Women Making Music – Dani Cox

Women Making Music – Dani Cox

Who is Dani Cox? That’s the first question I pose to my newest female music acquaintance. Leading up to our scheduled interview, I didn’t prepare questions beyond that one. Once I asked it though, this bright, articulate, effervescent soul did not skip one beat during our robust 45 minute conversation.

“My work as of late has been to undo who I think I am. We tend to believe we are the things we do, the things we want to do, or we think we’re our parents carrying their baggage, to do them justice because we love them. I am a black, young, woman; intelligent, crafty and funny. However, those are ways I’d like for people to see me so they’ll like me and want to be around me. The reality is I am entirely without fault, love made physical. I believe that of everyone, and it is my job to meet and introduce love in its widest apparatus. I’m love eternal and I want you to discover me.”

Captivated, I ask her to continue: “Believing that love is the only real thing truly narrows my focus and so it helps me make decisions based on what is important and what is not. When I make music, I ask myself, what do I have to say through music? What do I want people to hear? If love is the foundation then all of the other stories that I want to tell, take a back seat.”

I probe for more clarification of that statement. I can’t help but reflect on the music I gravitated toward, 30 years ago when I was Dani’s age.  After all, the day of the interview was her 33rd birthday. She explains that her journey right now beckons songs of hope; ones that may tell of strife, heartbreak and even tragedy but that in the end they are songs of revolution and resolution.

“We want to tell people so badly who we are, and of the beautiful struggle we’ve experienced. But I’m seeking a way of uplifting and bringing what I’ve been through toward how I can use it to do better, be better and stronger. If I’ve had a challenging experience and I want to sing about it as a way to let people know who I am, I will find a way within my story, to tell them what’s going on but I will also tell them through the music, what I plan to do with what I’ve learned.”

Writing music is her main source of creating. “I write some songs for other singers to tell the story because sometimes the story is not mine to tell.“

I risk pigeonholing her by wondering what genres she gravitates toward when writing and/or choosing others’ songs to sing. “Artists get caught up in labeling because they feel labels are limiting. People want to know what genre so they can figure out who your audience is, but it’s not about that. It’s about the process of creating or interpreting in freedom, and we see at the end when it’s done, what category it might fall into.”

Open to all genres, Dani enjoys writing country music and she explores Rhythm and Blues. It pleases her to hear Classical and Jazz music. She throws me when she exclaims, “I want to try more Metal, because it matches my very high voice. Coming from a musical theater background I understand how those stories progress with emotions throughout and when I hear Metal music it reminds me of musical theater. To me, they’re the same thing!”

When I hear Dani sing it makes me feel good all over. Her ability to find the nooks and crannies of a multi-note trill, and actually feel it is refreshing. While other singers show off these abilities, Dani has heart placement ability when she phrases. She knows her essence is what we want to hear.

Future goals include putting together an all-female band. While that dream percolates, she is concentrating on the “physical and mental work around freedom” and how that shows up in her music. “I’ve been a singer ever since I can remember but I’m an introvert. When I was little, I didn’t want to share my gift of singing, I just wanted to keep it for myself because it was pleasurable. What makes art hesitant for some is that we are driven to create it, present it and put it out there and then we move onto creating the next thing. We forget to enjoy it. By putting it out there it’s exposed to comparisons, criticisms and monetizing.”

“I’m in a place where I just want to get to know people and that has nothing to do with money. The benefit in meeting and getting to know certain people within the laws of attraction, allows for receiving money. “

The goal is to move through her voice with more ease and to continue to seek performance opportunities in order to create cyclically pleasing experiences. “When people say I’m a good singer it’s a confirmation of the hard work I’m putting into finding my true voice. Singers deserve the credit for what we do.”

 “I’ve identified as being one thing for the last 30 years, but now I’m undoing what I think that thing is. When I sing, I’m feeling myself, my whole body. It doesn’t really matter what the other person hears as long as I am totally immersed in the expression of the emotion. Someone told me that when whales sing, sometimes it’s a mating call and sometimes they gather in a group to just sing with no apparent purpose. Researchers believe the only reason why they’d do this is for the pure enjoyment the vibration allows them for just being.”

