Nine Questions with Caroline Keys

Name: Caroline Keys

Birthplace: Bamberg, South Carolina, USA

Currently residing: Missoula, Montana

Musical past and present in one rambling run-on sentence:

Bamberg, South Carolina
1975 – Hello, world!
Charlotte, North Carolina
1976 – First musical memory: my parents singing John Hartford’s “Don’t Leave Your Records in the Sun.”
1977 – Dad records he and I singing a song about moonshine to tape.
1978 – Learn to operate tape player myself, turn the page when the bell chimes.
1979 – Pick nose through preschool Christmas program while dressed as a red jingle bell.
Statesville, North Carolina
1980 – Learn to operate record player.  Use that power to play “Mickey Mouse Disco,” “Sgt Pepper(side A),” and “The Chipmunks go Hollywood.”
1981 – Class learns birthday song for our school principal.  Why I can still sing it today I do not know.
1982 – Parents buy piano (probably to get me to quit picking out tunes on the telephone), put me in lessons.
1983 – Suzuki violin lessons on full-sized violin my Great Great Great Uncle in West Virginia built.  His daughter refused to take it to Julliard because it was too heavy.  So it was, like, perfect for a seven-year-old, right?
Lynchburg, Virginia
1984 – Become obsessed with musical comedy “The Pirate Movie” starring Kristy McNichol and loosely based on “The Pirates of Penzance.”
1985 – Izzy Parker’s & my parody of “We Are the World” entitled “We Ate the World” is denied entry in school talent show.  “We ate the world / ’cause we were hungry /we’ll eat you too if you don’t give us some more money…”
1986 – When allowed to pick out one book from Sweet Briar University bookstore, choose “The Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan.”
1987 – Sing scales to the surnames of classmates in 7th grade chorus.  Favorite name to sing: Rumney.
1988 – Three words: “Endless Summer Nights” by Richard Marx.
1989 – First overnight choir trip w/ highschool Glee Club.  I learn a lot.  Like that upperclasswomen can lure upperclassmen into motel rooms by sweet-talking to them through the bathroom vents.
1990 – First rock concert: Crosby, Stills, and Nash at arena in Roanoke, Virginia.  The band thought they were in Cincinnatti.
1991 – See Paul Simon on “Born at the Right Time” Tour at DeanDome in Chapel Hill.  Do not faint and end up on his couch, per fantasy.
1992 – Check Yer Head, A Picture of Nectar, Automatic for the People, Body Count, Amused to Death, This One’s Gonna Hurt You, The Power of Pussy, Cereal Killers, Nothing’s Shocking, Breakfast Club Soundtrack, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, Gish, One From the Vault
Hertford Heath, United Kingdom
1993 – Sing Elgar’s “The Kingdom” in British prep school choir.  Sneak into boy’s dorm at night to listen to Alec Anderson play guitar.
Linville, North Carolina
1994 – Stay up too late singing duets with “Country Bob,” a dishwasher who is twice my age.
Jupiter Island, Florida
1995 – Go clubbing w/ fake ID. Buy Joe Montana a beer.
Chattanooga, Tennesee
1996 – Use tax return to buy first guitar.
1997 – Learn fancy chords from Grateful Dead & Indigo Girls songbooks
1998 – Send guitar (no case) to Montana sandwiched between a pillow and the ceiling of a Buick.  Follow behind it two weeks later on a Greyhound.
1999 – Wrap belongings in a maroon shower curtain, tie it to the roof of Kelli’s Subaru, and head West for good. Catch Phish play w/ Tim O’Brien, Bela Fleck, and Jerry Douglas in Nashville on the way out.
2000 – Decide that New Orleans is, indeed, on the way from Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Glacier National Park, Montana. So why not attend Jazzfest?!
Many Glacier, Montana
2001 – Live out John Hartford’s dream: “all I want to do in life is to pick and drive an old boat.”
Missoula, Montana
2002 – Enroll at University of Montana.  First week: attend Top Hat Picking circle without guitar.  Following weeks: learn a song a week to take to Top Hat Picking circle with guitar.
2003 – Join first band: Broken Valley Roadshow. Play guitar and sing.
2004 – Play first bluegrass festival.
2005 – Go to Weiser for the first time. Start writing music reviews for Missoula Independent and editing Montana Rockies Bluegrass Association Newsletter.
2006 – Marry lefthanded redheaded old time mando playing mountain man.
2007 – Broken Valley Roadshow represents USA at Nanning International Folk Festival in China.
2008 – Tour Holland with Whiskey Puppy.
2009 – Go to Mt Airy for the first time.
2010 – Take RPM (Record Production Month) Challenge. Write and record album in my living room.  Decide the RPM finish line is actually the starting line for a new project: Stellarondo.  Record Stellarondo album at Type Foundry in Portland with Adam Selzer.  Join New Hijackers. Start Top Hat’s Family Friendly Friday and Artist-in-Residence programs.
2011 – Play over 200 gigs with Broken Valley Roadshow, Him & Her, New Hijackers, The Tulis, Wise River Mercantile, Stellarondo, Whippletree, Big Kids Band.  Release Stellarondo record, take two tours of Pacific Northwest, artist residencies Seeley Lake (BVR) and Hobson, Montana, collaborate with Rick Bass scoring his short fiction, serve as Martha Scanlan’s back-up band.  Play first ever solo set.


