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Bluegrass artist returns to her roots

April 10th, 2013

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Sun-Times Media

Renowned songwriter and musician Kathy Kallick has been described as a "mountain gal at heart" but she grew up in Evanston and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1975.

"There are lots of urban people who started out listening to rock and roll, and from that wound their way to folk music, and in the pockets of folk music found a traditional form that resonated with them," Kallick said. "Something ancient just grabs you."

So why did this Chicago native move to California in 1975?

"I originally wanted to be a painter, would ditch school and take the el to the Art Institute to look at the paintings," she said. "I could have attended the Art Institute in Chicago, but decided the music scene here would be too distracting."

So Kallick chose to attend the San Francisco Art Institute.

As it turned out, the vibrant bluegrass scene in the Bay area coaxed Kallick away from the easel and back into the music she grew up with, along with a progressive atmosphere that welcomed both female bluegrass artists and original songwriting — an ideal combination for Kallick.

Kallick became part of an all-female bluegrass band with Laurie Lewis called Good Ol' Persons in the mid-1970s, then moved on to form her own band while still collaborating with many artists and becoming a leading originator of the West Coast bluegrass sound. The Grammy winner has since released 17 albums.

"Steve Goodman was one of my inspirations. When I was in middle school, my mom took me to the Earl of Old Town and I saw Steve and John Prine there," said Kallick.

Her mother was the late Dodi Kallick, an outstanding folksinger and mountain dulcimer player prominent in the folk revival scene in Chicago, and instrumental in launching the No Exit Cafe in Rogers Park.

"Mom was the first person to perform at the No Exit, started with a kind of hootenanny," said Kallick.

The album cover of Kallick's "My Mother's Voice" contains a picture of Kallick with her mother.

"She helped choose the songs, and loved it when I sang the songs that she sang," said Kallick. "She enjoyed watching the arc of my career."

Her father, a classical guitarist who lives in Wilmette, was also "taken by folk music" according to Kallick. Her most recent album "Time" includes vintage pictures of the band, with a young Kallick shown holding her dad's guitar.

"My dad is always a big instigator in getting me back to Chicago," she said.

Kallick, who resides in Oakland with her husband Peter, is excited about her return to the area to see family and friends, and to perform her first concerts here in over a year and a half.

She's also looking forward to some of Chicago's natural sights.

"The thaw in spring is so dramatic, and I love the waves of Lake Michigan crashing while driving along Lake Shore Drive," she said.