Sierra Hull at the 2017 annual Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival – photo by Pamm Tucker
It is not new news that Hull’s inspiration comes from the voice and style of Alison Krauss. Sierra cut her teeth on bluegrass music, and has constructed her own style and tradition on the roots of the music that initially grabbed her attention. With bluegrass music as her firmest foundation, an exploration of other acoustic styles and a music school education has allowed her to evolve into the musician that she is today. She say that starting out with a band, and more recently pursuing a solo career, has provided her greater freedom. “I have been all over the map searching for my inspiration.” Inspiration might simply be one of the words to describe her performance that Saturday evening in Guthrie, OK.
Byrdstown, TN was where Sierra was born in 1991, with her family stoked by the musicality of bluegrass. At the age of 8, Sierra asked for a fiddle, but soon realized it was too big for her small hands, so after much prodding her Dad taught her a few chords on the mandolin. By the time she was 12, with a lot of strides under her belt, the IBMA contacted Hull and her parents about her appearing on a series of DVD’s titled Discover Bluegrass to interest younger people in the music. After taking her first airplane ride to Chicago, Sierra and Ryan Holladay played side by side for the film.
Little did Sierra realize that not only did she get her first set of “wings,” but she would soon be soaring to unknown heights within the world of music. After her first Grand Ole Opry appearance only a little over a year later, Rounder Records picked her up and released her first wide distribution album, Secrets, in 2008.
Hulls’ mandolin style has been compared to Adam Steffey, but Sierra also found herself entranced by the talents of Tony Rice, Chris Thile, and Ricky Skaggs, as well as Blue Highway.
Sierra’s latest CD, Weighted Mind (released in February 2017), was produced by Béla Fleck with special performances by Alison Krauss, Rhiannon Giddens, Abigail Washburn and Fleck, himself. Written to accentuate Hull’s talents, she didn’t want it all to be about her, so Sierra incorporated the bass skills of Ethan Jodziewicz with her vocals and mandolin licks.
During our interview in Guthrie, Hull stated, “Weighted Mind is a song that defines where I think I am today. At a very vulnerable time, and still trying to figure it all out. Tonight while I sang this song, I felt the emotion of the words appealing to me.”
Traditionally developed in bluegrass, Hull took the stage with Byron Berline, and accompanied him on his own tune Gold Rush.
As I was sitting on my golf cart, alongside Bette Berline, Bette summed up the performance perfectly. “She has everyone mesmerized.”
Hull has came out of her cocoon much like a butterfly, and has developed her own style without getting away from her roots. Though small in stature, Sierra Hull is without a doubt a giant in the world of bluegrass.