andrew kruse-ross | the annie moses band | aug. 2017
From Carnegie Hall to the Grand Ole Opry, the Annie Moses Band has captivated audiences with their unique blend of folk and classical music and energetic stage presence.
More than just a band, the Annie Moses Band is a family and was originally comprised of Juilliard-trained siblings Annie (lead vocals, violin) Alex (viola) and Ben (cello) accompanied by their father, award-winning composer and pianist Bill Wolaver. The band has since expanded to include family members Camille (harp/B3), Gretchen (violin/mandolin/guitar) and Jeremiah (guitar).
Green Bay audiences will get an opportunity to witness the band live as part of the Cup O Joy 2017 Benefit Concert held at the Meyer Theatre on September 9.
Annie Wolaver-Dupre was kind enough to answer some questions via telephone from her home in Nashville to discuss the band's history, influences and the upcoming show.
Starting off lightly, how often are you mistaken for Annie Moses and I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about who the band is named after?
Oh, yes, all the time. When I was born my mother named me after our great grandmother Annie Moses. And this was many, many years before we had any concept of starting a family band, but when we began making music as a family, we began to trace back the lineage of our music and found that that story went back to Annie Moses.
She was a sharecropper's wife and worked cotton fields and she had a really hard life during the years of the Great Depression. She died very young, in her 40s, of cancer, but her legacy is very powerful in the sense that her daughter Jane became our grandmother and Jane had a really incredible, natural music ability. Annie did the very best she could with their meager means to cultivate that talent and that's what really began this legacy of parents investing in the talents of their children and that grew over four generations into the Annie Moses Band.
It isn't unusual to learn, when speaking with recording artists, that many of them began playing at an early age or grew up in a musical family, but in your case that family is still together and making music. Was sticking together as a family, musically, always a goal shared by you and your siblings?
When we were in high school that was really the turning point for us. My parents were in music professionally in Nashville and my mother was very type-A ... My parents really had two missions. The first was they felt they had a spiritual calling to the arts and the fact that the arts equip you to communicate the things that you know, so there was definitely a philosophical approach to music that all their children were going to study music and that it was all going to be a tool by which we would become great communicators.
They also know that a lot of people kind of wait until it's too late to decide that they want to pursue music. You kind of sit around and waste your time while you're young and by the time you're 16 or 17 you say, hey I'd really like to do this maybe and at that point, for most people, it's really too late to turn that switch on. For my parents they wanted us to have the chops that if we wanted to be pros, we could.
That ambition took us to the Juilliard School and we thought that we'd pursue classical string careers, but that was kind of not the plan for us. It was something where we got to New York and we were very successful and we got scholarships through the school and we were very honored in the process because we had great experiences there … but we found that we were struggling with the joy of music. At some point you wake up and you say do I really want to play these concertos for the rest of my life?
At that point we began talking about how we had always made music together as a family, but we'd never considered it a professional endeavor. That's when we starting working on the idea of the Annie Moses Band. I was 17 or 18 years old at the time. We were very, very young looking back at it now. It's amazing to look back and see we've been doing this now for 15 years. The Lord's been very faithful to us, but we've also found a lot of success due to the fact that my parents made excellence in our craft such a high priority when we were growing up.
I think you've joked before that the Annie Moses Band may be the only band in the world that can perform the 'Orange Blossom Special' and an Al Green song in the same show; can you talk a little bit about your broad range of influences and also provide a little glimpse as to what your setlist may look like in September at the Meyer Theatre?
Yes, we're going to pull from several projects. I think we're unique in that way; I do laugh and joke about the fact that you'll hear 'Orange Blossom Special' and Al Green in the same show. I think as far as our influences go, studying classical music was a big influence, and our father, Bill, is an incredible arranger, orchestrator, and the very complex, signature string sound is due very much to his skill compositionally. So songs like “Rhapsody in Bluegrass" for instance or the songs we're known for at Christmastime are born out of his skill. The Annie Moses Band, really since its inception, became known for taking a known quantity — a known song — and flipping it on its head. That became very important to our sound.
The instrumental side is one thing, on the vocal side there have been so many inspiration points. I think we're really just drawn to great songs and great songwriters. In some ways that carried over from our classical training; in classical music there's great emphasis upon musical curation — taking great musical pieces of the past and recreating them and rediscovering them. I think we've carried that over into a pop sensibility.
That show in September will be a benefit concert for Cup O Joy, which is fast approaching thirty years of bringing national Christian recording artists to this part of Wisconsin. What they've done and keep doing through volunteer commitment and a donation only basis is really quite an accomplishment. Is there a sense maybe within the band of how much this concert will impact a community?
Yes! We've experienced Cup O Joy from multiple angles. We've played at The Cup multiple times, it's been several years at this point, but we were very honored to be a part of the benefit.
Music, for a lot of people, kind of exists out there in this celebrity center that's part of this untouchable orb of stars and celebrities. In some ways, I think that's a great tragedy because I think music is meant to be experienced as artists who are loving not only the process of making music but also really enjoy making music together; that spills onto the audience too and I think the people at The Cup want to bring that to the people of Green Bay. Their legacy in that way is very powerful.
The arts themselves are extremely powerful in a culture. Whenever you step on a stage and sing a song you're communicating some set of values — love, death, belief — and that's true whether you're coming at it from our perspective or The Cup's perspective as Christian music artists or if you're coming from another perspective … but to have a place, a venue, that's so dedicated to bringing not only artists of great quality, but messages that there's great fruit in our culture, it's just a powerful thing. I think those messages that inspire people toward love and forgiveness and faith and loyalty, all of those things are common values that we can share together and celebrate.
What does a typical Annie Moses Band audience look like? Are your crowds as diverse as your song selections?
The answer is yes. We have everybody from grandmas down to teenagers at a show. I think a lot of people are drawn to the Annie Moses Band, not because of genre, but because of the joy and inspiration of what [the Annie Moses Band] is musically. There's always the wow factor of the string playing, but a lot of people come back —there was a man the other day who told me he was about to attend his 80th concert of the Annie Moses Band — the reason he comes back over and over again is because there's a life that spills over to him every time he comes to see a show. That's a great honor for us to know and experience and it blesses us every time we play.
Tickets for the Cup O Joy Benefit Concert featuring the Annie Moses Band and spotlight artists Danen Kane and Ash Bultman are available at Cup O Joy, 232 S. Broadway (weekend nights), Lighthouse Books, 2781 S. Oneida St. or online at iTickets.com.
For an extensive look at the Annie Moses Band visit their channel on YouTube.com.
For 'Music that Inspires' visit CupOJoy.com.
Our complete conversation with Annie can be read online at FranklyGreenBay.com.