“We really latch onto heartfelt, honest songs,” explains Kagey Parrish, one-half of the folk duo The Honey Dewdrops, “We love hard hitting songs. We try to shoot for that kind of thing. Those are the kind of songs that affect us and we hope we can write in that way too.” And with the release of The Honey Dewdrops latest album, These Old Roots, Parrish and musical co-conspirator Laura Wortman have done just that. These Old Roots, the duo’s second album is a stripped down affair, full of sweet harmonies, lush guitar work, and deeply powerful lyrics that are given even more life by the natural chemistry that exists in the pair’s finely meshed voices.
The two first met while in college while playing in what Parrish calls, “a typical cover band playing frat parties on Friday nights,” he quickly adds with an almost palpable sense of relief, “It didn’t last very long.” The two eventually began to play together in an acoustic-based band that was rooted in a more traditional bluegrass Americana style, one that each discovered separately while in High School but through the same means.
“We came into that music through the Grateful Dead. Finding out about the various offshoots they did – jug bands and bluegrass bands, Jerry Garcia’s work with David Grisman – and then branching out from there to Bill Monroe and older stuff from him, “ remembers Parrish, “We had an interest in the Grateful Dead and realized they had an interest in doing more than just electric stuff. Thank God for them! Otherwise I don’t know when we would have discovered it.”
Originally the two had planned to start a full bluegrass band, but over time it ended up as just Parrish and Wortman, an idea that was appealing to Parrish.
“We started doing duets, and figured out our voices sounded not so bad together, and we have never looked back from that," Parrish states. "The acoustic original music we are doing is inspired by traditional older American music, and it just seemed like a good fit to do it this way. We love doing the harmonies, we love to play the instruments, and it just continues to feel like a great way to do it.”
The duo’s evolution was a slow, patient process, with the young songwriters nurturing their developing sound. It was a time they spent not only practicing, but honing their craft. They began melding the traditional sounds they first discovered through the Grateful Dead, along with the sounds of bluegrass and Americana which seemed to surround them in their home of Charlottesville, Virginia. They have a sweetly, simplistic, stripped down approach – a couple of guitars with the occasional splash of mandolin – and two perfectly matched voices that create harmonies born from the deepest soul of rural America.
Parrish recalls, “It was always just a hobby. We didn’t really pursue it full time or make money with it.”
That would all change after they entered NPR’s influential folk radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion’s” national talent contest in 2008, which they won.
“We seemed to figure out the singing bit, and we realized the songs we were writing weren’t too bad. We thought we might take it a bit more serious. It has led us from there to quit our jobs and take it on full-time,” says Parrish.
They released their debut album, If the Sun Will Shine, in 2009, followed by their second album, These Old Roots late last year, a year in which the two hit the road for some serious touring. By Parrish’s estimates they played well over 100 shows last year, and look to top that number in 2011. Their time on the road seems to be a wholly welcome experience for The Honey Dewdrops, a chance for them to grow and develop as musicians.
“We find the more we play, the more we learn about ourselves as performers and songwriters. That is what 2011 is about for us. Get to some different parts of the country. A whole lot more travel, a whole lot more playing, and a whole lot more playing,” explains an excited sounding Parrish.
“We are just looking forward to getting a bunch of new songs out there. It is a long process, but it is a great feeling when you do get it done and I want to have more of them.”
Color photo by Neal Golden / black and white by Meredith Montague