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With her spellbinding voice and time-bending sensibilities, Sierra Ferrell makes music that's as fantastically vagabond as the artist herself. Growing up in small-town West Virginia, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist left home in her early 20s to journey across the country with a troupe of nomadic musicians, playing everywhere from truck stops to alleyways to freight-train boxcars speeding down the railroad tracks. After years of living in her van and busking on the streets of New Orleans and Seattle, she moved to Nashville and soon landed a deal with Rounder Records on the strength of her magnetic live show. Now, on her highly anticipated label debut Long Time Coming, Ferrell shares a dozen songs beautifully unbound by genre or era, instantly transporting her audience to an infinitely more enchanted world.
Co-produced by Stu Hibberd and 10-time Grammy Award-winner Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch), Long Time Coming embodies a delicate eclecticism fitting for a musician who utterly defies categorization. "I want my music to be like my mind is -- all over the place," says Ferrell, who recorded the album at Southern Ground and Minutia studios in Nashville. "I listen to everything from bluegrass to techno to goth metal, and it all inspires me in different ways that I try to incorporate into my songs and make people really feel something." In sculpting the album's chameleonic sound, Ferrell joined forces with a knockout lineup of guest musicians (including Jerry Douglas, Tim O'Brien, Chris Scruggs, Sarah Jarosz, Billy Strings, and Dennis Crouch), adding entirely new texture to each of her gracefully crafted and undeniably heartfelt songs.
Sprung from her self-described "country heart but a jazz mind," Long Time Coming opens on the unearthly reverie of "The Sea," a haunting and hypnotic tale of scorned love. Its bewitching arrangement is adorned with sublime details like Ferrell's tender toy-piano melodies and Scruggs's woozy steel-guitar work. In a striking sonic shift emblematic of the whole album, Ferrell then veers into the galloping beat and classic bluegrass storytelling of "Jeremiah," a heavy-hearted but sweetly hopeful romp featuring Jarosz on banjo and octave mandolin. Another impossibly charming bluegrass gem, "Bells of Every Chapel" sustains that wistful mood as Ferrell muses on the exquisite pain of "loving someone unconditionally with all your heart, but they don't receive your love the way you want them to." Graced with Strings's nimble acoustic-guitar work and the heavenly harmonies of O'Brien and Julie Lee, "Bells of Every Chapel" reaches its breathtaking crescendo as Ferrell belts out the song's closing lyrics, effectively twisting that heartache into something strangely glorious.
One of the most enthralling moments on Long Time Coming, "Far Away Across the Sea" finds Ferrell serenading her tragically distant beloved, channeling the track's ardent longing in wildly cascading guitar lines and the fiery trumpet work of Nadje Noordhuis. "Since I'm singing about the ocean in that song, I wanted it to have a calypso vibe -- but then there's also a bit of a tango feel to it, and some Spanish influence too," Ferrell points out. Noting that she first became fascinated with island music while touring with blues singer/songwriter C.W. Stoneking, Ferrell also infuses an element of calypso into "Why'd Ya Do It" -- a beguiling and bittersweet lament whose lyrics perform a sort of poetic love spell ("My love for you's a deep blue ocean, baby/I just wanna swim inside").
In her elegant blurring of musical boundaries, Ferrell brought her vast imagination to the reworking of two signature fan favorites, including "In Dreams" -- a song previously glimpsed in a viral video that's now amassed nearly four million views on YouTube. A bold departure from the rugged simplicity of that rendition, the album version of "In Dreams" unfolds with an unbridled splendor that wholly intensifies the impact of Ferrell's outpouring. Meanwhile, in reimagining the self-reflective "Made Like That," Ferrell introduces unexpected flourishes like loping percussion and luminous piano tones, ultimately building an even more immersive atmosphere around the song's softly devastating confession. "When I wrote 'Made Like That,' I was thinking about where I am now compared to what my life was like in West Virginia," she says. "It was hell for me to be stuck in a small town, but I got out and finally realized what the world had to offer. Now I'm here, and I'm so much healthier and happier."
