Trumbull, Stratford residents bring bluegrass act to festival

Amanda Cuda, Staff Writer, CT Post
Published: 10:13 p.m., Thursday, August 5, 2010

Listening to Katie Wilson's voice, it's hard to believe there was a time when she had no interest in becoming a musician.

Warm, sweet and melodic, the 27-year-old Trumbull native's instrument has been compared to those of such luminaries as Alison Krauss. But despite having a father who was "really into the bluegrass scene," and being raised around that sort of music, Wilson wasn't sure that was the life for her. After high school, Wilson moved to Alabama, which has an active bluegrass scene. Yet, "I didn't have any interest at the point in singing or being a musician," Wilson said.

It wasn't that she didn't like singing, Wilson said. She actually loved singing and loved music. She sang in the car; in the church choir; and in high school musicals. She just didn't think she was good enough to make a living in music.

But, during a road trip to Georgia, she began thinking about the path not taken, and decided to go for it. When she moved back to Trumbull from the south about five years ago, she looked up her old voice teacher and resumed her lessons.

Initially, she thought she'd like to pursue a life in musical theater, but, after a few attempts, that path didn't seem to be clicking for her. Eventually, she figured out what she wanted to do with her voice: sing bluegrass music. That path, it seems, has gone well for her. Last year, she released her self-titled debut CD and this weekend, her band, Katie Wilson and the Two Time String Band, will perform at East Hartford's Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival.

Since embracing music as her calling, Wilson has performed throughout the region, either as a featured artist or with other acts. In addition to singing, Wilson also plays fiddle, acoustic guitar and mandolin. Outside her musical pursuits, Wilson is studying graphic art and web design at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. But she now acknowledges that music, bluegrass in particular, is where she belongs. "Being in this genre, it makes total sense," she said.

Her band includes Stratford's Richard Neal on guitar. Neal is also Wilson's writing partner, and they worked on most of the songs on the album together. Unlike Wilson, Neal, 55, has been a professional musician for most of his life, starting in his teens. When Wilson first got interested in music, someone told her she should connect with Neal, and they've been working together pretty much since then.

"Dick and I share a lot of ideas," Wilson said. "I think the first time we met was to talk about songwriting. We've always been very open about song ideas and phrases. We just kind of help each other and guide each other."

In addition to his decades of experience in music, Neal actually teaches songwriting, and will lead a course at Housatonic. Neal agreed that he and Wilson work well together, and said she has an aptitude for creating music.

"Katie has a real gift of melody," he said. "She has the gift of simple. That's very difficult -- for a musician to have clear, concise ideas that are interesting."

The Podunk festival is a particularly big step for Wilson. Now in its 15th year, the festival features some of the top bluegrass acts from around the country. The band not only plays at the festival Saturday night, it's also one of five acts participating in the festival's band competition on Sunday.

Wilson's group is the only one in the competition from Connecticut, which also includes bands from Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The first place winner receives $750 and a slot at next year's festival. "It's a huge deal and a huge honor," Wilson said of being picked for the competition.

For more information on the Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival, visit www.podunkbluegrass.net. For more on Katie Wilson, visit katiewilsonmusic.com.