On Thursday, March 10th, Dani will be presenting and sharing a mix of Soul, R&B & Jazz songs with anyone who would like to attend, at Isis Music Hall, 7:00pm. For tickets: isisasheville.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
[email protected]

Women Making Music – Linda Shew Wolf

Women Making Music – Linda Shew Wolf

She’s a graduate of Cornell University. This published author, mother to Julie and Chris and professional saxophonist and electric violinist moved to WNC in 2017 and has been tooting her horn in various ensembles and bands ever since.

For the past 20 years, she’s played in a Middle-Eastern, psychedelic rock group based out of Chicago called Ovadya. Closer to home, you’ll find her performing with Magenta Sunshine, an original Caribbean-funk-pop group as well Swing Step, a swing and jazz quintet. She’s a member of the Rewind House Band, playing 50s-80s dance music. And she’s part of the “red hot” original funk-jazz group called GrudaTree. The band leaders of these and other groups have invited her to be part of their circles, calling her inspiring and humble.

In July of 2018, I was asked to join Swing Step for a one-off show at The Asheville Guitar Bar. Our first rehearsal for that performance is where my acquaintance with this excellent player and genuine
person began.

Because of the hectic holidays and the Omicron variant, Linda and I thought it best for me to send her questions she could write answers to in her own words.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Chandler, AZ in October 1952, and I’m the firstborn of four. I have two sisters and a brother, all born within 5 years, so we were quite a tight little tribe. Once my dad was finished with his Air Force career, we moved back to Ithaca, NY where I was raised.

How old were you when you found yourself drawn to the saxophone and violin?

I took violin in grade and high school but didn’t take it seriously in the sense of a calling or passion. My mother would not let me quit and being an obedient kid, I kept at it. I spent my college years listening to a boyfriend’s collection of vinyl. He had everything from Hank Williams to the Grateful Dead, from John Coltrane to Charlie Parker. It was the R&B saxophone players who caught my ear. The joyful, physical voice of the saxophone literally pulled at me, and it became my greatest desire to find that voice for myself.  I worked at restaurants by day and taught myself the saxophone by night. I was out jamming on an old student model Conn just a few months after I bought it; I was in love!

In my 40s I joined an original band that focused on Middle Eastern modalities (Ovadya) which drew me back to the violin. Since the band was large and loud, I moved to electric violin with all the cool pedals and effects.

Can you cite a technique in the way you play that sets you apart from others?

My sound is more based on lyricism than on impressive speed. I gravitate to melodies and harmonies more than to solos. My greatest satisfaction comes from playing harmonically interesting horn lines and heads. My favorite thing is to listen and respond to what my fellow musicians are doing.

For swing music, I adapt to the kind of campy style horn players had back in the day. For edgy funk music, I like taking liberties with rhythm and searching for the notes that really push the envelope.

What is your rehearsal routine?

I own an editorial company so I relish band rehearsals when I can walk away from my devices and enter the music zone. When I am developing new tunes with a band, that gives me the impetus to refine parts on my own, and that’s when I dedicate time to personal practice. I like to focus on complicated jazz heads and solo riffs I admire and play them in all 12 keys until they become like old friends.

When it’s your turn to solo, what are you thinking about, other than the chord progression? Do the lyrics influence your choices and phrasing? Does the tone and texture of a lead singer’s voice influence the way you play?

Absolutely. What a great set of questions, and you answered them in the way you phrased it. I do find myself responding to the singer’s style and phrasing in the way I start a solo, and it’s satisfying to play something complimentary that leads back naturally to the vocals.

Do you work out your solos ahead of time or do you play in the moment?

I’m totally in the moment. I work at keeping the rhythm fresh. I have such a tendency to listen and then respond. I play like a singer who allows a chord to land and then shows it some love.

When playing an instrumental score with a saxophone solo section do you hear evidence of your playing creating something the rest of the band is inspired to follow?

Those are the best moments of co-creation. If someone expresses an idea, I support and augment it. If I’m expressing an idea, it’s wonderful when others in the group do the same. Weaving lines, ideas and rhythms together is the high point of the night.

Who writes the horn arrangements in the original groups?

There are times that it’s a clean slate situation and one of us will sail in with an idea that is then refined by others in the group.

