The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks songwriting and Passim’s campfire.festival

David Tanklefsky of the band Whiskey Treaty Roadshow is just one in a wide array of dynamic musicians making their way to Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 19th annual Memorial Day campfire.festival from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 29.  An interactive music festival presented “in the round,” featured artists interact with each other and the crowd, often improvising and exchanging songs during the weekend.  What often results is the unexpected.  Click here for the full list of featured musicians and for tickets.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s David Tanklefsky talks about Whiskey’s unique songwriting, the Beatles, and their touring adventures.  Click here to see their award-winning, short documentary and follow them on Facebook.

Sleepless Critic:  You’ll be at Club Passim for the campfire.festival Memorial Day weekend before the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow will make an appearance at Club Passim on Friday, July 14.  You’ve played the venue as well as campfire.festival before.  I understand it is quite an improvisational, interactive music experience.

David Tanklefsky:  I’ve done campfire a few times. This will be my first time playing there with my friend Hayley Sabella, who is terrific. Passim is a special place and we are lucky to have it in the area.  It seems like as less money is available to go around in the music world, the relationship between musicians and venues has become more of transaction.  Passim is the opposite. They are unique and truly care about developing musicians and giving them a platform for being heard.

SC:  How did the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow form and how did you meet?

DT:  Tory Hanna is really the conduit through which the band came together.  One of my best friends, who I was in a band with for years growing up, was living in a loft in Brooklyn with Tory and we started hanging out through him.  His wife Susie went to high school with Greg Smith and Tory knew Billy Keane through the Berkshires music world.  Billy had played a few shows with Chris Merenda and was a big fan of his old band, The Mammals. It happened very naturally, which I think is the best way for creative groups to get together.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow on tour Photo courtesy of Tim Bradley

SC:  Whose idea was the award-winning, short documentary and how did you decide on the details to the documentary?  It features lots of scenic, peaceful views of different areas of Massachusetts.

DT:  Tory grew up with a filmmaker named Tim Bradley who was looking for a new documentary project.  Tim captured our rehearsals for a four night tour we had organized through Massachusetts.  It was our first time playing together as a group.

Watching it now is such fun because it’s a snapshot of a band just starting out without any expectations beyond playing four great shows.  Tim meticulously planned out all the locations and the amazing videography.  When Tory mentioned his friend wanted to film us, I trusted his judgment but never imagined Tim would come up with such a well-crafted film.  It really helped catapult us into being a real band.

SC:  You have a relaxed sound, a rhythm likened to a drive down a peaceful country road.  You have a bit of a country tinge to some of your music.  Was that planned?  How did you end up conforming to a sound?

DT:  In folk music, there are songs and chord progressions that become seared into your soul over time. We’ve never had a discussion about it, but everyone brings songs to the table that we think will work with our instrumentation and vocal abilities. I think the folk/country/Americana textures come from having many stringed instruments on stage and the collaborative spirit of just sitting around, passing the guitar, and sharing songs.

SC:  Folk music is full of rich stories and each of you has a distinct style.  How do you come up with your songs?  Do you write a song together or are the songs bits of each songwriter or one song written by one another?

DT:  In this project, everyone writes independently and then brings songs to the table in various forms of completeness. We’ve been tinkering with different instrumentation and having some songs with more minimal arrangements as it has evolved.  We ask ourselves, ‘Do we need five people strumming away like mad men through this whole song?’  Often the answer is no. In the next few months, we’re planning to do a little songwriting retreat where we write more actively together for the first time, which will be new, exciting, and hopefully fruitful.

SC:  Where did your love for songwriting start?  Your particular songwriting style has a bit of humor with some rich lyrics and a bit of an unpredictable tempo at times.

DT:  When I was 10, I had an unhealthy obsession with the for three years straight.  I thought they were a perfect band.  My friends and I went as the Beatles for Halloween every year between ages 10 and 13. No one wanted to be Ringo and no one was left-handed like Paul so we were four kids with mushroom cuts and right-handed cardboard guitars.

Later I became inspired by songwriters that are always growing, pushing, and challenging their listeners.  I think Paul Simon is the gold standard for that.  I’m in awe of the insatiable curiosity he taps into and I try to write from a position of newness like that.  Being unaware of where my curiosity will take me but trying to just follow it through.

SC:  I understand you are touring.  What kind of venue would be an ideal place for you to play?

DT:  It was a huge thrill to perform with Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Sarah Lee. That’s way up on the list.

We’ve had the opportunity to play some amazing old theatres over the last year or so. We loved the Academy of Music in Northampton and the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.  It was total thrill to sell out Mass MOCA, but some of our best shows have been in how-did-we-end-up-here type places too.

We played a last minute show in Cambridge in March at a really tiny place in Central Square and it was packed in with people standing on tables, total chaos.  The bouncer was adamant that no one else could come in because it was too packed.  One person left outside was our drummer, Jimmy.  He came in the back door and was kicked back out onto the street. We said, ‘But that’s the drummer!’  The bouncer replied, ‘I don’t care, I said no more!’  Eventually we brokered a deal and Jimmy was allowed inside and the show went on.  Theatre and dive bar are both okay in our book.

SC:  What are the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s future plans?

