Sounds Local: Classically trained Lily Sexton and her band will perform at Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse Saturday

  • Mamma’s Marmalade will perform at Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse on Saturday. Contributed photo

  • The Boxcar Lilies will perform at Iron Horse Music Hall on Saturday. Contributed photo

  • Sheryl Hunter

For The Recorder
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Four years ago, a friend invited Lily Sexton to attend the annual Fresh Grass Festival at Mass MoCA in North Adams. Sexton, a classically trained violinist whose knowledge of bluegrass didn’t extend much beyond Allison Krauss, agreed to go along. That festival ended up being a life-changing event.

“I loved the music and it didn’t look so hard to play, which was completely misguided,” said Sexton with a laugh. “I thought I could give it a shot and that is how I accidentally started doing this.”

This accidental foray into bluegrass led to the formation of Mamma’s Marmalade, a fast-rising band in the Valley’s acoustic music scene.

Mamma’s Marmalade will open the fall season of the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

At the time she was bitten by the bluegrass bug, Sexton, a native of Great Barrington, was a student at the University of Massachusetts. She reached out to fellow student Mitch Bordage, who had just started playing mandolin and asked if he might want to play music together. Bordage had been playing with banjo player Rich Hennessy, so the three got together to jam, which ultimately led to the formation of Mamma’s Marmalade in the spring of 2014.

The band has gone through some lineup changes, but as of last September, in addition to Sexton on vocals/fiddle, Bordage on mandolin/vocals, and Hennessy on banjo/vocals, the band includes Sean Davis on guitar and vocals, and Curtis Bordage on bass.

Like Sexton most of her band mates were newcomers to bluegrass when they started the band, learning the music as they went along. They have found the bluegrass world to be an incredibly supportive one, where even well-established players were willing to jam with newcomers if the opportunity presents itself.

“There is this community aspect in bluegrass music that I don’t think is present in other genres,” said Sexton who currently resides in Turners Falls. “We get all this incredible support from people who have this common love for the music.”

Unlike the eastern part of Massachusetts that is flooded with talented young bluegrass bands, Mamma’s Marmalade are in the minority here in the Valley. While that can make it tough to find other likeminded bands to share a co-bill, the band has found a receptive audience for their lively music. They have played at the Shea Theater, The Iron Horse Music Hall, and many more local venues. Last weekend they had the honor of opening for one of their musical idols, Twisted Pine at the Parlor Room. This summer the band did some touring throughout New England and they played the festival where it all began for Sexton, the Fresh Grass Festival in North Adams.

“This valley is the most beautifully supportive community for this music, which is why we are excited to bring our music to the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse,” Sexton said.

Mamma’s Marmalade released its debut album “Goodnight, Black Velvet” in June. The album nicely captures the bands progressive bluegrass music as traces of gypsy jazz, old timey and Celtic music weave in and out of the 10 tracks. Sexton wrote half the songs on the album but she is quick to point out that she only wrote the lyrics and that the band works together to flesh out the music. She hadn’t written any songs before Mamma’s Marmalade.

“I just started writing because I suddenly had a band,” she said. “I never thought that I would be a musician in the way that I am now. It was certainly a shock to my mom when I came home and told her I was in a bluegrass band. But now I had a project at my disposal, so I thought.

‘I’ll just start writing it can’t be that hard.’”

Sexton said her initial belief that bluegrass music would be easy has helped in her becoming a bluegrass musician.

“I just kind of blindly think that none of it will be that hard — then it turns out to be so hard,” she stressed. “But I think a little bit of ignorance is what kept me pursuing it.”

And fortunately for us listeners Sexton has continued to pursue bluegrass music!

You can look forward to hearing the uplifting tunes from “Goodnight, Black Velvet” and more when Mamma’s Marmalade make its debut appearance at the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse on Saturday.

To learn more about the band, visit: www.mammasmarmalde.com

Admission is by sliding scale from $6 - $15 at the door. Open-mic begins at 7:30. For the open-mic sign-up, directions and further information please visit: www.wendellfullmoon.org or call 978-544-8784. A portion of proceeds from this show will benefit the 1794 Meetinghouse, a historic building and project that supports the performing arts in New Salem.

The Boxcar Lilies annual show
at Iron Horse Music Hall

You’ll also get a taste of bluegrass music when the Franklin County-based Americana band The Boxcar Lilies hold its annual show at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Saturday, October 14 at 7 p.m.

The Boxcar Lilies are Jenny Goodspeed (electric bass, guitar), Stephanie Marshall (washboard, guitar) and Susan Cattaneo (guitar). A Boxcar Lilies show is always a special treat, but even more so when it plays the Iron Horse as the members go all out for these shows and put together a full band. They will have Jim Henry on dobro, mandolin and guitar, Dave Chalfant on bass and guitar and J.J. O’Connell on drums.

So expect a night of the Lilies’ dazzling harmonies and high-energy country, folk and bluegrass music. And to make the night even more special local alt-folk duo, Austin & Elliott will open the show.

Advance tickets are $15 and $18 at the door. Tickets are available at the Northampton Box Office, www.iheg.com or 413-586-8686.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton.
Her work has appeared in
various regional and national
magazines. You can contact her
at: soundslocal@yahoo.com