JUNE 5, 2010

The Nields

The Nields — Nerissa & Katryna
Sister Holler

NARISSA & KATRYNA NIELDS -     (Photo by Jeff Wasilko)

Nerissa and Katryna Nields have been the darlings of the coffeehouse/festival scene since 1991, with tunes ranging from off-the-hook idiosyncratic to kicking to heartbreaking. "Our parents were total folkies," says Nerissa. "Their first date was a Pete Seeger concert and their second was a Harry Bellefonte concert. We used to go to a family camp in the Adirondacks every summer where people sat around a fire. That's where I learned how to finger pick. The music teacher at our school, Jack Langstaff, was more of the English tradition of folk music than the American, and his legacy was really strong. We grew up on simple folk songs."

"The thing about that camp," Katryna recalls, "was that it was just part of the community. One of my top five musical memories in my entire life was one night at camp when it was cold and the fire was blazing and everybody sang 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' Just a couple guitars or maybe a banjo and people swapping songs with everybody singing along. Woody Guthrie and Weavers songs, Odetta. 'Charlie on the MTA,' 'The Frozen Logger,' 'Goodnight Irene,' 'This Land is Your Land,' 'Wabash Cannonball.' Maybe a little Bob Dylan. Bill Staines would have been considered really edgy. I know people think those old songs are quaint, but when everybody is singing them, it becomes such powerful music. Music you eventually cant even remember where you learned it, but it becomes part of your vocabulary I love that."

The Nields story begins with the two sisters. Nerissa and Katryna grew up singing folk songs in the kitchen and in the back seat of the family car as it traveled to Harbor Road in Cold Spring Harbor. Katryna learned to sing melody with their father, eventually making her an ideal front person for the band. Nerissa, on the other hand, tackled the harmonies; with that skill, she provided a natural counterpoint to her sister's vibrant lead.

In the late '80s, Nerissa and Katryna met a graduate student named David Jones, who had always longed for a career in music. Playing acoustic guitar through an electric pedal board, he joined the sisters as they played open mics in the Washington, DC area. Later, he married Nerissa and took HER last name ("Just like the Ramones!," he said). The trio then moved to Connecticut and released their first two recordings, 66 Hoxsey St. (named after the house in Williamstown, MA that Nerissa and David were living in when they started the band) and Live At The Iron Horse. They then convinced their close friend, bassist Dave Chalfant to join the band in time to produce their third self-released recording, Bob On The Ceiling in June, 1994. Dave Chalfant, in turn, asked his buddy Dave Hower to play drums on five tracks. Yet another Dave felt the magical sway of The Nields and entered the fold.

By the fall of '94, The Nields were a full-fledged five-piece acoustic rock explosion. The critical kudos were coming in, with The Boston Globe commenting simply, "The Nields are young. They are hip. They are hot."

THE NIELDS   Things change. Since 2001, The Nields have performed as a duo.

Their newest CD Sister Holler demonstrates that it is possible to return to tradition while growing musically into new sounds. The rhythm section from the Nields' former eponymous five-piece band remains the same, with Dave Chalfant on bass and Dave Hower on drums. Though now the hot electric guitar leads and the folk-rock attitude are replaced with banjos and accordions and mandolins and a more refined sensibility. The other significant difference between now and then is that both Nerissa and Katryna have become mothers, the presence of children in the house bringing with it a desire for greater musical directness.

"Having children has brought us back to our roots in a powerful way. I'm much more drawn to the honesty of folk music, the simplicity of it. Writing songs for this record was like falling off a log. They were all so easy to write; like coming home," says Nerissa. With Katryna adding, "My kids love singing songs from Sister Holler. And I love how, when we sing these 'Nerissa' songs in concerts, everybody sings along, even though its the first time they've heard them. They're songs that really invite the listener into the music making process."

And when the listener is thus invited and engaged, something happens, and for a moment, the coffeehouse, the church basement, the folk festival is turned into an Adirondack summer camp campfire sing, and we are all reminded of who weve always been.

  •   That's no small thing.

    We were excited to have Nerissa & Katryna presenting their songs in their debut on our Folk Music Society of Huntington stage — to conclude our 41st Anniversary season with a great concert.

    It was great to hear these harmonic voices live on our stage !!!

    Link to a review of this show by The Village Tattler:     VILLAGE TATTLER

    Praises by others for their performances:


    • "Their harmonies are tight and soulful, their spirits unflagging. In fact, when these sisters are indeed hollering on the banjo and brass-propelled "Ain't That Good News," for example they sound like they're ready to pound out their own version of "The Seeger Sessions."
          — Mike Joyce - The Washington Post

    • "... two of Western Massachusetts' brightest voices just let it fly "
          — Kevin O'Hare - The Sunday Republican

    • "There are many sides to the Nields. Some of the hallmarks of their music, just to name a few, are quirkiness, passion, intelligence, understatement, irony, deftness of lyrical insight --- and an idiosyncratic and eclectic mix of very diverse musical influences, from rock to pop to folk to country to gospel --- and all given a stylish Nields treatment in a way that stamps everything they do as their very own. The Nields are very difficult to describe or to pigeonhole, for there is no one else quite like them."
          — Bruce

    • "Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it."
          — Goethe

  •   Link to Nields playing We'll Plant an Oak on YouTube

    Visit their web site:   Sister Holler CD

      Opening tonight were our featured open mike performers:

    Our host tonight was Stuart Markus,

        and our open mike featured performances by:

  • Emily & Lizzie

  • Jonathan Bodian

  • Acoustic Downtime

  • Dave Anthony

  • Stacy Frank

  • Stuart Markus

  • ...and Annie Mark & Chris James

  • If you weren't here tonight, you missed yet another of the very best programs of the decade ...