Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NEAF '13 Feature Artist: Mark Whitaker

Today's New England Americana Fest featured artist is a gentlemen who I have a very great amount of respect for as a musician, songwriter, performer and friend. I first met Mark in a chance billing on a Tuesday night songwriter's gig. The crowd was pitiful, the room was dark and in a basement of the venue (due to an election party at the normal stage room), but to this day it is still one of my favorite shows I have played because of this guy's music. I just sat there in awe on my stool as Mark picked out some of the most beautiful and impressive banjo lines I have ever witnessed. To this day I am still blown away everytime I sit down around a table session to play with him and other friends, catch his full band, or just hanging out 'round noodling. All that, plus the guy has a killer, soulful voice and writes great, thoughtful songs.

Mark answered our good old questions. Check them out below:

1) First and foremost, who are you, what do you do? That is, what band are you in or are you a solo artist, what have you guys been up to leading up to the festival, anything exciting we should all know about? Your chance for shameless self promotion…go!

MW: I'm Mark Whitaker.  I'm a banjo player and singer-songwriter.  I often perform solo but have recently talked some other musicians into playing with me, so I also perform with a full band that includes fiddle, mandolin, and upright bass.  Our instrumentation definitely gives us a bluegrassy texture, but the style of music is closer to folk and pop.  (Still trying to find the best way to describe it.)  We'll be heading into the studio this November to record a full length album.  I'm aiming to have it ready to release by early next year, so stay tuned for that!

2) New England Americana and the Fest firmly plant their roots and morals in “community”.The event is a culmination of a community of musicians and artists that is going on all year. What does that community mean to you?

MW: That's a tough one because there are so many kinds of music and different aspects of music for communities to be centered around.  But as a performer I'd say community is about caring for your musical neighbors.  Presumably we create and share music with the hope that someone will care enough to give us their attention, their time, their money, their help, their opinion, etc.  Seems only fair that we give something of ourselves to others too.

3) Name a record that shaped you as a musician early on. What music initially made you want to
sing, or pick up an instrument and make music?

MW: The Beatles' made a huge impact on me in high school, particularly Abbey Road.  I was blown away by the range of moods they explored on that album.  It redefined the boundaries of creativity for me.

4) What are you listening to now that you think folks should be aware of?

MW: My favorite songwriter happens to be a Cambridge native named Noam Weinstein.  I met him when I moved to Boston in 2003 and played some bass for him on a few shows.  I've since become a super fan.  His music resonates with me on so many levels.  It's playful, insightful, tender, biting...  He's a wonderfully original musician and person.  Check him out! 

5) Music festivals, in general, are fairly well known for surprise sit ins, improvisational jams and collaborations. If you could see any two of this year’s acts collaborate on stage at this year’s NEA Festival, who would you like to see?

MW: I'd love to see David Gallagher jump in on vocals with any band playing a blues tune.  I can listen to him sing anything, but hearing him on songs with a bluesy/gospel vibe is especially satisfying.

6) Why is creating music important to you? Why do you pick up your instrument and write songs? Why do you play that dive bar on a Thursday night? What keeps you going?

MW: Creating music continues to be the most nourishing form of self-expression for me.  I guess that could change, but until it does I'll keep at it and will share it with whoever who wants to listen.

Mark can be found online at:

And he can be found at the festival playing with The Whiskey Boys on Saturday night at Tasty Burger Bar, hitting the stage at 8:30 PM. Then, he will be playing a band set of his own tunes on Sunday at 5 PM in Winthrop Park. Be sure to catch this guy, he is truly a musical gift to this town and music, he may pop up in a few other acts as well. Who knows!

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