Honeycutters out of Asheville, N.C., play Abilene Monday
05:00 AM, Feb 07, 2013
If you go
What: The Honeycutters.
When: 8 p.m. Monday (Feb. 11).
Where: Abilene Bar & Lounge, 153 Liberty Pole Way.
Admission: $10 at the door.
Amanda Anne Platt had moved to the artsy enclave of Asheville, N.C., in search of a luthier. Someone who could teach her how to build musical instruments. Asheville seemed nice but a slight period of adjustment was necessary. “They predicted there was going to be snow one day, and it did not snow at all,” she says. “But they canceled all of the buses. I was standing at the bus stop for an hour and a half asking, ‘When is a bus going to come?’ “
Platt has since adjusted to this different mindset, where rumor of snow can shut down a small city. “I feel more at home here than I think I’ve ever felt anywhere, honestly,” she says. “I spent the first 18, 19, 20 years of my life in New York. But when I go to the city now, I get exhausted. I walk 18 blocks and it’s like, I’m gonna die.
“Any night of the week I want, can go and hear fabulous musicians. I can go to a bar, or go to someone’s living room and hear somebody pick. It’s amazing to have friends who are so inspirational. Who can write a song and I’ll just say, ‘Oh, I wish I had written that.’ I met people here who were into what I was into, and doing what I was doing.”
That is writing songs. Platt has joined the thoughtful, tradition-minded art form of roots music. Mining the same rich vein of emotions as Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and Iris DeMent. In Rochester, those types are drawn to Abilene Bar & Lounge. Singer-songwriters like Eilen Jewell and Anna Egge, women playing their sad but danceable songs, populated by worn, resilient characters.
In Asheville, “I just felt like things were waiting for me,” Platt says. Four months after her arrival, she met guitarist Peter James, and they began writing together. Then, just as her luthier was teaching Platt how to build a guitar, she and James built a band. The Honeycutters, playing Monday at Abilene.
Growing up in Hastings-On-Hudson, Platt’s parents were country music enthusiasts. “I didn’t really embrace it,” she says. “It was, like, lurking under the surface. It just sort of permeated me.” Instead, her formative years was one long line of missed buses. “Showtunes,” she bravely says. “Cats, Oliver!, Annie. I liked Top 40 Country, but I remember how one of my friends would just go, ‘Eeeeeew!’ So I never really came out of the closet on that. There was a very brief Backstreet Boys phase, but I never bought any CDs. My older brother said, ‘Oh no, you’re not going there.’ He was into grunge. I was kind of a wannabe. There was a punk phase, where I locked myself in my room and listened to the Sex Pistols. But it never spoke to me like country music.”
Platt heard the call at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs. “I was kind of a haphazard English major, taking a lot of electives,” she says. “I wanted to do creative writing. I just remember my adviser telling me, ‘You have enough credits to graduate, but not enough to graduate with a major.’ “
OK, so Platt was a little unfocused. But what she was really majoring in, apparently without realizing it, was the music that her friends were tuned into. Gillian Welch and Old Crow Medicine Show. “I realized,” she says, “I wasn’t a freak for liking country music.”
Platt’s 27 now, with a good idea of where she belongs, musically. She concedes that the average listener might calculate that 98 percentage of her songs are sad. She puts the number at 65 percent. “I have a different scale than some people,” she says. “I don’t connect to happy songs. A really good happy song is a very rare and precious thing. If something can lift you up without being really cheesy and trite, that’s an amazing thing. But it’s so much easier for me to tune into a sad song.”
The title track of The Honeycutters’ first album, Irene, borrows a line from a classic Lead Belly song that you’ll recognize. But while Lead Belly was singing about suicide, Platt finds a more-upbeat perspective:
Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene
I swear this world ain’t as sad as the papers make it seem
and in the morning we’ll all be fine
so if you’re scared darling, put your little hand in mine
“Everybody has to live in some sadness,” Platt says. “Look at today’s world, with all of the gun violence and ridiculous things like that. Everybody has to find their joy and peace with it.”
Now two albums into this thing The Honeycutters released When Bitter Met Sweet last summer the question is, how does she get this tradition-laden, authentic sound to today’s modern music consumer?
“I try to ignore the Internet, but that doesn’t work as well these days,” Platt says. “My job is not to update Facebook and tweet, my job is to write songs and present them to anyone who wants to hear them. My friends tell me, ‘Well, that’s kind of a narrow-minded approach.’ And, I know, that’s where people are for the most part, is on the Internet. I know if I want to bring my art to people, I need to go to where they are. But I still look at myself as a holdout waiting for this whole Facebook thing to blow away.”
She prefers to sit on the back porch with her three needy cats and the guitar she built, the notes drifting not out into the Internet ether, but across to the huge cemetery behind the house. Platt does walk there from time to time. “It’s my meditation place,” she says. “There’s a big section toward the road that’s not even kept up. All overgrown.” The dead have inspired no specific songs. Maybe just a mood.
“I remember when I first looked at this house,” Platt says. “I said, ‘I can’t live on a cemetery. I’ll be the first one to go if there’s a zombie Apocalypse.’ But they’re the best neighbors you could ask for.”