Appalachia in Bethesda; Zoe Speaks Brings Folk to Focus Inn

Article excerpt

Byline: Kris Garnjost, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"Both of us grew up in families and communities where music was a big part of celebrations, funerals, family reunions, church, all that kind of thing. It's just part of the culture. It's something you grow up with," says Carla Gover, half of the contemporary Appalachian singer-songwriter duo called Zoe Speaks.

For Miss Gover and her duo partner and husband, Mitch Barrett, performing was a natural part of growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky.

"I started singing in church with my mother, and then we were invited to sing a lot of funerals," Mr. Barrett says. "And I would see the effect it would have on people at these funerals. It was really powerful."

The music that Zoe Speaks will perform Wednesday at the Focus Inn in Rockville has a gentle power that comes from the simple, honest style that has grown over generations in the Southern mountains.

But that is only one of the traditions Miss Gover and Mr. Mitchell embrace.

"I think we move all the time toward more originals," Miss Gover says from the couple's Eastern Kentucky mountain home. "We always throw a few traditional things in to pay homage to our roots and kind of center our music and give it a sense of place.

"But we love to create. We love to express things in a way that sometimes a traditional song won't allow you to do particularly with everything that's going on in the world. I mean, we're folk singers; we have to put in our two cents' worth."

What they put in is worth a lot more. Their original songs owe a lot in style to great country-folk singers Woody Guthrie, John Prine and Gillian Welch. Their lyrics are straightforward, contemporary and positive, without being preachy or arrogant.

"Our lifestyle definitely shows up in our songs," Mr. Mitchell says. "Our values and the way we're trying to raise our children, and just living this very different lifestyle to most people around us here in the mountains."

"It's just trying to wake up from the sleep that a lot of America seems to be suffering from," Miss Gover continues. "This kind of sleepwalking through our existence without a true appreciation for all the advantages we have. We try to be conscious to that and hopefully just try to wake people up a little bit, including ourselves. …