Women Making Music – Abby Bryant

Women Making Music – Abby Bryant

We’ve been “friends on Facebook” for the past few years, but we’d never met in person until a few months ago. We were invited to a mutual friend’s house with several other female musicians. Abby’s aura is warm and inviting. Everyone’s taller than me, but she’s a good bit taller. She bent down to keep me from having to stretch up for a lovely-to-meet-you-in-person hug, and a gesture like this is not lost on me.

Post release of Abby Bryant and the Echoes’ 13 track debut, Not Your Little Girl, she called me from the road for our interview. We began our conversation before a show they had that evening and she’s excited, blessed and grateful for the large audiences they’ve been attracting. 

My aim for this feature is to skip the incidentals. You can read her bio on her website. What I want to do is dig into each of the tracks on NYLG, giving my reaction to each one, and getting her responses to share with you. Abby agrees and clears us for take-off. 

The debut album is heavy emotionally, but throughout there’s hope, joy and liberation. “Challenges expressed in an inspiring way” is how she summarizes the crux of the record.

Track: Not Your Little Girl

P:  This feels like a celebratory liberation song; especially when the horns kick in.

A:  I wrote this song as I was first navigating the music industry. Especially because I’m young, I often hear conflicting voices spouting every type of opinion. I liberate myself from the opinions of others as best I can. This song is me finding my own voice in there. The horns especially express the positive take I’m going for just the same.

Track: Tried

P:  Confronting the conundrum of breaking up and how taking the high road is a good strategy when faced with questions from friends about the reasons why. 

A: Of the different facets of breaking up, the social piece of the break up is hard. When someone can’t control what you do or say anymore, they’ll respond to that by trying to control how other people see you. While that can be hurtful, time will reveal the truth as long as you stand there with integrity.  

Track: Better Now

P:  Now you’re feeling trust again. 

A: It’s about a mix of core people in my life. Allowing myself to trust means I allow myself to thrive. It’s also about my business partnership and longstanding friendship with Baily Faulkner (her co-founding friend, co-writing partner and lead guitarist). 

Track: When I’m Gone

P:  I’m inspired to call this an “exit” anthem. That trying to hold you back in any situation, only makes you want to break free. Here’s another example of you taking the high road with someone who’s been oblivious to accountability. While listening to this, I actually pictured you throwing open the storm door of your house, sauntering down the steps and onto a side walk, and as you stroll you begin boogying to the beat of your own song.

A:  What you’ve imagined is right on with what I was intending with this song. But I also hope people take what they’re hearing and imagine what they will, cause I’m okay with any interpretation. 

Track: Had To

P:  Being you, doing you is not a slap in the face to anyone. Sometimes you have to make decisions based on the natural next step in your life. 

A:  That’s very true. It’s about making tough choices and sitting in your own resolve about what you need to do in your own life, in your own career. But it’s also about the pain that comes in the aftermath of changing something that wasn’t working. 

Track: Hold Me

P:  It’s such a fine, melancholy groove. “That you’ll long for me, way after I’m gone” from the chorus struck me. That use of the word “way” really sticks with me. The vocal improvisation at the end too, was super compelling.

A:  We spent a long time on that ending with the backing vocals and it’s a special moment on the album. It’s about deeply connecting with someone even though circumstance and lifestyle can’t sustain it. It’s a song of longing and hoping I stay on that person’s mind.

Track: Roll with Me

P:  The first time I ever heard your band was from a YouTube video, and you’re performing this one live on the ‘Floyd Fest Bus Stop.’ I thought what an appropriate tune to choose to do on the bus! 

A:  (Laughing) I get happy just thinking about that bus stop recording session! We had just played to one of our biggest crowds when they invited us to play on the bus. We ended up winning the “artist on the rise” prize that year. It was a really big day for us; even more then I realized at the time. 

Track: Love Crush Blues

P:  I hear a double meaning on this one. It’s a revelation every bit as much as it’s an accusatory lament.

A:  It’s a song that describes a sort of pre-teen, preconceived notion that I was going to one day be magically swept away by love and romance. And I come to realize that that doesn’t necessarily happen for everyone. “If I want love, I can only love myself” is the bottom line.

The Last 3 Tracks

A: *Keep Moving is about our resilience and our determination as a band. *Time Wasn’t on Our Side is the most personal and vulnerable track. It’s a mournful acceptance of when things don’t align. 

*I’m Telling You has a jubilant groove. It contrasts the struggle with its joyful sound. It mirrors my personality. There’s a lot going on in my mind and there’s always a lot I could complain about but I’m also pretty good at laughing things off cause riding the highs and lows of this business is so crazy and it’s so easy to get caught up in that rollercoaster ride. It’s a tough skill to master, but the middle ground for me is laughing with my bandmates. 