“They” say that playing saxophone is the closest thing, physically speaking, to singing. Do you aspire to sing more in the future?

I have rare moments where singing is almost as much fun as playing. But my real voice is the alto sax.

Linda met her now deceased husband, Bobby Wolf when she was in her 20’s. Their daughter Julie posted on social media, this tribute to him in Feb 2020, 4 years after his passing: The first time my dad met my mom, she was playing saxophone in a band he was trying out for in Chicago. When he saw her, he told his friend he was going to marry her because of the way she played. They would play secret love tunes back and forth during rehearsals. They fell in love and got married. They chose each other for 40 years until he passed away at 64 with her by his side.

“Playing music is when I feel most in communion with the spirit of my husband as well as with my own.”

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
[email protected]

Women Making Music…Happen – Spotlight on Brewery Owner and Operator Kelly Hardin Cubbin

Women Making Music…Happen – Spotlight on Brewery Owner and Operator Kelly Hardin Cubbin

Happy 2022, everyone! As we rock n’ roll, swing, shuffle, waltz or 2-step our way into the New Year, I’d like to acknowledge the persevering heroes of the last 22 months: owners of bars, music halls and breweries. To musicians especially, this special breed of persistent, purposeful and focused professionals helps keep the music live.

One of the brightest and best examples of one such venue owner is Southern Appalachian Brewery’s Kelly Hardin Cubbin. Nearly all of us had to do some fancy footwork during these unexpected unprecedented times, but people like Kelly, women like Kelly did so, seemingly without missing a step. Her head- first approach to making sure her faithful and longtime patrons, employees and hired musicians would feel safe upon reopening proved to be a Triple Crown win.

As a longtime patron of the brewery, I’ve witnessed it’s evolution, a melting pot of families, singles, couples, groups and meet-up organizations of all creeds, political affiliations, generations and genders. Unmistakably, the inclusive vibe and culture is manifested by what comes naturally to Cubbin, along with her co-owner husband Andy and their welcoming staff.  

Not only is diversity of clientele embraced, the range of music genres she books reflects the various tastes of said clientele. During our recent phone conversation, I sensed this ease in Kelly; that the balance between her heart and business mind dance well together.

When conceptualizing the brewery as a brick and mortar, Mr. and Mrs. Cubbin knew they “definitely and absolutely” would introduce live music as part of their identity. “My husband and I moved here from Chicago and even though we could barely pay our rent back then, we’d go hear live music 3-4 nights a week. From these amazing in-the-moment live music experiences, we knew that if we had to be at our own venue every night, we wanted live music!”

The Cubbins have been brewing since 2006, starting out as a production space. “When there were seven breweries in Asheville in 2008, we actually questioned our sustainability there (now there’s like over 30), so we looked around at other towns to find a building and fell in love with Hendersonville.”

Hendersonville fell in love with them too. They were the first ever brewery in Henderson County and in the time leading up to their grand opening, they joyfully did their due diligence.  Their competency remains high and their continued philanthropy and community outreach is what makes them as popular now as they were that first evening in late April of 2011. 

Kelly is a benevolent boss with a warm and decisive personality. She aptly juggles the music calendar while an array of local and regional musicians like me, constantly vie for dates to play on the newly renovated courtyard stage, for their always appreciative patrons.

The notable female artists, whose careers have been enhanced and/or sustained by playing semi- to regularly there, are numerous. Niki Talley and Maggie Valley Band are just two female acts who played among the tanks and barrels in those early years and who have gone on to become nationally known. There were short-lived but popular female acts that Kelly fondly remembers like Carrie Morrison’s “The Naughty Pillows” and Laura Blackley’s girl group called “The Swayback Sisters.”

“Back then it was especially difficult to manage the incredible local talent, touring talent, because we were one of only 2 music venues in all of Hendersonville. Our focus back then was to spread the love around to include regional touring acts. During the pandemic though, our focus changed and we began to draw almost exclusively from the Hendersonville Music community; those whose livelihoods depend
on gig dates.”

“There are a fair amount of local musicians who play for the fun of it and have careers outside of their music aspirations. Those musicians encouraged me to book players they knew didn’t have anything else to fall back on during the pandemic. I was so impressed with that honesty and love. Being a fine art major in my past life, I know the struggles of living as an artist. Musicians have confided in me how cathartic it’s been to have a stage to take; a familiar place for them to emote and play their music again.”

