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 August 19, 2022 at 12:00 AM PDT

S1: Welcome to the KPBS Summer Music Series.

S2: You can see the Sara.

S1: In this episode , we talk to one of San Diego's finest bluegrass bands , Prairie Sky. They join us for a special in-studio performance. And.

S2: I think. Try. Plus. Oh , now. Got.

S1: Before sibling duo Finnegan Blue is rooted in traditional folk but play by their own rules , blending bluegrass , gospel and second line jazz with the punk rock edge. That's next.

S2: The big man in the sky.

UU: Welcome back. Oh , now. Said the boy had died. Someone could hold it to his heart. To the naked.

S1: Welcome to the KPBS summer music series. San Diego's own Music Discovery podcast that features encore presentations of our best in-studio performances and interviews celebrating our diverse music scene and beyond. I'm your host , Kurt Conal. The high energy folk band Finnegan Blue Blends , Rock , Bluegrass , Celtic music and New Orleans second line jazz for a truly unique sound headed by brother and sister musicians Anna Lee and Willie Fleming. Finnegan Blue combines strong vocals and driving rhythms that make for exciting live performances. And while some of their songs sound like they've been passed down through the ages , their music is all original. Finnegan Blue talks with Midday Edition's Maureen CAVANAUGH. But let's begin with their song , Come Follow Me.

S2: Well , she's the only one I ever wanted. Stupidest thing I've ever seen. Barasch and Bratton. This doesn't mean. Heron's wild the wind run river run through the woods of green which. I don't know how the how well and the tech my follow me.

UU: He's the only one I ever wanted to.

S2: Knock out for him so easily.

UU: Songs on fire like a dancer start.

S2: It's like a ship that. That's right. It was Aubrey went through another episode of it three. I don't know how. I'll take my hand and follow the car. Follow me. Come follow me. Follow me.

UU: Don't bother me , guy. You know , your. Let's go.

S3: Joining me are Anna Lea Fleming , who plays guitar , trombone and also provides vocals , and Willie Fleming , who plays mandolin , trombone and vocals. Welcome to you both. Thank you for being here. Hi.

S4: Hi. Thank you for having us.

S3: Now you've got a whole stage full of musicians in this band. So who else is in Finnegan Blue ? Yes.

S4: We also have our dad. Bill Fleming is the electric guitar player. We have Oscar Beckman on the bass. We have Kevin Higuchi on the drums and Malcolm Jones on saxophone.

S3: You know , you guys have an incredible range of musical influences of songs. How did you both learn music ? Let me start with you , Annalee. Yes.

S4: Yes. So that question definitely jogged the memory and that was that when I was younger , when I was making second grade , I told my parents I wanted a game boy. And for Christmas , I got a guitar. It was kind of like , what is this ? You know ? But , you know , looking back , that that's where it all started. I got a guitar. They they knew that music would be something that we should try and could be interested in. Of course , we just took off from there. My dad gave me guitar lessons , middle school through high school , and any time we're around , he's still giving me lessons all the time. And then I pick up the trombone later in college , actually. So it's never too late to learn a new instrument. Yeah. We are super lucky to have musical parents. Definitely. The Irish music started with hearing my dad play in the Irish pubs with those trad groups. So those tunes really stuck with us. My mom is an amazing singer. She's very , very soulful. So we have that type of influence. My dad also rips blues guitar really well. So there's your blues and your Irish. And then in high school , yeah , we joined the marching band. So now we have these other instruments , trombones. The music that felt like it fit the best was just sort of what we also ended up gravitating towards , which was the second line style of New Orleans style.

S3: Well , Ana , tell us about the song Elegy.

S4: Yes , elegy. I wrote in 2010 after my grandmother had passed , but a couple of our members have lost significant people in their lives. So each verse is about that particular person , including really here , lost a friend that year. And so Elegy was , I would say , the first song that I was really proud of. And we started to form the group around that a long time ago. And then and then one rye whiskey. When I wrote that one , that's when the band was officially solidified.

S3: Well , here's another selection from the incredibly versatile band Finnegan Blue. It's called Elegy. It's been. To.

S2: To.

UU: And I. Goodbye. The.

S2: When the voice. The tears run high. So now. Before. And you're closer to. Please put. With the big man in the sky. Welcome got. The boy had died. Someone.

UU: Owe it to his heart. To the naked. That's family. But then I suddenly went , Why ? Heard his name loud. It hit me hard.

S3: That was Elegy by Finnegan Blue. Now , Annalee , you mentioned your dad is part of the band. Is that how you both got into music in the first place ? Yes.

