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Back to Basics: Nashville's Phoebe Hunt strips back to voice and violin for B-N debut at Destihl

A woman lounges on a comfy couch, smiling and looking down at her violin. She is seated next to a sunny window with a fichus plant over her shoulder.
Courtesy of Phoebe Hunt
Phoebe Hunt has put out five albums in nine years with her band The Gatherers, but a solo set this Saturday in Normal focuses solely on violin and voice. The exclusive concert previews songs from her forthcoming album, "Nothing Else Matters," set to be released in July.

Born and raised in Texas, Phoebe Hunt picked up the violin at 6 years old. She grew up around music and first took formal lessons at the Austin Montessori School.

“We weren’t, like, a wealthy family or anything,” Hunt said in an interview with WGLT. “We just got access to the school because my mom was a teacher. So that was pretty amazing to have that opportunity.”

Hunt is now based in Nashville, but regularly spans the country with an eclectic collection of roles in the music industry. She teaches; tours with her band, The Gatherers; and runs a nonprofit organization with her younger sister aimed at increasing access to learning an instrument.

In other words, Hunt is busy! She was in Colorado on Monday running between teaching a violin lesson and a recording session. And Saturday, she’ll play a one-night-only solo set in Normal on the way to Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City.

Hunt’s Twin City debut at Destihl is the second of four concerts in the new TourBus Concert Series, conceived and produced by local favorite Edward David Anderson and Black Dirt Management. Designed to be treated as a listening room, the vibe is distinctly chill. Concertgoers are encouraged to lean in and keep quiet – giving the artists a platform for sparse instrumentation and intimate storytelling.

As a kid, Hunt studied the Suzuki Method, a training philosophy for learning stringed instruments commonly seen in Western classical music traditions. And she found early success.

“When I was in high school, I joined a string quartet and we played, like, 100 weddings,” she said. “My high school orchestra director was our booking agent. I don’t know how that happened, but Acoustic Dreams String Quartet got a lot of weddings.”

A trip to the Suzuki Institute in Aspen, Colorado, while enrolled as a student at University of Texas led to taking over violin lessons at her former school.

“I all of a sudden had like 18 students,” she said. “I sort of fell into running an entire music studio – probably the best job of my life.”

To be clear, Phoebe Hunt is not just a classical musician.

She fell in love with the fiddle in college, too. While a violin and a fiddle are technically the same instrument, they are distinct playing techniques.

“I had the virtuosity, but I didn’t know how to do it without reading music,” Hunt said.

Hunt discovered Americana music and went down nearly every possible musical rabbit hole she could, attending fiddle camps and exploring Austin’s rich music scene in bars and clubs.

“I started learning as much as I could about jazz, swing, Cajun, old time, Appalachian, blue grass, country,” she said. “You play all those slightly differently on the violin.”

While some crossover artists reject their past training, Hunt sees her journey as an additive one.

“Why would you want to reject something that’s so beautiful?” she said, though she admits that she doesn’t necessarily take people noticing her classical training as a compliment.

“It’s almost like I did it wrong; I messed up," she said. "It’s not an insult but it’s almost like, darn it, I didn’t sound like a fiddler today. But that’s not to say the classical background is not valuably or worthy. It’s a great lens.”

Hunt describes her grab bag of influences as “Mystical Indie Folk,” a term she made up to fold in eastern influences gained from time spent in India with her eclectic indie folk sound. But her set at Destihl is decidedly folk, with pared down versions of a few songs from previous albums transcribed from her full band to violin and voice, plus an exclusive preview of her forthcoming July 2023 album that will focus solely on those two instruments.

Phoebe Hunt appears Saturday at Destihl’s Brewery and Beer Hall, 1200 Greenbriar Dr. in Normal. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. VIP tables for up to six people are available for $275. Details and tickets can be found at destihl.com.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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