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Kindred Folk Society Music Series

Joan Shelley followed her own sense of music to carve out a niche

The singer songwriter will perform March 14
in Madison

Kindred Folk Society Music Series Lineup
•  March 14: Joan Shelley
•  May 1: Monroeville
All shows at 8 p.m. at Red Bicycle Hall, 125 E. Main St., Madison, Ind. Tickets online at www.EventBrite.com

(March 2020) – Joan Shelley has been writing songs as long as she can remember. “Songwriting is my way of coping with and processing the world around me. My family didn’t play music growing up, but my mom and my oldest brother brought a lot of music into my life,” she said. “My older brother brought the Grateful Dead, Nick Cave and Neil Young, and my mom played folk revival stuff, Van Morrison being the standout from that. His album with The Chieftains was one of my all-time favorites as a kid.” 
However, Shelley feels that she paved her own way in music with a little guidance along the way. “I wasn’t too infatuated with any particular musicians or genres or scenes. I kind of made my own sense of things and just followed melodies I liked, until I discovered old-time music.”
Shelley is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at Red Bicycle Hall, 125 E. Main St. in Madison, Ind. Doors open for the concert at 7 p.m. Nathan Salsburg will open the show with a set of his music. Her show is part of the Kindred Folk Society’s Music Series.
“The Music Series is one of the more interesting legacies of RiverRoots,” said Jack Wilhelm, the society’s treasurer. “A lot of the bands in the concert series are people that RiverRoots brought in during the middle of the day that grew in popularity. We wanted to continue bringing that experience to Madison.”
The RiverRoots Music and Folk Art Festival was discontinued by VisitMadison Inc. last fall after 14 years on Madison’s riverfront. The group of volunteers in the Ohio River Valley Folk Society who organized the festival regrouped as Kindred Folk Society and continued holding the monthly Music Series from January to May.
As they discussed which acts to choose, the Kindred Folk Society’s Music Committee decided that Shelley would be a good fit. “We wanted to round out the music series lineup with a strong female vocalist,” Wilhelm said. “She’s from right outside Louisville, so she’s semi-local. She was recently featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Series. We’re pleased that she said yes to Madison  and Red Bicycle Hall.”
Shelley said that the audience can expect guitar and fingerstyle guitar playing at her upcoming performance. “Nathan Salsburg, who will be joining me, is one of the best and most unique sounding guitar players in the world in my opinion. We make a band that plays to the songs, instead of playing ‘on’ or over them. So it’s an intimate show,” she said. 
“We want this to be a listening room show and have it centered in acoustics and her voice,” said Wilhelm. “We’re even serving drinks in paper cups to keep noise down and hope to keep talking to a minimum so people can be mesmerized by the power of her performance. That’s the kind of artist she is. Her voice is dignified and strong, but it’s also very pretty.”
Shelley is often inspired by the words and writing of Kentucky author Wendell Berry and the poetry from Sufi poet, Hafiz. “They give me inspiration for words and ways of looking at the world,” she said. “I’m inspired musically by the traditional music brought over by all the early immigrants to Kentucky and America that blended together to make such beautiful sounds. The songs of Jean Ritchie and the voices and style of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard.” 

Photo provided

Joan Shelley (right) performs with guitarist Nathan Salsburg in a way that brings audiences up close and personal. 


While Shelley’s music leans folk, she does not describe herself as such. “If genres are what I think they are, ways of sorting merchandise, then I think I’m considered folk. But if it were a matter of saying where I am and what I am most similar to, I don’t think I am like most of the folk music out there, but perhaps more minimalist and lyric-centric music.”
Shelley has found that her songwriting has grown more specific over time as she settles into her identity as a musician. “It’s like whittling. I started as a generalist, and as the years have gone by, I sing more closely to what is uniquely my corner of the world and what feels good to sing. That applies to which key I sing in and what words feel true to me.” 
Her most recent album, “Like the River Loves the Sea,” was released in 2019. Shelley recorded the album in Iceland and collaborated with several artists and musicians. “Some great Kentucky artists sing on the album, like Will Oldham and Julia Purcell, alongside lush string arrangements played by Icelandic players,” she said.
Of her album, Shelley said, “These are some of my sturdiest songs – songs I imagined could be hummed and passed along by ear. That was my intention at least. They look closely at the idea of home and place, while keeping an eye to the rest of the world. It’s love and loss and all that in-between.”

• Tickets for Shelley’s Madison performance may be purchased in advance online for $20 at www.RedBicycleHall.com or for $25 at the door.

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