Sheffield Greystones date for for outspoken all-female bluegrass band Della Mae

When Della Mae got together in Boston 10 years ago, one of their main ambitions was to rattle the cage of the male-dominated music scene.

Sunday, 12th January 2020, 10:00 am
Bluegrass band Della Mae, who are playing in Sheffield
Bluegrass band Della Mae, who are playing in Sheffield

They have gone on to widespread acclaim as all-female acoustic band, entrenched in the bluegrass culture but prepared to branch out into adjoining musical fields.

A check on their musical history reveals covers of songs by the likes of Lester Scruggs, the Allman Brothers, the Everly Brothers and Chaka Khan.

The common factors are their sterling musicianship, fine harmonies and exuberant live shows.

Della Mae continue to win friends and can expect the list to lengthen thanks to a brief British tour,.

It sees the Nashville-based five-piece at The Greystones in Sheffield on Saturday, January 25 – three nights before an appearance at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow.

A glorious array of American and Canadian roots bands have stopped off in Sheffield 11 in recent years – and Della Mae are a welcome addition.

Alongside their music, though, is another strong voice, as advocates for women's rights.

The band took their name from a woman who pops up in numerous bluegrass songs as a victim of physical abuse, and they have travelled to more than 30 countries in an attempt to improve opportunities for women.

Fiddle player Kimber Ludiker (a two-time national champion) says: “From the beginning this band has been about reclaiming or changing the conversation for women, especially those whose stories haven’t been told.”

There is no slackening of the commitment with their fourth album, Headlight, which is described as “a compilation of our victories, our personal sorrow, our frustration and most importantly our optimism for the future”.

The title track is a response to Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the American Senate, accusing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

“All the rage and sadness and disbelief I felt came out in that one song,” says lead singer and guitarist Celia Woodsmith.

“I was really struck by the thought of women like Dr Ford and Anita Hill standing up like that, even though they knew it would destroy their lives.

“It’s so painful to watch, but hopefully it’ll end up illuminating the path ahead for other women.”

Another track on Headlight sums up Della Mae’s approach.

“There’s a line in The Long Game that says ‘Ain’t in it for my health, that’s for damn sure,’ which I think captures us really well,” says mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner.

“We do this for the love and the message and the passion of it, and there’s never a moment where we’re like, ‘Yes, we’ve made it!’

“We just keep going and keep trying to affect people positively, because that’s all we really can do.”

Support at The Greystones comes in a similar vein from a Manchester-based trio, Jaywalkers.

They play Americana, bluegrass and country on double bass, mandolin and fiddle with three-part harmony.