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Travis Book Happy Hour featuring Cristina Vane & Mike Ashworth
July 28 @ 7:00 pm
The Travis Book Happy Hour is a 90 minute variety show hosted by Travis Book; bassist, songwriter, and vocalist in the Grammy Award winning bluegrass band, The Infamous Stringdusters, streaming live from the historic Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC. Born from his desire to bring musicians and friends together for collaboration and conversation, Travis launched the series in the summer of 2020 amidst the uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis and a country divided. Faced with a cascade of existential questions about the nature of life and of being, Travis sought an outlet for inquiry, and individuals to help him dig deeper into what it means to be a musician and a creative being in the context of an ever-changing world. Unique, spontaneous musical collaboration with friends and contemporaries leads to singular moments of harmony and the occasional musical train-wreck… The Travis Book Happy Hour is his attempt to shine light into the darkest corners of our lives; to dive deep into the nature of our being and emerge bathed in the love, happiness, grace, and gratitude that’s available to us all, and hopefully, to make some beautiful, meaningful music along the way.
Born in Italy to a Sicilian-American father and a Guatemalan mother, Cristina Vane has always had a tenuous relationship with identity and place. She grew up between England, France and Italy, and was fluent in four languages by the time she moved to her fathers’ native United States for university at 18. Despite this, (and perhaps because of it) she had no sense of belonging to any one culture or country. What she did have, however, was an intense love of music. Powered by her signature take on blues and rock, Vane’s debut album, Nowhere Sounds Lovely, documents her first summer-long tour across the United States, during which she came face to face with the breadth and depth of the American landscape, and her own place within it.
Although Vane claims to feel like an outsider still, it’s safe to say that she has dug into American culture more than many Americans will in their lifetimes. She first encountered slide guitar while performing her original music at a weekly gig in Camden, London during a summer home from college. “From then on I got really into pre war era blues”, she explains, “I do like some electric blues, but honestly my favorite years are 1890 to 1950-1960.” Vane credits Skip James, Robert Johnson, and Blind Willie Johnson, as well as Rory Block as some of her greatest influences.
After graduating from Princeton with a degree in Comparative Literature, Vane moved to Los Angeles where she worked at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and spent every free moment working on her music, studying fingerstyle guitar with mentor Pete Steinberg. Those years pushed her into deeper exploration of country blues picking and old folk guitar styles. Vane’s fingerstyle guitar skills are on full display on the gospel-inspired “Heaven Bound Station”, and “Driving Song”, on which she picks out a dark modal melody on a grungy electric guitar to accompany her haunting voice.
After almost four years in Los Angeles, Vane began to feel stagnant, and decided that it was time to take her music on the road. During that time she had built up a solid following on Instagram, so she reached out to her network of fans for help in booking a tour. An outpouring of support ensued, and she was able to book a five month cross-country tour, playing at small bars, breweries, coffeeshops, and clubs, in peoples backyards, through these connections. She crashed with friends, kind strangers, or slept in a tent. She spent days off camping at National Parks. “It was the best summer of my life”, she recalls, “most of the songs on this record were written during that tour. On one of the album’s standout tracks, the slow country waltz “Dreaming of Utah”, Vane sings, “Woke up dreaming of Utah / the sweat and the dirt / how my feet led me closer / to a little self worth.”
“My favorite part about traveling across the country was reclaiming my American heritage, which was very difficult to figure out.” she explains. “Anywhere I went I had my anthropological hat on, watching how people talk and interact. There were new places that sometimes felt totally familiar and sometimes completely foreign. Each pocket of the country has its unique flavor, and discovering the musical stylings that go along with that really informed this record. I knew virtually nothing about country, old-time and bluegrass music until I ventured to the American South, but seeing those different musical traditions on a local level was inspiring.”
Exploring the various regions of America allowed Vane to feel more comfortable with her own musical and cultural voice. “I have had thoughts about, ‘can I sing this, am I allowed to write blues songs, etc’” she explains, “which has been an interesting thing to navigate, and do with respect, but the thing is I’m not from any one place, so I don’t have a style I can call my own. American music can mean so many different things”.
On one of the album’s later tracks, “Wishing Bone Blues”, Vane’s emotive slide guitar sings unison with her voice, as she explains “I’ve seen gold up on the mountain, and drank silver from that fountain, and I’m out here, and I’m wishing, once again.” One can almost feel Vane’s heartfelt wish to belong
Following her cross-country journey, Vane relocated to Nashville where she hoped to find a larger community of like-minded musicians. Working with Grammy-award winning drummer and producer Cactus Moser (known for his work with Wynonna Judd) on Nowhere Sounds Lovely was assurance enough that she’d come to the right place. “When it came to the album, I wanted it to be a reflection of who I am, not just of the old music that I’ve come to love”, she explains, “and I’m essentially a rock kid who is obsessed with old music.” Moser also played drums on the record, and his style “has some grit and some rock, mixed with these really awesome references to traditional roots music”, says Vane. The album was engineered by Rodney Dawson, and also features bass player Dow Tomlin, fiddle player Nate Leath, and pedal steel player Tommy Hannum. These players imbued her blues rock sound with tinges of country and old time for the first time in her career, reflecting the expansion of her own musical palette that summer.
Vane’s perspective on American music is decidedly a unique one, but absolutely an authentic one, and if Nowhere Sounds Lovely, is any indication, Blues is all the better for her arrival.