Despite its endless wandering into new sonic terrain, Long Time Coming is indelibly rooted in Ferrell's ravishing vocal presence, revealing her extraordinary ability to draw enormous feeling from just one single note. A lifelong singer, she got her start performing covers in a local bar at the young age of seven. "There was this little dead-end bar nearby that my mom and I would go hang out at during the day, and I'd get up and sing Shania Twain songs," she recalls. "There'd be hardly anyone in there, so I'd have free rein of the place." Later on, while living in a trailer park, Ferrell had a chance encounter that would soon turn out to be life-changing. "I met all these homeless kids who were traveling all over the place and playing amazing old songs, and I wanted to be a part of that," says Ferrell. "The music they were making was so honest, so pure. It seemed important to bring that kind of music back, and it's been with me ever since." Though her years of traveling proved immensely formative, Ferrell eventually settled in Nashville in her late 20s. Soon after her arrival, she began taking the stage at major festivals like The Avett Brothers at the Beach, AmericanaFest, and Out on The Weekend and touring with the likes of Parker Millsap and Charley Crockett, immediately captivating crowds with her joyful and spirited live set.
A consummate musician's musician, Ferrell found an easy camaraderie with the many luminaries who accompanied her on Long Time Coming. To that end, her most cherished moments in the album's production include the recording of the soul-stirring choir-like harmonies of "West Virginia Waltz," as well as Rory Hoffman's impromptu whistling on "Bells of Every Chapel." ("Rory's got one heck of a whistle on him," she marvels). At the same time, the making of Long Time Coming fully affirmed her affinity for lifers like Strings. "Billy's in it for the music, which is something we have in common," she says. "We're just gonna keep playing till we're not on this Earth anymore."
While the wayward sound of Long Time Coming is in many ways a perfect echo of Ferrell's free-spirited nature, there's also a much deeper intention at play: a desire to expand her listeners' capacity for wonder, so that they might uncover some enchantment in their own lives. "A lot of us are taught to wake up, go to work, make money, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat," says Ferrell. "It's so easy to get caught up in that nine-to-five routine, and end up numb and dulled-down to everything. I want my music to help people break away from that -- to get lost in their imagination, and start seeing how magical the world can be if you just pay attention."
A truly original new voice in songwriting, Bella White creates an undeniable magic by mining the rare duality at the heart of her artistry. Although she hails from the Canadian city of Calgary, the 20-year-old singer/multi-instrumentalist grew up on the classic country and old-time music she first discovered thanks to her father, a Virginia native who played in bluegrass bands all throughout her childhood. On her debut album Just Like Leaving, White balances her old-soul musicality with a lyrical perspective that’s entirely of-the-moment, embracing an intense self-awareness as she documents her coming-of-age in real-time. “I’m still quite young, but I was very young when I wrote this album,” says the Nashville-based artist. “All of these songs came from processing my feelings right as I was experiencing certain things for the first time in my life.”
Produced by Patrick M’Gonigle of The Lonely Heartstring Band and mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Dave Sinko, Just Like Leaving bears a powerful authenticity that prompted Rolling Stone to praise White’s songwriting as “sublime Appalachian heartbreak.” In sculpting the album’s sparse but lushly detailed sound, White worked with a lineup of musicians she encountered through years of making the rounds at roots-music festivals, including Reed Stutz (mandolin, vocals), Julian Pinelli (fiddle, vocals), and Robert Alan Mackie (bass). “I met everyone by jamming together, which felt perfect for this album—I really wanted it to sound like friends making music,” says White, who plays guitar on Just Like Leaving. “The whole process felt very collective and collaborative, and everyone’s creative choices ended up shining through.”
