountain View's Red Rock Coffee. She and the group's founder/guitarist Jon Rubin will be joined on Saturday by violinist Ela Polak, and on Sept. 26 by violinist Anne Goess. (Rubin also plays the venue on Sept. 18 with fellow guitarist Doug Young).
She met Rubin two years ago, after returning from England. "Back in England, I was really getting into singing English/Irish/British folk music, and when I got to Berkeley, I just really missed doing it. I put an ad in Craigslist."She met some musicians, and they led to Rubin and an invitation to join Hardly Strictly Trad. Hockett was immediately impressed by his fingerstyle guitar work.
"It's very unusual. It sounds slightly medieval to me, the way he plays. It lends itself really well to the old British music." Rubin says of Hockett, "Maybe the best thing about Erica, from my view, is how she inspires me to be a better musician, because I see how much passion and professionalism go into her vocal performance. With such a special instrument, her voice, it raises the bar for me as her guitarist/arranger with HST, and that's something you're always hoping for in a collaborator. Plus she makes me laugh ... including at myself."
HST plays primarily traditional material, but adds folk songs that are more contemporary, such as selections from iconic 1970s British bands Pentangle and Fairport Convention. HST has begun recording songs for an album.
Hockett is from a little town called Chipping Norton in Cotswold Hills, Oxfordshire. Growing up, she appreciated the punk and ska her peers were enjoying, but also loved folk music. She had a cousin who played the penny whistle in an Irish band. The two girls often sang together. Hockett also sang in pubs.
Her influences and inspirations include Anne Briggs, Sandy Denny, June Tabor, Joan Baez and, more recently, Kate Rusby, Cara Dillon and Jackie Oates.
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Aine Brolly is now living in San Francisco, and her job is based in San Jose. But her musical heart remains in her native Northern Ireland. The vocalist/Irish harpist says, "They say that Ireland was the land of saints and scholars. And I think that's played out in music, particularly."
Brolly performs as part of the Hardly Strictly Trad acoustic trio, which plays Mountain View's Red Rock Coffee House on Saturday. The group also features guitarist Jon Rubin and fiddler Cal Keaoola.
"I came out here a year ago and began to think about getting back into singing," Brolly says. "I didn't know where to start, so I just posted on Craigslist that I was looking for a guitarist. Jon got in touch with me. I was really impressed with his guitar playing. Originally, it was just going to be myself and Jon working on my stuff. Then he asked me if I'd like to join Hardly Strictly. I said, 'Why not? Sounds like good fun.' And it's worked out real well."
The trio draws from several influences. "It's a real mixed bag, which is nice," Brolly says. "Obviously I've brought an Irish folk element to the group. They'd been doing bits and pieces of English and Scottish folk stuff. And a lot of the stuff that Jon does is American rootsy. And some jazzy kind of stuff in there, as well."
The Bay Area reawakened Brolly's musical passion. "When I came out to San Francisco, there's such a lively music scene here. I just thought, 'I'd quite like to get back to the singing now and just keep it nice and low-key, do things that I enjoy and not too much pressure.' So this has been perfect for me. And I'm going to work on a solo album soon." In the meantime, she's working with Rubin on his material at the Stanford recording studio, on campus. "It's a really nice studio, really well set up," she says. "They've got a grand piano there and everything you need."
Her singing spirit is back in full force. "I have such a connection to the traditional music, it's much more natural for me to sing than the opera. I feel like I really understand what I'm singing, because it's part of me, in some sense."
from The Palo Alto Daily News and MercuryNews.com March 2012:
Songs can lift the human spirit, no matter the subject matter. Bright Side Band's lead vocalist, Shannon Miller, of San Jose, says, "We have audience members who come up to us afterward and tell us how inspired they were by our music. We somehow allow for that effect to happen, even when we're singing horribly tragic Celtic tunes," she says, laughing. "I feel like, when we're performing, it has this transformative influence on our audience, taking them to a different place.
"Celtic music is very soulful for me. It's part of my heritage. I'm very Irish. Maybe it's in my bones. The music is ethereal and it just gets me in my heart. I feel it deep inside. It takes a toll emotionally, when I'm singing those songs, about love lost or revolution or death. It's rare when you find a happy Celtic tune. They tend to be more bittersweet. But I love singing it."
