Editor’s note: Almost 500 folks poured out Wednesday night at Crystal Bay Casino as Rising Appalachia, accompanied by Arouna Diarra, blessed the Sierra with its song-filled prayers for green grass and high tides. Tonight and Friday, expect the same at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. The band thanked the lively crowd for ducking out of a rain and hail storm and wished for more of the same.
No musical category has a broader definition or range of styles than does folk.
Early 20th century artist Big Bill Broonzy had a classic response when someone asked if what he plays is folk music: “I’ve never heard horses play it.”
Chloe Smith, who founded Rising Appalachia with her sister Leah, frequently gets the same question.
“Folk certainly suits us because of the storytelling elements,” she told Tahoe Onstage. “But it’s nebulous. It’s modern. It’s storytelling. It’s spoken word. It’s hip-hop. We would love to have a 17-word genre but usually people have to push the one-word button.”
What is definitive is that Appalachian music was created with the blending of ballads from Scottish, Irish and English immigrants and banjos from slaves.
The Smith sisters’ parents are musicians who revel in Appalachian music and it was the inspiration for the name Rising Appalachia, although they, and members of the band, have spanned the globe studying myriad forms of music.
“We are constantly unearthing more as we go along, opening the doors to more influences,” Chloe Smith said.
But they were following their consciousness when they wound up at the birthplace of jazz. Social activists, the sisters moved to New Orleans after half of the Crescent City was washed away by Hurricane Katrina. They stayed for seven years.
“We learned a lot there about jazz and soul and the spirit of the South,” Chloe Smith said. “Being from Atlanta, we called ourselves Southerners, but until I lived in New Orleans, I didn’t completely understand what that meant.
“We learned about community and using music as a tool to uplift yourself and your community out of trouble. The horns and the music on the streets of New Orleans was literally saving people’s lives, saving people’s spirits. It really kicked us into gear to use our music as a tool for activism and social change.”
Rising Appalachia debuted at Lake Tahoe in September 2014 in the same Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room.
Since that appearance, the band released a 15-song album, “Wider Circles.” It is described on the band’s website:
“With influences of folk, soul, roots, world music, and poetry, the album showcases the alchemy of sibling harmonies paired with banjo and fiddle duets. Joined by full-time band members Biko Casini (world percussion) and David Brown (stand-up bass / baritone guitar), “Wider Circles” was inspired by folk standards and traditional hymns, old mountain odes, and activist anthems that pull equally from the swampy sounds of the bayou and the contemporary twang of the Appalachian mountains.
Rising Appalachia with Arouna Diarra
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 and Friday, Oct. 30
Where: The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
Tickets: $22 for members, $27 for non-members. (Friday show sold out).