Local trio earns spot at major folk festival

Music: The members of We're About 9 are taking their clear voices, comfortable music and lucid lyrics to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in New York at the end of the month

July 09, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

They call themselves We're About 9, in a good-natured assessment of their maturity level. But when the trio took the stage on a muggy evening last week to officially open the Columbia Lakefront Summer Concert Series, their youth slid into ambiguity.

It was overshadowed by their clear, warm voices; comfortable music and lucid lyrics - despite the bugs, the haze and the temperature, which topped out in the high 90s.

The 2 1/2 -year-old group, which describes its music as "suburban folk," is made up of Brian Gundersdorf, a 26-year-old who acts as the main organizer and songwriter; Katie Graybeal, the 22-year-old heart to Gundersdorf's head; and 21-year-old Pikesville native Pat Klink.

It's apparently a combination that works, because We're About 9 is on a roll.

"In the last few months, we've busted through a whole bunch of milestones," said Gundersdorf, who grew up in Columbia.

The group released its debut album last year and was nominated for Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Folk Group at the 2001 Washington Area Music Awards. The three performers also played with a group they revere -The Nields - accomplished their first tour, won a gig on a Kennedy Center stage and finished up their sophomore compact disc release, called Something Magnetic.

The biggest boon by far is earning a performance slot at the annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival at the end of the month in Hillsdale, N.Y., set at the foot of the Berkshires near the Massachusetts border.

"It still shocks me," said Graybeal, who also is from Columbia. "This is such a huge festival."

Well, it's huge by folk music standards.

The three-day weekend festival July 26-28 has drawn artists including Tom Paxton, Ani DiFranco and Grammy winners Shawn Colvin and Allison Krauss, along with about 15,000 spectators.

We're About 9, all of whom sing and play guitars among other instruments, will take the main stage Friday as part of the Emerging Artist Showcase. The group will get 10 minutes of performance time, along with 23 other acts, and will vie for the title of "Most Wanted Song Swap."

Three to six groups will get the nod, which is given by an audience vote, and they'll be brought back next year to play. It's a chance to play to an audience of real folk music fans, along with record companies, media, agents and show presenters.

This was We're About 9's third time applying for the slot, which 500 or so other bands also tried to get.

The three performers sent in an unfinished version of their latest CD and crossed their fingers. They got the news of their acceptance on a whirlwind day last month. On the morning of June 6, the group members heard they had been selected to perform on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage in Washington on Aug. 27.

They celebrated by seeing one of their favorite artists, Ellis Paul, perform that night at a house concert in Columbia, and got back to find out they had won the Falcon Ridge slot.

The next day, they opened for The Nields, a folk/rock sister duo from Massachusetts, who unwittingly helped We're About 9 shape their sound.

"We've been covering their songs since we got together," said Klink. "To get on the stage with them was amazing."

That one day way pretty amazing, but it was a culmination of momentum born of hard work, research, self-marketing and coincidence.

We're About 9 is young, but its members are career savvy. They've learned to hitch rides on the coattails of bigger acts, cozy up to promoters and generally keep buzz about them brewing.

The trick is how to keep that energy and positive perception going when their schedules are difficult. Klink and Graybeal are students at Towson University. And, there aren't many venues for folk types.

"The dream is now to make a living," Gundersdorf said. "The goal used to be playing with The Nields, but we've done that. ... This festival is the beginning of our career."

We're About 9 (www.circanine.com) will hold a CD-release party Aug. 7 at Baldwin's Station in Sykesville. Information: 410-795-1041. The Falcon Ridge Festival runs July 26-28. Admission is $30 a day or $70 for three days. Camping is available. Information: 860-364-0366, or www.falconridgefolk.com.

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