Amsterdam-area native to perform with ‘Come From Away’ pit orchestra at Proctors

Sara Milonovich (Arius Photography)
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Sara Milonovich (Arius Photography)

For Saturday’s evening performance of “Come From Away” at Proctors, there’ll be a familiar face in the pit orchestra.

Violinist Sara Milonovich, who grew up in the town of Florida and played with popular Capital Region band The McKrells as a teen, will be subbing in for the performance.

Milonovich has been the first-call fiddle sub in “Come From Away,” both on Broadway and the touring production for the last few years.

“I use both the classical violin skills I studied when first learning the instrument and the fiddle styles I’ve been playing my whole life. It’s a really unique situation in that regard, and one of the things that makes ‘Come From Away’ particularly fun and interesting,” Milonovich said in an email interview.

The fiddler and singer/songwriter, who lives in Beacon, started playing violin at 4 and by the time she was a teen, had formed her own band by the age of 9 and by 16 was performing with The McKrells. Over the years, she’s collaborated with artists like Richard Shindell, Pete Seeger (including on his Grammy-winning At 89 album), Eliza Gilkyson, Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys, among others. In 2016, she founded Rootstock, a nonprofit music festival dedicated to supporting next-generation farmers in the Northeast.

In the midst of all that, she’s released several albums with her band Daisycutter. The latest, called “Northeast” came out last year and was produced by Greg Anderson, and recorded and mixed by multiple Grammy-winner Justin Guip.
The Gazette caught up with Milonovich earlier this week about “Come From Away” and her latest album.

Q: What got you into playing the violin?
A: My maternal grandparents, Selma and Earl Harris, were involved as organizers in the local bluegrass music scene, and my parents, while not musicians themselves, would attend a lot of local concerts and music festivals and always had music on in the house. So I grew up listening to loads of fiddle-centric music: from old folk, bluegrass, and Celtic records, to the country music on the radio. I had just turned four when my grandparents gave me my first violin for Christmas, so I was too young to remember exactly how I got into playing the violin, except that I was enamored of it and bugged them long enough to get me one!

Q: How long have you been the fiddle sub for “Come From Away”? Is it the first Broadway production you’ve performed in?
A: I started subbing “Come From Away” on Broadway in February of 2018, and it’s the first, and only, Broadway production I’ve performed in. To be honest, performing on Broadway wasn’t originally on my “Life Bingo Card” – my main musical identity is as an alt-country singer-songwriter and fiddler in a variety of folk styles, so I had spent the majority of my musical journey playing in bluegrass and Celtic bands and accompanying songwriters when not performing my own music.
But those fiddle styles turned out to be exactly the skill set needed for “Come From Away” since so much of the music is based on the traditional tunes of Newfoundland! So I use both the classical violin skills I studied when first learning the instrument and the fiddle styles I’ve been playing my whole life. It’s a really unique situation in that regard, and one of the things that makes “Come From Away” particularly fun and interesting.

Q: What’s the experience been like to perform with the show both on Broadway and on tour?
A: Subbing is a unique challenge because you’re usually standing in for someone who plays the show multiple times a week, and you’re expected to uphold that level of performance and continuity, whether it’s been two days or two years since you last performed it! Maintaining a certain level of preparation is key because you don’t know when you could be called: it could be scheduled weeks in advance, or you could have to jump in at the drop of a hat because of an emergency. That’s what happened last week when the tour was in Minneapolis and dealing with a lot of COVID cases in the company. I got called on a Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning was on a plane to Minnesota! Performance-wise, there are some subtle differences between the Broadway and touring shows, mostly in terms of pacing, as different actors take different amounts of time to say their lines, and also a couple small key changes in the score, so the need for attention to detail definitely keeps you on your toes. Joining the tour is always fun because you get to see different cities each time, but it’s always been a special experience to play on Broadway – the history of those theaters is so remarkable. And the people involved both on Broadway and with the tour are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. It’s a really supportive environment, and I’m really grateful to be part of the “Come From Away” extended family!

Q: Tell me about the origins of Daisycutter.
A: The band grew out my first album – the title of which was “Daisycutter.” Having worked with these fabulous musicians in the studio it really began to feel like those sounds had become an integral part of the songs I was starting to write – so what started out as a project making an album ended up as a band.

Q: How do you think your songwriting or playing style has evolved over the years?
A: I think the various musical experiences I’ve had throughout my career all contribute to where I’m at creatively right now. Working with so many talented songwriters really gave me firsthand insight into bettering my own writing, and having played fiddle in so many different genres of music has given me a great palate of colors to choose from. I definitely consider myself an alt-country artist – I usually go with that description because ‘Americana’ is such a broad term these days, and also to differentiate from what passes for “country music” on the radio now.

Q: Tell me about your latest album “Northeast.”
A: So much of the music I grew up listening to – and the folk/country music genres in general – are based in the storytelling tradition of songwriting. But it seemed that a lot of those stories took place in the south or the western part of the country. I thought the northeast shared so many of those common human experiences, plus it’s a lot colder! So I decided to write about that, about my own experience. The album cover is actually a photo of a factory loading dock in Amsterdam – driving by one day started me thinking about those song traditions I just described, and the importance of people and of place in song.

Q: What was the recording process like?
A: We started tracking the record in pre-pandemic times, so we were all able to play together in the studio to get the basic framework of the songs together. I’m really glad we were able to do that because when the pandemic hit, we already had the meat and bones of the songs and were able to finish tracking in our home studio, as well as send tracks to guest artists (like pedal steel player Lloyd Maines in Texas!) We got out of lockdown just in time to be able to mix the album in person, at Justin Guip’s Milan Hill Studio in Red Hook.

Q: Have you been able to play many live shows in support of it?
A: We were able to play a few shows with the band in between variants, but we are definitely hoping to make up for lost time this year!

Q: Will you be heading to the Capital Region for any solo/Daisycutter shows in the next few months?
A: Yes! We will be playing at the Cock ’n’ Bull in Galway on Thursday, February 17, down in Oxford at 6OTS on February 19 (a little out of your reading area), and at Caffe Lena in Saratoga on Saturday, June 4.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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