Miss Demeanor and The Groove Felons return to scene of the crime – They take the Bowery Stage Saturday, July 29

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Allen Prazak, Shannon Monk, Fred Howard and Rhandy Simmons are Miss Demeanor and the Groove Felons. The popular quartet returns to The Bowery Stage July 29 with their special arrangements of tunes from the Great American Songbook. (Courtesy Photo)

Miss Demeanor and the Groove Felons are making a return engagement to The Bowery Stage Saturday, July 29. The local quartet has earned quite a loyal following since they first played together seven years ago.

Continue reading “Miss Demeanor and The Groove Felons return to scene of the crime – They take the Bowery Stage Saturday, July 29”

Dancin’ in the Streets –The Blandelles return to Monday Night Live June 19

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The Blandelles are (l-r) John Harris, John Knagg, Greg Connelly, Kevin Rainey, Gary Felmet, Evan Yeager and Carl Herod. (Courtesy Photo)

A one-time gig at a 1985 sports banquet turned into a nice side job for five coaches from Bland High School in Merit. Continue reading “Dancin’ in the Streets –The Blandelles return to Monday Night Live June 19”

Hannah Kirby: ‘Since I was a child, I’ve wanted to become the story.’

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Hannah Kirby will be in concert at Winnsboro Center for the Arts Saturday, June 10. (Courtesy Photo)

Hannah Kirby has always known what she wanted to be – part of a bigger story. At 24, she is well on her way to realizing her dream. Continue reading “Hannah Kirby: ‘Since I was a child, I’ve wanted to become the story.’”

Monica Rizzio touts ET roots in ‘Washashore Cowgirl’ – Former Quitman girl plays Bowery Stage May 13

WCA - Monica Rizzio - 5-4-17Monica Rizzio was born in New York, but spent her formative years on a ranch in Quitman and she’ll be returning to her roots when she steps onto the Bowery Stage for a concert Saturday, May 13.

“My dad grew up right outside New York City,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Cape Cod, MA. “He met and married my mom there. When I was four, we moved to Quitman, along with my brother and sister, who were older. My granny was there. My dad was this Italian cowboy who built a 30-acre ranch.”

Rizzio grew up a cowgirl, riding horses and participating in rodeos. She ran the barrels at the Winnsboro rodeo every year.

She also grew up going to church “three times a week,” playing and singing music.

“I got my start singing in church and tinkering with the piano,” she said. “We didn’t have the financial means to put me in any sort of private lessons, but I was lucky in that people from my church would give me a check to go to band camp or someone would pay for a month’s worth of lessons.”

She said the community realized she had a passion for music and provided her a keyboard.

“They saw something in me at an early age,” she explained.

Rizzio won the talent contest at the annual Old Settlers Reunion in Quitman when she was 12.

“I sang, but I don’t remember what,” she said.

The family lived in Quitman from the time Rizzio was in kindergarten until her senior year in high school, when someone from Dallas purchased the ranch and the family moved back to New York.

Although people offered her a place to stay so she could graduate with her class, Rizzio decided being that far away from her family, especially her parents, Dennis and Judi, would be too hard.

“I am incredibly close with my parents,” she explained.

After graduating from Fox Lane High School in 1998 in Mt. Kisco, NY, she earned a full music scholarship to Adelphi University on Long Island, where she attended for 2 years.

A vocal teacher at Adelphi encouraged Rizzio to transfer. She had been accepted to study in Granada, Spain. She also had a friend who was studying acting in Tennessee. Rizzio decided against going abroad and settled on Belmont University in Nashville.

“That was a huge blessing and I loved, loved being there,” she said. “The song writing circuit there is unbelievable. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study there.”

It was at Belmont where Rizzio learned the business end of show business. She earned a degree in commercial voice, with a required minor in music business.

“If you’re studying at Belmont, it’s mandatory to have a music business minor,” she noted. “You need to know how to negotiate.”

The university had showcases, where artists had to search out a management major and make a demo with someone studying recording.

“The whole thing is hands on,” Rizzio explained.

Rizzio learned her lessons well. In addition to touring and recording, she runs a successful music school in her adopted hometown of Cape Cod, MA.

“The fact that I get to make my own schedule and teach music is incredible,” she said. “It allows me the flexibility to tour as much as I do, plus my students think it’s cool that their teacher in on tour.”

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Five out of five stars

Rizzio released her first album, “Washashore Cowgirl,” last year. The collection was nominated for Country Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards.

When you aren’t a native of Cape Cod, you’re called a “washashore.” Add cowgirl to the mix and you’ve perfectly described Rizzio.

