COLUMBIA-Hazel Kinder, owner and operator of Hazel Kinder’s Lighthouse Theater, didn’t have to think for long when she started lining up acts for the second annual Bluegrass Festival on July 13-14. She knew she wanted Ironweed.
“You don’t have to be in Columbia very long to learn about Ironweed. They’re everywhere,” Kinder said of the local bluegrass band. “They were the first people I called.”
Ironweed has established quite a name for itself in Columbia music circles. But now the band has a chance to bring its bluegrass music to an international audience. On Tuesday, the four-member band will head to China, where it will perform at the Qingdao International Beer Festival and at other venues in cities and towns within the Shandong region.
The Columbia Friends of China, which is dedicated to promoting the sister-city relationship between Columbia and Laoshan, China, selected Ironweed from among nine applications from area bands. The selection committee settled on Ironweed because of its unique type of music and “the quality of their performers,” said Friends of China President Hsiao-Me Wiedmeyer said.
A fan of bluegrass music, Wiedmeyer said she has no doubt that “Ironweed can showcase the traditional American culture to Chinese people.” Friends of China was able to fund the band’s China tour using annual membership dues and $4,000 that it raised during a Chinese Dumpling Festival held in September 2006. Kinder said Ironweed is the perfect choice for the trip to China.
“I think it’s wonderful. I mean they could have sent a rock ’n’ roll band, but they are sending the basic — what America is about,” Kinder said
Jane Accurso, Ironweed’s lead guitarist and singer, has conducted a lot of research about China and what to expect. She has also looked into a little bluegrass history.
“From my research, I think that we are only the third traditional bluegrass band that has performed in China,” she said. “Bluegrass is a traditional and old-time American music that is relatively unknown to (the) majority of Chinese people,” Wiedmeyer said. That has members of the band excited to see how their Chinese audiences react.
Bassist Alan Loshbaugh said he can’t wait to take traditional American music to “someplace it’s never been.” Dierik Leonhard, who sings and plays banjo and fiddle for Ironweed, said he’s certain that the band’s sound will win the Chinese over. He said bluegrass has a history of popularity in both Europe and Japan.
“I have a feeling that it will capture the hearts of the Chinese people just like it did mine, the Europeans and the Japanese,” Loshbaugh said.
Ironweed holds true to its Midwestern roots, from its song repertoire to its name.
“We were looking for something that was native to Missouri,” Accurso said of the search for a name. “We really loved the sound of Ironweed. It’s a lovely flower, and yet it’s really, really tough to get rid of. Just has a lot of good parallels there.”
Ironweed has been in a state of transition since two members retired in March. But the band didn’t skip a beat, or a gig, as it brought Loshbaugh and new fiddler, dobro and mandolin player Jake Clayton into the fold. The entire band is pleased with the 50-50 split between veteran and new Ironweed members.
“It’s a new evolving sound for Ironweed, which I am really excited about,” Accurso said.
Clayton adds that he definitely hears a different sound and that the excitement of everyone being “new and fresh” has really driven the band to try new things.
Together for nearly four months now, Ironweed has performed steadily through a stream of gigs and even had the time to record an entire album on the side. Leonhard, an Ironweed original, has heard praise from fans who say the band’s sound is much more lively these days.
While he acknowledges the stress of bringing new people into the band, he said “the freshness that the new musicians bring is well worth it, and it far outshadows the security of the old Ironweed band members.”
Members of Ironweed hope China will open up a world of new opportunity. They’d like to forge a network with other international bands in hopes of touring Europe in the future. But they also want to continue playing in Columbia as often as possible.