Amerciana folk duo Golden Shoals will be making their way to cottage country for shows on March 3 and 4, showcasing their gritty old-time style for audiences in Gravenhurst and Algonquin Highlands.
Bandmates Amy Alvey and Mark Kilianski met at a jam session while they were both students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While Alvey’s background was in classical and Kilianski was studying jazz, the two came together over a love of the fiddle styles and music genres they were introduced to at Berklee. They were each playing with different bands when they graduated and became roommates, but both bands dissolved around the same time. The pair started playing together casually and eventually decided to form a group of their own with Alvey on the guitar and fiddle and Kilianski playing banjo and guitar. They used to be known as Hoot and Holler, but what hasn’t changed is their love of old-time, folk and bluegrass sound.
“We have this conservatory level training when it comes to practice and execution and dedication, but there’s a part of our brain that overrides that with making sure that our music is driving and raw and contains a certain amount of grit that the mountain musicians that we really love and listen to have in their music,” Alvey said.
While college certainly played a part in helping the musicians develop their sound, Alvey said what they were playing before and, most of all, after their time at Berklee plays just as big a role.
“My dream was always to travel and play music since I was a teenager and for Mark, it was the same,” she said. “We left Boston in 2015 because we wanted to do just that.”
When the pair left Boston, they started going to fiddler’s conventions in southern states like West Virginia and realized that there were many fiddle styles that they hadn’t yet been exposed to. Musicians like fiddler David Bass from North Carolina inspired them to dig deeper and discover the raw style of older string bands, which was often played by labourers that worked in the fields or coal mines, Alvey said.
“After a long day of work, they would play just to ease their minds and ease their bodies and relax,” Alvey said. “It didn’t come from a performance mindset, so while we always want to put on a good show and we have some razzle dazzle numbers, we try and keep in mind that folk music is for the people. When we present our songwriting or traditional tunes, we try to stay as honest to that as possible.”
They now call Asheville, North Carolina home, but Alvey and Kilianski spend most of their time on the road, sharing their folk tunes with audiences across Canada and the US as well as international destinations like Germany, Australia and the UK. They don’t get a chance to explore many of the cities they visit, but on occasion, they’re able to enjoy sights like the Grand Canyon or participate in cultural activities like visiting German Christmas markets.
With opportunities like a tour of Alaska coming up for the duo this July, Alvey said it’s amazing to see all the places and meet all the people she wouldn’t get a chance to with a normal desk job, and it’s something neither her or Kilianski would give up.
“We go to all different places to meet different kinds of people and see the different landscapes,” Kilianski said. “Right now it happens to be Ontario in the middle of winter, and we’re driving on a rural highway with snow drifts coming at us.”
Every day is different for the duo, who have played shows in cities across Canada since their first Canadian show in Vancouver back in 2016. They’ll be returning to Ontario in June for the Tottenham Bluegrass Festival, but their current tour marks their first visit to the Muskoka region.
For their tour through Ontario and Quebec, Alvey said she’s happy to be working with Home Routes, a not-for-profit arts organization that creates opportunities for musicians to perform in rural, remote and urban communities across Canada. Their events are hosted in the homes of volunteers and at other community venues, which helps bring music and art to smaller communities.
“In big cities like Boston or Toronto, for example, there’s live music happening all the time, but what about Gravenhurst or Bancroft, especially musicians coming from different parts of the world?” Alvey said. “We’re excited to see what [performing] is going to be like in Muskoka.”
See Golden Shoals perform at Damselfly Studio in Gravenhurst on March 3, at Sawyer’s Creek Bed & Breakfast in Algonquin Highlands on March 4, or at The Muse Gallery in Bancroft on March 5. All events require guests to RSVP. To RSVP or for more information, visit Golden Shoals’ website.