Recorded at Gilford Sound Studios in Vermont, Just Like Leaving takes its title from an exquisitely heavy-hearted song White penned soon after escaping her hometown for Boston at 18 (a cross-continent move inspired by her urge to join in the roots-music scene surrounding Berklee College of Music). Building a potent tension in its subtle storytelling, “Just Like Leaving” reveals White’s lyrical ingenuity in her stark yet poetic confession (e.g., “Now I’ve chased your love ’cause I thought it might feel woolen/Like a dram on a damn cold winter’s night”). “There was a point in my life when it felt like anytime I needed to do something to further my career, it involved leaving a situation or a place,” says White. “That song became my anthem for leaving—a way to express being scared and overwhelmed, but knowing that I needed to move on.”
For the opener to Just Like Leaving, White selected a pensive song called “Gutted,” a piece she refers to as the prequel to the title track. “That song’s about feeling like there’s always somewhere you’d rather be, and trying to come to terms with that,” she notes. One of the album’s most bluegrass-influenced moments, “Gutted” captures that sense of emotional displacement in White’s wistful vocal work and painfully candid lyrics (“At night I take to walking down lonely end roads/With the hopes someone might catch me, God knows I won’t”).
In a departure from the urgent introspection of “Gutted,” much of Just Like Leaving finds White unraveling the intricacies of a broken heart. On “Not to Blame,” for instance, she pays homage to sharp-tongued country stars like Wanda Jackson and lends her anger a certain audacious quality (“I may as well have been a winding road/You walked on me just the same/Like a little girl with wide eyes and curls, I didn’t know it was just a game”). Written in the haze of profound heartache, “The Hand of Your Raising” channels the regret and self-questioning that so often accompanies romantic catastrophe (“Now I feel red like the carpet on my bedroom floor/Full of loaded words and nothing I ain’t heard from you before”). And on “Broke (When I Realized),” White looks back on her parents’ divorce, achieving a particularly devastating beauty in the song’s sorrowful harmonies and gently rendered reminiscence of her childhood grief (“The weight of the many tears she shed nearly woke me from my bad dream/And I broke when I realized I was yet to fall asleep”). “Recording ‘Broke (When I Realized)’ was really cathartic for my inner child—it was such a relief to go in and express that sort of helplessness,” says White. “I love how it came out, and how it’s trying to be nothing but a sad country song.”
As a kid whose summers revolved around watching her dad’s band at bluegrass festivals, White initially assumed that everyone had such a deep connection to country music. “Eventually I realized that most people didn’t have that same exposure that I did,” she says. “But to me it always felt so natural, and at a young age I learned to play so that I could be a part of that world too.” First picking up the guitar at the age of eight, White developed her playing technique for several years and next ventured into writing songs of her own, drawing inspiration from artists like Joni Mitchell and John Prine. Around the same time, she began digging into the music of bluegrass pioneers like the Stanley Brothers and country legends like Loretta Lynn, in addition to honing her skills on banjo. By the time she was 16, White had begun playing at local bars and cafés, with plans of pursuing music full-time after high school. “At first I faked like I might go to college and maybe go into environmental work, but at some point I said, ‘I don’t want to do those things at all. I just want to play music,’” she recalls. After spending her first post-graduation year in Calgary, White decamped for Boston and soon set to work on Just Like Leaving. Independently released in September 2020, the album quickly led to her signing to Rounder Records, who are now re-releasing her full-length debut.
Currently writing for her second album, White has already begun to see the impact of her debut’s exacting self-reflection. “Just Like Leaving feels like a storybook of the things I went through when I was 18 and 19—each song is about a very specific feeling from my relationships during that time,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of younger people tell me that they relate to the experience of learning about yourself through someone else, and I’ve also had older folks tell me how it reminds them of when they were younger. I used to fear sometimes that I might run out of things to say in my songs, but I don’t feel that way after seeing how this album has affected people. It’s reminded me that there will always be a creative source for me to tap into.”
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