Miller also loves singing with this new band, joining guitarist Jon Rubin and violinist Laurel Thomsen.
"It's kind of effortless with the three of us," Miller says. "We're all on the same page, musically. It's a joy to work with them. They create such beautiful music. They each have their own spin on the music that we perform, so it feels like a new composition. I may be singing melodies that have been heard before, but then you have Jon's unique finger-picking style and his own arrangements to the pieces. The arrangements have a modern twist and bring new life to old songs. And Laurel will come in and find these lines on the violin that are so inspired."
Rubin, a Belmont resident, says, "Beyond the material and guitar arrangements, Laurel and Shannon have complete artistic license to do whatever they want. They're both really superb artists. Occasionally, I'll suggest something for them to try out, but usually, they come up with their own amazing parts."
Miller explains, "The three of us are open to going anywhere, musically. That's kind of why we chose the name Bright Side Band. It doesn't limit us to any particular genre. We can do whatever we want and we can incorporate more originals. It's a freeing name."
Thomsen says, "The challenge is to find fans, when we don't exclusively stay within any one genre. But we are finding those people."
Miller has sung jazz, folk, country, pop, bluegrass and jazz, as well as Celtic. It was at age 19, backpacking in Europe in 2000, that she committed to music. "I began singing non-stop, singing to the moon, singing to my fellow hostelers, busking. Things changed after that for me."
Rubin began with a fondness for hard rock, before Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna lured him to acoustic blues. That led him to experiment with modal-sounding, open tuning.
Thomsen, who lives in Santa Cruz, comes from a classical background, but has become adept at pop-rock and blues.
In 2004, while living in Ojai, Thomsen was talked into jamming with a folk band.
"Doing this music I'd never played before, never even heard before, I thought, 'What am I doing?' They would just tell me the key and I was coming up with these parts. These parts were just coming out of me, from somewhere."
Thomsen and Miller met when they were both working at Carmel's La Playa Hotel. Miller recalls, "Neither of us knew that the other was into music. Then I saw that she was in the orchestra of the choir I was in. She mentioned that she loved Celtic music. I said, 'Are you kidding me? That's what I do on the side.'
"Our first rehearsal was amazing."
A year ago, a friend of a friend mentioned that Rubin had seen Miller on YouTube and would love to perform with her. She checked out his videos on YouTube and was equally impressed.
For Thomsen, the trio format involved adapting. "I'd never played with a finger-style guitarist," she says. "Finding room to fit the violin in there was a bit of a challenge. But early on, we got good feedback at concerts, so I hung in there."
There is great chemistry among the three musicians. Thomsen says, "I've played with a lot of bands, and it's sometimes hard to find the right personnel, where everyone fits, both musically and personality wise. It's been a really nice fit with Jon and Shannon. It feels good to be working with people who know the importance of finding a consensus and being willing to compromise."
"From the start, we had a mutual respect for each other's abilities. But we also got along well. We're all kind of low-key" Rubin says.
Miller says, "One woman came up to me after a show and said, 'I've been in so much pain, but I totally forgot about the pain, while I was listening to you. I was totally in a different place.' When something like that happens, it doesn't feel like an ego boost. It feels like we've made a difference, made someone's life a little brighter, if only for a moment."
Email Paul Freeman at email@example.com
from Monterey County Weekly, March 2010
"The musical fusion force of the Jon Rubin Group teams up with MPC orchestra violist Deanna Lynn tonight in an expression of pure musical freedom. Bouncing from classically tinged Celtic fiddle tunes to British folk to Americana country gospel, all served up with a hint of jazz and a dash of blues, the group knows no bounds in their attempt at creating an uplifting musical experience."
