Ask most bluegrass bands for any memorable moments they might have had in the Triangle, and you’re likely to hear one of a few usual suspect answers: an appearance at World of Bluegrass, a concert they attended for a great Piedmont-based bluegrass outfit that inspired them, or maybe their own great show.
For Ruth Moody, soprano vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for bluegrass stalwarts The Wailin’ Jennys, it was the winter storm that hit the Triangle in February of 2014. The members of the group were all headed into Raleigh-Durham International Airport – albeit from different parts of the country – for a show at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. The journey had both band members and would-be audience members on edge.
“It was a whiteout, and all flights were being canceled,” Moody recounts over the phone before the band’s show at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh Saturday night. “It was a miracle that we all got there, as I believe we all ended up being stranded somewhere along the trip.
“I just came across a picture that I took at the time, of the roads around the airport as the plane was descending, and it was just like a ghost land,” she continues with a laugh. “I have this special memory, such a fond memory of that show, because all of the people that did show up were so happy that we didn’t have to cancel the concert.”
They’ll be back in Raleigh Feb. 3 for a show at Memorial Auditorium.
You’ll have to forgive Moody’s laughter at the memory, but if transplants from the Northeast and Midwestern parts of the country can’t grasp Southerners’ tepid attitudes toward driving in winter weather, one can only image the thoughts that ran through her mind at the time. Her hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, averages just under 4 feet of snow each winter, a weather pattern that she says might be the reason so many great musicians – everyone from Crash Test Dummies to Neil Young – hail from the city.
“There’s always been something about Winnipeg. Maybe it’s the long winters?” Moody says with a laugh. “People need something to do, and it’s pretty isolated with a lot of distance between cities, so I think a lot of young musicians there feel the need to get out on the road and tour even younger than other music cities. There’s something about the North – not just the weather, but the landscape – that really puts you in your place and reminds you of your relationship with the elements, and I think that can inspire you to be creative.”
Inspiration is something that many of the Jennys’ fans have been hoping would hit the band in the six years between their last two album releases. If anyone doubted that there was anticipation building for the release of “Fifteen” in late 2017, those doubts were put to rest when it landed at the top of Billboard’s Bluegrass and Heatseekers Album charts.
The album, the Jennys’ fifth studio album, is a departure of sorts for the band, as they use the occasion of the group’s 15th anniversary to cover nine songs from other artists.
The Jennys had released the first single from “Fifteen” – their cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” – only days before the rocker’s untimely passing. They watched as many of his fans gravitated toward their version of the song in the immediate aftermath, which has led to the song becoming one of the most popular of the band’s career thus far.
Moody makes clear, however, that the song was a crowd favorite long before it appeared on one of their albums or at the time of Petty’s death.
“We had actually been playing that song for years,” she said. “One night one of us just said, ‘We should try covering that song,’ just because we were all such fans of it. From the first time we jammed on it in a hotel room, it just came together so unnaturally. It’s such a pretty, simple song, that it’s almost like it plays itself.
“So many of Tom Petty’s songs are like that, where they are just really ... it’s not that they are simple, but they’re just so natural, where his songs just sound so effortless. That’s how it was that first night we jammed on it; it came together in about 15 minutes.”
Who: The Wailin’ Jennys
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3
Where: Memorial Auditorium, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Cost: $30 to $40 for PineCone members; $35 to $45 general public
Info: PineCone.org or 919-664-8302