Three women in skirts and leather boots sit in a circle, instruments settled in laps and beers in hand. They talk fast and laugh easy, discussing the chords for the next tune — whether it needs drums instead of banjo and where the harmonies come in. And then, as if prompted by some invisible cue, they put down their drinks, pick up their instruments and start to play.
The band is The Locust Honey String Band, and the players are Chloe Edmonstone on fiddle, vocals and guitar; Ariel Dixon on banjo, guitar and vocals; and Meredith Watson on guitar, slide guitar, banjo and vocals.
Locust Honey proper began as a pickup band for a Fourth of July gig, although Edmonstone and Dixon have been playing together since they were kids. “We played the same 10 songs over and over again,” reminisces Dixon, laughing. They have come a long way since then. They whip out tune after tune from memory, and reference many more.
Locust Honey plays primarily old-time music, but “our band isn't straight old-time,” said Edmonstone. “We bring in a lot of old country stuff, Louvin Brothers, stuff like that. We put our own take on it, which happens to be old-time.”
Old-time music was the name given Appalachian and Southern-based religious and country music by the recording industry in the 1920s, and replaced what the industry had previously dubbed hillbilly music. “It was old music even then,” says Watson, “but it was extremely popular.”
Dixon and Edmonstone were both steeped in music from the beginning, each raised by musician parents who introduced them to old-time and the world of music festivals. “When I first started going to festivals I hated old-time music,” says Dixon. “I bought an electric guitar and I played rock for a while.” It wasn't long before she realized a love of the genre, and she and Edmonstone began playing together at festivals.
Watson is a relative newcomer to the old-time world, discovering it a mere four years ago, but to hear her play, you'd think she'd come from generations of musical tradition. “Aside from loving the music, it was this entire world that came along with it,” and to Watson, the world was “completely intoxicating.” She joined Locust Honey a year ago. “Meredith Watson,” says Edmonstone in a conspiratorial whisper. Dixon chimes in, “We'd heard about her.” All three throw their heads back in laughter, and it is hard to believe that they have been playing together so short a time.
Their new CD, He Ain't No Good, was released in November. Its 15 tracks live up to the band's tagline of “Heartbreakin' country and raging old time fiddle tunes.” The album has all the ease and twang of country and the nostalgia and density of old-time. The music has a sort of tumbling feel, similar to listening to the three talk — their voices and stories spilling over each other and blending seamlessly. Their harmonies get right at your heart, at times close and contained and at other times reaching and spacious.
They are a unique group; a girl band rooted in old-time who reinvent not only the music, but the lifestyle. For them, it's about the whole picture — the music, the people, the festivals, the travel. “It's the best job ever,” says Edmonstone. “A lot of people, once they're in, they don't ever leave.” The three exchange wide-eyed, fearful looks at this, and then again burst into rolling, melodic laughter.
— Jill Winsby-Fein is a senior at Warren Wilson College.
who: Locust Honey string band
what: Jack of the Wood, 95 Patton Ave.
when: Saturday, March 16 (8 to 10 p.m. Free, donations encouraged. locusthoney.com)