It seems like everyone is moving to Austin, right? I went there to visit my cousin last Labor Day weekend and, I have to admit, it's a good spot. There's a lot of tasty food and the live music scene is as busy as it is here. There's that university place and the things for the people and stuff. Austin is great. I get it. It would just be nice if Champaign-Urbana could work out some sort of shared custody for all the creative types that are drawn to Texas these days.
I talked to Sara Sasaki, a musician who will be jumping ship soon to become a Master of Music via Austin. She had plenty to say about Urbana and its love of the fiddle.
Smile Politely: Who are you, Sara?
Sara Sasaki: I'm a violinist and fiddle player. I was born and raised in Urbana, on the corner of Michigan and Lincoln Avenues. I moved to Austin, Texas in high school, attended Oberlin College and Conservatory, and moved back in 2011.
SP: How did you get started playing fiddle?
Sasaki: I got started playing the fiddle back in college, at Oberlin Conservatory. I was a sophomore, playing in a bass quintet, and the bass player asked me if I had played any bluegrass before. I [remembered] playing fiddle tunes when I was first starting to play the violin -nothing serious- but thought I would give it a try! We found a singer/guitarist and started our band, The Black River Belles. It was a great experience playing with these girls and really getting to know the genre. We went on a 2-3 week tour through the south, but sadly had to go our separate ways because we were all graduating, going different directions. Once I graduated, I was curious about the different styles of fiddle playing out there, so I listened to a lot of recordings of fiddle players, different genres, and embraced the styles Champaign-Urbana has to offer. I have learned SO much living here about how versatile the violin/fiddle can be.
SP: How'd you start playing with Don't Ask and the others you'll be with this Friday?
Sasaki: I have collaborated with many amazing musicians around the area, but I have primarily worked with the musicians scheduled to play on Friday: Don't Ask, members of the Urbana Hootenanny, Morgan Orion, Megan Johns, and Rebecca Rego.
I started playing with Don't Ask and Morgan Orion around the same time, right when I moved to town. I remember how challenging it was at first to learn all of the tunes, but both groups welcomed me with open arms! I loved the freedom they gave me to add what I thought would help the sound of the group. As I became more comfortable in the scene, I started playing with other groups and performing at the Urbana Hootenanny on Monday nights. Looking back over the last three years, I'm so thankful I am able to play so many varieties of styles in all of the groups I play in!
SP: Tell me more about this show!
Sasaki: I came up with the idea...a few months ago when I made the decision to attend The University of Texas at Austin. I knew I'd be leaving Champaign, and wanted to make sure I played with all of my favorite musicians one last time. So...why not have everybody together for one last party of awesome music!
SP: Awesome music is all over this summer. Why spend our Friday night with you all? What makes you especially super awesome?
Sasaki: The music represented by each of these groups is all very different: klezmer, bluegrass, and three singer-songwriters that have completely different styles. My hope is that I can spread the joy that I feel playing with these wonderful musicians to the audience members who will attend. It should make for an eclectic and fun show; everyone should be dancing!
The musicians playing will be Don't Ask (Frances Harris, fiddle; Michael Meadows, bass; Michael Shapiro, guitar), members of the Urbana Hootenanny (Sam Payne, guitar; Dustin Norder, mandolin), Morgan Orion (Morgan Orion Reisman, guitar and vocals; Paul Kotheimer, bass), Megan Johns (Megan Johns, guitar and vocals; David Tcheng, sax, clarinet, trumpet, accordion), and Rebecca Rego on guitar and vocals.
SP: This really is a great community for music! Why leave for Austin and what will you miss about Urbana?
Sasaki: I am leaving to get my Master of Music in Violin Performance at The University of Texas at Austin. I've been planning to leave for about a year now, getting ready for the audition for the program. I've had some time to do a bit of preparation.
There are so many things I will miss about living here...too many to list! Probably the biggest things I will miss... are the opportunities to thrive as a young musician. I have been lucky enough to work at The Music Shoppe, teach students, manage the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra, and play any style of music I want to, whether it's classical music or klezmer! I will also miss dearly the audience members and friends I have met along the way. The wonderful thing about Champaign-Urbana is the community of intelligent and thoughtful individuals that come from so many amazing walks of life. I was once playing at Strawberry Fields grocery store with Don't Ask (klezmer group playing on Friday), and we had a man come in from, I think, Bulgaria. [He was] so thankful we were bringing music from Eastern Europe to America. He even gave traditional suggestions to us, and talked about what that music meant to him personally. I will miss this generous community in so many ways. [It] truly has helped me grow into the musician and person I have always hoped I would be.
Sara Sasaki & Friends will be at The Iron Post on Friday, July 11th at 5 p.m.