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New direction for bluegrass bassist Missy Raines


A child of bluegrass who grew up in Short Gap, W. Va., going to festivals with her parents, Missy Raines "was lucky enough to see all my heroes — Seldom Scene, the New Grass Revival, Tony Rice and David Grisman."

Her father, who built tires at the Kelly Springfield factory, came home with a stand-up bass one day. Even though it was taller than she was, she picked it up naturally at 11 and soon she was taking it to festivals and playing on the lawn with friends and "jamming until I couldn't see anymore and they would bring me home asleep in the car the whole way back."

By her teenage years, she imagined one day making a living with her bass on bluegrass stages across the country.

"I used to think it would be so cool and so easy," she says. "And it is cool, but it's not so easy."

For years, she toured with the Grammy-award-winning Claire Lynch Band or as one-half of the Jim Hurst and Missy Raines duo, also collaborating with traditional bluegrass stalwarts like Kenny Baker, Jesse McReynold and Josh Graves. Along the way, she picked up seven Bass Player of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

But now she's taking it in a different direction with the stark departure of her latest album "New Frontier." Some might file it under "Newgrass," but it's really more Americana with occasional pop hooks and rock flurries, almost along the lines of early Lucinda Williams (but without so much longing) or Rosanne Cash (but without so much baggage).

To put it simply, she says it's "what I had to do."

Before Raines headlines the Sonoma County Bluegrass and Folk Festival in Sebastopol this weekend, she took a break to chat about playing from the heart, her loyal fans and J.R.R. Tolkien:

<strong>Q: You've played Sonoma County a few times before. What do you like about the area?</strong>

<strong> A:</strong> It's so beautiful, it reminds me of The Shire (homeland of the Hobbits in the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy).

<strong>Q: Like we all have furry feet and scurry around like Bilbo Baggins?</strong>

<strong> A:</strong> I didn't say the people — the place, when you get out in the country, especially near the coast, with the green rolling hills. It's just beautiful.

<strong>Q: If you lived in the Shire, who would you be? The leader of a band of merrymakers?</strong>

<strong> A:</strong> I'd probably be some mentally deranged groupie of Frodo's.

<strong>Q: Let's talk about the new album. From the first song, "I Learn," starting with the raw bass line running up the neck paired with just your vocals, it's obvious this doesn't sound anything like bluegrass. How did you arrive at this fork in the road?</strong>

<strong> A:</strong> It was both planned and unplanned, and kind of just a natural evolution for me. I didn't set out to make a distinctly different-sounding record, different from any bluegrass thing I've ever done. But what I did do is I went after material and songs that fit my voice and fit the musicians in the band and I didn't put any barriers or restraints on what it could be.

<strong>Q: That has to be very freeing.</strong>

<strong> A:</strong> It is. It's freeing but nothing is free in this world. So you always wonder, "When I do this, are people going to get this? Or is it going to confuse them? Or are they going to walk away?" But at the end of the day, what the record is about is you have to do what's in your heart. Whether it's easy or not, you just sort of have to do it.

<strong>Q: So you can't worry about whether there will be an audience or will my loyal fans follow me here?</strong>

<strong> A:</strong> Yeah. I love my audience, but at the end of the day, I'm the one who has to be here with it and I have to feel comfortable and genuine and happy. And I have to feel honest about it, that's the most important thing.

<em>Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@beckmediaproductions.com and follow on Twitter @becksay</em>.