October 15, 2009

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Feel the love
The harmonizing, Prarie Home-winning Honey Dewdrops
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

No doubt before Johnny Cash and June Carter went public with their romance, plenty of fans suspected they had more than onstage chemistry. 

The same is true of the Honey Dewdrops — Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish — who perform Saturday, Oct. 17, at Studio 99 in Nashua. Listening to If the Sun Will Shine, the duo’s debut CD, stirs thoughts of milk and honey, peaches and cream and other perfect elemental unions.

They harmonize with comfort, ease and sweetness. When Wortman croons, “I love to hear his guitar singing … the sweetest song you ever heard,” punctuated by Parrish’s impeccable finger picking, even a casual listener detects something deeper than notes, chords and choruses.

The pair met in a college party band — she sang and he played guitar. Between Stevie Wonder and Doobie Brothers covers, they talked about the music they truly loved, along with shared passions like organic gardening and E.F. Schumacher economics. 

“It just kind of went from there,” Parrish said by telephone from the now-married couple’s home near Charlottesville, Va. “We started getting together to play music, and just kept doing that and found out there was even more there than just music.”

They started writing songs seriously together about three years ago, tunes that sound like they might have been written 40 or 50 years ago.

“We feel very close to those older songs,” Parrish said. “There’s just some kind of nice thing, something that makes them seem true and feel real that we’re drawn to. We definitely try to write stuff that’s in that vein.”

Each of the 11 tracks on “If the Sun Will Shine” shares a preserved-in-amber quality that few can bring off.  Crooked Still or Gillian Welch & David Rawlings come to mind, but it’s a very short list.

After they spent a couple of years knocking around the same Virginia clubs where the Dave Matthews Band got its start, people began noticing the quirky couple and their timeless music. In 2008, after submitting their MySpace page to NPR, they were among six groups chosen to compete in A Prairie Home Companion’s “People in their Twenties Talent Show” — a sort of slow-lane American Idol.

Much to their surprise and delight, the Honey Dewdrops took first place. 

“I still can’t believe it happened,” Parrish said. “Laura and I both grew up in households that listen to A Prairie Home Companion every Saturday night. It was just kind of always on. We grew up liking and respecting it and thinking, man, it must be awesome to be on that show.”

Winning freed them to quit their day jobs and focus on making an album, which they released in the spring.

They’re currently in the thick of another NPR endeavor, the Mountain Stage Newsong contest. Based on a general round victory in the catchall competition — “as far as genres go, they seem to take anybody,” said Parrish — the pair was invited to a four-day confab in Charleston, W.V. The gathering begins Thursday, Oct. 9, and culminates in a showdown between 16 different performers on Oct. 11. The winner appears on the Mountain Stage national broadcast the following day.

“Lots of good stuff seems to come out of that contest,” says Parrish. “It’s pretty well-known.”

After that, they head out on a short Northeastern tour that includes stops in Nashua and Portsmouth, as well as a gig in Vermont. It’s their first New England jaunt, Parris said: “This is new territory for us. We’re really looking forward to it.”


Honey Dewdrops
• Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8:30 p.m., Studio 99, 115 Main St., Nashua (Mechanic Street entrance, off the Water Street parking lot), www.studio99nashua.com
• Monday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m., The Red Door, 107 State St., Portsmouth, 373-6827, www.reddoorportsmouth.com
More info: www.thehoneydewdrops.com