1. Who are some of your favourite composers, musicians and bands from the past and present?

John Hartford, Gilbert & Sullivan, Uncle Dave Macon, Roger Miller, Stephane Grappelli, Edward Elgar, Shannon Hoon, Open Road, Jay Reatard, John Coltrane, Hazel Dickens, Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, Vic Chesnut, The Asylum Street Spankers, Bongwater, Mozart, Ollabelle Reed, Townes Van Zandt

The Heartless Bastards, Skerik, Bethany Joyce, Martha Scanlan, Richmond Fontaine, Grace Decker, Laura Viers, Gibson Hartwell, Wilco, Angie Biehl, Bobby Bare Jr, Lana Rebel, Nate Biehl, Graham Lindsey, Caleb Klauder, Travis Yost, Paul Brainard, Kelly Hogan, Amy Martin, Aaron Parrett, The Wilders, Brian Herbel, Charlie Parr, Yo La Tengo, Will Oldham, Chelle Terwilliger, Michael Hurley, Tom Catmull, Tuatara, The Magnetic Fields, Nick Jaina, Tyler Ramsey, Caliphone, Ivan Rosenberg, Sallie Ford, John Sporman, Leah Keys.
2. Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?: When Skerik comes in after Stanton Moore’s drum solo on “Angel Nemali” from the “All Kooked Out” CD.

“Tea in the Sahara” by The Police

When John Coltrane comes in towards the end of Miles Davis’ “Someday my Prince Will Come.”

“Fearless” by Pink Floyd

When “China Doll” finally arrives at the D.

“Seeds of the Pine” by Martha Scanlan.

Listening to “Rhythm of the Saints” in headphones.

The Red Hots.

Most all the sounds I am surrounded by in Stellarondo.

3. How would you describe your perfect day?

1. Take dog walk to swimming hole.
2. Eggs.
3. Write song.
4. Hot yoga.
5. Not have to talk until noon.
6. Play music with people.
7. Cuddle kitty.
8. Walk with a friend.
9. Spend time in canoe or soak in hot spring, depending on season.
10. Eat Cioppino at Scotty’s Table.
11. Talk to sister in Memphis on the phone.
12. Go for moonlit cross-country ski.
Most days I get do 3 or 4 of these things.  Grateful!

4. What would your friends say they appreciate the most about you?

Maybe listening?

5. What is your most valued material possession?

Right now I really love my banjo and Gibson GA-15 RV amp.

6. Who were you, or would you be nervous to meet?

I have a hard time recognizing faces, so I feel socially nervous a lot. I don’t think I would be able to say a thing to Gillian Welch.  Or maybe I wouldn’t recognize her and we could carry on a normal conversation?

7. If you could blink your eyes and be in a favourite place right now, where would that place be?

In a canoe at midnight at the outlet of Lake Josephine. In summer, on a full moon. With Robert Duvall.

8. Is there something you would like to do more of in the future?

I would like to see more of my family. I would like to drop thumb. I would like to spend more time on boats. Get more experience recording. Go for longer tours with Stellarondo. Volunteer more.

9. Where would you like to find yourself in ten years?

In ten years I hope I will have created something pretty. I would like to have made, and to continue to make good things. I would like to be doing my best work in 10 years. And even better work in 20, and so on. And I would like part of that best work to be in service of easing human suffering. The only way I would believe I’ve accomplished this if I were to open The New Yorker and find an Andy Friedman cartoon of Bono, Desmond Tutu, and me twisted up in some sort of yoga pose. Just kidding. The music community in Missoula amazes and inspires me today. I cannot wait to see where we all are 10 years from now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s