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Megg Farrell Finds Her Country Style

Megg Farrell & Friends including Ryan Weisheit, left and Megg Farrell, right.
Natalie Allante
Megg Farrell & Friends including Ryan Weisheit, left, and Megg Farrell, right.

The woman who fronts the Hot Jazz band Sweet Megg & the Wayfarers with Normal native and saxophonist Ryan Weisheit said a desire to tap into her folk and country roots was the impetus to morph into a different lineup with a new name.

Megg Farrell & Friends will appear on the Nightshop sign ahead of the July 11 show. From her home in Brooklyn, Megg Farrell said "Sweet Megg" is still a thing, but a desire to tap into country influences forced her hand.

“I tried to do it with Sweet Megg, but I realized it really doesn’t fit,” said Farrell.

She said those country tunes so dear to her still mostly fit with the Sweet Megg lineup.

“But the more rockin’ 70s stuff we’re doing, it’s electric, and that’s why it’s so awesomely fun,” said Farrell. “And Sweet Megg is so thoroughly not electric, because it’s old-time jazz. It’s acoustic.”

Billie Holiday caught Farrell’s attention at an early age, but so did Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris. She said the introduction to Cline was a serendipitous one. She was working as a high school intern cleaning a recording studio basement when a producer let her keep a pile of CDs lying around.

“And I found this Patsy Cline greatest hits and memorized the whole CD. I didn’t realize until I started playing these Patsy Cline songs how much memorizing that album had already affected my voice. I didn’t realize her influence over me had been stronger than I had given her credit for,” said Farrell.

The 2016 Megg Farrell release “Fear Nothing” is her most recent full-length recording, though she has released a single from an upcoming Megg Farrell & Friends album. She said fans of “Fear Nothing” will hear a similarity on the new album, but “Fear” is more of her original music where she put musicians together and figured out how to orchestrate the album from there.

“Now we finally have a band with a set group of people where we gig a lot together and have a relationship together with how we play the songs, so the recording basically just captured that,” said Farrell.

A holdover from the Sweet Megg lineup is Weisheit, a Normal Community High School grad, who met Farrell while gigging in New York City. But instead of saxophone, he’s plucking bass guitar in this band. It’s an instrument he picked up earlier this decade, saying it was more "neighbor-friendly" in a New York City apartment building.

“It’s been a fun challenge that rose out of necessity,” said Weisheit about playing bass in Farrell’s new lineup. “We had a hard time finding a reliable bass player, so I offered to take that role. I’m having a blast.”

Farrell added that Weisheit also now helps with vocal harmonies.

“That’s honestly one of the main reasons I kind of hired him for the band,” said Farrell, adding that the also romantically linked couple were actively trying to not play in another band together. Hey … but a good bass player who can also sing good harmonies? It was too much to pass on.

“All these old country songs have killer three-part harmonies,” said Farrell. “And I was doing some of these Emmylou Harris songs, and he could just pick up harmonies so well and has such a nice tone with his voice. His ‘mellotone’ blends so well with mine. So not only does he do all the harmonies, he helps kind of orchestrate the three of us.”

This will be a new dimension to hometown fans, who mostly know Weisheit as a talented horn player. He said he’s always enjoyed singing, but didn’t get serious about it until he went on the road with fellow Twin City native Pokey LaFarge.

“I sang a lot of vocals in that band,” said Weisheit. “That kind of gave me the bug. And now Megg has me on a nice practice routine. So I’m starting to treat voice as another instrument rather than something I casually do on the side.”

Megg Farrell & Friends, with Nick Africano and Karen Bridges also on backing vocals, plays Nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Wednesday, July 11.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.