STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Singer Katherine Rondeau is starting to make her mark in the folk music scene in Philadelphia and beyond. She released her first full-length, produced album – “New Hope Chateau” – in October. And when it was released it garnered a spot on all 3 of the folk DJ charts.
Rondeau, who lives in Burlington Township, N.J., told me her story in a telephone interview from the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference in Stamford, Conn., where she was a featured performer, earlier this month.
“When I was younger, I played out,” said Rondeau. “I was folksy from the time I was 10 years old. I’ve been singing Bob Dylan (songs) since I could play guitar.”
Rondeau stopped performing, however, to pursue a career in academics.
“I got married and I worked and I was in college. I already (had) a bachelor’s degree. I went to school (and) I got a master’s degree at Temple and then I entered a doctoral program at Columbia University back in 2005. I spent 9 years going part-time working towards my doctorate (in education).
“I had done all my course work. I had passed my comprehensive exams. I had been certified as a candidate. What was ahead of me was 3 years in a room, every minute I wasn’t working, by myself studying and reading… I looked around and I said, ‘I don’t need to do that anymore.’ It was getting to the point where I needed to feed my soul and have a passion that feeds me. When I take care of it, it takes care of me.”
That passion, of course, is music.
“I picked up my guitar for the first time, literally, in about 10 years… My whole previous musical life, I had always been a singer. I played guitar but I really sang other people’s songs,” explained Rondeau. “I found that when I picked my guitar back up, I didn’t want to sing (other people’s songs). I wanted to sing my own songs.
“I started writing like a mad woman. I unleashed my creativity that I had been using in other ways. I’ve written probably 50 or 60 songs in the past year-and-a-half. It’s been an amazing experience to really put my emotions and my talent not just on a page but then putting it out there for others. Any time I can sing my songs to people who haven’t heard them before, it’s such an amazing feeling.”
And Rondeau decided “if I’m going to do this, I really want to do it as right as I can.”
She enlisted Grammy Award-winning producer Glenn Barratt of MorningStar Studios to produce and record the album.
“I first got interested in Morning Star after hearing Lizanne Knott, who is Managing Partner there, and I was looking for a studio that worked well with female singer-songwriters… I actually implored Glenn Barratt to be my producer. He wrote amazing arrangements. He took my songs… and we worked together collaboratively on making them really what I wanted them to be. He works with the best. I’m thrilled to have been able to work with him.”
Barratt enlisted some of the best musicians around to bring Rondeau’s songs to life, including Ross Bellenoit, Ron Jennings and Kevin Hanson (guitars), Chico Huff (electric bass), Jason Fraticelli and Ron Greenstein (upright bass), John Conahan (organ), Tom Hampton (baritone guitar and dobro), Gary Oleyar (fiddle), Mark Schultz (banjo), Cheryl Prashker (percussion) and Erik Johnson (drums). The album includes 8 original songs and covers by Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Odetta and Melanie.
It was not only a new experience for Rondeau working with a producer, it has been a new experience writing and performing her own songs.
“It’s been wonderful. I started performing at coffeehouses and open mics, really. I didn’t know anybody on the scene. That lead to opening for acts like Tracy Grammar and Garnet Rogers.”
Rondeau has performed at the renowned Philadelphia Folk Festival in both 2015 and 2016, which is not only rare but what she considers “an amazing honor.” She has also performed at other area venues including Burlap & Bean, Malelani Cafe, the Mermaid Inn and Godfrey Daniels. Her goals for 2017 include expanding her fan base and touring in other areas.
“My goal is to spread the music as far as I can. Some of my goals for 2017 are really to start doing a little touring up and down the eastern seaboard. One of the things I’m doing at NERFA is meeting with folks who run wonderful venues and run great house concert series so I can talk about getting up to Massachusetts and Vermont and Rhode Island and coming down to Maryland and DC.”
Rondeau will officially celebrate the release of “New Hope Chateau” at World Cafe Live. She will be accompanied by Erik Sayles (guitar), Chico Huff (bass) and Chuck Staab (drums).