Beauties from Boston: Della Mae brings Bluegrass to the Big Room
There aren’t many bands that visit Chico not long after making a 43-day jaunt through Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Hell, there aren’t many bands who’ve even heard of most of those places. But the U.S. State Department thought that five prodigiously talented young women, steeped in knowledge of and skill in playing deeply American music, might just be good representatives for our country in that volatile region of the world. So, Della Mae (in the persons of Celia Woodsmith, Courtney Hartman, Shelby Means, Jenni Lyn Gardner, and band founder Kimber Ludiker) hit the bumpy roads south and east of eastern Europe, pickin’ and singin’, conducting music programs for children, playing concerts for audiences who were hearing their kind of music for the first time, and collaborating with local musicians to merge very diverse musical cultures.
And, because of that, I was one of very few people in the world who got to hear an all-female five-piece bluegrass band singing a song in Urdu (the national language of Pakistan) on a Tuesday night. In addition to that Urdu number, the lovely quintet did a bunch of their own tunes from This World Oft Can Be, their new Rounder Records release. Their set list included songs by John Prine, Doc Watson, and Del McCoury, and they responded to a standing ovation with an encore that closed with a rousing rendition of “Columbus Stockade.”
The band was ending their first-ever tour through through California, and they were over the moon with the reception they’d gotten everywhere they played. In Chico, they were enveloped in the love and appreciation of north state bluegrass fans.
These five young women were as easy on the eyes as they were on the ears—all of them adding good looks to their abundant musical talents. But, as the Big Room’s impresario Bob Littell told me before they took the stage, their looks wouldn’t carry them far if they couldn’t play.
And boy could they play. And sing. Like angels. In harmony.
As an aside, I have to include a little bouquet to the aforementioned Mr. Littell—a guy who has not only brought some of my favorite musicians to town over the years, but has also introduced me to a whole lotta exciting musical acts I may never have even known about, were it not for the ongoing musical education his venue provides (not only to me, but to music lovers throughout northern California within driving distance of the Big Room). Della Mae was the latest of Bob’s bright boons to music lovers here.