For New Orleans fiddler Amanda Shaw, Cajun music is about having a good time.
“It’s all about just bringing people together, to enjoy each other’s company and eat good food,” Shaw said during a recent phone interview from her home in New Orleans. “That’s what we try to bring every time. We bring the music to help bring the people together.”
It’s this sense of camaraderie that initially drew Shaw, 18, to the music. She has been playing the fiddle since age 4 and performing the traditional roots music of New Orleans for almost as long. Her music, a catchy blend of pop melodies and song structures with the gritty sounds of Cajun blues and country, has been gaining attention nationally thanks in part to her appearance in the 2006 Imax film “Hurricane on the Bayou” and her 2008 Rounder Records debut, “Pretty Runs Out.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Eighth Step, GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $24
When Shaw performs at the Eighth Step at Proctors’ GE Theatre on Friday, with her band, The Cute Guys, it will be her first appearance at the folk venue. However, she has thrice worked with the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Valley in Rome, N.Y., performing at local schools in the area.
Besides working on building an audience in the region, she is also looking forward to the snow.
“I’m excited; we actually just got two and a half inches here [in New Orleans] about a week ago, although it was gone after a day or two,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll get to make a snowman.”
Her connections to the Northeast run deeper than one might think, however. Shaw was born in Boston in 1991, soon thereafter relocating to New Orleans, where her father and his family are originally from. Perhaps surprisingly, she is the only musician in her family.
“As a matter of fact, I tease my dad that the radio in his car doesn’t even work,” she said.
Shaw was initially drawn not to Cajun music, but classical, after seeing an orchestra on TV at age 4. She was particularly impressed with the violin and soon began classical studies on the instrument.
“It was like love at first sight — I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I turned to my mom and said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”
She progressed quickly, and three years later, at age 7, she became the youngest soloist ever to perform with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. Around that time, she began taking an interest in the Cajun music scene.
After sitting in with some local blues, jazz and country bands, learning the music by ear, at age 10 Shaw struck out with her own band, which later gained the Cute Guys moniker. The group’s members, guitarist Tim Robertson, bassist Ronnie Falgout and drummer Mike Barras, are all veterans of the Cajun music scene. According to Shaw, they’re an integral part of her sound.
“I definitely feel that everything we do is a group effort between me, the band and everyone involved,” she said. “Mike knows about the drums, and Tim knows about guitar. Each of us, I feel like each of the guys know the most about their instrument.”
But Shaw’s influences don’t end with Cajun. Her 2004 album, “I’m Not a Bubblegum Pop Princess,” featured covers of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and a slightly rewritten Ramones song, “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.” She’s a fan of everyone from Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Chrissie Hynde, Billie Holiday and Shannon McNally. “I like a little girl power, with a little attitude, any type of music that has those type of qualities,” she said.
McNally and Shaw actually collaborated on the song “Chirmolito” from “Pretty Runs Out.” The song is a bluesy stomper about two Mexican workers who helped rebuild Shaw’s home after Hurricane Katrina.
“I was like 15 whenever we wrote ‘Chirmolito,’ ” Shaw said. “I always thought [McNally] was the coolest person. With words and music, she’s able to tell a story without doing too much, and she was able to help me get my point across and tell a story.”
In many ways, “Pretty Runs Out” is a document of Shaw’s journey through adolescence. Although released in January of last year, it was recorded toward the end of 2006. The album’s long gestation gave her a chance to find her sound.
“We wanted to make sure, because those were my teenage years I was going through, when you’re trying to find yourself, and trying to find yourself in music,” she said. “It definitely took a while, but there was a lot of growing going on, growing to find exactly what sound I want people to get.”
The album also showcases Shaw’s songwriting on cuts such as the title track, the aforementioned “Chirmolito” and album centerpiece “Wishing Me Away.” And of course, her fiddle playing is at the forefront on most of the songs, along with her cheery yet mature vocal presence.
Up next for Shaw is collaboration album with jazz musician Irvin Mayfield, one of the founders of Cajun jazz group Los Hombres Calientes and a member of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.
“He’s about keeping jazz alive and passionately being able to spread jazz to everyone,” Shaw said.
“It’s kind of similar to what we’re doing with Cajun music. We’re trying to keep Cajun music alive and mixing it with different styles to try to bring it to an audience that normally wouldn’t listen to Cajun music. Maybe young people who say, ‘Hey, there’s a Clash song that I really like,’ and we mix it with Cajun music.’ ”
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Life & Arts