Maybelles heighten folk, bluegrass profile

The Maybelles have called Eureka Springs, Ark., New Orleans and New York City home at various points
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The Maybelles have called Eureka Springs, Ark., New Orleans and New York City home at various points over the past 10 years.

Now, the three members of this all-female bluegrass and folk group are scattered about the country. Guitarist Jan Bell, originally from Yorkshire, England, continues to live in New York City, the last place all three bandmates lived together. Fiddler Katy Rose Cox is in Austin, Texas, where she grew up, and bassist and Nebraskan Melissa Carper lives in Eureka Springs, where she and Bell first began playing together in 1997.

As they all pointed out recently, this spread can make being in a working band somewhat difficult.

“That’s been the hardest thing; I think we would have taken off a lot sooner if we had all stayed in the same town,” Carper said recently while camping near her other home in Golden, Mo. “But I didn’t really like living in New York City; I’m really too used to living in the country.”

For a time, the group even split up, but the music eventually drew them back together.

Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival

When: Thursday through Sunday

Where: The Walsh Farm, 1 Poultney Road, Oak Hill

How Much: $175 for full festival; $45 for Thursday; $55 for Friday; $55 for Saturday, $25 for Sunday. Children 12 and under free with a ticketed adult.

More Info: 888-946-8495, 315-724-4473, www.greyfoxbluegrass.com.

“I think it’s when we did that, we realized how much we really want to make it work as a group,” Cox said. “Yeah, I think it’s difficult — we have to make special arrangements to get together and really practice, to make sure we have breathing room to be able to grow musically. But because we make that space, we’re really focused, and a lot of things happen that wouldn’t happen if we were living in a busy town together.”

With their most recent album, 2007’s “Leavin’ Town,” receiving praise in folk publications in the U.S. and the U.K., and a slot last year on the Roots and Branches Stage at the International Bluegrass Music Awards, The Maybelles’ profile has been rising on the Americana circuit. The band is about to embark on a six-week tour — their longest ever — that will take them through New York, New England, Virginia and to the U.K. Everything kicks off with a slot on Thursday at 3 p.m. on the Main Stage at this year’s annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. The festival continues through Sunday.

This will be the second year the festival is held at The Walsh Farm in Oak Hill. It moved last year from its longtime home at the Rothvoss Farm in Ancramdale, where it had been held, under numerous different names, every year since 1976.

Main Stage schedule

Click here for the four-day schedule of music.

The lineup features roughly 40 artists from all across the bluegrass, folk, roots and Americana spectrum on four stages — the Main Stage, Masters Tent, Dance Pavilion and Family Stage. Acts include the David Bromberg Quartet, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, The Red Stick Ramblers, Tim O’Brien and The Del McCoury Band. As always, The Dry Branch Fire Squad serves as host for all four festival days.

Dream come true

For the members of The Maybelles, playing at Grey Fox is a dream come true. The group hopes the festival will help draw more attention to their music on a national stage.


“It feels like a really big thing,” Carper said. “We’ve heard that a lot of new — well, we’re not a new band — a lot of fairly unknown bands get their start [at Grey Fox]. They’re more accepting of new talent than some of the other festivals, and if you get in there, things can really take off for you.”

Cox, a fan of the festival, is particularly excited to be involved. “I lived in New York for almost eight years, and I used to play classical music. I’d go to Grey Fox, and it’s one of the main reasons I play fiddle now,” she said.

The band landed the slot in part thanks to their appearance with the IBMA last year.

“This has been on the wish list,” Bell said. “It takes a few years of just keeping playing, keeping touring, keeping doing it.”

The Maybelles — the name comes from Maybelle Carter of country music legends The Carter Family — have released three albums since 2003, although their 2003 debut, “Songs For My Baby,” was billed under Jan Bell and Melissa Carper. Bell and Carper first met at the Ozark Folk Festival in Eureka Springs.

“I was traveling with folk musicians playing with Jason Ecklund,” Bell said. “When I first heard Melissa singing, it turned out we knew a lot of the same songs. Through Jason, I had learned some songs and learned to play a bit of guitar. They’re easy songs, and that’s the beauty of folk music — so many of the songs we all know.”

Bell grew up in Yorkshire surrounded by American roots music — her uncle, an Everly Brothers fan, played harmonica, as did her grandfather. She first came to New York City as a teenager, working at a camp for terminally ill children, and eventually ended up staying and becoming immersed in street and community theater.

Obvious chemistry

The chemistry between Carper and Bell was immediate. According to Carper, Bell’s storytelling songwriting approach meshed with her own, more humorous style.

“She’s got a great lyrical sense and melodic sense,” Carper said of Bell. “I think that makes a good combination — she really writes beautiful songs, while mine have high energy and some humor to them.”

After busking in Eureka Springs and New Orleans, the group headed to New York City, hooking up with Cox about five or six years ago. The classically trained Cox added fiddle leads and three-part vocal harmony to the already-existing songs, contributing a few instrumentals of her own as well on “Leavin’ Town.”

With its members firmly established, the trio is forging ahead with plans to record a new album as soon as this fall, according to Carper. All three have written new songs they are eager to work on with the group.

“We’ve got a whole slew of new songs,” Bell said. “Melissa has been writing up a storm, actually.”

The band is also excited to be traveling to the U.K. for the first time. Bell said the group has a bit of a following over there.

“I just got back from doing a little solo stint there, and everywhere I went, some people had already heard of The Maybelles,” Bell said.

“We get played on the radio over there. There’s a real resurgence of bluegrass and Americana music; a banjo craze has been going on in Britain in the last few years. People are now familiar with it, and can differentiate between bluegrass, old time country, folk music, where before it was all clumped together as American folk music.”

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