Visit her website for tour dates and links to streaming platforms and to pre order the album: abbybryantandtheechoes.com 

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

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
peggymarie43@gmail.com

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
peggymarie43@gmail.com

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:

pbs.org/video/ashley-heath-and-her-heathens-11kmeo/

facebook.com/AshleyHeathMusic

facebook.com/ashleyheathandherheathens

amazon.com/Where-Never-Ashley-Heath-Heathens/dp/B07BW319P3

amazon.com/Different-Stream-Ashley-Heath/dp/B01FJ3UQ1A

open.spotify.com/artist/37y8xDxW9JSGer0J9fd843

open.spotify.com/artist/1FlOl4q9T6MqCBJsGGVSOp

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music – Cynthia McDermott

Women Making Music – Cynthia McDermott

I’ve wanted to interview masterful mandolin player, accomplished singer-songwriter Cynthia McDermott since 2018 when I first met and heard her play. The time has finally come!

Juggling three pre-pandemic music projects, she focuses these days on booking her trio, Pimps of Pompe. It’s a band that specializes in jazzed-up covers of hip-hop and R&B. Cynthia describes it as “swing with swag.”

She reflects on her bandmates saying of Garron Chesson, “he’s a groovy, well-educated upright bass player with a solid sense of time and the ability to float back and forth between hip-hop and jazz voicings.”  And of guitarist Duane Simpson, “he’s a unicorn, and his style, his fills help drive that R&B vibe I’m going for.”  

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Phoenixville, PA in July of 1985 and when I was four, my mom, stepdad and I took a trip down the east coast in our Toyota Tercel with a pop-up camper towed behind. We traveled to the Florida Keys and back up the Gulf coast. When we got to Panama City Beach, they decided to stay and build their new life together there. Thirty-three years later, they’re still in the house where my younger brother, Nate and I grew up!

Did someone suggest you learn to play & sing?

I was surrounded by music even before the day I was born. Mom was playing guitar for my dad in an old-time fiddle contest when she was 8 months pregnant with me, so the guitar was very close to my tiny baby self!

My mom has a beautiful voice and when I was young, I would harmonize with her when I wasn’t feeling too shy.

When I discovered Nickel Creek, their mandolin player Chris Thile totally blew me away. I started college that year and bought my first mandolin and started taking lessons.

People often regret that they didn’t stick with an instrument they were forced to learn as children. What is it that keeps you motivated to keep at it?

This is a great question because I struggle with motivation but striving to play like the greats whose music I admire so, and makes me feel so deeply is what keeps me going. I’ve learned not to approach practicing/playing with a critical ear, because that’s not conducive to accessing that space where great music comes from.

Who are your heroes and influences?

Jethro Burns is one of those musical heroes whose playing sets the standard for me. He had a joyful, playful, mischievous approach and beautiful sensibilities. He was one of the first mandolin players to branch out into the worlds of early jazz and swing, my favorite styles to listen to and play. He incorporated innovative chord variations and possessed great phrasing; he was also a funny prankster. I have a tattoo of him
on my left bicep!

I met a man who would become my partner for the next seven years. When we met, I played bluegrass and folk. Then I started listening to and began to learn Western swing. We traveled the country together, eventually venturing to Spain and France. We immersed ourselves in Bebop, Bossa Nova, Klezmer and Frank Zappa while keeping our sound rooted in vintage jazz.

The most magic I’ve experienced playing music though, has happened at a long-standing national festival/fiddle contest in Weiser, Idaho. Aside from performances by the contestants, musicians come to camp and jam. It’s an environment where you convene with some of the greatest living swing guitar players. They break down their chords for you, jam with you, sing harmonies with you, tell dirty jokes and pass the bottle with you. I make sure I go every year, no matter how busy my schedule.

How many and what kind of mandolins do you have?

My F-style acoustic mandolin was built by a maker in Birmingham where my dad lives. He had it made for me as a college graduation gift; my workhorse mandolin for a decade. My A-model acoustic was made by my favorite builder, Lawrence Smart. That’s the mandolin I play now. My electric is a crazy Frankenstein, customized by the previous owner (a member of Blue Oyster Cult). He added a couple strings to it, so instead of 5 single strings, the 3 lower strings are singles and the top two, doubled.  I’m excited about having another electric built for me by my friend Ben Bonham from Weiser, ID. 

Who are your vocal influences?

Ella Fitzgerald is my favorite singer for her tone, range, sensitivity and her ability to scat. Billie Holiday cuts straight to your heart and a modern R&B singer I admire is the artist H.E.R, Astrud Gilberto too; for her soft, soothing style.

Original songs you are most proud of and why?

I wrote a song called “This Is How It Is.” Stylistically it’s a mix of Bossa nova and Stevie Wonder, and lyrically it’s based on what I learned from studying yoga philosophy; that life goes smoothly when I accept what is, instead of trying to fight it. That doesn’t mean don’t fight for what I want, but do it from a place of accepting conditions as they are in this moment. The song helps remind me because it conveys that message.

The songs I write now are textured, layered, locking into a groove and finding variations. I incorporate personal experiences. If I’m struggling in the dating world, I will write about that! I write songs that reveal my vulnerabilities; that are relatable to people going through the same things.

Notable past or upcoming performances?

The Pimps of Pompe performed at the Django Reinhardt birthday celebration at the Grey Eagle 2 years ago. It was the first time we were on a notable stage with an audience full of avid listeners. They loved us!

