Weekender

Boxcar Lilies power through bluegrass harmonies

The Boxcar Lilies will perform for the first time at the Center for Well-Being in Lemont. “From what we’ve heard, (the venue) has really wonderful acoustics. ... That’s unusual and we’re really looking forward to that,” said musician Jenny Goodspeed.
The Boxcar Lilies will perform for the first time at the Center for Well-Being in Lemont. “From what we’ve heard, (the venue) has really wonderful acoustics. ... That’s unusual and we’re really looking forward to that,” said musician Jenny Goodspeed. Photo provided

Based in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, a trio of singer-songwriters met and discovered a shared passion for harmony. Armed with guitar, clawhammer banjo, concert ukulele, electric bass and washboard, Jenny Goodspeed, Stephanie Marshall and Katie Clarke formed the Boxcar Lilies and have brought their special blend of folk, country and bluegrass-tinged Americana to venues across the Northeast and beyond. The trio will close the Acoustic Brew spring season with their warm sound and energetic stage presence.

When the three met in 2009, Clarke was playing bluegrass and traditional country, Marshall was recording contemporary country and rock songs in Nashville, Tenn., and Goodspeed was writing in the vein of 1970s-era singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell. It wasn’t long before they realized that their varied musical interests and influences could combine to create something special.

When the Boxcar Lilies recorded their debut CD, “Heartwood,” in 2010, they had not been together that long. It was a leap of faith for the group, and they brought songs to the table that had, for the most part, been written before the Lilies existed.

But when it came time to record their follow-up album “Sugar Shack” in 2013, many of the songs had been written with the Lilies’ style in mind. The title track was written and arranged by Goodspeed to capitalize on the Lilies harmonies. The song “Good Fortune” was the trio’s first co-write.

“We also wanted to stretch ourselves, so we hired a producer, Lorne Entress, who had a vision that was beyond the vision we had for ourselves,” Goodspeed said. “He pushed us and we learned to come into the studio with more confidence and the willingness to take a risk.”

On “Sugar Shack,” the Boxcar Lilies continue their contemporary take on a range of traditional genres, including folk, bluegrass, country and gospel. Their singing voices and writing voices are distinct and exceptional, and combine perfectly to create a sound that is at times gritty, sometimes delicate, but always warm and welcoming.

The album and its sound has led to myriad opportunities, including being selected to perform an official showcase at the International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, Tenn., performing for crowds at The Greater New Bedford Summerfest in Massachusetts, and opening for the world-famous bluegrass band The Seldom Scene at the renowned Birchmere Music Hall, in Alexandria, Va.

The trio has played in all kinds of places, including nature centers, national parks and people’s homes, but Goodspeed said she is anxious to see what the performance space in Lemont has to offer.

“From what we’ve heard, the Center for Well-Being has really wonderful acoustics, so we’re able to play ‘unplugged’ in a somewhat larger space,” she said. “That’s unusual and we’re really looking forward to that.”

The group loves to hear people laugh, and they do their best to put people at ease so they feel comfortable being themselves.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to scan the crowd and see all the different faces and emotions,” Goodspeed said. “We’re lucky because our audiences tend to be great listeners. People will come up to us at the break or after the show and let us know how a particular song affected them. That means so much to us when that happens.”

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