Ben Sollee & Martha Redbone

Musical Rootisms of Kentucky

By Janice Carter Levitch

Martha Redbone and Ben Sollee rehearsing together at Louisville Public Media.

Rootism is the belief that we are influenced by our surroundings and convictions. It is different for everyone depending on not only how you were raised but where. Rootism is hidden sometimes, like a gem in the rough. That gem in the rough was met with an alchemistic approach recently when Ben Sollee and Martha Redbone met for the first time in the studio at Louisville Public Media. The pair of artists had to become acquainted with one another before they collaborate for a March 10 performance at The Kentucky Center as part of the 2018 Speed Concert Series.

Both artists are from Kentucky and are inspired to capture the essence of sounds. What they hear then inspires them to create music or adds to the nuances of the music as a result. The two shared a heartfelt discussion in the studio that allowed a look inside the experience they both have when producing songs. Redbone is deeply rooted in her Appalachian folk and Piedmont blues-style of funk, flowing with the award winning Native American elements that reach the listeners like nothing else can.

This soul singer is of Cherokee, Choctaw, African-American and European descent, which only added to the theme of her breakout album, “The Garden of Love.” It’s no wonder it was produced by John McEuen, Grammy winner and founder of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

When commenting on the creative process she experiences and getting to know Sollee, Redbone said, “It’s been a lot of fun because there are so many aspects of it all that have touched each of our lives. We are meeting for the first time today, and I’ve been a huge admirer of his music for some time now.

“It’s been really nice to get in the studio to hear his voice up close and hear his playing up close,” she added. “To connect with that has been really special.”

Sollee certainly knows his way around the studio. As a classically-trained cellist, composer and singer-songwriter, he incorporates numerous instruments as well as unusual cello techniques into his work.

“Today, we gathered to really kind of learn a little bit about the art each of us is making and the stories we are trying to tell with that artwork,” he commented. “Then we’ll try to blend that together for this show. Both of us share a rooted love of Kentucky and also an understanding of the isms of being from Kentucky. Comparatively, I’m more from a city-centric perspective and Martha from more of the hills, hollers and mountains. Finding that common ground has been a big part of that creative process today.”

“For me it’s always been about telling our family stories and sharing it through the generations,” Redbone said. “It’s part of our Cherokee culture, and it’s just something we’ve always done. I think with today’s times with so much going on and such an overload of information out there, it’s really important for us to hold onto what makes us who we are. The only way we can do that and learn about each other and the world is to share our family stories and our connections to the land and the areas that we are from. Intrinsically, that’s what we’re made of. It has a lot to do with where we spent our summers, where our parents and grandparents came from and just the sound of the mountains and rivers.

“The real challenge as a creative person is to be able to capture those essences in a song, whether using words or not,” she continued. “When you get in a room with someone like Ben and we are all striving for that interesting way to tell these stories and to make these connections too, it’s a lot of fun.”

“In today’s life and times, it’s hard to tell where music is from because everything is so blended and mixed and globalized because of the internet,” Sollee said. “Music is this very accommodating form that it easily weaves in and out of that. But stories are very tied to place because people often tell or add onto their story from childhood onward. So when you hear someone tell a story, especially their own story, you really get a sense of place.”

The influence of Sollee’s family and the music they played has a lot to do with his identity as a musician. He and Redbone will bring unique fusional qualities to what they’re creating for their upcoming concert. It isn’t often we get to the hear this genre of music, so the ism of the day is go experience the rootism that Sollee and Redbone have to offer. Maybe it will inspire you to tell your own story. VT

Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native + Martha Redbone Trio

8 p.m. March 10

Bomhard Theater

The Kentucky Center

501 W. Main St.

kentuckycenter.org