“I knew I wanted to go back to my East Texas roots,” she noted. “I wanted people to hear the journey from Quitman to the shore of Cape Cod.”

Assembling a crew to help her in the studio proved pretty easy.

“I was lucky enough that most of my friends jumped on and played for me,” she said. “I wanted ‘Washashore’ to have a big sound, I wanted its presence to be very organic and tethered between my acoustic world and my Texas country side which I feel captured both really well.”

She cites Ricky Skaggs, Willie Nelson, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland as early musical influences.

Her song writing heroes include John Prine, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Hayes Carll.

She’s shared the stage with artists ranging from jazz pianist Diana Krall to ukulele impresario Jake Shimabukuro.

“Diana Krall was among one of the most divine people I have met yet on the road,” Rizzio remembered. “She is so genuine and thoughtful as an artist! And, I got to sing vocals on one of the songs Jake wrote. He’s the nicest guy. He’s just incredible.”

While teaching and involved in recital season, Rizzio has started work on her sophomore record.

“I’m trying a different approach to the production side,” she said. “I want it to be a little more raw than ‘Washashore.’”

Rizzio is also giving back, not forgetting the kindness paid to her when she was beginning her journey as a musician.

“We created Vinegrass, a non-profit, in 2013,” she said. “We help families who don’t have the means for lessons or instruments.”

For this tour, Rizzio and her husband purchased a mini-van. Before they reach Texas, they’ll be playing shows in Cape Cod, Boston, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. They’ll visit Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona before winding things up back in Boston.

While she’s had a lot of experience in the classroom, on the road and in the studio, this trip marks Rizzio’s first time to play in Texas. She expects to see cousins, friends and high school classmates.

“I think it’s going to be a very emotional show,” she reflected.


Tickets are $15 general admission and $22 reserved. They are available at the arts center and Winnsboro Emporium or by calling 903-342-0686 or visiting the arts center’s website, www.winnsborocenterforthearts.com

On music, touring and living abroad Folksinger Sarah McQuaid comes home for 37-city tour

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Sarah McQuaid has led an international life. She was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, studied in France, has lived in Nenagh and Dublin, Ireland and now lives in Cornwall, England, with her artist husband and two children. (Courtesy Photo)

Sarah McQuaid’s life has been all over the map. She was born in Spain, grew up in Chicago and studied in France during her final year of college.

After marrying an Irishman, she moved to his hometown of Nenagh and opened a music shop.

When the marriage dissolved, she moved to Dublin, worked as secretary and wrote music reviews before meeting and marrying her second husband, Feargal Shiels, an artist.

The couple now lives in Corwall, England, with their two children, Eli, 9 and Lily Jane, 8.

When she was growing up, music was an important part of McQuaid’s life. Her mother played guitar. McQuaid learned guitar and piano and was a member of the Chicago Children’s Choir. Soon, she was writing songs and playing with bands.

McQuaid, now in her 40s, is about to embark on a 7-week tour of the U.S., stopping in 39 cities, including a date on the Bowery Stage Sept. 10. Although on a camping trip with her family, she took a few minutes to answer questions about musical influences, her career and why she likes being an entertainer.

The Winnsboro News: How did you get started playing/singing/writing songs?

Sarah McQuaid: My mother taught me to play piano and guitar when I was little, and I think I was about eight years old when I wrote my first song. I wrote it out in musical notation and everything. It was a terrible song. I wrote some equally terrible songs when I was a teenager, and played them at school assemblies and chapel services. I was in my mid-twenties by the time I wrote my first halfway decent song – “Charlie’s Gone Home” – which I recorded on my first solo album and which I still play in concerts from time to time!

TWN: Explain DADGAD and how it informs your music.

SM: I’d tried a bunch of alternative tunings for guitar by the time I discovered DADGAD – it was a French guitarist who showed it to me when I was 18 years old and spending a year studying in France. It was kind of a Eureka moment – suddenly I could make all the sounds I’d been trying to make for years.

Because you have three strings tuned to D and two tuned to A, you get lot of what’s called sympathetic resonance: the strings you’re not playing resonate in sympathy with the strings you are playing, so you get this really full, rich sound.

You’ve also got a lot of flexibility for playing melody, countermelody and harmony as well as chords, and that’s a big influence on the way I write songs – I think of a lot of my songs as duets for voice and guitar, rather than just the guitar accompanying the voice.

TWN: You had an interesting childhood. Do you remember living in Spain?

SM: I’m afraid not! I was only two years old when we left.

TWN: You grew up in Chicago. How did that influence your music? Or did it?

SM: I was only 13 when we left Chicago, so it’s not as if I had much of a chance to hang out in famous blues clubs, but one really strong influence on my musical development was that from age 7 to 13 I was a member of the Chicago Children’s Choir.

