Red Tail Ring Blends Its Folk Roots History With Contemporary Themes

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Thursday, April 4, 2019, 7:30 am
By: 
Christopher A. Wardell

It could be said that the old-time roots duo Red Tail Ring came to be out of necessity. Before combining their talents the group’s two members, Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp (pictured above), were friends and solo artists looking to accomplish something bigger.

The Michigan-based, minimalist folk duo will bring its blend of traditional ballads and folk music to The Robin Theatre, 1105 S. Washington Ave. in Lansing, for a 7:30 p.m. show Friday. Fellow contemporaries and popular folk-comedy duo The Matchsellers will also perform at the show, which is part of the popular Ten Pound Fiddle Concert series.

“After running into each other in Michigan music spaces for a few years, we finally got the chance to sit down and play music together in 2009,” Premo said. “It was at a time when we were both looking to start something larger than solo projects, as well as work with combining our songwriting with traditional music.

“If I remember correctly, the first tune of the first jam that we had on banjo and mandolin was an Illinois tune that Michael had learned from Joel Mabus, who had also been a teacher of mine. So, there were a few things about simply being raised in Michigan that linked us together too.”

The duo is part of the Earthwork Music collective and has four full-length records available, as well as an EP and split vinyl 7” with Lindsey Lou and the Flatbellys. Red Tail Ring has performed worldwide, and just recently returned from a tour in Australia.

According to Beauchamp, the tours have been both rewarding and humbling at the same time.

“When I think back over the past ten years of performing with Laurel as Red Tail Ring over in Europe, all over North America, and now down to Australia the shows that stick most clearly in my mind are the ones where the audience was shining their energy up to the stage,” Beauchamp said. “It can happen in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely shows, like last summer in Finland at the Haapavesi Folk Festival when so many normally reserved Finns came up to us with tears in their eyes and gave us big bear hugs and told us how much the performance had meant to them.

“Or the time we played a show to 14 people in an old West Virginia single-room schoolhouse, and the creak of the boards seemed to add to the aesthetic of the songs we were singing.”

Beauchamp goes on to add, “We also remember the sweaty gigs too. We had quite a few this past month in Australia, but my favorite was much closer to home, at the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering, in Battle Ground. It was in the high 90s in June, with high humidity, and we were under stage lights, so things were pretty uncomfortable all around, but the audience was so rowdy between songs and so engaged in the moment, that it became easy to play.

“We were both pretty disheveled when we got offstage, but we had faced the heat head-on and triumphed.”

Busy spring schedule ahead, followed by some solo work

The duo’s most recent release, “Fall Away Blues,” has been heralded as an album that honors folk music with a fresh approach. The album tackles subjects such as gun violence and the environment, and doesn’t pull any punches.

Both Michael and Laurel enjoy recording, and according to Premo, it gets easier with each subsequent release. The two regularly switch instruments both onstage and in the studio, but the acoustic guitar is Beauchamp’s main instrument, while Premo focuses mostly on the fiddle.

“On the last few records, there have been some songs that were finished at the 11th hour right before hitting the studio,” Premo said. “I treasure these ones, as they are an example of some really focused collaboration in writing. There have been a couple of songs that we’ve written together from start to finish in our careers, but usually our material comes from things that we’ve written individually and then brought to the other when it came time to change them through arrangement and harmonies.”

After this string of shows with The Matchsellers, Red Tail Ring will travel to Pittsburgh, Virginia, New York City, and several points in between. After a few shows on the festival circuit this summer, the two will settle down and focus on solo projects.

“Laurel will release a fiddle-based solo album this coming summer, something she's been working on over the past year, so I know she's looking forward to sharing those tunes with the world,” Beauchamp said. “After I get off the road this spring, I'll be continuing work on songs for an upcoming solo project, so the summer and the rest of the year figure to be an expansive and creative time for me. Red Tail Ring will play shows here and there throughout the year.”

Tickets for Friday’s show are $20 general public, $18 Fiddle members, and $5 students. Tickets are available online or at the box office, and doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit tenpoundfiddle.org.

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