Kate Mackenzie: Bluegrass Royalty

Kate MacKenzie has been a favorite guest of A Prairie Home Companion since 1981. For many years, she was lead singer of Stoney Lonesome, with whom she recorded six bluegrass albums, toured Japan and North America, and was featured in the public television series, Showcase. With the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, MacKenzie has recorded a live album from Carnegie Hall, performed at folk festivals in Scotland and Denmark, and performed on PBS' Austin City Limits. Her work with A Prairie Home Companion has included coast-to-coast tours, farewell and reunion shows, 20 Disney Channel television broadcasts, the 1993 Book of Guys tour, and a recurring dramatic role as Sheila, the Christian Jungle girl (wild, yet pure). Her first solo album, Let Them Talk, was on the National Bluegrass Charts for 10 months. Her second solo album, Age of Innocence, garnered Kate her first Grammy Award nomination. MacKenzie's success was noted in the New York Times, which grouped MacKenzie in "the new wave of strong female voices."  Now, after a 20 year recording absence, Kate returns with a new group and new music. . . MacKenzie Adkins consists of 12 new songs with members of the group alternating lead vocals.
'Driftless' from Age of Innocence
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It's been 20 years since 'Age of Innocence' was released.   How did the new music come about for the MacKenzie/Adkins project?
 The MacKenzie-Adkins CD began by helping Dale Adkins set up his home studio - playing, singing and ringing out the rooms. We had so much fun making music together it quickly grew into a full-fledged recording project. I love working with Dale, he and I toured together in the 1990s. And when he and his wife, Suzanne, moved to Sunriver we were neighbors and the time was right to collaborate again. It was so exciting to be back in the studio after 20 years!
MacKenzie Adkins: 'Going Across the Mountain'
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How did you go about choosing songs?
We all brought our song ideas to the kitchen table and experimented with harmonies and arrangements and voicings. Many just came together easily.  It was a labor of love from the beginning.
MacKenzie Adkins: "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You'
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My favorite tune on the new disc is the Bob Dylan written tune 'Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You.'  What a great lyric.  What drew you to the song?  How did you go about figuring who sang lead on each track?
“Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You” is a song that has haunted me for 35 years. I always thought it would make a great bluegrass tune but never had the right moment to record it until now.  Who knew it would ring so true when 2020 arrived and we all ended up staying home together?   We could only talk Suzanne into singing two songs, so Dale and I brought our favorites to complete the album.  The three of us are so compatible yet coming from slightly different corners of the musical universe, so it was a fun mix
During the long gap, did you continue to play and sing?
I stepped away from touring in 2000 and retired (mostly) to the High Desert of Oregon, but I found I couldn’t stay away from music for long. I started teaching and coaching local bluegrass bands, and formed a jazz trio for a while, sang with my sisters and friends in the living room, played guitar in a 14-piece big band for a year (and I thought banjos were loud!) and revived my classical piano studies that I had abandoned at age 12. But it felt wonderful to get back to my bluegrass roots with this CD! 
Any chance of live performances, when things start to re-open, in support of MacKenzie Adkins?
Since this last year has put me in touch with my introvert self, I like the idea of doing small things, like house concerts. That’s a possibility. 
What advice would you have for up and coming bluegrass artists?  Is there anything you wish someone had told you about the music industry when you were just beginning?
Advice I’d give? I would say ...always work hard, do what you say you’re going to do, and don’t give up! Sometimes it just comes down to endurance. Everyone has something unique to offer. Believe in yourself. 
Stoney Lonesome 'Highway of Regret'
Who were your early influences, both for singing and for picking?
Some of my earliest and most important influences were Hazel & Alice (I think I learned every single one of their songs), Ola Belle Reed, Doc Watson, Jean Richie, Patsy Cline and the Stanley Brothers to name a few. I believed every word they sang!! 
'Save the Last Dance for Me' Listen >>>  Get the CD >>>
'Under the Stars Listen >>>   Get the CD >>>
'Mother's Day Ballads' Listen >>>   Get the CD >>>
What is your favorite song to pick or sing?
I know this sounds like a cliché but my favorite song to sing is the one that I’m -singing at the moment!  
The Hopeful Gospel Quartet: 'My Precious Children'
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Get 'Climbing Up on the Rough Side' produced by Kate MacKenzie >>>
After forming the bluegrass band Stoney Lonesome and becoming one of the premiere bluegrass bands in Minnesota the band made it's first appearance as a featured guest on A Prairie Home Companion just two years later.   This began quite a history for you with the show as it led to many more appearances with Stoney Lonesome, then as a solo performer to becoming a favorite duet partner of Garrison's, singing with the Hopeful Gospel Quartet (as well as producing duties on one of its CD releases), being featured in sketches and even co-hosting a show.  What is your favorite memory from A Prairie Home Companion?
So many of my favorite PHC memories involve the Hopefuls. I remember a sound check at the Birchmere in DC where we were literally on the floor we were laughing so hard.  
The Hopeful Gospel Quartet on Austin City Limits
The show put you alongside many legends such as Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, among others. . . do you have a special performance or opportunity that you cherish because of the show?
I really can’t believe how lucky I was to get to work with all of my heroes, including Garrison! Singing sweet harmonies with EmmyLou, and pumping Chet Atkins for more stories about the early days in Nashville; and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when I got to sing with Don and Phil Everly.
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  • SO proud of my aunt! She is my shero! Thank you for this beautiful profile of her work.

    Jessica Gigot
  • Kate:::: My video recording of you singing “That’s the Way Lives Goes” with the Hopeful Gospel Quartet” on Austin City Limits is magical…I’d love a clean copy of it it’s simply beautiful

    Robbie Benson
  • I still have my Powdermilk Biscuits
    t-shirt and a Stoney Lonesome vinyl album. Love ‘MacKenzie Adkins’ and hope to hear more. I miss PHC and Stoney Lonesome. Y’all work your way back over to Tennessee when health conditions allow. Pick away! Betty

    Betty Westmoreland

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