For Po’ Girl, home is where the harmony is
Speaking from a gas station in Canada on her band’s way to Vancouver, singer Allison Russell shares her admiration for one B.B. King—because of his admiration for the road.
“B.B.’s an example of a true performer who loves his audience and what he does,” she begins. “He says, ‘Nobody pays me to play, they just pay me to travel.’ I think that’s how we feel about what we do as well.”
Referencing her three bandmates in Po’ Girl, the founding member of the 6-year-old Canadian urban roots ensemble admits that although they love being a crew of troubadours, they are now “consciously attempting to have a little balance.” That “balance” has translated into two new CD releases this summer (Deer in the Night and Po’ Girl Live) and a change from 300 shows last year to just over 250 this year—that’s not exactly the most relaxing schedule.
But for Russell and co-frontwoman Awna Teixeira, an untraditional life on the run is no new thing. Each singer-songwriter avoided troubled situations at the age of 14 by seeking refuge in the outside world of a big city—and in music.
“Awna and I both left home very early and I was really lucky in that I was in a city that had a lot of 24-hour things,” the Montreal native remembers. “I had enough friends that I could shuffle around from one couch to another and sometimes spend all night in a 24-hour café, playing chess with random strangers who came in, writing the beginnings of my first songs, reading, and just being fairly safe in an unsafe situation. I met a bunch of musicians who’d come in late night to eat and drink, and that was my first inkling that you could play music [as a career].”
With music serving as the thread that kept the two women “healthy and self-loving” during their lives as runaways, Russell calls both singers, and their music with Po’ Girl, products of an urban environment despite the old-timey apparatus and twang they employ. Though the band draws from country, blues, old jazz, and folk roots, and has a name that honors an earlier period of New Orleans jazz (it’s a take on the Louisiana Po’ Boy sandwich), Russell says that Po’ Girl is made up of “modern people who play music in modern settings of the city.”
Proficient multi-instrumentalists who enjoy musical chairs onstage with their collection of guitars, banjo, clarinet, accordion, electric bass, gutbucket bass, glockenspiel, Wurlitzer, and bicycle bell, Russell and Teixeira are best known for weaving the most natural tools they possess—their vocal harmonies. Telling their personal histories in songs that combine their stunning pipes into a powerhouse combo, the two can sing smooth, seductive melodies against a klezmer backdrop. And they’re known to attract a crowd just as diverse as their sound.
With everyone from 88-year-old grandmothers to transgendered anarchist punks having been magnetized by their show, Russell and Teixeira stir together down-home, country atmospherics with city wit and banter. The pair, guitarist Benny Sidelinger, and drummer JJ Jones return to Felton for this week’s special Thanksgiving Eve performance at Don Quixote’s, 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
Before hanging up the phone to head off to a mechanic to check on their van’s latest “brake and rotor issues,” the result of Po’ Girl’s relentless touring, Russell says that her life of wandering now has direction. And even though the band will spend this year’s Thanksgiving holidays (Canadian and American) on the road, a sense of family and familiarity remains in tact.
“Things are always in flux with our life and that’s one of the things we adjust to constantly,” she says. “But we have each other and wonderful fans and friends, so we always end up having a feeling of home everywhere we go.”
Po’ Girl performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Highway 9, Felton. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door. For more information, call 603-2294.