Caitlin Warbelow

A Chat With...Caitlin Warbelow

This week, we are chatting with the multi-talented NYC fiddler, entreprenuer and scientist Caitlin Warbelow. Originally from Alaska, Caitlin is co-founder of Tune Supply (do check this out on Facebook and YouTube). We also thoroughly recommend her occasional online fiddle workshops!

Quick bio

Instrument(s): Violin/fiddle
Best known as: The fiddler/violinist in the original Broadway production of Come From Away
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: Warbelow Range, Duo with Chris Ranney
Sub-genre: Irish trad
Number of years on the folk scene: I’ve been playing violin since age 3 and fiddle since age 5, and have been a professional musician in NYC for 15 years.
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: Originating the fiddle/violin part in Come From Away, and maintaining my musical and personal connections in my beloved home state of Alaska.

What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year? I’ve always got my fingers in too many projects all at once, which sometimes means they take longer than I’d like to come to fruition! And after getting very burned out while running Tune Supply during Covid, I’ve been trying to prioritize health and rest more than I have in the past. But my current projects include more Tune Supply productions including a virtual learning project, doing more writing (both music and words), working on duo material with my partner, pianist/accordionist Chris Ranney, putting together fiddle-with-symphony concerts for next year, starting a tourism company in Alaska (with a music component, of course), and continuing to do a lot of teaching.

If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start? Unlike many other musicians, I haven’t done a ton of recording of my own stuff. There are a few reasons for that…one of them is a serious recording phobia that I’ve never quite managed to shake! But if folks want to check out my music, I’d recommend listening to my band Warbelow Range’s self-titled album, the Come From Away soundtrack, and my YouTube page, which has hundreds of live videos from the past 10+ years.

What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you? Recently I got my record player out of storage and have been collecting records to play on it. Currently in the rotation are most of Kevin Burke’s early recordings, Melody Gardot, Jacques Brel, Guy Clark, Karen Dalton, Johnny Cunningham, Michael Coleman, Hayes Carll, Okkervil River, and my current favorite (recommended to me by my good friend Alan Murray) – Paddy Glackin and Joylon Jackson’s “Hidden Ground”.

Which folk albums, in your opinion, should everyone listen to at least once, and why? An unusual thing about me is that I don’t listen to as much music as most people because I have trouble listening to it without feeling like I am working…since music is my work. As a result, I’m not as qualified to answer this question as I should be, or as most musicians would be! But I can say that the artist who has most influenced my own playing, and whose albums I’ve probably listened to the most in my life, is Kevin Burke. 

Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument? In a small, tight session with old friends! That’s where I feel like the music flows in such a way that individuals and instruments become part of one living organism. The perfect conditions for this sort of session don’t happen very often, but when they do, it’s magical.

Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist. I have to admit that I don’t practice as much as I should. Part of that is because a lot of the business of being a musician doesn’t involve playing music…it involves emails, logistics, planning, teaching, accounting, marketing, etc. etc. They don’t tell you that in music school!! But when I do practice, I generally return to my classical roots and spend quite a bit of time practicing three-octave scales, followed by etudes (Rode is my favorite), and then Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I find that these things keep my technique in top shape. If I’m practicing trad, I’ll pick a recording full of tunes I don’t know, and learn them all by ear. 

What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it? There have been many experiences that fall in this category, ha! But two come to mind. The first happened while I was home for the holidays during grad school and received an email from Joanie Madden asking if I could get on a plane the next day and fly to Kansas to play with Cherish the Ladies and the Kansas City Symphony. I’d met Joanie at the 11th Street Bar session a few months before, and I’d played with symphonies before, but learning a whole concert’s worth of new material in 24 hours with no rehearsal, and jumping onstage for my first performance with Cherish in front of a symphony, was definitely nerve wracking! Now I’ve been playing with Cherish off and on for over 10 years, and I enjoy it now just as much as I did then. Always a blast. 

The most technically demanding show I ever did was Riverdance’s new show, Heartbeat of Home, which is a full-length show in which the musicians are on stage and all the music must be memorized. But it’s not regular reels and jigs like a normal concert….it’s technically difficult classical-style material mixed with trad. And in addition, there’s choreography, which, at least when I was doing it, had to be performed in a tight skirt and heels! I absolutely loved doing the Heartbeat of Home concerts, but it did take me a full month to learn and memorize the 2+ hours of music, after which I took over for Athena Tergis during their Chicago run, in the space of a day, with just one rehearsal. Gotta love show business.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician? Hmm…I’ve had the great privilege of being taught and mentored by many incredible musicians, so it’s hard to pick just one thing. Many of the things that come to mind have more to do with the music business than with playing music. Joanie taught me to always make sure my shoes are polished, because people look at your shoes! Gabriel Donohue said to me “it’s just money, it comes and it goes”, which I found exceptionally helpful during my early days of being a starving musician in NYC. In terms of playing music, the best advice I’ve gotten has been said to me by various teachers in various forms, and that is: if you have great rhythm, everything will work out ok. The notes are important, but the rhythm is more important.

What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)? My current band is pretty dreamy! That’s Alan Murray, Dan Lowery, and Kyle Sanna, with help from James Yoshizawa, Mathias Kunzli, and Jason Sypher. But if we’re talking about a theoretical band, I’d probably ask Cathal Hayden, Brid Harper, Aidan Connolly, Kevin Burke, Aidan Brennan, and Gerard McDonnell, the Irish mountaineer/engineer/bodhran player/singer who is a big part of the reason I play Irish music and passed away after becoming the first Irish person to summit K2 in 2008. I miss playing tunes with him very much, and I think he would love this band. Although…too many fiddlers maybe? Is that a thing?! 🙂

To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music. I’ve used the same violin, a 1998 Vanna So from the William Harris Lee shop, since high school. It’s like my fifth limb. In fact, if I leave the house without it, I have constant tiny panic attacks about why it’s not on my back. I’ve upgraded my bow(s) many times over the years, and currently use a gorgeous one from Arcos Brasil. I also have a Coda bow for use at gigs where I think there’s some danger my bow might get whacked…or for taking on outdoor adventures, which is something I’ve always liked to do with my violin. I have a far-too-expensive Bam case. My favorite strings recently changed from Evah Golds to Warchal Timbres. I use Sartory rosin. I kinda hate dealing with sound equipment, but when I do need to mic up, I have a tiny mic that sits suspended from the strings behind my bridge. It’s similar to one that DPA makes.

Photo credit: Todd Paris

Further listening

Warbelow Range

Regulars in our Online Tune Sessions will recognise many of the tunes in this set

Kevin Burke in 1980 playing Lafferty’s Reel from his 1978 album

One of the many virtual sessions that Caitlin and Chris Ranney streamed during the pandemic as part of the Tune Supply project.

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