S4: Well , our parents are musicians. In fact , on. My mom is also singing some backup vocals and my Uncle John is playing the piano. It was important for us to have to pull in all the family resources just as some roots on the album. But yeah , my , our parents were musicians. They , they toured the country when they were younger than us , and they fostered that throughout our childhood. And now we we play music as well.


S4: They did a lot of original music as well , but they did a lot of bluegrass , a lot of country. Where else would you say ? Well , they said that when they when they hit Texas , they didn't have a lot of country repertoire. So the place that they were staying was like they let them go into the DJ booth at the time and you couldn't just Google it. So they spent all day listening to the hottest country songs and just learning those. And then and then they played those in the bar later that night in the placement nuts. But yeah , my , my dad played Irish music growing up in the , in the Irish pub , so we kind of got to sneak in backstage from a young age and we play a lot of the same tunes today.


S4: So fun. Yeah , just , you know , that's that's kind of what we what we got to do. Like , it was it's natural for us. Like , it's sort of like when you're a little kid and you get a dog , like , everything's awesome , so you're like , cool , yeah , dog , whatever. But now in my adulthood , I realize how valuable it was to have parents that were also artists. And basically , like , whenever my dad would have a show and we and I would crash the stage and just go sing with him because we were like , Well , what are we sitting around here for ? Dad's up there. So it was just something that we gravitated to naturally as well. And then when they saw that we enjoyed it , they encouraged it.


S4: There's there's pictures of me before I remember , I must've been three years old. I think when I could stand is when they let me get on stage. Yeah.


S4: We. We formed our first band. Was that the local for Lucas ? Yes. We did a little punk band when I was in middle school and I was in third grade middle school punk band. We would always be playing in the talent shows and stuff too , growing up. So before we even really had like formed a band , we would just pull a couple of the other students and play a Beatles song or something like that for the talent show. So yeah , we definitely have been playing music together for our whole lives. In 2015 is when Finnigan Blue was officially formed , and that's been the main project.

S3: And I want to hear about the story behind the song Rye Whiskey. I know there's got to be one.

S4: I was listening to a lot of the Punch Brothers and my brother is a big fan of Chris Philly mandolin player. You got to be Christie and he had a song Rye Whiskey. I hadn't listened to it , but I just I read the title and then in my head I just heard Rye Whiskey and I made sure I put the pen to paper and guitar in my hand and finish the song because it it I knew was going to be a good one. So that's how that song came out. And it's all very true. It's all , you know , sometimes you just need a a good drink to get you through the day. Yeah.

S3: That's true. Let's hear. Finnegan Blues , rye whiskey.

S2: It's been another long day , my dear. And. Strayed brother.

UU: They met all my days. You know how this goes. Because.

S2: Because. But now. Now I want to go.

S3: We ? That was the song Rye Whiskey from Finnegan Blue. They say that there's nothing like sibling harmonies.

S4: When you lock in to a harmony , especially with a family member , it almost hurts your ears. It's like , Yeah , you know , the vocal chords are built the same way , so they just make this vibration in the air that's like , Whoa , really rattles your head.

S3: Now , Annie , you play folk music , including Irish music and bluegrass. But a big part of your live show is second line jazz , where you both bring the trombones out.

S4: My big experience in marching band was with the SDSU Aztec Band. Willie was in it as well , and that's how we met our saxophone player , Malcolm Jones. And just towards the end of our of our sets , we wanted to make sure that our show was as awesome as possible , and we gave it a try. We played some songs and they went over super well and we decided to run with it. The New Orleans second line feel it mixes really well with a folk music style. It's a more true to the original form of jazz. I'm not going to say that it is the original form , but it's kind of similar to folk music in that way where it's a very much an old style of playing.

S1: So a lot of.

S4: That same emotion translates through through all those styles of music. So it just made sense. Yeah , we had , we have the instruments. We got to fill up some time. Let's pass them out. Yeah , surprisingly , it made a lot of sense in the set.

S3: Now you're known for getting your audience up on their feet and dancing , being a great live band.

S4: Yeah. We try to play music and take take the listener on a journey. Take the people that are out in the audience , you know , taken for a ride , for a little adventure. We spend so much of our day sitting down , driving to places , setting out for work on the computers , this and that. So we kind of feel that it's important specifically to encourage the audience to get up and dance. And then once they do , people are officially having a really good time when they're just cut loose and feeling free on the dance floor. And then we get to have a nice exchange of energy when , when we're really pouring it out on stage. If there is no one dancing , it's okay. But you really feel it. Bounce back when when you're able to get there , get the audience dancing and moving , the energy's reciprocated. And then all of a sudden , you're just in this little cycle of awesome energy in the room. So we like to keep that going as much as possible.

