The toughest part about being a professional, touring, recording musician has got to be the songwriting.Sure perfecting your instrument(s) is a major deal, but without the ability to craft songs, you're just a technical musician playing in a cover band, or in a band playing your bandmates songs.
A musician who does both well will perform tonight at the Henry Strater Theatre. North Carolina's Shannon Whitworth will play with her band, The Refugees. Multi instrumentalist Whitworth will be joined by Jon Stickley on acoustic and electric guitar and Jake Hopping on bass.
Stickley is a one-time member of local band, The Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band. A handful of years back, Stickley joined Whitworth's former bluegrass band, The Biscuit Burners. They came and went, but Stickley and Whitworth continued to play together.
Whitworth has dabbled in music and songwriting for about as long as she can remember.
"I have two older brothers that played mandolin and banjo, and I played whatever they would let me play," said Whitworth from her home in North Carolina. "I'd steal their instruments."
The songwriting portion is a must.
"Music is always around, and the need to write songs is more of a therapeutic thing," said Whitworth. "Music has always been a big part of our lives. My whole relationship with it came by loving to sing and loving writing songs; I need to do that. Whether I'm performing or not, writing and singing is going to be happening. It's a fun way to express yourself."
Whitworth's career as a musician and a Biscuit Burner started as a bluegrass thing, but she's moved beyond bluegrass into a folk and, at times, Gram Parsons-inspired country. Moving away from bluegrass wasn't a conscious decision, but a natural progression.
"I don't think I've ever done anything other than writing songs and trying to arrange them, and what came out is what came out," said Whitworth. "I wasn't concerned with trying to stay in a genre."
Bluegrass purists beware. Attendees looking for Biscuit Burner Bluegrass or traditional bluegrass licks out of Stickley will get them, just not for the whole show.
Stickley's guitar playing is enough to marvel at no matter what he's playing, and it's a perfect fit in leads or underneath the sultry voice of Whitworth.
"I think there's enough roots in there that it doesn't freak the bluegrass person out too much. It's not a traditional bluegrass outfit," said Whitworth. "Hopefully I haven't offended too many people; I know it's been a lot of fun, for sure."
Liggettb@fortlewis.eduBryant Liggett is a freelance writer and program director of KDUR.