For Sarah Jarosz, that validation came early—and often. The folk and bluegrass prodigy first appeared on the legendary PBS show in 2010, when she was a freshman at the New England Conservatory of Music and promoting her first album, “Song Up In Her Head.” And she returned last year to play songs from her third album, “Build Me Up From Bones.”
“I grew up there and would watch it all the time,” she said in a telephone interview with AltDaily last week. “To have done that twice now is sort of like a ‘pinch me’ moment.”
Fans in Hampton Roads will have a “pinch me” moment of their own this week when Jarosz visits Norfolk for the first time. She’ll headline the Tidewater Arts Outreach Sea Level Singer/Songwriter Music Festival at 7:30 pm. Thursday at the Tidewater Community College Roper Performing Arts Center.
“I’m really looking forward to getting down there and playing some music for Norfolk,” she said. (Although Wimberley, Texas, is home, she moved to New York City after graduating from college.)
In the interview that accompanied her second “Austin City Limits” appearance, Jarosz talked about the maturation of her voice and how the New England Conservatory taught her to treat it as an instrument. Last week, she explained that her songwriting has evolved in parallel.
“It’s interesting,” she said. “Having started songwriting at such a young age, initially, the way it started for me was sort of waiting for the songs to come. … Now I feel like I’ve totally done a 180 with that, and I really am looking at it as this thing that you can really chip away at every single day and just constantly be working at it. And even if you come up with something that’s not usable, that’s still an act of sifting through what you have and getting stuff on a page and getting stuff recorded. So that’s been more of a change for me lately. And this is kind of the first time that I’ve had time to actually do that. I feel like I’ve not been on the road a ton this year, and it’s been nice to have the time to really just focus on songwriting as a craft.”
She hasn’t been on the road “a ton,” but she’s about to be. The Norfolk show is the first of a three-night “mini tour” that also includes stops in York, South Carolina, and Lenoir, North Carolina. After those shows, she’ll tour Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom with Aofie O’Donovan and Sara Watkins—in what’s being dubbed as the “I’m With Her” tour. In June, she’ll be in Indianapolis to teach at the Global Musician Workshop, a camp hosted by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. And then there are more “I’m With Her” dates booked through September.
For the three shows this week, Jarosz will be accompanied by Jedd Hughes, an Australian guitarist who played (and co-wrote two songs) on “Build Me Up From Bones,” and Mark Schatz, an elder statesman of bluegrass who has played bass for everyone from Béla Fleck to Wynton Marsalis to Nickel Creek.
“We’ve only done one show together, and I’m excited to get to play more with them,” Jarosz said. “It’s exciting to get to be playing with those guys. Any time you’re playing with musicians that you don’t play with all the time, there’s the possibility of new, exciting things happening with the music. So I’m just looking forward to digging through that more and discovering the different textures and qualities within that trio.”
The shows will also feature Jarosz playing as many as four instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin and octave mandolin. “It feels like such a blend for me,” she said of the octave. “Since I grew up with mandolin being kind of my primary instrument, and then also playing guitar—especially for solo shows—I feel like it sort of sonically provides the bigger sound that a guitar provides, but it’s still like playing the mandolin.”
Jarosz has a reputation for playing interesting covers. Her albums have included songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and even Radiohead, and she recorded a beautiful rendition of Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” for Bedstock 2014, which raised money for MyMusicRx and the Children’s Cancer Association. (The day of our interview, she released a video of John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Waters” she recorded for an upcoming “I’m With Her” EP.)
Will she be playing any new covers on the mini tour? “Nothing that comes to mind immediately,” she said. “A lot of the focus of the new covers recently has been for the project with Aofie and Sara. But I’m home in New York until those shows, so I’m hoping to maybe work on some new stuff between now and then.”
General admission tickets for Thursday’s show are $32.50 in advance and $37.50 at the door. For tickets or more information, visit here.