For ‘Winter’s Bone’ music, an extended season
Marideth Sisco and Blackberry Winter are playing traditional Ozark Mountains music, featured in the evocative 2010 film, on a tour that stops this week in Hollywood.
What happens when you’re a musician who can qualify for the senior discount at the Denny’s in West Plains, Mo., but your craft is sparking passionate letters from around the globe? You load yourself and your fellow Ozarkian merrymakers in a 15-person van and you tour the country as the Amazing Geriatric Hillbilly Tour.
That’s singer Marideth Sisco’s name for the unlikely criss-cross she and the other members of the band, Blackberry Winter, are making on a North American tour officially known as Winter’s Bone: Music From the Film Performed Live.
“Due to our advanced age,” Sisco, 67, said from outside Vancouver, Canada, where they were due to perform later that night, “we have a different schedule than most. We have two weeks on, and then a week of rest. We get tuckered out easily.”
Before their weeklong siesta, Sisco and five other musicians, with banjo, Dobro guitar and mandolin in tow, will come to the Masonic Hall at Hollywood Forever cemetery Tuesday night to perform traditional Ozark Mountains music as well as original songs from the soundtrack to “Winter’s Bone.”
John Hawkes, one of the grit-eyed stars who also lent the same intensity to HBO’s poetic western series “Deadwood,” will join them for a spell, at least to sing his penned contribution, “Bred and Buttered.”
The 2010 film, based on the 2006 Daniel Woodrell book of the same title, is an austere, sometimes brutal tale of the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in the Ozarks region. Played by Jennifer Lawrence, Ree Dolly, the film’s young heroine, is on a search for her missing father that sends her deep into the pits and hollows of the icy landscape.
Directed by Debra Granik, “Winter’s Bone” nabbed the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury prize and proved to be a breakout vehicle for Lawrence, but she isn’t the only one who attracted wider interest. As the movie’s momentum grew, especially among the European film festival circuit, so did curiosity about the musicians featured in an early scene, one of the few bright lights to penetrate the film’s somber mood.
“This is in sharp contrast to my urban life,” Granik said from her home in Manhattan, “but in this vast, sprawling country of ours, there are regions where there is time and tradition reserved for music. At first, we worried that it might be going too far to include it, but it would be common and normal for musicians to be playing together on any old night of the week — that’s true to the world.”
The sight of Sisco and her pals playing in a ramshackle house on an ordinary evening functions as a notable contrast to the horrific consequences of addiction. “Meth is a part of the culture,” Sisco said, “but it’s not that much a part of it. There’s an attachment to family and the land, and Debra captured that.”
Along with her bandmates Bo Brown, Van Colbert, Dennis Crider, Tedi May and Linda Stoffel, all of whom reside in or near the Ozarks, Sisco’s attachment to the land naturally extends to its music.
“It’s what I was born with, grew up with, and I love it. It’s like music from Appalachia, but with a different approach to rhythm.” Sisco described the music of the Ozarks as a “rich tapestry” with qualities taken from other regional music, sewn in by Polish, Italian and Austrian settlers, to name a few.
But for all her loyalty to the land, Sisco, who has worked as a journalist, teacher and radio host, has also fled the region at times, including a 10-year stint in California that sent her up and down the coast, from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles.
Her time in L.A. in the early and mid-’70s, around the time Fleetwood Mac was thriving, cutting the polished hit record “Rumours,” wasn’t successful.
“I was a country bumpkin trying to break into the music business,” she said with a sigh. “I wasn’t pretty enough to be in the front, but I had too much ego to get in the back.”
Now Sisco is out in front, singing ballads like “Missouri Waltz,” recorded on the soundtrack with the gentle chirp of crickets in the background. She’s also writing about her experiences on her blog, MaridethSisco.com, which she says has gotten more than 60,000 hits since she established it shortly after the film’s release.
To Granik, it’s no wonder that Sisco’s music and point of view have been sought out by listeners hungry for a counterpart to America’s blockbuster entertainment exports. Never mind Fleetwood Mac — they sound homespun compared to the highly lacquered pop of Lady Gaga or Britney Spears.
“There is intrigue about the quieter, decentralized, even anarchic parts of the country,” Granik said. “People want to know what lies beyond 90210. They want to hear the voices that aren’t necessarily heavily altered or enhanced by the commercial trappings.”
Photo: Standing, L to R, Bo Brown, Marideth Sisco, Tedi May, Linda Stoffel. Sitting, L to R, Dennis Crider, Van Colbert.
Credit: Dennis Crider