S2: The ball rolling the ball rolling , rolling down. Rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin , rollin hotel.

S3: That's keep the ball rolling by Finnegan Blue and Ellie. You know , you can really hear it in that you can you carry forward the spirit of celebrating life like second line parade , getting up and dancing.

S4: And I just remember , you know , thanking people at our last show. We thank everyone for being there. And at the end , a lot of people thanked us for coming out and playing. And it is an amazing feeling of reciprocation when the audience and the artists really have that understanding that we're here to have a good time. We went through something pretty rough. Everybody did everybody experienced some sort of hardship during the pandemic. And it's it feels good to put that aside for , you know , a musical hour and to just enjoy being around people again as well. Simply amazing.

S3: Really ? Did you feel like it was going to take some time to get back up to speed after not playing in front of people for so long ? Sure.

S4: Well , our show is out in New York. Really pleasantly surprised me because we were just I felt like we were just back in back in the old days. Like everyone was just kind of ready to move forward. And and in New York especially. We love playing out there because they have such brutal seasons compared to out here in San Diego that in the summertime , they're really , really ready to party. So so they don't hold back so now and that on top of the pandemic that we had and that's why I said before that it was chaos. It wasn't chaos , but it was just , you know , everybody was fully ready. Nobody was holding back , dancing , singing along. A total celebration of life for everybody. You know , just just taking the time to appreciate the moment that we're in right now , because you never know when a frigging global pandemic is going to hit. Apparently so. So everyone , I think , is just kind of soaking it in.

S3: Well , I want to thank you so much for joining us. It's been such fun listening to this music. I've been speaking with Anna Lee and Willie Fleming of Finnegan Blu. Thank you both.

S4: Thank you so much. Thank you. Are so lucky to be on the talk with. And.

UU: And. I had a.

S2: He has asked for. Yeah. Bob Dole managed to keep the ball rolling. Get the ball rolling. Sadiki To go back to the ball forward. Carry the ball. Keep the ball game tomorrow. Get.

S1: Coming up next , San Diego bluegrass band Prairie Sky performs live in the KPBS studio. No. I. Welcome back to the KPBS summer music series. Palm trees , surfboards and Mexican food don't exactly conjure up images of Appalachia and dueling banjos. But if you look hard enough , you'll find a thriving bluegrass scene right here in our backyard. Prairie Sky is a talented bluegrass band from San Diego. They sat down with Midday Edition's Maureen CAVANAUGH to talk about the bluegrass scene and give us a special in-studio performance. Here's Prairie Sky.

S2: Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? No. I'll live there forever more. He drove me to the moon. Don't you hear ? Jerusalem. Moon ? Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? Thank God they haven't had a ringing in my soul. And my soul said free. Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? When I Sister Mary. She wears a chain , don't you ? Yeah. Jerusalem. On and on. Every link is a Jesus name. Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? Don't you hear Jerusalem ? Don't you hear Jerusalem moan. Thank God , because I haven't heard a ringing in my so then my soul said free. Don't you hear Jerusalem moan. Well , the devil wears a hypocrite shoe. Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? You don't watch Audi going to step on a you don't you hear Jerusalem moan. Don't you hear Jerusalem run ? Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? And there's a heaven and a ringing in my soul. Then my soul said , Free , don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? Now the Methodist preacher is a mighty fine man. Don't you hear Jerusalem man showing us the way to the Promised Land ? Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? Don't you hear Jerusalem ? Don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? Thank God there's a heaven and a ringing in my soul. And my soul said Free Don't you hear Jerusalem moan don't you hear Jerusalem moan ? Don't you hear Jerusalem moan like doctors in heaven and a ringing in my soul Then my soul said , free , don't you hear Jerusalem ? My. Oh.

S3: Prairie Sky is Ramona Alt on guitar and vocals. Dwight Warden on upright bass and vocals. Avery Ellison on mandolin , fiddle and vocals , Jeff Smith on guitar and vocals. Thanks for joining us for Mid-day Edition.

S1: Thank you for having us. Oh , we're happy to be here.


S1: What year ? 2010. Yeah , well , we've been together for ten years , and believe it or not , we actually all still like each other. We all met in the local bluegrass scene. There's a San Diego Bluegrass Society and jam sessions and get togethers , and pretty much that's how we met.

