A FEW MINUTES WITH… Noah Wall of the Barefoot Movement

By Don Wilcock

Her dad is into Doc Watson, and her mom is a Led Zeppelin fan. Growing up, Noah Wall of the Barefoot Movement listened to a North Carolina show called “Back Porch Music,” a program she says does “a great job of playing the old and the new of what was going on (in Appalachia) under the umbrella of back porch music.”

The Barefoot Movement – playing at Caffe Lena at the Grove in Saratoga Springs on Sunday evening – is way closer to Doc Watson than it is Led Zeppelin, but rock and contemporary pop music influences do seep into their young and contemporary Appalachian sound that nevertheless has a seasoned feel. There is that bluegrass bite of Wall’s fiddle and her high and lonesome Blue Ridge Mountain vocals accompanied by husband Tommy Norris’ mandolin and Alex Conerly’s guitar. That said, there’s a smoothness to their delivery.

Their sound is aged whiskey, not the jingle-jangle kind of early bluegrass that sounds like a NASCAR race run by steam engines. And her compositions and the finesse this band emits are putting this band in the forefront of today’s roots music scene with groups like the Avett Brothers and Nickel Creek, a band that Wall calls her gateway band in terms of influencing her to see beyond the world of classic rock.

Now age 28, she remembers first hearing Nickel Creek in middle school. “They weren’t really mainstream. But they were about as accessible as any bluegrass fusion band can be. I remember listening to ‘The Lighthouse’s Tale,’ their first big song, and that was in the fifth grade. I remember being like ‘You might like this,’ but then (my friends) were like, ‘Yeah, I can’t really get into that. I’m not into that folky stuff.’ I think they were kind of the gateway band to where the older I got I would listen further and further back. I grew up listening to Doc Watson.”

The Barefoot Movement has earned the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Momentum Award as Band of the Year, and with two CDs and an EP under their belt they have toured the country and played the iconic southern bluegrass festival Merlefest.

The most enthralling aspect of this group’s music is that their compositions give the listener space to breathe and create dynamics often missing in busier bluegrass standards. “The current line-up is myself (on fiddle and vocals), then Tommy’s the mandolin player. Alex Conerly is the guitar player, and then we have Katie Blomarz on the upright bass,” she explains. “Most of the time what happens is I’ll write a song and then I’ll bring it to the band. Then it can completely take on a whole new life.

“I write basics – the melody and lyrics – and I write some chords, but most of the time Alex, being a really great guitar player, can choose different chords or different voicings of chords to make it a little more inventive than what I can do.

“Unfortunately, I can’t really play and sing at the same time. It’s just really hard for me to hold the fiddle up
under my chin and sing. So typically when I’m singing, that leaves a lot of space for the guitar, mandolin and bass to do other things, and we try to fill up the sound as much as we can.”

Wall has trouble seeing the group as an extension the American southern culture. To her, the emphasis is on “entertaining.” She admits to being jealous of the number of
times I’ve seen the Rolling Stones. “I mean those guys were blues heads. The thing you start to realize is just about everybody that made that music so monumental and changed music, they were all listening to folk music. That wasn’t all they were all listening to, for sure, but I think when you want to hear something authentic, that’s where you look, and then it sort of helps you create your own spin on that authentic (sound) or whatever came before you.”

The name Barefoot Movement comes from the band’s southern heritage and is a reference to a comfort factor they seek to instill in their audience. “The whole idea behind it is that you’re welcome to take your shoes off if you want during the show, whatever makes you comfortable. I think it set the tone for the kind of experience people are going to have.

“Growing up in the south, it was just a phrase I heard over and over again when people would come over. It’s like a soundbite in my head of my dad saying, ‘Come in, and take your shoes off.’ It wasn’t so much like, ‘Don’t get the floor dirty.’ It was like, ‘Relax. Get comfortable, and be here for a while.’ I didn’t really think about that necessarily when I thought about the group name. Those words first popped into my head, and it just made so much sense for that reason.”

A young married woman with a college degree in communication and broadcasting and a minor in bluegrass, old time and country music, Wall has a world of opportunity and challenge in front of her. She wants it all, a marriage, children and a career in music. “In some ways I feel much younger than 28, and in some ways I feel way, way older. I don’t really listen to modern music. That doesn’t mean that all I listen to is the recordings from the ’20s or anything, old time music. I have a very, very wide musical pallet, but I just tend to find that older recordings, even classic rock and everything, that’s where I am. I don’t know what’s going on in pop culture today.”

She doesn’t know it, but The Barefoot Movement may just help adjust the trajectory of pop culture for some young lady in fifth grade who hears her infectious sound and is influenced by it just as Noah was by Nickel Creek.

WHO: The Barefoot Movement
WHERE: Caffe Lena at the Grove, Sartoga Springs
WHEN: 7pm Sunday (October 30)
HOW MUCH: $18 in advance; $20 at the door

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