It’s an old joke among musicians. After a sub-standard performance, one tells the other, you better keep your day job. It’s advice the women of Sugartree say they’re sure to follow; each has a career outside of music. And those day jobs limit their travels, a bit.
“So far, we’ve played in central Kentucky, mostly. And we’ve had some invitations to move out beyond the state to North Carolina and up into Ohio, but it all comes down to,” said fiddle player and vocalist Deborah Payne.
Payne is an advocate for environmental health. Megan Naseman only plays the banjo evenings and on weekends. During the day, she works with an environmental attorney. Amber Field strums the guitar, but only when she’s not with a patient.
“Nursing is my day job and music is the stress relief from that job. Whereas it’s not causing stress, when you have a job, when you’re trying to make money, it’s stressful and when you are just trying to have fun and enjoy playing music, it’s completely different,” said Fields.
Sugartree was formed almost two years ago. The three partners attended classes at Berea College, and eventually found themselves in the same social circle. Initially, they jammed together, but, then, sealing the deal with ice cream, they agreed to a more permanent arrangement.
Their sound, they say, is unique to Berea’s music scene and to Sugartree.
“I mean we do a lot of things that work for our band, that work for three-part harmony. And then we do like crazy things like “Call Me Baby” and “The Rogaine Song’ that I like really like completely. I mean, they’re definitely not old time, they’re definitely not folk and we kind of change them to fit our band. It’s trying to find songs that fit us and work with our voices and with instruments we have and what skills we have,” said Field.
As they journey together, the three partners have grown in appreciation of each other’s talents. Each woman’s much more willing to talk about her partners, than to brag on herself.
“Amber brings some really great songwriting that is very well organized and metered and is just concise, as well, and storytelling,” said Naseman.
“Deborah is an amazing fiddle player, she’s amazing, she definitely adds a lot and she also has a very deep voice, which is amazing in a woman, it’s amazing,” said Field.
“Megan also brings a lot in songwriting. She’s one of the most fascinating, on-the-spot composers and I’m always amused. You throw out three topics and she can turn it into a song just out of the top of her head,” said Payne.
A breakthrough moment came when the group was invited to perform music in a stage play produced by Appalachian poet Silas House. Then came performances on programs like Wood-Song's Old-Time Radio Hour and Red Barn Radio. Now, Megan Naseman says they’re offered more gigs than they can comfortably perform.
“People will invite us to really cool things and we had a really hard time saying no to anything for quite a stretch. And then we thought, `Gosh, you know, when we have three or four gigs in eight days, we’re kind of run ragged by the end of it,” said Naseman. Also, they’re exploring new methods of performance. Sugartree will soon begin work on its first CD. Selling it would be nice, but, Payne also sees it as a keepsake. “I think it’s always a great next step for a band to put down something you’ve been working on for a long time and then you finally turn it into something that you want to preserve and put your best work into it. It’s not always something worth selling, but something worth keeping as an archive of this part of our life,” said Payne.
With less than two years in their partnership, Sugartree does not have much history. And, except for the CD, the women don’t have big plans for the future. What they like, says Amber Field, is what they’re doing right now.
“You know we each have our different goals and different ambitions about what we want to do with our lives and music is a very important part of lives and will always be there. But, it’s more of, we’re not going to center our lives around a certain band or a certain area,” said Field. “We’re happy to be in this place and this time,” adds Naseman. WEKU broadcasts a live concert by Sugartree Saturday evening, September 29th, as part of the Red Barn Radio program.