In fulfilling its mission to present folk and acoustic music in an intimate setting, Focus Music will offer a double bill on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 10. Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes and the Meghan Cary Trio will take the stage at Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville. The ensembles, who are “musical friends,” share an appreciation for the power of singing together and a preference for music that conveys a message or emotion.
Singing was a fact of life for Cincinnati, Ohio-born and bred Wolfson. Not only was he in choral groups and musical theater shows as a child, but also, his father had “a great voice” and “everyone in the family sang. I have fond memories of us all in a car when a song would come on – and we’d spontaneously burst into four-part harmony.”
Guitar came a bit later. “I have been playing original folk and folk rock songs since age 13 – encouraged by my parents, not myself, to perform,” he said.
As a theater major and music minor at New York University, Wolfson studied all kinds of music — from jazz to Gregorian chant as well as theory and sight-singing. “I was never one who felt you had to focus on one style only. For better or for worse, that carries over into the band,” he observed. As such, he noted that his now Brooklyn, New York-based, “principally folk rock band … brings in influences from multiple genres. Especially with six of us, all from different places in the country originally, we bring in different influences to make a beautiful Americana soup.”
Wolfson “finds influences in plenty of other styles,” he added. “I love a lot of the British stuff… and a lot of the fringe stuff … I think you can learn from everything.” He prefers “emotional music with lyrics that say something,” and the importance of being able to “make the audience laugh as well as cry.”
Playing multiple times at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and being selected the Most Wanted Artists at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival are among Wolfson’s proudest accomplishments to date. He is similarly pleased that both “Life on Fire” and “Welcoming the Flood” were on the list of most played folk albums of the year they came out. Two other recordings, one featuring original material “more brazen in its styles and arrangements,” and one of cover songs,” are now in the works.
As for Focus Music, Wolfson appreciates the “fantastic organization’s” intimate atmosphere and acoustic bent. “I think it’s always great for us to strip the songs down acoustically, so that people really focus on the songwriting and the musicianship of the band. But it also gives us the ability to really connect with our audience in a way that you just can’t anywhere else.”
Fun is the main goal, he maintained. “If you like biting wit and high-energy songs, we have you covered. If you want moments of pathos and story ballads, we’ve got you as well. We don’t do concerts as much as emotional experiences. For us, the show is a party and the audience members aren’t spectators – they’re invited to join in. It’s always a hoot to see folks get up and dance.”
The experience, he added, “is even ramped up a notch when we share a bill with a musical friend. Meghan (Cary) is a force of nature, and her group is great fun.”
Unlike Wolfson, Cary grew up in a non-musical family, the youngest of five children born to a nurse and an adolescent psychiatrist in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She studied drama and chemistry at Duke University, then earned a master of fine arts degree at Florida State University’s Asolo Conservatory for Professional Actor Training.
Music began as a personal effort to deal with grief after Cary’s fiancé died. “I picked up his guitar, taught myself how to play some chords and wrote my grief into songs. I had no intention of playing them for anyone else,” she said. But “someone sent a copy” of “New Shoes,” the “recording of the handful of songs I’d written to give to my late fiancé’s mom and some of my friends” to Billboard Magazine, which earned her the Critic’s Choice for Best Newcomer.
Although Cary “took some guitar lessons as an adult, and a lot of voice lessons from different teachers along the way,” she credits “most of what I draw upon on stage” to her acting studies at Duke, Asolo and The Actor’s Studio in New York City. “When I made my second huge career shift from acting to music after Matthew died,” she said, “I learned music from whoever had something to share.”
A founding member of the New York-based Actor’s Shakespeare Company, Cary continues to act and has “supported my music habit with voice-overs and on-camera commercials for years.” She also wrote and performed a one-woman show, “On the Way to the Waterfall” about her “struggle to finally own music as my own” and is collaborating on a Broadway musical.
Cary said her preference is for “music with a message or at least a strong emotional impact. I love a good groove, but listen first and foremost for lyrics.”
Thus far, Cary’s “recently released second record, ‘Sing Louder,’” she said, “(has) been the most rewarding musical experience in my career.” She invited 48 fans and friends to sing on two of the songs. “I wanted them on the record because that’s how I experience my music at live shows – with everyone singing back at me. I wanted to capture that on the record,” she explained.
Like Wolfson, Cary believes in performers and audience members singing together. “Something profound happens when we sing together,” she said. “Raising our voices together causes a shift in energy that is exhilarating, empowering and joyous. The energy in the studio as these 48 people donned headphones, stepped way out of their comfort zones and up to microphones to sing together was incredible. A profound experience.” The resulting recording was “named top album of the year by folks I really respect and admire,” she added.
At the Focus show, Cary plans to perform “music that will make you think and feel and hopefully inspire you to share your own story.” Having played for Focus as well as at area house concerts, she also looks forward to seeing some old friends.
On Sunday evening, Wolfson predicts, “there will be laughter, maybe some tears, and definitely opportunity for everyone in the room to raise their voices with me and each other. When we raise our voices, we are heard — and that is more important than ever these days.”
Focus Music presents Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes and the Meghan Cary Trio at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at Tikvat Israel Congregation, 2200 Baltimore Road, Rockville. For tickets — $18 online in advance, $20 at the door — visit www.focusmusic.org/concertcarywolfson. For information, visit www.focusmusic.org or call 301-461-3600.