This music series spotlights local musicians who are rising, and may be headed for bigger and better things. They perform locally on a regular basis in Buffalo, and are some of our best cultural assets. These are our “must see” musicians… catch them while you can. – Elías Damián Benavídes
I met up with Grace Stumberg this week at Dog Ears Café in South Buffalo. Not exactly backstage, but ironically it is the place where Grace had her first real gig, so do with it what you will. Born and raised in South Buffalo, the 25 year old singer songwriter has quite an interesting story to tell.
A graduate of Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, Grace was performing at the school one day, sometime after graduation. Part of the audience that day was Cynnie Gaasch, a representative for a not for profit called Young Audiences. She was impressed with Grace’s performance and the two spoke briefly after the show. They shook hands, went about their way, and Cynnie would pass on Grace’s contact info to Buffalonian Blair Woods, who is the manager for folk legend Joan Baez. It would end up being a classic “right place at the right time” scenario, and an opportunity of a lifetime for Grace. She tells me “I only met her once, never saw her again, even to this day”.
A couple of months later, while teaching at The Guitar Factory, Grace checked her email and notices an email from Blair Woods stating that Joan was looking for a guitar tech and assistant. “I thought it was spam. I freaked out a little, and consulted with my parents,” she says. She would eventually reply, telling them that she was interested. Conveniently, Baez came to Buffalo in November 2011, where Grace had the opportunity to shadow, and see what the job consisted of. She showed up, shadowed, and was offered the position that evening. Grace also had previous touring experience, so that helped.
Grace would go on her first tour with Joan Baez in early 2012. The first tour took her to the U.K. “Then, I was in London, and I was like, what the heck?” It was the real deal, and it was one of many tours they would embark on. Joan’s last assistant was with her for 4 years, so it was a real transition. It took a while to form a bond, but it has blossomed into a warm friendship that continues to be nurtured with each tour.
A memorable date was on March 5, in Sheffield, U.K. where Joan sang happy birthday to Grace in front of 2000 people. Grace recalls, “I was freaking out a bit, because there was a song on the set list that I didn’t recognize. I have to know, because of guitar tunings, things like that. And she wouldn’t tell me.” Basically it was where her birthday song was. It was a surprise alright.
Joan did not know that Grace could sing and play, and somehow along the way it became known to Joan. “I never mentioned it, it wasn’t my job,” Grace says. So one day, Joan tells her “Gracie, I’m going to put you to work, I want you to sing harmonies on a few songs.” This was somewhere in Colorado. During that first rehearsal, they sang “Hard Times” by Stephen Foster, and Joan started crying. “It sounds like church,” Joan says. “Then I started crying,” Grace responds. I’m thinking, this must have been a deeply personal moment. It had to be felt, and only in the moment. Words cannot do it justice. Grace sang with Joan for the first time in Madison, WI, and has sung harmonies ever since. Grace has also opened the show once at Lowell, MA, and performed her own gig in a tavern in Dublin, Ireland during an off night on the last tour.
She just returned from a European tour this week, and will be hitting the road again in November to do some make up dates across the country.
Grace also has a number of original works available, including the latest release “Grace Stumberg Band Live at The Studio Café”, a raw live recording, no overdubs.
Her busy schedule also limits the amount of local appearances. Her only appearance until next year will be at The Tudor Lounge on October 30 with The Grace Stumberg Band. Whiskey Reverb will also be on the bill.
Who knows how the Joan Baez experience will help Grace’s career in the grand scheme of things. ”I’d like to be a star, not really. I don’t really know how to get there – I’m just gonna keep playing and just hope to be successful.” Hard work, a great attitude and a creative gene are foundations lodged within Grace’s spirit. Learning the ropes from a legendary recording artist? Well, that’s not a bad ingredient either.
Follow Grace’s career at www.gracestumberg.com and on social media.
Also see backstage with zuri appleby, savannah king, Rod Bonner III