As we philosophize over the growth of the area and our roles as conscious venue owner and full time musician, Kelly puts what we do and how much we do in perspective: “There’s a fine line between being so immersed in what we do and at the same time knowing there’s many things we could still be doing to help make positive change, it’s hard to balance what we should be involved in and when, that it sometimes feels like a full time job.”

All I can tell you is that each time I’m inspired to hold a fundraiser for this person or that non-profit, I know I can count on Kelly and Andy to tell me yes when I ask them to host it at SAB. “If inspiring and building community is something we can do, we’re always going to say yes. We may not always be able to contribute money to charities that solicit us, but we always have a space to hold a fundraiser or event and to me, that’s very cool.”

“We’re humbled to have been supporting live music for 10 years now and we look forward to getting back to better than normal. We’ve got big plans this year for live music so stay tuned!”

Kelly thinks in terms of making memories rather than a bottom line profit and as a result she cultivates and sustains both.

“We want families, neighbors and newcomers to leave their troubles at work or at home and just come in to have a great tasting and satisfying craft beer and listen to live homegrown music to unwind and feel better. It’s all about creating an atmosphere that lets our music community have their exposure, that in turn allows our customers to get away from their problems for a little while.”

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
[email protected]

Women Making Music – A nod to the past year and a look ahead to 2022

Women Making Music – A nod to the past year and a look ahead to 2022

2021 has been another extraordinary year for Women Making Music in WNC. From my interview with soulful Rhythm and Blues singer/songwriter, Nicole lúnd back in January to catching up with the queen of her heathens, Ashley Heath in our November issue, it hasn’t escaped anybody in the past 22 months, just how incredibly fragile life can be. But more importantly, just how incredibly innovative, tenacious and inspiring the female and identifying female musicians in WNC are!

Funk, hip-hop and soul guitarist April Bennett experienced an opportunity of a lifetime this past summer when she was cast in a dual role to be a boat crew member and a rhythm guitarist in a 4 pc band on a new reality TV show called Yacht Stops. The Amazon Prime network show premiered in May of 2021 and is described as a combination between “Below Deck” and “The Voice.”  The premise of the series brings musicians together who’ve never played or lived or worked together before and gives viewers a chance to watch them navigate the high seas and the music business as they sail from port to port, rehearsing together and then playing shows for vacationers and locals up and down the eastern seaboard. You can see excerpts from several episodes on their facebook page here: facebook.com/YachtStops. April’s music page on facebook is here: facebook.com/ AprilBandTheCool 

Not only is Caitlin Krisko one of the most phenomenal vocalists among us, she’s also a third-generation tarot card reader who has, since April of 2020, amassed over 2000 clients and acquired over 42,000 followers on social media. Caitlin’s style of practice is “rooted in intuitive communication with spirit guides” through tarot. A Detroit native and WNC transplant by way of Manhattan, Krisko’s 6 piece original Rock and Blues band, The Broadcast is back to touring and releasing new music. To connect with Caitlin for a reading, visit candleinthecave.com and to keep up with her music go to thebroadcastmusic.com 

Caromia Humphrey unveiled 3 releases in 2020-21, 2 of them musical and one of them was just a few weeks ago when she gave birth to her beautiful baby daughter with Rock guitarist and songwriter, Ram Mandelkorn. D’Orsi Bosca Tula Lee is destined for a beautiful, harmonious life with these two tuneful minstrels as parents. Check out my interview with Caromia from June where we discuss her self-produced all original EP releases, “Green” and “Sunday Land.” These records are ethereal, rhythmic and healing. www.thesofiamagazine.com/spotlight-on-caromia-humphrey-and-her-beautiful-and-intimate-ep-releases-green-and-sunday-land/ 

Self-described “Singer of stories, massager of hearts, teller of the truth in all its jagged and sparkly forms and a rabble-rousin’, mountain songstress” Jane Kramer and her husband, Ashevegas editor and founder Jason Sandford gave birth to their first child, Marigold True Kramer-Sandford (aka, Goldie) this past August. We’ll circle back around to find out how motherhood and music are going for Jane in 2022! But in the meantime, I invite you to visit her website for upcoming performance dates: janekramermusic.com/ 

