Nora Jane Struthers didn’t take the most direct path to Nashville. She started out as a Jersey girl. Her dad taught her to sing traditional country and bluegrass songs, and the family pastime was extended with trips to fiddle conventions in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.
“That was a life-altering experience,” Struthers said of attending the Old Time Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Va., among others. “I became aware of this wide community of people who are passionate about music and have this beautiful thing in common.”
Music, though, wasn’t an immediate career choice. Struthers earned a degree in English education at New York University. But after a couple of years of teaching at a charter school in Brooklyn, she eventually packed up her belongings and moved to Nashville.
“At a certain point I fear regret more strongly than I fear change,” she recently reflected. “When I realized being a professional musician was an attainable goal, I knew if I didn’t try, I would forever regret it.”
After arriving in Music City she started working with producer Brent Truitt (Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss) and recorded a well-received self-titled debut album with backing support from ace players like Bryan Sutton, Tim O’Brien, and Stuart Duncan. She also put together a road band and started working the acoustic music touring circuit. In 2010 her group won the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Contest, which put her in elite company with acts like the Dixie Chicks and Nickel Creek.
Struthers then took an opportunity to join lauded Alaska cum Nashville bluegrass outfit Bearfoot. Despite gaining a wealth of experience with a seasoned group of players, she ultimately resigned and set out to record the batch of songs that became her latest album, Carnival. Fans helped Struthers get the record made by funding it through a Kickstarter campaign, which raised $22,000 and supported recording sessions, once again with Truitt at the helm, in Nashville last fall.
The album, released last April, is a bold, varied Americana effort. With a set backing band, The Party Line, behind her, Struthers put together a concept album of thought-provoking story songs delivered with her alluring tender vocals and a mix of old-time strings and driving rock edge. She can evoke both the smooth grace of Krauss and the emotional grit of Brandi Carlile.
The willingness to mingle the past with the present has enabled Struthers to fit into a variety of circles in the acoustic music world. Just last month she performed at both the Americana Music Festival in Nashville and the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass Conference in Raleigh.
“I wanted to move into a more contemporary sonic space,” Struthers said of her latest album. “The success of Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers has opened a lot of doors for artists who are using stringed instruments to try and create new sounds. The community of Americana musicians is raging right now. It’s strong and exciting.”
With a firm direction in place for her solo career, Struthers is focused on bringing her sound to stages across the country. She has a hearty slate of dates booked into next year, including stops this month in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., and an open mind about the new songs in her head.
“The sound is going to keep evolving,” Struthers said. “For the next record I’m thinking pedal steel and distorted guitar tones. That can be strange for listeners, especially in the acoustic genre, but as an artist I need my music to grow.”
Asheville Electronic Summit
People with certain interests might already call Asheville, N.C., a mountain oasis, but a new festival is making it official. Mountain Oasis, which is being billed as an Electronic Music Summit, will fill five venues around downtown Asheville during the weekend of October 25-27 with a full line-up of electronic and experimental rock acts. Headliners include Nine Inch Nails, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, Animal Collective, and a recently reunited Neutral Milk Hotel. The festival, created as a spin-off by the former promoters of Moogfest, will bring approximately 50 acts to venues of varying size, including the Exploreasheville.com Arena, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, the Orange Peel, Diana Wortham Theatre, and Asheville Music Hall.