As a part of the sixth annual Porch Stomp season, we're working with Beehive Productions, NYC Ferry and Blue Point Brewery to bring you a series of videos featuring artists spanning the gamut of NYC folk scene (and then some). Check out our blog every month for new videos and interviews with artists, and be sure to follow us on instagram: @porchstomp and Facebook: Porch Stomp
We first met Johanna Wacker at the Porch Stomp launch party last summer and were blown away by her versatility as both an oldtime musician as well as original songwriter. With a knack for meandering melodies reminiscent of traditional mountain music and a love of modernized roots storytelling, Johanna's musicality became a welcome addition to a number of Porch Stomp events through the fall and winter of 2019 (including as part of the Flatfoot Flatbush House Band). However, our favorite presentation of Johanna's music is with dancer Kathy Grabarczyk. What began as a public experiment (a duo set at the inaugural Mergerfest last September) quickly snowballed into performances throughout the five boroughs. Musically, the two share a kindred spirit of rural-meets-urban that manifests into a spacious tumbling sonic roll, where the interweaving of clawhammer banjo with tapping feet and body percussion gracefully cradles Johanna's bittersweet storytelling. For this performance, they are joined by Jeremy Aaron providing delicate fiddle arrangements and vocal harmony to create a powerful yet melancholic sound.
Check out Johanna Wacker, Jeremy Aaron and Kathy Grabarczyk performing "Chickahominy Blues" live at the Haylaught, Porch Stomp's home in Brooklyn, NYC. Continue reading for a Q&A with Johanna and be sure to find his music online at the link below.
How did you first find out about Porch Stomp and what is your favorite Porch Stomp memory?
Porch Stomp came up as a suggested page to follow on my mom’s Facebook, and she immediately told me about it since it seemed right up my alley. My favorite memory would definitely have to be playing in the banjo parade led by Hilary Hawke!
You do a magnificent job of folding in the contemporary perspective and convention into the old time songwriting tradition. Who are the artists and songwriters who inspire you most?
I am most inspired by Emmylou Harris, as well as a mix of musical icons and newer artists including the Everly Brothers, Ralph Stanley, Ola Belle Reed, Roy Orbison, Sarah Jarosz, Rhiannon Giddens, and so many more.
What excites you about arranging tunes with dancers and what are the challenges you experience?
Arranging tunes with dancers is so fun because I know right off the bat that any of my old-time inspired songs would mesh really well with flatfooting. It has been interesting combining dancing with some of my less folky songs, because the dancing has to take on another purpose. In these instances, I including the dancing more as a continuous percussive rhythm.
What is one piece of advice that you'd offer to young artists looking to enter into the traditional folk community while maintaining an original approach?
My biggest piece of advice is to play as much traditional folk as possible, but never limit what you listen to. That way folk can be the overarching genre of what you write/play, but other influences can still work their way in naturally, so any new music will be fresh and original.
Follow Johanna on Facebook here :
Special thanks to Jeff, Sue and Redia of Beehive Productions as well as the fine folks at Blue Point Brewery for making this video possible.