"Jon Rubin’s inspiration and love for the acoustic guitar comes from former Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane member, Jorma Kaukonen. But it wasn’t the music of the psychedelic era that touched Rubin; it was Kaukonen’s gospel blues and country finger picking style on Hot Tuna’s first acoustic album, live at New Orleans House in Berkeley in 1970. Deanna Lynn, a 20-year-old Monterey High graduate and one of Monterey County’s best young violinists, will accompany Rubin..."
from Monterey County Herald 'Best Bets', April 1, 2010
"Composed of a classical violist, jazz violinist, acoustic blues guitarist and world music bassist, Jon Rubin Group blends all of those musical disciplines to form an original acoustic fusion that has earned them a solid reputation from the Peninsula to San Francisco. Featured guest soloist Deanna Lynn has performed in the Carmel Bach Festival's youth artist concert twice and won the 2007 Youth Music Monterey's concerto competition."
from ‘In Their Own Words’ SF Local Music interviews series by Ted Ramey in Examiner.com 12-23-09
Q: What are your musical goals or aspirations?
A: This one's easy...just to be 'playing out' regularly in front of an appreciative audience, and performing with tremendously talented musicians. Since I'm returning to performance music after working most of my life at a non-musical career, where playing guitar was almost entirely a solitary experience, it's a thrill for me now to be playing with these great musicians and getting that feeling from a live audience. Still, somewhere included in there is a sense of sharing our repertoire of these great but relatively obscure traditional/roots tunes with a new audience, while finding a truly original musical 'voice' with my collaborators in expressing that sound. So maybe some ambitious aspirations after all...
Q: What is your musical history?
A: I've played guitar all of my adult life, and at one point early on it was really the only thing I wanted to do (or could do). My mentor was Alan Mann, an authentic rock-and-roll/folk troubadour in Phila. in the 70's (who sadly died way too young). He encouraged my earliest attempts at writing and performing, and I opened for him on a few occasions as a solo acoustic singer/songwriter. But I was just strumming chords basically. It wasn't until later on that I got into flatpicking, and eventually, fingerpicking and alternate tunings. That opened up a whole new world where solo guitar could be a virtuoso instrument, not just accompaniment to singing or songwriting. And I found that working out an original fingerpicking arrangement of a traditional piece could be as creative as songwriting. So now the final piece of the puzzle has been to weave that fingerstyle playing -- which can be like having the whole band in your right hand -- into ensemble playing, where sometimes 'less is more' and I don't have to always keep the bass going with my thumb or provide the melody line on top. And believe me, learning NOT to automatically play that alternating bass line requires a big leap for a solo guitarist!
Q: Who or what are your influences and inspirations?
A: Jorma Kaukonen. I was totally enthralled by his playing on the first acoustic Hot Tuna album (recorded at New Orleans House in Berkeley in 1970). It was authentic Rev. Gary Davis country blues, with that rhythmic, syncopated fingerpicking and gospel choir-influenced intervals, but fused with folk, rock…all sounds that were coming together at that time. Then there is this whole 'school of British acoustic folk/blues guitar' from the sixties, guys like Bert Jansch, who had so much influence on Jimmy Page. I spent a week with Martin Simpson in a workshop and he inspired a lot of what you hear in my playing now. Yet another bloody brilliant Brit who is a secret outside of the UK, but has provided me a huge recent dose of re-inspiration for guitar playing: Nic Jones.
Q: Where have you played?
A: Apart from South St., Phila., you mean? Since last May we/I (still play the rare solo gig) have been playing just about every week from Monterey to SF, including a kind of 'acoustic circuit' which I think of as East Village Monterey, Cava Capitola, Bocci's Cellar Santa Cruz, Caffe Trieste San Jose....we've played these all many times. But our prestige gigs have been The Union Room (Upstairs@Biscuits&Blues) in SF and Red Rock Cafe in Mountain View.
Q: Anything else you want the reader to know?
A: I refer to our group as an ‘acoustic power trio’ of bass, violin/viola and guitar, and am totally thrilled to be playing with my virtuoso bandmates. Check out their bios on the About page of our website. And we're playing our 2010 SF shows with Grammy award-winning violinist Cal Keaoola, who is an inspirational musician in his own right.
