By Julie Horner
Two girls sit singing in an old Chevrolet, fiddle and mandolin in playful duet and voices blended together in sweet harmony. The Chevy, though firmly grounded and rusting resolutely on Boulder Creek acreage among a dozen other relics of bygone byways, makes one imagine this pair hitting the road, Thelma and Louise, Devil-may-care.
Formed by long-time friends, Justine Lucas and Lee White, Moonshine Jelly got its start in San Francisco driven by Justine’s innate gift for songwriting and Lee’s ability to easily harmonize. Both women are accomplished multi-instrumentalists who are at ease accompanying themselves on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. Joined by Kent Kessinger on acoustic guitar and 5-string banjo, the trio captivates with a blend of original and traditional songs. Moonshine Jelly uses dynamic harmonies and bold arrangements to explore music influenced by Celtic, Eastern European and Americana genres with a pinch of gypsy jazz for piquant.
And there is strong sense of the gypsy wanderer among the members. Lee is a full time musician who splits her weeks between Boulder Creek, Oakland, and San Francisco, fiddle strapped to her back ready to busk on the street, join music friends for impromptu performances, or teach. A fiery singer, Lee says, “I love to harmonize.” And she’s obviously gotten good at it. To her it’s about the atmosphere, the sound. You can hear Lee’s vocal strength on her CD recorded with The Gallowglasses, a San Francisco Bay Area-based Celtic band.
She also studies traditional song in its native tongue from around the world. Songs sung in a foreign language with unfamiliar rhythms and unexpected harmonies is exceptionally haunting to listen to and is a passionate course of exploration for those who learn it appreciatively as a cultural treasure to preserve and hand down.
Lee grew up in a musical family and learned to “go with the flow” at a very young age picking up old time, Celtic, and bluegrass music by ear from her folks and their contemporaries. She began to study fiddle formally at age 11, but it wasn’t until she went to Alasdair Frasier’s Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School at Camp Campbell in the Santa Cruz Mountains that she “unlocked the desire” to play with her peers.
A true roving spirit, Justine literally ran away to join the circus and spends most of her time on the road performing for circus, clown, and sideshow troupes on the West Coast of the US and traveling internationally with a variety of circus productions. Touted as an extraordinarily gifted minimalist avant-garde singer-writer, she captures audiences with her storytelling. Lee says, “Justine has this wonderful personality” that enables her to network easily and engage with audiences live and through film and her audio recordings.
Justine has produced two solo CDs, and Lee joins her on the latest, “Untangling.” Although Moonshine Jelly is relatively new, Justine and Lee have several atmospheric YouTube videos that showcase their exquisite musical ability as a duo and as a trio with Kent. See Moonshine Jelly on YouTube.
Kent is an Oakland-based filmmaker whose area of interest centers upon homelessness, human freedom, and migration issues. His work takes him around the world to capture evocative, often troubling politically charged subject matter. From Honduras to Mexico, Skid Row to the Rainbow Gathering, his talent documenting human experience through film translates plaintively to the ear with Moonshine Jelly. Originally from Durham, North Carolina, Kent is influenced by Doc Watson, Philipp Glass, Jose Gonzales, and the Rev. Gary Davis. See documentaries by Kent Kessinger.
These three free-spirited musicians don’t let moss grow too long under their feet. After their upcoming show at Boulder Creek’s lille aeske Performance Series on Friday, May 29, they’re off to concerts in Oregon, Humboldt, Seattle, and Vancouver. Hot fiddle, intimate vocals, unpredictable harmonies, and formidable songwriting and musical strength will carry this bluegrass-Celtic-gypsy-swing folk band straight into your psyche.
On the web: http://www.moonshinejelly.org/
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Moonshine-Jelly/453880751460211
(c) 2015 Julie Horner – Originally published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin.
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California.
On the web: http://www.leap2three.comOn Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/santacruzmountainslocal