“I guess my sound is like a dog whistle!” chuckles the graduate of Onteora High School and the slightly-less-official University of the Joyous Lake. “People know the sound – often from Prairie Home Companion – and respond to it, but often have no clue as to what I look like.”
Returning home to the area where she grew up and first cut her musical teeth is full of emotion. “It’s a little bittersweet,” she points out from her current home in Austin, “since it’s home, but I miss Artie [Traum] and many others. It is nice to see places to play and to see how much is coming back, but of course it’s not what it once was.” But she does see positive signs for a healthy and revitalized local scene. Both venues where Cashdollar and James will be playing are new to her. “It’s great to see the Rambles doing so well, and the Bearsville Theater and weekly happenings like Brian Hollander’s bluegrass sessions. It’s very cool to be able to come home and have places to play.”
Growing up in the Hudson Valley, Cashdollar (yes, her real name) began to play the guitar, taking lessons from the legendary Billy Faier. “He was wonderful, even though he is really known for the five-string banjo. I then finally got the nerve to call the Traums, who were huge stars in my eyes – and continue to be. They were busy, but turned me on to...Rory Block!”
After high school, she took a waitress job at Rose’s Cantina in town, and one night heard Dobro player Ronnie Sutton. “That was it. I was floored. That sound is so expressive, and it reminds me of a human voice, with the tone and the bending and sustaining of notes. I thought, ‘I have to learn this instrument.’”
Dobro factoid alert! Named after its founders, the Dopyera Brothers, the Dobro is basically a resonator guitar, or an acoustic guitar with a metal resonator built into the body to amplify the sound. The non-pedal steel and resonator guitars that Cashdollar uses are played in a horizontal position, á là David Lindley. She plucks the strings with one hand and grips a metal slide with the other. “After hearing Sutton, I was able to study with Charlie Ferrera, one of the best players on the planet.”
After a brief stint living in Florida, Cashdollar returned to Woodstock, where she resided until a move – now almost 20 years ago – to Austin, Texas. “Living down here is similar to what it was like living and growing up in Woodstock. The Joyous Lake was my college. That’s where I checked out Bonnie Raitt and Tracy Nelson. To this day, whenever I hear a tune from the Band, or others with that impossible-to-define Woodstock sound, I get goosebumps.”
She is not alone regarding those feelings about the music coming from up around these parts. “When I got the chance to work with Van Morrison, I told him about this amazing experience I had when I was 11 years old. My Mom took me to the Woodstock Playhouse to hear this amazing lineup with Van, Paul Butterfield, Happy and Artie…you name it. So when I told Van about it, he remembered the night, who was there and the amazing vibe of the gig. He loved it like I did.”
As tough as it is to land gigs, imagine playing country-tinged tunes, the blues and bluegrass – in essence, musical forms steeped in traditions not exactly friendly to female participants. Of course, one listen to her chops and the whole concept of gender is out the window.
“Actually, with one or two minor exceptions, the swing-and-blues world has had very little prejudice,” adds Cashdollar. “ There was a little more attitude in bluegrass circles. When I was playing with John Herald, we were at a festival when a well-known artist yelled out to me as I was walking towards the stage and said, ‘What’s a girl doing playing that instrument?’ I thought at first he was joking, but he wasn’t. With Asleep at the Wheel, we would sit at the merch table and sign CDs, when a group would walk up and tell me they were betting on whose wife or girlfriend I was! To many, it was looked down upon for a woman to be out on the road with the band.” Fast-forward to the past two years, which has found Cashdollar playing with Dave Alvin’s all-female group, the Guilty Women.
There will be no gender hassles when the Cashdollar/James duo arrives in town; the only hang-up might be the costs of shipping instruments ahead. Cashdollar will be armed with three resonators: a 1929 National tri-cone (“much more funky”), a baritone tri-cone and a newer National steel. A fingerstyle master among other styles, James brings his own arsenal, including a mandolin. “We will have more guitars onstage than people!”
This Friday’s gig at the Rosendale Café, located at 434 Main Street, begins at 8 p.m., and tickets are $20. Call (845) 658-9048 or visit www.rosendalecafe.com for more info. The show at the Ritz Theatre, located at 107 Broadway, takes place on Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and are available through www.ticketweb.com, or call the box office at (845) 784-1199 or visit www.safeharborsofthehudson.org.