by Kathleen Larrick
With three Grammy nominations, three full-length studio albums and a laundry list of star collaborators under her belt, Sarah Jarosz still has a lot to look forward to. This velvety-voiced darling of bluegrass was born in 1991, so I’ll let you do the math, but even more astounding is the agelessness of her songwriting. The tales Jarosz weaves could be the recollections of a seasoned old picker or discoveries of a beautiful teenage girl. “I buried my heart in a willow tree. You came along, gave it back to me.”
Timeless lyrics, that haunting voice and some serious chops have earned her a home in the Sugar Hill Records family and a spot on the stage next to her childhood heroes like Chris Thile, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Earl Scruggs. While Jarosz has known these folks since she was just a kid, she’ll assure you the wonder never quite wears off.
Jarosz began picking on a borrowed mandolin at just nine years old. While most songwriters begin on guitar, Jarosz says the mando was just the right size for a young girl. Also, she just loved that sound. Summers at camps like Rocky Grass and Wintergrass exposed her to new styles, more instruments and some serious bluegrass royalty. But when did she decide to step away from traditional standards and begin writing her own tunes?
“I had always kinda messed around making up little tunes for as long as I can remember,” she says. Her inspiration? “In terms of wanting to make my own songs, I think it was a combination of my mom who’s been singing and playing guitar and writing songs her whole life. I think having that influence always around and her prodding along to at least give it a try and to think it was something that could actually be a reality, that was a big part of it early on.”
While the support and influence of her family lit the songwriting spark, Jarosz’s mentors fanned the flame. “The musicians I was really drawn to were the kinds of people that were great singers and great musicians and great songwriters as well… I thought, “That’s what I wanna’ do!” The triple threat, so to speak… It just happened kinda’ naturally and organically.”
As one of those rare triple threats, Jarosz offers some advice. In the bluegrass scene, her youth and gender make her all the more exceptional. “There are moments that will be daunting, but you just have to put yourself out there and be willing to learn.” In the presence of greatness at a festival jam, Jarosz displayed the confidence to showcase her talent and the modesty to absorb every lesson she could learn.
So, what’s next? Following an intense spring tour schedule comes her favorite time of year: Festival Season. While in school, summer was the time of year Jarosz could really tour, and her enthusiasm hasn’t waned since graduating from New England Conservatory of Music. I’m especially excited for her debut at the Steel Wheels’ Red Wing Roots Festival this July in Mt. Solon, VA – and she loves the idea of playing a new fest. Of course, we can’t expect to keep her down on the farm all season. Just after Red Wing Roots, Jarosz is off to the UK for an end of summer tour. Radio spots, interviews, festivals, international tours… she has certainly taken on the full agenda of a touring musician. A glimpse at her upcoming schedule makes her lyrics ring even truer. “I made time when time was all but gone.”