GUMBO GRITS & GRAVY
While it's officially billed as a "gathering" of three multi-talented and accomplished musicians, Gumbo Grits & Gravy is an all-star cast of traditional American roots music. It was pretty exciting to be chosen as the 'birthplace' of this incredible project. Anne Harris, Marcella Simien and Guy Davis spent three days at The Fallout Shelter writing, rehearsing and launching this project in early 2019. The first performance was on January 11 to a packed house and from the very first note is was apparent that this project was special in many ways. The vision behind Gumbo Grits & Gravy was to celebrate diversity, culture, family, love and food through a musical gumbo of style and tradition...what we documented was only the FIRST performance! It's hard to fathom where this can go once they've had time to perfect what is already brilliant.
Let's start with Anne Harris. The Ohio native began as a classical violin prodigy at the age of 8 eventually earning a Degree in Music from the University of Michigan. Just so you know where all the knowledge and theory comes from. She's a force of nature all on her own. That, you can't learn...She calls Chicago home now and she's spent the last two decades sharpening her skill as a violinist that gathers from Celtic, Afro-beat, rock, jazz, acid and classical styles. She's a free-spirit, a shaman, a gypsy, an internationally recognized, superb musician and an absolutely breathtaking being. She brings to this capable trio a rootsy edge steeped in blues music, black culture and women's empowerment. If there could be another Muhammad Ali, Anne Harris floats like a butterfly and when the violin locks in place under her chin she stings like a swarm of bees. An electrifying, mesmerizing, compelling talent that just dares you to look away. Her style, both in writing and playing, is the antithesis to the seasoned bluesman Guy Davis. This works in the positive for Gumbo Grits and Gravy as it allows for different takes on the cultural contributions of traditional blues music.
Guy Davis needs scant introduction. He's been nominated for Blues Music Awards, Grammy Awards and is widely considered the ambassador of traditional acoustic blues. He's secured the Holy Grails of American Roots music with appearances on Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Mountain Stage, Prarie Home Companion, E-Town and World Cafe. Most artists would gladly take any one of those...no one thinks about getting them all. He's played from Siberia to Greenland, at festivals all over the world and then some. These things happen because Guy Davis writes great music, tells wonderful, humorous, uplifting and sometimes sad tales. He is a brilliant songwriter, a classic troubadour in the finest tradition and a solid, grounded and wise centerpiece for this diverse trio.
And that leaves the other cornerstone of Gumbo Grits & Gravy, the multi-instrumentalist and brilliant soul singer Marcella Simien. New Orleans, the Gulf, the Bayou, however you refer to it, has been the cradle of American music since there was American music. It is the cultural epicenter of the country and it's traditions and musical families go back generations. Such is the case for Marcella René Simien, daughter of Terrence Simien, one of the great Zydeco musicians of all time. She is part of music royalty in Louisiana. Marcella Simien is finding out that being Marcella Simien carries it's own caché. She's an amazing singer with incredible range and timbre and a melt-your-heart Creole accent that brings you to your knees. She's also a gifted songwriter and performer. She virtually grew up on stage surrounded by musicians and has become an accomplished multi-instrumentalist playing accordion, piano and a host of things that are essential to the sound of Cajun and Creole music from the washboard to bones and spoons. She's truly the "gumbo" of Gumbo Grits & Gravy...adding spice, heat and Southern flavor to the mix.
This music has a restorative, rejuvenating quality to it. The average listener has no idea what the words to 'Jolie Basset' mean but it is the quintessential example of why music is such a powerful and universal language. I don't know what it means but I know what it expresses because I see how Marcella Simien expresses it. The melody is universal and when an artist is obviously expressing such joy in performing it you can't help but feel joy when you experience it.
One of the most riveting moments of this performance was Anne Harris taking full reign of the stage on the beautiful "Leaves Turning," a story about her grandparents, share croppers living in the West Virginia hills. Her roots are strong, her spirit is alive and thriving because of their tenacity and the strength of their spirit. The hope of this project, this music is that kids from all cultures and ethnic backgrounds will see it, experience it and it will become that moment when music consumes them and becomes part of their soul. They will become the next generation of musicians that carry the torch of tradition and add their own twist to the living plot that is American Roots music.
When we were first contacted about this project one of the requests we got was to maybe dress up the stage a bit from our "standard" black curtains and logo we normally have for The Extended Play Sessions. They wanted the stage to look a little more like a 'juke joint' from the Delta. The crew at The Extended Play Sessions created a living Juke Joint for this performance and it definitely added to the feel and the mission of this music and this project. Whatever becomes of this project is up to fate and luck but this is a "no-brainer" for anyone who promotes or books festival, theater or performing arts center shows if the goal is to bring great music, family atmosphere, cultural diversity and art to their community.
GUMBO GRITS & GRAVY
Anne Harris - violin, vocals
Marcella Simien - piano, accordion, vocals, sounds
Guy Davis - guitar, vocals, harmonica
The Session Crew
Produced and edited by:
H. Nat Stevens
Dan Busler Photography