That was an early introduction to the professional side of music –  hours of rehearsal every week, plus extra time for voice training when I got a little older and became a soloist, and from age nine onwards I was going on tour with the choir for ten days at a time.

It was a hectic schedule –  in a typical day on tour we could have two or three school performances during the day, maybe a local television taping, a big concert in the evening, and then we’d all be parcelled out to host families who’d put us up and make packed lunches for us to take with us the next morning – we’d all be comparing our packed lunches on the tour bus, seeing who got what!

TWN: You cover some pretty great songwriters – Bobbie Gentry, Jerry Jeff Walker – and you cover Roberta Flack’s cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” How do you pick cover songs?

SM: I don’t cover a song unless I feel like I can bring something new to it, make it my own in some way – there’s no point in slavishly copying the original.

But I also try and pick songs that are very well known, because part of the reason for doing a cover is to grab the listener’s attention – say they’re listening to the radio while washing the dishes or whatever, if they hear a song they recognise but it’s a different version to the one they know, they’ll stop what they’re doing and go “Hang on, I know that song, but who’s that singing it?” And then that might lead them to my own music. It’s a way of drawing people in.

TWN: You have an ambitious concert schedule coming up – 39 shows in 7 weeks – from California to Cape Cod, with a few stops in Texas. How on earth do you prepare for a trip like this?

SM: Well, right at the moment I’m away camping with my family for ten days!

When I get home again I’ll start putting together a set list for the tour and rehearsing it, as well as doing all the logistical stuff like getting travel insurance, booking hotels and so on.

TWN:  Do you miss your “other lives” … as a secretary, editor, music shop owner?

SM: Nope! I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s tough financially, and I hope that’ll improve – I used to never be in debt, and now I have to be in debt just to survive and keep the family fed – but it’s a good quality of life and to me, that’s what counts.

TWN: What do you hope your audience learns/feels/leaves with?

SM: I’ve had people come up and tell me after gigs that they nearly didn’t go because they were feeling so tired and frazzled when they got home from work that day, but they were so glad they did because they’re going away feeling happy and relaxed.

It’s fantastic to hear things like that, because it makes me feel that I’ve done my job. I like that old-fashioned word “entertainer” – as far as I’m concerned, that’s what I’m paid for: to entertain people, to get them to stop feeling hassled and worried and fed up, even if it’s only for a couple of hours!

And of course if they leave with handfuls of my CDs, that’s even better (laughs).

TWN: What is your favorite part of your career? Least favorite?

SM: My favourite bit is actually performing, doing the gigs and getting the audience reaction, but of course that’s also the part of my job that I spend the least amount of time on, whereas the part that I spend the biggest amount of time on is also my least favourite: all the admin that goes with it, booking the gigs, updating the website, posting on social media.

I think if you asked any musician that question they’d give you the same answer!

TWN: Talk about your life in Cornwall and why you settled there. How do your children deal with your travel schedule?

SM: We moved to Cornwall purely because of our house, which used to be my mother’s house before she died, but it’s actually turned out to be a wonderful place to live and bring up kids, and I’ve made some really close friends there.

I’m very lucky in that while I do spend a lot of time on the road, when I’m at home I can be there for the kids 24/7 – so on balance I think I spend more time with them than if I had a 9 to 5 job, especially since I can fit my touring around their school year, so anytime they’re off school I’m home.

I’m also very lucky in that my husband is there to look after the kids when I’m away.

I do phone or Skype home every few days and the kids always seem fine when I do – I guess they’re pretty well used to it by now. I do feel like I’m missing out on a lot, though, which is why I’m taking next year off from touring –  I’ll still do local gigs and festivals that don’t take me away from home for more than a few days at a time, but no more seven-week tours for a while!


General admission tickets to McQuaid’s Sept. 10 show are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Reserved seating is $20. Tickets are available at Winnsboro Emporium, by calling Winnsboro Center for the Arts at 903-342-0686 or at their website.


To watch a video of Sarah McQuaid singing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” click here.


Sara Hickman’s last gigs: ‘I hope people will remember my music.’

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Sara Hickman is an artist in every sense of the word. In addition to being super-talented, she’s possesses one of the sweetest spirits on the planet. She will be in concert on The Bowery Stage in Winnsboro, Saturday, July 9.

After her July 9 gig on The Bowery Stage at Winnsboro Center for the Arts, Sara Hickman, the 2010 Texas State Musician, is hanging up her guitar strap and bidding adieu to her active performing career.

Continue reading “Sara Hickman’s last gigs: ‘I hope people will remember my music.’”