Of all the critically acclaimed, world renown artists who’ve headlined at Salmonstock/Salmonfest, few boast the credentials of Sarah Jarosz, who takes the River Stage in Ninilchik on Friday night.
Weaving seamlessly between folk, bluegrass and country, Jarosz has been nominated for nine Grammys and won four, including 2021’s Best Americana Album for ‘World on the Ground’, the fifth of her six full-length albums.
All this she’s done before the age of 30. It helps that she got her first record deal when she was just 16.
“In my younger writing I was very inward-looking — a lot about my inner monologue, inner feelings, teenager emotions,” Jarosz said. “I think as I’ve gotten older it’s made me shift from not only what’s going on in my mind but look out at the world and be more of a storyteller, and not necessarily of my story.”
Growing up in the musically rich Austin, Texas area, Jarosz remembers singing, practically from birth.
“Singing was something I’ve done as long as I can remember. Before I came to acoustic folk I used to sing songs around the house, sing with choirs, sing with my mom, singing along with records,” Jarosz said. “I fell into a weekly bluegrass jam in Wimberly (Texas) and met all these Texas singer-songwriter people who would sing. It was a beautiful way to sort of get into music, but with low pressure. As I got further into my teens I began to think this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Austin proved to be the perfect hometown for that sort of ambition.
“I did gigs in Austin and paid my dues in the central Texas music scene,” Jarosz said. “It’s really just such a magical place to grow up.”
Jarosz didn’t get very far into her teens when big-time opportunity came knocking.
“I was 16 and I was given the opportunity to have a set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and that was a huge deal for me,” she said. “Gary Paczosa from Sugar Hill Records was a well known producer and engineer — he’d produced Allison Krause, John Prine, Nickel Creek — and he approached me after the Telluride set and signed me to Sugar Hill at 16. That was a pretty clear turning point as I look back on it. I made four records with Gary. He kind of put me on the path.”
Along the way, Jarosz developed a side project, forming the acoustic trio I’m With Her with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan, which doffs its cap to the country music tradition of strong female narrators often addressing the challenges of being a woman. In 2018, I’m With Her captured the Duo/Group of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards.
“To get to be in a band with the two of them feels very full circle. It’s a cool outlet for us to be able to come together and sing harmony. That was what I missed about last year, ” Jarosz said, lamenting COVID’s deleterious effect on live music. “We didn’t want to be thought of as a super-group. This was new music that was different from our solo projects. Whatever the feminist side of things may be, we just want to be great musicians. That’s what (I’m With Her) means for us and the name sort of signifies us.”
While COVID put on ice I’m With Her’s plans of releasing a new album, the pandemic didn’t seem to slow Jarosz down much as a solo artist. After her Grammy winning album World on the Ground was released June 5, 2020, her sixth album Blue Heron Suite came out on May 7 of this year.
“Last June, obviously we had a whole tour planned and that had to be canceled,” she said. “It was all very surreal and strange. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life — putting out music, going on the road and getting it out there. So initially it was really hard, but there were a lot of silver linings, and I’m learning to appreciate more being on the road. This summer I’ve done maybe five shows and it’s just been really about appreciating the human connection more than ever before.”
Jarosz will make her Salmonfest debut Friday night backed by her touring band of Jeff Picker on the guitar and pedal steel and John Fatum on drums.
“This is my first time touring with a drummer and John’s a great drummer and one of my best friends,” Jarosz said. “I’ve always toured with an acoustic trio so it’s a shift of set adding drums to the mix. But we’re always tasteful with the mix and it’s always fun.”