Pete grew up near Hartford, Connecticut and has been playing music from an early age. He graduated from Vassar College in 2007 with a major in Urban Studies and a correlate in Music & Culture. During his time there he began working with traditional folk group The Powder Kegs, with whom he appeared on the nationally syndicated radio program A Prairie Home Companion. He moved to Charlottesville, VA in 2008 where he stayed for the next three years working as head of publicity for the bluegrass record label Rebel and County Records. In Virginia he immersed himself in its rich Appalachian music community and toured with various local bands across the United States, France, and Ireland. In early 2010 he was awarded an Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship from Berea College in Kentucky to study gospel music traditions of the Upland South. He currently resides in Portland, Maine where he continues teaching music and performing in the folk group Tumbling Bones.
Intern Sara Blumenthal interviews current A4A participant Peter on old-time music, making a living in the music industry and contemporary life.
The rich tradition of bluegrass and folk music influences your musical style. You state your music is ‘traditional yet current’. How have you found success in blending a rich tradition, live performance and contemporary life?
I’ve come to think of “traditional” music as more of a philosophy than a particular aesthetic. It means breaking down barriers between audience and performer, between professional and amateur. It means making music that gives people something they can hold on to – an infectious pulse for the dance tunes and lyrics in the songs people can really relate to. You’d be surprised how in many really old songs the themes are still relevant and probably always will be: religion, heartbreak, jealousy, death of a loved one, divorce, and alcohol to name a few. I’ve apprenticed myself to traditional American music by spending time with older musicians in their homes and attending old-time music festivals and square dances. It was easy for me to get to these opportunities from my former home of Virginia. By aesthetic, my own music doesn’t necessarily follow the old music note for note. I draw on my own experiences and the music I grew up on, namely rock ‘n’ roll. But I’d like to think that I’ve internalized some of the bigger themes in traditional music.
You worked for Rebel and County Records, has working in the music industry helped you promote your own music career?
Absolutely. It helped teach me the basics from writing press releases to managing a mailing list to making contacts in the industry. It also gave me unlimited access to a huge library of music to listen to which informs my music to this day.
There seems to be a large community of bluegrass and old-time music performers and fans. Is there a niche about your particular musical style, expertise or performance that appeals to an audience?
It’s definitely a niche community. It’s not so large, but the people in it are very devoted. That said, I think there’s universal appeal in the music. One of my favorite things about making this music is receiving a positive response from people of all different ages and backgrounds. We might play a nursing home one afternoon, a club full of twenty-somethings that night, and teach a workshop in an elementary school the next morning.
The internet has transformed the way in which we purchase and experience music. Many musicians often perform overseas to make a living . What strategies has your band Tumbling Bones used to wade through these tricky waters in order to make a living?
We do in fact play overseas in Ireland quite a bit. To answer your question in a concise list: wedding gigs and any sort of private event gigs, street performing, and applying for grants. We recently made it to the final round of the American State Department’s American Musicians Abroad program which would pay to send us overseas. Fingers crossed.
Why did you enroll in the Assets for Artists program?
Quite simply I’m sick of not making ends meet. I’m hoping this program can help me learn to keep my finances in better shape.
Do you have any advice for other musicians?
Always think outside the box. For example, we’ve found street performing to a fantastic way to promote ourselves and make money.