Winner of Best vocalist in Asheville, Classic Soul, Motown, R&B singer Rhoda Weaver has been entertaining locals and tourists for over a decade. I think of her as the Queen of the Pivot. From move to move and change to change, her grace, humor and candid demeanor helps us all stay motivated when navigating our own lives. Her facebook posts read like a modern day Ann Landers column. From administrative assistant to Uber and Uber eats driver to her own taxi business, Weaver’s tenacity and heart inspires everyone she meets. A wife, mother and grandmother she walks the talk, encouraging us to mirror her random acts of kindness. She’s one of our all around finest women making music. 

A true survivor is none other than Hendersonville’s sweetheart, Ellen Trnka. Before being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in the autumn of 2019, Trnka feasted our ears with Blues, Jazz, Folk and Americana classics and originals on a more regular basis. Throughout the pandemic she’s faced her treatments with the kind of courage we all hope we could muster given such shocking news. Her fans will be delighted to learn that Ellen is currently preparing material for one-set gigs. Her post diagnosis debut showcase was this past October at Southern Appalachian Brewing. I was there and to hear her sing again with such power, panache and elegance was utterly inspiring.  If that sell-out crowd is any indication, her full-fledged comeback will be epic!

The trio I co-founded called Love Bubble released a debut record in July and we call it “Love Revolution.” The harmony driven group has a bubble gum psychedelic 60’s throwback sound and consists of Paula Hanke on vocals, flute, banjolele, and uke. Hank Bones, who plays nearly all the instruments on our debut, wrote 9 of the 13 songs on it, plays guitar and sings at our live shows. Yours truly on vocals, cajon, hand percussion and harmonica. Paula and Hank wrote a romantic poem set to the most beautiful melody called “Warm and Cozy” and Hank and I wrote a song we dedicate to everyone, titled “Beautiful Soul.” All the songs are uplifting with hook lines, verses and choruses guaranteed to turn any frown upside down. Links to all the platforms we’re on can be found here: lovebubblewnc.hearnow.com/love-revolution

One of our newest transplants, is one helluva songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer, Abby Bryant. Fresh from her sold out record release show at Asheville Music Hall in October, this powerhouse mama with a message graces stages all over the country with her fantastic outfit, The Echos. “Not Your Little Girl” is her first full length album that dropped last month. Link here spoti.fi/2ZzEyu0 to listen on Spotify and add to your favorite playlists. Visit the band’s online store to pre-order the double vinyl album coming in early 2022: abbybryantandtheechoes.com/store 

Abby is just one of the many phenomenal artists I aim to interview in 2022. Alex Krug is another gifted songwriter and it will be my pleasure to feature them as well as singer Marsha Morgan, the aforementioned rock guitar goddess, April Bennett, multi-instrumentalist Melissa Hyman, saxophonist Ashley Hammer Prichard and others TBA.

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
[email protected]

Women Making Music – Spotlight on Ashley Heath; harnessing the power of connection…

Women Making Music – Spotlight on Ashley Heath; harnessing the power of connection…

Awards, accolades and high profile bookings only bolster Ashley Heath’s purposeful journey to cultivate deeper connections. She tunes into a feeling, allows it to emerge in lyrics, melody, chords and strumming styles. She surrenders all, to engage and inspire potential listeners.

Along with her current band members, “Her Heathens” Ryan Crabtree on bass and Paul Gladstone on drums, playing to live audiences allows her that cyclical connection she’s so fine at maintaining long after the doors to the music hall are closed and locked up for the night. When her love light shines, you feel it all the way in the back of the room and all the way home in your car.

The path from open mics to Tennessee’s infamous Bonnaroo Festival has been steady, deliberate and well planned. Band mates, mentors, booking managers, venue owners all say the same things about Heath; she’s the real deal who’s got something important to sing; unpretentious and full of wit and spunk; evokes goose bumps with her captivating voice; one of the best laughs they’ve ever heard and the hardest working musician in town.

Here’s just a few of the scores of fan-reviews I found online:

“Sweet, sultry, bluesy musician, Ashley Heath is as authentic as they come.”