"I heard Hardly Strictly Trad. for the first time live on KKUP a few weeks ago, and actually pulled over to the side of the road to listen. Particularly struck by the sound and clarity of the guitar work."-- unsolicited e-mail from staff member, U.C. Santa Cruz
from The Monterey Herald 10/30/2009, by Dennis Taylor
"There is an understanding, centuries old, among practitioners and aficionados of the classical music genre: The pieces were composed to be performed just so. The greatest musicians bring their own, subtle interpretations, of course; but one doesn't rewrite Beethoven, Bach or Mozart.
The quest to fit into that world has been exhilarating, frustrating, overwhelming and sometimes intimidating to Prunedale resident Deanna Lynn, one of Monterey County's best young violinists.
"Whenever you're on stage playing a classical piece, you're very aware that there are a lot of people out there who have an idea of how it's supposed to sound," says the 19-year-old Monterey High graduate. "If you're not in tune, it's not good. If you're not in time, it's not good. If you don't have good sound, it's not good. There's a lot of pressure that way, no matter how talented you are."
The pressure dissipates when Deanna assumes her newfound alter ego as an improvisational musician, playing her viola in Central Coast nightclubs -- nonschool nights for the Monterey Peninsula College student -- alongside guitarist Jon Rubin.
They've been together as The Jon Rubin Group for only a short time, and continue to grow as a trio, blending their passions for blues, rock, folk, Celtic, bluegrass and classical into an evolving sound. (They'll play Nov. 6, 8 p.m., at East Village in downtown Monterey, and Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m., at The Works in Pacific Grove). For Lynn, that's a brand-new kind of fun.
"Improvisational music is really different for me after so many years of classical training, but I'm finding out that it comes very naturally," she says. "I've been blessed with a very good ear -- I have almost perfect pitch with certain instruments -- so Jon doesn't even have to tell me the chords he's playing when we're onstage together. I can just tell the key. So we'll sometimes play a song during a gig that I've never heard before, and it sounds good, almost as if we had practiced it a whole bunch."
Her classical training, which began at an early age, has given Lynn a tempestuous relationship with the concept of practice, a four-hours-a-day commitment for a serious musician.
"I did that for a while, but it was hard," she admits. "You can't practice for four hours straight, so I was trying to do it for an hour at a time. I found that I'd lose concentration after about 40 minutes and I'd just be pushing my way through it. I'd get mentally, physically and emotionally tired. So now I only practice for 30 minutes at a time." The proper way to practice, she says, is slowly, beginning each time with scales, and working to correct each and every flaw immediately, before moving on. She enjoys the process, but it's sometimes a tedious labor of love.
Lynn's plan after high school was to devote a full year to practice, then audition at Juliard or Manhattan School of Music, the pinnacle of music education. But her commitment as an 18-year-old proved less than intense. "And I got depressed," she says. "It was like, 'I'm not going to put in all this work before I'm sure this is what I really want to do.'"
Her private violin instructor, Rochelle Walton of Pebble Beach, sees Lynn as "very talented, very bright, with all kinds of potential. "She has the emotional understanding necessary to play a wide range of classical music, and you don't find somebody like that standing on every street corner," says Walton, a former assistant to the celebrated Ivan Galamian. "But if you're going to make a commitment to the music, you'd better do it before you're 19. That's too late."
Lynn also isn't sold on improvisational music as her true path, but Rubin, who met her in 2008 at a Monterey Peninsula Academy of Music bluegrass class, says she's a natural. "We started jamming together during a performance at the Alvarado Street farmers market, and it just felt really good," says Rubin, a former software engineer. "It was one of the first experiences I'd ever had playing alongside another instrument, other than the guitar, and it was really happening for me."
She reacted with creative viola lines to everything he threw her way, Rubin says -- rock, blues, or anything else. He pitched the idea of forming a trio, along with bassist Chris Will.
"I'm not exactly sure where it's going to take me. Improvisational music has become very important in my life. It makes me feel good to perform and share my music with people," Lynn says. "But it's also important to me to continue with the classical practice. "The improv is fun, but I actually like classical better. It's just extremely beautiful," she says. "Playing the fifth movement of Bach's D-minor Partida (Chaccone I) has given me the most intense and beautiful moments I've ever experienced."
More information about the Jon Rubin Group, including a schedule of their gigs, can be found online at http://www.jr-guitar.com