Sheer talent, a love of home and some Muscle Shoals magic make beautiful music for The Krickets.
By Steve Houk
During just about any evening down on the Florida panhandle, if you listen closely, along with the sounds of lapping waves or a distant boat horn…you can hear it.
Amidst the Gulf Coast’s swaying cypress trees and blowing palms, amidst the ambling gators, skittering lizards and floating pelicans, amidst the thick marshes and moonlit beaches, there is…music. Oh boy, is there ever. Singers and songwriters are plentiful and plenty talented down here, with many often writing musical homages to, and evoking the legendary lore of, this truly breathtaking part of the world.
No group of artists is more happily steeped in the innate beauty and fascination of their homeland than The Krickets, one of the Gulf Coast region’s musical treasures. A quartet of supremely talented women who recently found brilliance as a powerful folk/Americana quartet, there’s is a tale of four individual talents who became one big one. And no one is more appreciative of where they live, and what they write about, than they are.
“You cannot live here and not be touched by the beauty in what God put out there in front of you,” said Lauren Spring, one of the four multi-talented ladies who make up The Krickets. “It’s absolutely stunning. Every day, in some different way, it doesn’t matter if you’re staring at the water, or you’re staring at an eagle, you’re staring at something pretty awesome every single day. You can’t help being inspired, you can’t help writing songs about it. And to find a group of people who want to do that with you, and they’re like, pretty phenomenal? I’m gonna do it every day.”
That “group of people” are Spring’s beloved Krickets’ bandmates Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Katrina Kolb, and these four forces of nature, their beautiful harmonies wrapped around the sounds of mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and stand-up bass, are like one of those majestic osprey that you see soaring and then diving into the Gulf after fish: they’re flying high and on a mission. With their indigenous panhandle-bluegrass-meets-Americana sound — “swamp folk” as it’s been coined — they’re gigging consistently on the Gulf Coast and beyond to adoring crowds, were just named Best Folk Artist at the International Music and Entertainment Association’s (IMEA) Awards, and recently released their first record, Spanish Moss Sirens, which has not only garnered a slew of positive reviews, but was just nominated for three Independent Music Awards for Best Alt-Country Album, Concept Album and Folk Song (Cool Cool Water). Seems they’ve caught that fish.
The Krickets’ personal connections run deep and wide, sorta like the long strips of Gulf sand bar these ladies have spent time wading along. Sellers and Bowman played with each other years ago in their native Alabama, and after Bowman moved to Port St Joe on the eastern panhandle, she hooked up with Spring amidst some poignant circumstances surrounding a fund raiser for The Cricket Fund (thus the band’s name although with a “K”), which supplies free mammograms to local residents in memory of 22 year-old Port St Joe resident Kristina “Cricket” Russell, who died of breast cancer.
“Lauren was asked to play this Cricket Fund event because they wanted a female musician, and she wanted to have somebody play with her, and knew that I played,” Bowman said. “So we practiced I think one time, and then got together for the event, and we had so much fun practicing and playing that we decided that we wanted to do it as a weekly thing just so that we could get together and see each other and keep playing music. We had a connection on a couple of different levels.”
Sellers eventually moved to the Coast and joined up with Spring and old pal Bowman, and things clicked from minute one. “We knew it was magical,” said Spring. “The first time we heard our three part harmony, I looked around at the audience just to see if anyone else is like, hearing this, I mean, I was thinking, is anybody else picking up on this?” Then Sellers recruited her friend Kolb, and last fall, the Krickets were born. “I was like, you wanna come jam with us and (Katrina) was like, yeah!” Sellers said. “So we all got together, and that was another big explosion of awesomeness.”
After raising nearly $25,000 from fans and friends via Kickstarter to record Spanish Moss Sirens, The Krickets felt obligated to deliver a worthy product. “It makes you feel responsible to them, you’re accountable to give them something worth what they gave,” Spring said. The band first tried to book sessions at revered Muscle Shoals Sound, not just because of the studio’s legendary reputation, but also because of something deeper and even more meaningful. Bowman’s father had been close with the Swampers, Muscle Shoals’ storied group of session musicians, and after his passing a year before the Krickets’ sessions, she and her family had scattered his ashes in Muscle Shoals. Unfortunately, Muscle Shoals Sound was closed for renovations so they recorded at Sun Drop Sound in nearby Florence. But when The Krickets arrived, they had a special welcoming committee, in both body and soul.
“When we showed up in town to record,” Spring recalled, “his people were there that he used to run with, the Swampers crew, they were there waiting for us with open arms. We felt his presence there too, it’s just magic, it’s all holy, and you couldn’t not feel him there. When we were frustrated or it got harder during the sessions, you could just feel it.”
“I was incredibly nervous because these people, the Swampers, were our heroes,” said Bowman, whose musical lore also includes being babysat for by Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood when she was a kid. “When we were ready to record, I knew we were just standing on the precipice of something great. And the studio itself was really laid back and cool and quirky, and the engineer and the assistant engineer were hilarious. And we could be ourselves, we could make inappropriate jokes and have fun, and also make great music.”
As if the Daddy and the Swampers legend plus recording at a top studio wasn’t enough, the group also had Alabama Shakes‘ touring keyboardist Ben Tanner as their producer, seems he had asked to record the band once he heard some of their demos. It was his ability to let The Krickets’ music remain their own while also making his presence known just enough that made the sessions so successful and fulfilling.
“(Ben) was really encouraging us to stick with our authentic sound and not try to make it sound too perfect and too commercialized,” Bowman elaborated. “He wanted to make sure that we kept the ‘it’ that we have, that thing that we have. So alot of it we did live, alot of the vocals we all sang at the same time in the same room, alot of the instrumentation is done at the same time in the same room. So it was all very real, and he would push us to make the right take, and then would be a wizard on things that just really had to be twerked….wait, is that the right word? Ha! Tweaked.”
All of the Krickets also have solo or side projects, Spring with her husband Bo in his excellent (and also local) Bo Spring Band, and the others with their own enriching endeavors. But when they get onstage in Kricket mode, it’s all for one and one for all, for sure.
“As far as personalities go, we are actually really good in kind of specializing in different things,” Bowman said. “So it makes it run pretty smoothly when we’re onstage, we have alot of fun and it’s really a joy to be able to share the spotlight and not worry about stepping on people’s toes. This is the least diva-ish group of musicians I’ve ever worked with before, which is hilarious ‘cuz it’s an all-female band.”
And as far as their beautiful, memorable music, it is the spirit of the Gulf Coast that drives them, and fills their music with evocative images of home.
“There’s something healing and sacred about those waters, and I don’t know exactly what it is,” Bowman said. “It was important to us to kind of contribute to the mythology of this area, the panhandle area. I was inspired to write the songs that I did because of Lauren’s song ‘To And Fro’ where she talks about cypress trees, and that was really kind of the song that inspired the whole mood of the album. Kind of like that, ethereal, dark, talking about the water, talking about the area, it really kind of inspired the whole thing.”
“The history of Port St Joe is a folk story that you could not make up if you tried,” Spring added. “I thought it was the coolest story I’d ever heard in my life. Bringing the stories and the traditions and these weird quirky things that are old Florida kind of out into the limelight, it’s just incredible to me.”