Although bluegrass is a genre that has its fair share of female artists, it’s hard to deny that it’s one of those musical arenas that happens to be more of a boy’s club. But that didn’t bother bluegrass fan Kimber Ludiker, who came up with a funny spin on the genre’s masculine leanings.
“It kinda started as a joke,” the fiddle player explains. “Where I would just get a bunch of girls together and we’d play high-testosterone bluegrass music and wear power suits.” Further tickled by the idea, she termed the music this ensemble would play should be termed mangrass.
What started out all in fun turned into something serious. Although she quickly ditched the idea of suits and the “mangrass” billing, Ludiker did assemble a group of talented female musicians from a diverse range of backgrounds and hometowns for the purpose. After recruiting Celia Woodsmith (vocals), Courtney Hartman (guitar), Shelby Means (bass) and Jenni Lyn Gardner (mandolin), “We played a couple of shows and decided it would be something worthwhile to pursue.”
As it turned out, “mangrass”–although a joke–isn’t a bad tag for the resulting sound the women put together. Originally calling themselves Big Spike Hammer (after the Osborne Brothers song of the same name), they changed it to the more feminine “Della Mae” (from the lyric in the same song, “Hey hey, Della Mae, why do you treat me this way?”). The band quickly caught attention for its “hard-driving” sound, as well as its seemingly effortless melding of individual musical talents.
In just a few short years, Della Mae has put out two albums (including the latest, This World Oft Can Be, released late last month) and won considerable respect in the bluegrass and Americana circles, where they’ve played numerous festivals.
In addition to their recording and festival work, the band has a remarkable philanthropic credit on its resume as well: Cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program. Their work with the project involved 43 days traveling in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, collaborating with local musicians and providing musical education for local children.
The experience was a life-changer, as guitarist Hartman notes: “”We were received with so much love and generosity, it was so overwhelming. We couldn’t speak with them–we couldn’t speak the same language, but we could play music for hours with them.”
Della Mae recently visited Ram Country on Yahoo! Music’s studios, where they sat down with us to further discuss their musical history, as well as shed more light on their adventures abroad. Enjoy!