All-female Big Richard gaining steam
'Every song is a 180 degree turn from the last song.'

(Big Richard performs from 9:10-10:25 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4 at the 20th Sugar Maple Music Festival, Lake Farm County Park, Madison. Before that, they’ll play with Madison Youth Arts at 7:15 p.m. on the intimate Roots & Reasons Stage. They’re also at Union Terrace on Thursday, Aug. 3.)

Multi-genre band Big Richard – featuring all women – wants to shatter glass ceilings. The first night closer at the Sugar Maple Music Festival also wants to educate, to entertain and to enlighten.

Big Richard cellist Joy Adams explained how the quartet has emerged from the music scene with old-time flavored tunes and a kick to their sound.

Sugar Maple: You played solo on two Emmy and one Grammy-winning soundtracks: Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Godless.” That’s amazing.

Adams: “I worked with the composer Carlos Rivera when I lived in Miami. He got the trophies. I have certificates.”

SM: And you have a doctorate.

Adams: “Yes, I’m a certified nerd.”

SM: Was that needed to teach?

Adams: “It’s a very competitive field to teach at the university level. When I got my master’s at the University of Miami, I wanted to stay there, and I did a pile of research on the cello and American fiddle music. It made sense.”

SM: It’s difficult to figure out how the four of you got together.

Adams: “We had known each other. I played in a band with Emma a little bit and played gigs with Eve. I knew about Bonnie. Emma said, ‘You know, what would be a killer band: You, Eve, Bonnie and myself.’ Then Eve got a call from a bluegrass festival in southern Colorado, and they wanted an all women.”

SM: Why did they want all women?

Adams: “They looked at their entire lineup and realized they only had men. So, Eve remembered Emma’s idea for this lineup, and we got together. We weren’t taking it seriously.”

SM: If this was a movie, it would seem corny. You came together and, snap, it sounds great.

Adams: “You’re right. A lot of times when you have a band you spend years dialing in your sound, and you have discussions about arrangements and whose role it is to play what part. Somehow, when we rehearsed for the first time, we had the same wavelength. It happened naturally. We saved 2,000 hours of practicing together. That never happens. And I’ve played in a lot of bands.”

SM: Then in May 2021 you played what you expected to be the band’s one and only appearance.

Adams: “It was a one-off show, but it rained during our set, and we only played a half hour. We had all these songs, so we played a second show. We played on a truck bed and lots of people showed up. We just kept going. It’s too much fun.”

SM: Were all four of you ready to launch a band?

Adams: “That was one of the weird silver lines of the pandemic. Each of us had big projects going on and then the pandemic put a halt to that. I was supposed to be on tour with Nathaniel Rateliff’s band. Everything cleared out. It was a hard time to be in the arts.”

SM: It’s difficult to call Big Richard a bluegrass band with nostalgic harmonies to a rock-tinged tunes.

Adams: “It is hard to pin down. It leans toward the ‘old-time’ side. We draw a lot from the south Appalachian old-time music, which is a little grittier and even more ‘punk rock’ than bluegrass. Emma’s voice is like indie pop, a sultry kind of thing going on, and then Bonnie’s voice is very dark country and rock ‘n’ roll. And Eve and I come from classical backgrounds. Every song is a 180 degree turn from the last song. It’s not bluegrass even if we play bluegrass festivals. We have old-time songs, but we also cover Radiohead (‘Creep’), Britney Spears (‘Toxic’) and Billie Eilish. Then we have a ton of original tunes that are topical like climate change and women’s issues. We touch on a lot of things with a lot of humor. We’ll ruffle feathers. Expect to have fun.”

SM: Who’s Richard?

Adams: “We get asked that all the time. Bonnie started saying on stage that all our middle names are Richard. But it’s a dick joke.”

SM: You’ve played cello for Bruce Hornsby, Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, Nathaniel Rateliff, Gloria Estefan, and Barry Manilow. What’s a good backstage story?

Adams: “Gloria Estefan is tiny. She’s a force of nature. She’s such a massive presence on stage. Super friendly – and not everyone at that level is. I lived in Miami and played in an ensemble that played with all these people.”

SM: You toured with Nathanial Rateliff.

Adams: “He booked a full international tour, and he basically took out his horn section and put in a string quartet. We played 10 shows and the pandemic hit.”

SM: Nathanial’s opening for Willie Nelson and headlining a sold-out Madison show (August 7 at the Sylvee) now.

Adams: “I don’t know how anyone Willie’s age (90) gets on a tour bus. Touring is hard even with the poshest arrangements. Willie – and Del McCoury – still play whole shows. It’s insane. I’m 34, and I’m just tired.”

SM: How does Big Richard tour?

Adams: “We own a van. We do 10- or 14-day runs. We’re also doing a workshop for youth in Madison. It’s good to see representation out there. If you’re a little girl, seeing a band of all women on stage having a lot of fun and pushing things with a great deal of energy, it’s inspiring. If we can push these kick-ass little girls to be the next generation of music, that would be our goal. And it’s good for boys to see women crushing it onstage, too.”

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