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Saturday Pick: Annie & the Beekeepers

A 'holistic' approach to Bluegrass and Country music via Cape Cod

By Ryan McLendon · September 22nd, 2009 · MPMF
There are many reasons for me to loathe the Berklee College of Music. The institution of sonic higher learning in Boston is guilty of the following two atrocities: The school stole my best friend in my junior year of high school, making my senior year far less exciting, and it was also tacitly responsible for creating the id-driven monster that lives within John Mayer.

Berklee has done some great things, too: It's certainly responsible for the formation of one of today’s most entertaining Bluegrass-infused triumvirates, Annie & the Beekeepers. The down-home, Appalachian-inspired trio from the liberal capital of eastern America represent the best attributes of Bluegrass-fusion and Americana — strings, delightfully lilting vocals and the ability to make Country music not sound especially Country.

Annie Lynch, the guitar-wielding songstress and frontwoman, grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. During her formative musical upbringing, she feasted primarily on Folk artists like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan.

But Lynch’s Bluegrass-fusion career took root early. “I was always really interested in string instruments,” she says.

She began playing the violin and taking voice lessons at an early age. By the time she was 14, she was writing songs. By 16, she was tearing up the Cape Cod coffeeshop circuit.

“People were always telling me I had a great voice for Country music,” Lynch says. She initially resisted because the commercial Pop Country image never appealed to her.

But Lynch changed her tune slightly while attending Berklee. She began listening to classic Country and Bluegrass, immediately falling in love.

“I think that you can appreciate music and feel very deeply connected with music that maybe isn’t exactly from the same place that you’re from,” she says.

At Berklee, Lynch put an EP together with the help of a friend.

The experience was so enjoyable, she decided to release a full-length album and then tour with the newly formed ensemble, Annie & the Beekeepers.

The band consists of Lynch, Ken Woodward on the upright bass and Alexandra Spaulding on the cello. The trio just released its second full-length album, Squid Hell Sessions.

Although the group has some Bluegrass roots — Woodward hails from Virginia — and a heavy classic Country influence, Lynch is hesitant to call Annie & the Beekeepers a Bluegrass band.

She prefers to look at her music in a more holistic sense. Growing up on Cape Cod and primarily listening to Folk Rock, Lynch sees elements of her roots represented in the music she performs with her band.

“I don’t think that real old Country music (is) the antithesis of the music I grew up on,” Lynch says.

To Lynch, artists like Bob Dylan have undercurrents of Country that often go undetected, and that’s what she craves.

“What I’m drawn to in music is the music of the people, music that expresses the human experience,” she says. “Folk-oriented music has been sort of like the common thread between the genres I’ve been interested in.”

The band continues to make its way around the country performing its unique brand of Folk Country. While the Beekeepers have never performed in a rural Appalachian city, they continue to be well received in the Southern cities they’ve toured.

“I haven’t had the experience of playing Bluegrass in Bluegrass country,” Lynch says. “(But) we’ve gotten great responses in the South and really enjoy going down there.”

As Annie & the Beekeepers continue to record and tour on a half-Country, half-Folk platform, the distinctions between the genres grow less and less distinct to them. It reflects in the group’s sometimes bluesy, sometimes jazzy renditions of Folk and Country songs. The group seems more inclined to keep coloring outside the lines of mainstream music’s expectations.

“I think nowadays it’s very hard for most bands that are kind of just starting out to pinpoint a genre, and I think that’s a really beautiful thing,” Lynch says.

This new wave of musical egalitarianism is something to which Annie and the Beekeepers are proud to contribute.

“Most of the music I love and appreciate, they’re like the hardest bands to package up into a neat little description,” Lynch says.

ANNIE & THE BEEKEEPERS play the MidPoint Music Festival at 10 p.m. Saturday at Mr. Pitiful's. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get MPMF details here.



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