S3: Now , you know , bluegrass musicians are among the best string players in the world.

S1: For example , the fiddle was an easy instrument to carry , and so it was ubiquitous , played in lots of different countries. But a lot of the people were not schooled , even educated enough to read , and certainly not necessarily ability to read music. So we basically learned one person to the other learn the tunes. And one of the joys of playing it by ear is that you start to improvise on the theme and you're encouraged to improvise in this kind of music.

S3: So , Jeff , you just sort of pick it up.

S1: I It depends on you're asking me and I don't feel like I've ever picked it up. So and we kind of agree , I'm in this band. I'd focus more on singing and strumming more than being an outstanding bluegrass picker , because those guys , you're right , they're incredible. And they spent their whole life , you know , playing bluegrass.

S3: And Ramona , what about you ? What what is your affinity with picking up this singing style and the music of bluegrass ? The singer that I remember being turned on by is Joan Baez. She was playing a lot of the Carter Family , bluegrass , you know , the beginnings of bluegrass. She's the one that I fell in love with and wanted to learn guitar because I heard Joan Baez. Now you're going to play another song for us right now. And it's called The Fiddler.

S1: It was as if their years were irrelevant and they could have just as easily been 16 as opposed to 86. So it was kind of my way of of calling attention to the beauty of music and how it cuts across the ages.

S3: Here's Prairie Sky with their song , The Fiddler.

UU: Governor governance. I'm just.

S2: I remember. Mistake they. Francis Xavier. We. I.

UU: Obviously BRAC reviews can. Go to. We will be. My voice. You.

S2: I came to. Every paper once they.

UU: We see. These guys. Well. When I came. To.

S2: To. Everything bad was better. We could see. You guys.

UU: Working with young guys. Tuesday. Once.

S2: Once. There we see. He's got.

S3: That was Prairie Sky performing the fiddler. Thank you once again. Really , really nice. So , Joy , you were telling me about the way that the bluegrass community in San Diego gets together. Tell tell me more about that.

S1: I think the reason is there are a lot of immigrants , people who came here from Appalachia and brought the music with them. And there's a very active nonprofit scene of specifically promoting bluegrass and activities. And Avery runs a fiddle camp. So basically every week there's two or three bluegrass events that you can participate in going on somewhere in San Diego.

S3: So every. Tell us more about the Julian family fiddle camp.

S1: It's called the Julian Family Fiddle Camp. We have about a hundred people who come for a four and a half day period in April up in Julian. And the community has wrapped its arms around it and it's become quite a popular event. We have great instructors who come in. And because the quality of the camp , the experience is so good , we have two or three generations of people who come to spend that extended weekend to learn music , dance and enjoy the beauty of what the music provides us.

S3: You're going to perform one more song for us.


S3: Thanks for stopping by our summer music series today. It's been a pleasure. Thanks for having. Us.

S2: Us. Yeah , we've had fun. You can see the sorrow. Through his.

UU: I've been trouble all my life. I think there will be a place where. I'm.

S2: I'm. Great. I'll give you big trouble.

UU: Don't matter. Loner type man. That's where I found Rambo. I have no free. Now. Help him out. Yes. Fare thee.

S2: Can get. I have after. You guys. Both Israel and Imperium have. In some deep , dark valley lawmakers. Grammy. Mother. I am in my grave rising.

S1: Thanks for listening to the KPBS summer music series. John Decker is Interim Associate General Manager of content Lisa Jane Morissette , operations manager , and Megan Burke , the senior producer , to catch a new episode every two weeks. Subscribe wherever you get podcasts and for performance videos and more great artists. Visit KPBS Dawgs Summer Music Series. I'm Kurt Konan.

S2: Be your friend and I think I.

UU: You never really know. Robert Downey Jr.

S2: Joel Embiid you got to enjoy. God's golden shoes.

Palm trees, surfboards and Mexican food don’t exactly conjure up images of Appalachia and dueling banjos, but if you look hard enough, you will find a thriving Bluegrass Music scene right here in our backyard. We’re joined by Prairie Sky, a talented Bluegrass band from San Diego. And the high energy folk band Finnegan Blue blends rock, bluegrass, Celtic music, and New Orleans second line jazz for a truly unique sound. Headed by brother and sister musicians Anna Lee and Willie Fleming, Finnegan Blue combines strong vocals and driving rhythms that make for exciting live performances. And while some of their songs sound like they’ve been passed down through the ages, their music is all original.

Credits: Produced and hosted by Kurt Kohnen, Jade Hindmon, and Alison St John. Megan Burke is senior producer.