“Her performances will rock and soothe your weary soul.”

“…an excellent guitarist, who writes songs that speak to my soul…a
genuine human being.”

“….one of the most talented singer/songwriters ever. Her energy is pure and tangible.”

“Her band is mad-talented! Ashley can sing like nobody I’ve ever heard!”

“Heath’s Heathens provide the right tones and beats that serve the lyrics and Ashley’s soaring voice.”

An excerpt from my June 2016 interview: “With a blend of Soul, Blues and Americana sounds, Ashley Heath is rising as one of Asheville’s finest and uniquely gifted musicians with her velvety vocals and bluesy guitar style. Her bravery for pursuing aspects of herself through music is limitless.”

The actual question/answer part of our phone interview a few weeks ago was all of maybe 15 minutes long. The entire conversation was over 70 minutes!

Nerding out talking about music is one of my favorite things to do too so when she started talking about chord structures and where to put a whole note and when to play a quarter note to give the phrase some space, I listened intently and just kept saying “yeeees.” 

We vented about our shared experiences with the proverbial unsolicited critic or two at every show; the ones who aren’t the slightest bit careful of our feelings when they approach us, spewing banter about what we should do more and what we should do less. We talked fondly of the fans that support and dig what we put out and how some have become friends.

She’s grateful for the friends she’s made music with outside her own project that empower and teach her. For example the performances she enjoyed at Archetype Brewing, pre-pandemic, where she played regular Sundays for several years with an impressive and popular quartet. That group consisted of the incendiary guitarist and phenomenal singer, Patrick Dodd (who she still performs with there), the formidable harmonica player and mellifluous vocalist Joshua Singleton and the eminent and selfless saxophonist and Asheville matriarch Ruby Mayfield who sadly passed away in April.

The implication of what this global pandemic has brought to the forefront for artists has been profound. Ashley’s first experiences playing out again have happened at prominent outdoor festivals. Catching theTedeschi Trucks band’s set at Merlefest where Ashley and Her Heathens also performed, she expresses it this way, “I felt like I was in the Olympics. It was huge and overwhelming, inspiring and emotional.”

“The mindset I’m trying to change is the one where I think, if I can do this one thing then I can do this other thing that I really want. Then if I do that thing, I’ll get to yet another thing that I really want. So I refuse to go back into that mindset, now that I’m back out in the world and doing some touring. That’s the clarity I found spending almost 2 years of my life home alone.”

What she was doing before the lockdown, was working at a breakneck pace soliciting and getting gig after gig on the local scene.

“It wasn’t really working because even though I wasn’t showing it, I wasn’t happy going at that pace. I don’t know what my future holds exactly, but I do know that I’m not going to take 20 gigs a month if I’m not happy doing them. I can create the same monumentally satisfying experiences I have doing the bigger stages, for my smaller audiences too. That connection can be made no matter how many gigs I accept, no matter how many people I’m playing for or how big the room is.”

We talk about the community driven polls where winners in categories are announced after allowing fans and peers the chance to vote for their favorites online. “I take the standings and my wins in any given category as testimony to the hard work I’ve done to create a fan base.”

She poignantly equates creating music to a painter’s blank canvas. “We interpret through color choices and brush strokes, how many colors and where we place the colors and how the colors blend, and establish the sonic outcome of the song.”

By early 2022, Ashley hopes that she’ll release her third collection of “paintings” via a 6 song EP. The songs have been written and the basic tracks are recorded. The most intimate parts are still left to do, like final vocal tracks, solos and order. She’s excited to work with engineer Clay Miller over at Crossroads Studios in Arden.

After listening to a 3-song sampler from one of her recent shows, I heard a song I hadn’t yet called “Something to Believe.” Ashley assures me it will be on the next EP. The chorus lyrics: “Are we done with the hard times, are they over? Let me in or let me out, give me answers, tell me somehow. Are we’re gonna end this, end this and work it out? The push and shove is killing me, there’s no end in sight you see. Give me, give me something to believe…”

“Ashley Heath is an open songbook who embraces vulnerabilities.”

Links to stream and purchase Heath’s records and to keep up with her schedule:








Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
[email protected]