DT:  Our new EP is almost done and we are in high-level band discussions about a run of shows in the fall to support its release. We did it with an awesome engineer named Marc Seedorf at Barnhouse Studios in Chicopee, Massachusetts. We had to take a month break from recording because he was on tour with Dinosaur Jr. as their guitar tech and he got to play a few songs each night with them.  He’s our new hero.

Click here for more information and tickets to Passim’s campfire.festival at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, conveniently located in Harvard Square.  Not only a haven for music lessons, Passim offers live concerts nearly 365 days a year featuring Grammy winners to musicians with a dream.  Click here for their music schedule and follow Passim on Facebook and Twitter.

Kristin Chenoweth, making her Celebrity Series of Boston debut on April 30, talks favorite roles, latest album, and more

From a church choir soloist to an Emmy and Tony award-winning actress and singer, Kristin Chenoweth has been dazzling audiences on film, television, and on stage with her dynamic range and powerful vocals for over 20 years.  Currently promoting her sixth album, The Art of Elegance, she will be making her Celebrity Series of Boston debut for ‘An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth’ at Symphony Hall on Sunday, April 30 at 7 p.m.   The evening will include a selection of her most popular songs, pop, American standards, and Broadway tunes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Kristin Chenoweth talks about some of her favorite and most challenging roles, the inspiration behind her Grammy-nominated album, and a few surprises she has encountered along the way.   Click here for more on her upcoming projects.

Celebrity Series 1739-Kristin-Chenoweth-Credit-Bryan-Kasm

The Art of Elegance with Kristin Chenoweth Photo courtesy of Bryan Kasm

Sleepless Critic:  You’re an actress, singer, Broadway performer, and voiceover artist.  You sang in church at an early age.  Was singing your first love?

Kristin Chenoweth:  My first love was ballet.  I wanted to be a ballerina, but I didn’t have the flexibility in my feet.  I was so glad I had that training at a young age because I began to hear classical music and then I wanted to take piano.  I think I was about eight years old when I had my first solo in church and that’s kind of when things shifted for me.

SC:  You will be exploring a number of genres during your upcoming concert.  Pop, songbook classics, Broadway, a bit of everything you’re known for.  What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

KC:  I love all kinds of music and I shift in and out and change a lot.  Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Linda Ronstadt.  I get on these kicks and I’ll just listen to something over and over and it shifts all the time.  There are so many artists I admire, but that’s what I am doing right now.

SC:  Have you ever had a role that you had certain expectations of and you ended up totally surprised by on Broadway or otherwise?

KC:  Absolutely, I think playing the female lead in Promises, Promises.  I knew it would be a challenge for me to play her, but it was really surprising how much I fell in love with her and came to really understand her.  There’s a big part of me who really knew who this person was.  It might not have been what fans wanted necessarily, but it is important as an artist to not always do what is expected.  The part scared me and that is how I knew I needed to do it.

SC:  You won a Tony as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. What has been your favorite role so far?

KC:  On Broadway, it is definitely Lily Garland in On the 20th Century.  It was a role that required a lot of my own skill set and it is an operetta with tons of movement and high brow comedy.  I probably never worked harder, but it was extremely gratifying.

SC:  You have such a great vocal range.   Was there a note that you discovered you could hit that took you by surprise?

KC:  I remember being in a voice lesson while at Oklahoma City University.  My teacher was vocalizing with me.  I didn’t study voice growing up.  I just sang in choir and was in drama in high school.  That was my training, so I never had a voice lesson.  When I went to OCU, she vocalized with me up to a high F sharp above high C.  I knew that was high, but I couldn’t believe it.

For many years, I sang arias that required a high F and I noticed it’s maybe not there like it used to be.  I would say I am living in more of the D or E flat area, but that was a crazy high note.

SC:  When a song is particularly challenging, how do you overcome it?

KC:  It’s so funny, we were just talking about one of the songs from Promises, Promises the other day with Michael Orland, my music director on this tour.  The song is called, Knowing When to Leave by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  I just told him that it hammered away at my voice eight times a week because it is very repetitive in an area of my voice that is what we call passaggio.  That song scared me.

Finally in rehearsals, I thought less about being note perfect and more about the character.  I find that when you let go, you really think about what you are singing and mean what you are singing.  It hasn’t always gone that way and I don’t always make the right decisions, but that is when you let go, you can get there.  That song was a big challenge for me and to this day, I think it’s hard, but I worked on it, wrote it down, lived it, and warmed up to it.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll pull it out again.

SC:  The Art of Elegance is your latest album.  What was the inspiration behind it and why did you choose American songbook classics this time around?

KC:  Basically, I made a list of a bunch of songs and it kept pointing to this era.  I love the lyrics.  I love the melody of its time and they are some of the greatest songs ever written by composers such as Gershwin and Cole Porter.  I didn’t know The Very Thought of You very well.  I think I heard it a couple of times and then I really started to investigate the song.  That happened a lot on this album and now, of course, I just feel like I want to do a part two.

Click here for more information and for tickets to Celebrity Series of Boston presents ‘An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth’ at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston, Massachusetts on Sunday, April 30 at 7 p.m.  Celebrity Series of Boston just announced their 2017-18 season.  Subscriptions, gift cards, group, and student discounts available.  Click here for more on their upcoming season.

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