Sarah Jarosz signs with Sugar Hill

Sarah Jarosz - photo by Todd V. WolfsonMuch of the bluegrass and acoustic music world has been buzzing this spring about Secrets, the debut CD from young phenom Sierra Hull – and rightly so. Just as folks in the business had been talking about Sierra for several years prior to her coming out party, they have been focusing as well on a teen aged picker from Texas, Sarah Jarosz.

At sixteen years old, Sarah is the newest artist signed to Sugar Hill Records by Gary Paczosa, the label’s Nashville-based A&R man who had previously brought Red Stick Ramblers and Donna The Buffalo to Sugar Hill. Sarah performs on banjo, guitar, mandolin and voice, and is a songwriter to boot. Her music, samples of which can be found on her MySpace page, defy easy categorization and show a startling level of maturity for such a young artist.

She has shared the stage with some of the most celebrated acoustic artists in string music, and performed at major festivals like Telluride, Wintergrass and RockyGrass plus a showcase during an IBMA Children’s concert at their annual Fan Fest.

Sarah with Mike Marshall at the 2006 Old Settlers Music Festival

We asked Sarah to tell us a bit more about herself and how she came to this point.

“I sing, play mandolin, guitar, clawhammer banjo, and some piano. I first started playing piano when I was about six years old, but the first instrument that I seriously fell in love with was the mandolin at age 10. Since then, I’ve developed an equal love for the clawhammer banjo, guitar, singing, and songwriting.

I first started songwriting when I was about 12 years old. Ever since, I’ve always put a lot of time and effort into writing as much as possible. I really love it. It’s the best way I can express myself. Nothing compares to the feeling I get when I finish a song. It’s pure bliss.

My family and I have always loved music ever since I can remember. Growing up, I was fortunate to be a part of a great music program from Pre-K through 8th Grade, under the direction of an amazing music teacher, Diana Riepe. The first music that really inspired me to want to start singing and playing was Hot Rize, Tim O’Brien Nickel Creek, Chris Thile and Abigail Washburn. I’d say the first experience that made me realize ‘Oh yeah… I definitely want music to play a major role in my life’ was when I first met Chris Thile at the Old Settler’s Music Festival about 8 years ago. He was playing there with Nickel Creek, and I went up to get his autograph, and he signed my program: ‘Let’s jam sometime.’

I knew at that moment that I wanted to become a good enough musician to be able to jam with him someday. Since then, I have been able to share music with him numerous times, and he has become one of my most influential mentors.

I usually perform as a solo artist. I don’t consider myself a part of a band at this point in time, but recently, I have been performing some of my shows with my invited guests, Sam Grisman and Alex Hargreaves, two amazing musicians and some of my closest friends. I like to keep an open mind when it comes to musical collaborations. One of the things that has been so special about my musical journey is all of the wonderful friends I have made who have a mutual love for music. It’s really such a pleasure and honor to be able to share music with all of these great musicians.”

Sarah at Wintergrass with Sam Grisman and Alex Hargreaves

“I met Gary Paczosa about a year ago at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival after he heard my performance there. Shortly after that, he invited me to do some demo work at his studio in Nashville. Gary is such a great guy, and he’s the best at what he does. He’s worked with some of the best artists in the music business and is a Grammy Award winning producer. It’s been so wonderful getting to know him over this past year. I really can’t say enough good things about him.

It’s looking like my first CD will be released around this time next year, in the spring of 2009. I’m so excited and honored to be a Sugar Hill Recording Artist! I am proud to be a part of a record label like Sugar Hill that has a long and distinguished history of supporting great artists and music. Everyone associated with Sugar Hill Records and the Welk Music Group has been so encouraging and supportive of my music and what I’m trying to accomplish as an artist.”

What about her future education?

“I plan on going to college. I attend a public high school where I’m finishing up my junior year, and I am in the top ten percent of my class and in the National Honor Society. Doing well in school has always been important to me. Both of my parents are teachers, and they have always been extremely supportive of my love for music. Throughout the past several years, I have figured out a way to balance school and music, and I am able to play gigs and tour around a bit while still going to a public high school. I definitely want to continue performing and touring and sharing my music with as many people as possible.

I consider myself both a ‘picker’ and a ‘writer.’ My main goal in life is to be the best singer, songwriter, musician, and person that I can be. I want to be great at it all, not just one particular facet.”

And what does this eclectic musician have on her iPod?

Currently, I’m listening to Chameleon by Tim O’Brien, Punch by the Punch Brothers, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet, and Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie.

Her debut CD isn’t due until Spring of next year, but Sugar Hill is already crowing about their young new signee. Gary Paczosa was quite generous with his praise.

“Sarah’s character is as strong as her playing. I think that she is the future of acoustic music. Working with her is as exciting as anything I have been involved in. Sarah is going to have an amazing career, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.