“It’s been great and weird all rolled into one.”
Evie Andrus is not new to music–she’s been playing fiddle in various bands around the country and even internationally since the fourth grade, when she joined her family bluegrass band in North Dakota. But she is new to singing lead, leading her own band, and producing her own record, all of which she’s just done with her new band Barefoot Sanctuary on the double album Songs For My Father, which the band will release Friday, June 10 at 7pm at Open Chord and online on iTunes and CDBaby.
With the help of Bristol-based Steele Creek Studios’ Quentin Horton working as a sound engineer, Andrus produced her double disc, which includes 20 of her favorite all-time songs: 10 of her favorite old-time, bluegrass, country and folk standards on one disc and 10 of her most beloved hymns on the other.
The songs are “ones that have spoken volumes to me over the years,” Andrus says. “Songs that I find myself humming when I’m out in nature, in awe of creation and humming hymns.”
Anyone who knows Andrus knows the importance of her faith, family and friends to her–but they also know she is all about the great outdoors. Her Barefoot Fiddler YouTube Channel is a home for her to share videos of her playing some of her favorite songs–in beautiful parks and forests all around Appalachia. Often when we speak, the conversation starts with Andrus breathlessly telling me about the hike she just finished or the meteor shower she was up ‘til four in the morning watching from some fire tower somewhere.
“I grew up without TV,” she says. “I’ve been performing since I was in fourth grade…I was definitely the oddity amongst my peers.”
In Minot, North Dakota (population 36,000), the turn-of-the-millennium kids Andrus grew up with were digesting the same musical pabulum being mass broadcast to all suburban teens in the country–MTV’s pop-punk, pop princesses, and yes…boy bands. Andrus was wearing bow ties and cumber-buns in Family Ties, the family bluegrass band helmed by her dad John, an elementary school principal, on banjo, her older brother Joe on bass, and little Evie playing fiddle, with mom Arlene running the board (“She’s a heck of a sound person,” Andrus says).
“They jokingly referred to my dad as the Father of North Dakota Bluegrass,” Andrus says. For 25 years, John produced the Missouri River Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Festival at Cross Ranch State Park. He led Family Ties to perform at churches, 18th Century cavalry reenactments, Good Samaritan conventions and the Cripple Creek Bluegrass Festival up in Canada.
It was John who encouraged young Evie (*pronunciation guide: Her real name is Evelyn, so don’t rhyme it with “Stevie”), exposing her to classic bluegrass, teaching her some of her first tunes, and supporting her financially when it was time for a new instrument or lessons. She studied the Suzuki method of violin and played orchestra from fourth grade through high school, while honing her improvisational chops at fiddle camps and with pickers at festivals that Family Ties went to.
“A lot of the fiddle tunes [on the record] are ones that my dad helped teach me,” she says. “He’s been the driving force in my musical life for as long as I can remember. This is my way of saying ‘thanks, Dad.’”
But there is also a whole disc of hymns on the record, including classics like “How Great Thou Art,” “This Is My Father’s World,” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Thus the double meaning of the album’s title.
“[There are] songs for my earthly father and my heavenly father,” Andrus says.
Andrus sings on several songs, but also employs vocals from some of the Tri-Cities’ biggest musical names: JP Parsons, Amythyst Kiah and Beth Snapp. Her in-studio fiddle tunes band includes Ashley Stewart on bass and guitar, Brad Hitch on banjo and guitar and Camryn Cornett on mandolin and guitar. The studio hymns band includes Stewart on bass, Ben Casteel on mandolin, Zach Morgan on banjo, David Rich on guitar and dobro, and the aforementioned vocalists.
So how’d Andrus get from where she started to where she is now?
In between Minot and Family Ties and Knoxville and Barefoot Sanctuary, Andrus studied at ETSU 2005-2008 (public relations with a minor in bluegrass), and later worked at The Parlor in Knoxville at the desk and giving lessons, along with several other odd jobs, all the while playing as a hired gun fiddler for all kinds of bands like Dave Eggar, Major Canty, Allun Cormier, JP Parsons, Roger Alan Wade and A Great Disaster, the first band where she was an equally vested writing member and recorded an album with the band in the Tri-Cities in 2010. “I so believed in what we were doing,” she says.
She continued to hone her chops in jams with songwriters and bands. On a short tour with Roger Alan Wade, she says, “sometimes I knew the songs he was playing, sometimes I didn’t.”
Along the way she slept on a lot of couches and learned an important lesson: “I had to learn really quickly how to just roll,” she says. “You have to be able to be uncomfortable to have success in life.”
So will Andrus keep rambling, taking the Songs For My Father discs on the road? Probably. Will she head up to New York City for more exciting sessions work with Dave Eggar or other musicians who have encouraged her to go full-time vagabond in pursuit of the song?
“The dichotomy of life is that if I could just pack up and go..” she wanders off, seemingly lost in thought. “But then I also think I should pay off this loan,” she says, laughing.
The natural and the supernatural, the stability of family and friends and the call of the open road: to Andrus, these concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all great and weird, all rolled up into one.
Andrus is playing two release shows, one on Friday, June 10 at 7pm at Open Chord in West Knoxville with opener Jubal, and one at the Willow Tree in Johnson City on Sunday, June 12. Her live Barefoot Sanctuary band will include Camryn Cornett on mandolin and guitar, Brad Hitch on banjo, guitar and vocals, and Kyle Clemmer on bass, with special surprise guests.
20% of the album’s proceeds will go to area non-profits, 10% to Ijams Nature Center and 10% to the East Tennessee Nature Conservancy. It can be bought on iTunes, CD Baby, in select local stores and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.