We play Sundays at the Battery Park Book Exchange, at The Foundry Hotel Lounge on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of every month and weekends at the Lobster Trap. We’ll be taking our maiden voyage on the LaZoom Bus October 1st. We will also be on the Grey Eagle patio October 27th.

I’m also part of a group called GypsyGrass, led by the talented Ben Phan as well as Queen Bee (Whitney Moore) and the Honey Lovers. You can keep up with my shows by visiting:

pimpsofpompe.com

mandocynmusic.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music – Mare Carmody

Women Making Music – Mare Carmody

 It was 4:45 on a February morning when our dog started barking and our doorbell rang in successions. I was thrown into that dart-out-of-bed you dread feeling. As I scurried to the front door trying not to trip on my robe, I see outside the window, a silent ambulance with its lights ominously twirling in the night sky, a gurney on my small front stoop and an EMT on either side of it. I opened the door and as I did, it “dawned” on the two of them that they were at the wrong house. The wrong side, I should say because I live in a duplex.

On the other side of the duplex, live my friends Mare Carmody (voice over actor, professional musician) and her husband. I profiled Mare in 2018, soon after they’d moved in over there. I asked the EMT’s as they quickly backed up the gurney, “what’s going on over there?” and my dog yipped from getting caught in one of the wheels, adding to the intensity of the situation. “We’re not at liberty to say, ma’am” was their terse reply.

So I didn’t know which one of them they’d come for. I went inside my house, grabbed my coat and paced the driveway for the next 15 minutes.

It was Mare they brought out on the gurney, looking far off and unaware even though they positioned her sitting upright. Her husband came out; we started to cry. They have pets, so I helped get them fed and calmed down while he grabbed a few things he thought Mare might need in the hospital. He emerged from their bedroom with one of her bras dangling from his wrist by its strap. “Okay, I think I’ve got everything I can think of” was something like what he said. I told him, “Dude, you might wanna put that bra dangling from your wrist inside the bag you have in your hand.” It was a much-needed moment.

Fast forward to the other day, Mare and I are sitting at a coffee house singing “Happiness is a Warm Gun” before commencing to recount what she went through leading up to that morning and since. When we get to the lyric, bang- bang, shoot-shoot, we smirk over the irony of what she’s been through; what we’ve all been through.

My first question is ‘to what do you attribute your strength for being able to get back up after being knocked down time after time over the past 2 years?’

“That I’m a tough old bird. I am my mother’s daughter. I’m hard headed.”

What Mare experienced, her doctors are coming around to admit, was likely a “long haul” symptom of COVID. Two grand mal seizures later and less than 1 hour apart (one at home; one at the emergency room), the consequence was one shoulder torn and reconstructed and the other so completely broken and shattered that the surgeon had to reach in to find it, in order to replace it.

The haplessness she felt during the first weeks of 2 consecutive recovery periods and rehab; she couldn’t do regular things like close a car door or even put on that bra that her husband thought she’d need, much less play her guitar, was the challenge. “It was frustrating to have to depend on others to do everything for me. I don’t like that feeling.”

She made up her mind not to let negative overshadow her fierce commitment to get her voice and her chops back. She reveals to me another scary outcome that happened during one of the many procedures and tests she had to endure. One of her lungs collapsed leaving her breathing at times, compromised.

She set a goal to start singing and playing her guitar again by September. “It was May/June and the more I’d hear about musicians getting back on stages and my bandmates doing gigs without me, the more resolute I became to start slow and get my voice going, to practice playing my smaller acoustic guitar. I had new song ideas and melodies waiting for their chord progressions! That, it’s-now-or-never feeling hit me. The bottom line is that while people will cheer you on in your efforts to get better, they can’t do it for you. And my husband knows better than anyone, that music is what keeps me sane.”

Prior to moving here, she was completely healthy. So when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019, the effects and treatments rendered a weight loss that rendered frailty in her bones that rendered a fall that rendered a broken hip. Then she caught the COVID.

“There are moments when I feel sorry for myself, cursing life for kicking me in the ass time after time, but getting up and out walking in the neighborhood is medicinal. Ideas and inspiration come from putting one foot in front of the other.  The universe says to me, ‘take these gifts and let them guide you’. Musician friends who invite me to sit in on gigs prove I am viable even during recovery. It’s easy to get bogged down in the notion that because I’ve had some challenges that I might be past my prime.” To that I say, ‘Oh contraire my friend, oh contraire!’

Once the cognition of how big a deal this was, once the gravity set in, she got down and kissed the ground. She doesn’t remember certain things she said or did. Doctors explain that when fighting a coronavirus for instance, our bodies have what they call a cytokine storm which happens when our immune system kicks into overdrive to fight an infection. Instead of helping her it hurt her. She says her doctors explained it this way: It manifests as an electrical storm in your brain.
The electric impulses are causing your muscles to contract and release violently within a grand mal seizure.

“All this has me rethinking how I go through life. I truly live for today because nothing gives me a greater appreciation for my life and what I’ve been blessed with than almost dying.”

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

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