The Tennessee native and acclaimed mandolin player is coming to the Zlock Performing Arts Center in Newtown on Friday
By Samantha Bambino
It was almost two decades ago, in the population-of-900 Byrdstown, Tennessee, that one bright-eyed 8-year-old discovered her life’s calling.
Sierra Hull had always been surrounded by music. It was simply the nature of her town to host regular jam sessions and sing as a casual pastime. But when her father first placed a mandolin in her hands, a spark was ignited. As she began to quickly master the instrument, Hull knew her future would heavily revolve around it, even at such a young age.
It’s safe to say her early intuition was right. Hull graced the Grand Ole Opry stage at the age of 10, performed at Carnegie Hall at 12, and signed with Rounder Records at 13, for which she has released three highly-acclaimed albums, including the most recent Weighted Mind.
Now, at 27, Hull is continuing to make a name for herself in the bluegrass world, expanding her musical horizons on an upcoming fourth album, which is slated for completion later this year, and sharing her talents with new audiences on a winter tour.
On Friday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m., Hull, along with opening act Angel Snow, will play the Zlock Performing Arts Center at Bucks County Community College in Newtown. Ahead of the show, The Times caught up with the artist, who shared details on her unforgettable Tennessee upbringing, unprecedented success in the industry, and exciting twists Zlock audiences can expect.
Over the years, Hull has accomplishing feats most seasoned musicians only dream of. Not only has she toured the world, frequently guesting with legends such as Garth Brooks, Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch and her hero, Alison Krauss, she became the first woman in 2016 to take home the title of Mandolin Player of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, an honor she earned in 2017 and 2018 as well.
Additional career highlights include performances at the Kennedy Center and White House, and the privilege of being the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music.
Despite having so much to brag about, Hull remains ever-humble, never forgetting her Byrdstown roots and the people who helped shape her into the artist seen today.
“It’s a really small town, 900 people, but a great part of the world to grow up in for music,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that sing and just kind of casually play, so it wasn’t an uncommon thing to grow up singing for lots of people.”
One Christmas, Hull’s family gifted her a fiddle. Though she was grateful for the gesture, the instrument was too big for her 8-year-old hands to handle. Still, she wanted to play. It was at this point that Hull’s father introduced her to the mandolin, something he had just started to learn himself. He explained to his daughter how both instruments had the same tuning — the mandolin was just smaller and easier to hold.
“I started learning a couple things, and I just fell really in love with it,” Hull said. “There wasn’t really a lot of people that played in my town, but it wasn’t too hard for us to find some jam sessions in the town next to ours, a little town called Jamestown, Tennessee, where a lot of my family is from.”
While the Jamestown residents weren’t professional musicians, they held an unshakeable passion for bluegrass that inspired Hull, who was invited with open arms to play in their circles. From these casual jam sessions, Hull was able to hone her craft, all while gaining insight into her own unique artistry.
Currently, Hull’s work has transitioned from traditional bluegrass covers to a more contemporary version of the genre, which is heavily featured on 2016’s Weighted Mind. Most of the songs on the Grammy-nominated album are original tracks that boast Hull’s hauntingly beautiful vocals and impeccable mandolin chops.
A large chunk of Weighted Mind will be included in the Zlock show’s setlist, as well as brand new songs from the upcoming fourth album, which Hull is currently working on in the studio. While the last release was built around the mandolin and bass, which made for an overall stripped down sound, Hull is switching things up this time around.
“Part of what I wanted to do is use the studio in a different way than I have in the past, by almost using it as an instrument. It’s been fun to go in and layer some of my own vocals,” she said. “I tried with this album just to make a record that I’m really proud of and one that feels exciting to me.”
As far as her winter tour, Hull is sharing the same sentiment, incorporating for the first time a bassist, saxophonist and electric guitarist into her live show, all while holding fast to her mandolin and strings roots. She stressed that each musician is extremely passionate about their respective instruments, making for an enjoyable onstage electricity she hopes will be infectious for audiences. ••
If you go…
Sierra Hull will perform at the Zlock Performing Arts Center at Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road, Newtown, on Friday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at tickets.bucks.edu or 215- 968–8469. For more on Sierra Hull, visit sierrahull.com
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com