Richie and Rosie’s music transcends generations

From Staff Reports
Black Mountain News | USA TODAY NETWORK
Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton's music sits at a junction of Americana, old-time and folk, bringing a new sound to traditional music.

Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton grew up a 150 miles - and few decades apart. Both were raised by professional cellists and experienced unique, musically-immersed childhoods.

Stearn’s family founded the iconic GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance (of which he’s now president), and he started playing banjo at age 14. Newton began classical piano lessons at eight, eventually moving to classical viola as a teen. By her junior year of high school, she was playing fiddle and touring with folk rock band The Mammals.

During that time, the two were introduced at Saratoga Springs’ Flurry festival. That meeting that would spark a friendship and musical bond that can be heard at 8 p.m. Friday, April 27 when Richie and Rosie pay a visit to White Horse Black Mountain. Tickets are $10 advance/$12 door.

“He left an impression on me because he was wearing Converse. I had never seen an adult wear Converse before,” said Rosie, reflecting back on the first time she shared the stage with Richie.

A Woodstock native, she graduated high school and moved to Ithaca after being drawn to the college town’s thriving old-time scene, which happened to also be Richie’s stomping grounds. While studying viola at Ithaca College and playing fiddle on the side, Rosie started incorporating folk with her traditional Celtic and classical upbringing.

Meanwhile, Richie was a well-established singer and banjo player in the community, having performed around the world with bands like The Horseflies, Bela Fleck, Pete Seeger, David Byrne, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Joan Baez. In addition to releasing two solo albums, Richie was building his impressive discography, which includes three Natalie Merchant records, multiple collaborations with Jim Lauderdale and Donna The Buffalo, and Carrie Rodriguez. 

During Rosie’s freshman year, the two finally began touring together regionally as part of the Evil City String Band. Eventually, they decided to pursue a more intimate project as a duo and in 2013 released "Tractor Beam," a 12-track mix of originals and classics, including Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” and “Say Darlin’ Say,” a traditional lullaby. For their first exclusive release as Richie and Rosie, the pair wanted to give fans a polished recording of the songs that they played live. 

After three years of touring and writing, the duo returned to the studio last December to record their second full-length album, "Nowhere in Time." The record sits at a junction of Americana, old-time and folk, bringing a new sound to traditional music. While the majority of the album is a simple combination of fiddle, banjo, and captivating melodies, the duo manages to pack an incredibly full sound.

“At the beginning, we were thinking it might be a project with lots of other people involved, more of a big production," Rosie said. "As we went through it, we realized that the magic lies within the duo. We have an intimacy of music and we feel the power of two people playing. That’s who we are."

The most interesting story surrounding the album might be the one behind the title track. After receiving an unexpected phone call from the AARP, Richie wrote a song for the organization that chronicled life after 50, in addition to other ultra-specific stipulations.

“They set up a recording date for the song before it was even written. So I’m sitting in my living room, crumpling up paper and trying to write a song about reinventing yourself after 50. I thought, ‘I’m going nowhere with this,'" Richie said. “That’s what the song was actually born out of. You can look back and look forward, but we aren’t done with life. We’re just where we are. It’s about focusing on the moment.” 

Ironically, the commissioned song became one of their most well-received songs and defined exactly what the duo hopes to create - music that many can connect with.