At first glance Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear may seem like a novelty act: a son and his mother playing music together, with a 37 year age gap between them.
But the two have quickly made converts of curiosity seekers with their raw talent. It was a talent discovered around the family’s kitchen table in Independence, Mo., and one that developed during long nights at area coffeehouses.
“I didn’t really have a solo career,” Madisen Ward explained during a phone interview from Austin, Texas, a stop in the tour that brings them to the Cat’s Cradle on Saturday. “My mom was playing in coffeehouses all of the time, and I finally got to a point where I would come onstage and join her. Then we just started playing on each others’ songs, and it really just started growing from there.”
Ruth Ward – the Mama Bear – has been playing music since age 19, when she bought her first acoustic guitar. Now 63, she finds herself sharing a stage and adapting to her 27-year-old son’s approach to songwriting.
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“When I started playing, just because I came into music later and didn’t take traditional routes of finding music or writing songs, the style that was coming out of me wasn’t one that my mom could put a label on it,” Ward explains. “... My mom comes from the singer-songwriter era; my style was something that she really had to get used to. I’m the primary songwriter in our act, and I commend her for not giving me too hard of a time.”
His mom interjects, “I had listened to a few songs that he had written, as well as some songs that he was covering, and the response he was getting from everyone made it obvious that he had the talent to go all of the way.”
Shortly after beginning to perform together the duo released an independent EP in 2013, “We Burned the Cane Field,” which received significant regional airplay on local roots music radio stations. The record, which was the first to bring their bluesy folk sound to many ears, brought an invitation to perform at the 2014 Americana Music Fest in Nashville, Tenn. The buzz from that performance and their first full-length album, “Skeleton Key” on Glassnote Records, soon had them juggling TV appearances (“The Late Show,” “Today,” “CBS Sunday Morning”) with performances across the country.
“We’re just really grateful for, and thankful of, all of the opportunities that have come our way,” Madisen Ward said. “There’s no guarantee when it comes to this business, so we never knew just how we would be accepted.”
Ruth Ward adds with a laugh, “Even my husband said, ‘You can’t script this.’”
Who: Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro