By Michelle Trauring
For the longest time, Andrea Asprelli thought she wasn’t meant to sing.
It wasn’t for lack of wanting, or trying. She could play a mean fiddle, and she had a voice, but it wouldn’t hit the strong, high notes she assumed were prerequisite.
She turned to her beloved childhood songwriters — the words and sounds of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Gillian Welch and Paul Simon, to name a few —as well as older bluegrass and folk singers who were more unaffected and casual in their style. She listened, emulated and learned.
It was somewhere in that time when she found her wheelhouse, a lower range for her voice, and a newfound confidence that put her in front of a microphone—finally singing, and finally where she belonged.
This was only a few years ago, the 29-year-old explained during a recent interview. It was before she ever dreamed of moving to Brooklyn, or forming the four-piece bluegrass band Cricket Tell the Weather, which will play two concerts at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island this Saturday night — an up-close-and-personal evening in the manor’s music room with an audience of 60 to 70, max, according to Musical Events Producer Tom Hashagen.
“The house concerts at Sylvester Manor are really special,” he said. “The intimacy and magic that happens during these shows is hard to describe.”
This weekend marks the band’s maiden concert voyage to Shelter Island, Ms. Asprelli said. A year and a half ago, she was fresh on the traditional Americana scene in New York City, having grown up halfway across the country in a music-saturated household in Denver, Colorado.
“Both my parents are musicians and they introduced me to music at a young age,” she said. “They supported me playing classical music as a child, though they never pushed it as a career. They just wanted me to have it.
“My first job was busking for the Salvation Army during the holidays when I was about 14,” she continued. “I liked picking tunes up by ear and improvising with them, so when I was introduced to fiddle music in high school, it was a natural fit.”
It wasn’t her first acquaintance with a stringed instrument. She was just 5 years old when she picked up a violin for the first time, which progressed into viola, cello and guitar at different points, as well as piano.
But during a high school orchestra trip to the Shetland Islands in Scotland, she fell in love with the sound and the tradition of Celtic fiddle music.
“The fiddle resonated with me probably because it mimics the human voice so closely,” she said. “I’m very melodically driven, which comes out in my songwriting a bit, and the violin/fiddle leads the melody a lot of the time. Within old-time and bluegrass music, the fiddle is central as a leading instrument in traditional dance music, so it also has a rhythmic drive that you don’t find in the classical world.”
The instrument suited both her music sensibilities and her personality. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, she traveled around the Northeast and expanded her horizons. But no matter what, the music always found her.
“I’ve moved a few different places and, everywhere, the first group that has welcomed me has been the bluegrass-folk communities,” she said. “There’s a standard repertoire and way of playing that makes it easy to plug into new groups of people. Most of the time, I’d be a bit younger than the people around me, but everyone was welcoming and generous and ready to play.”
It was during her travels that she met guitarist Jason Borisoff—with his help, she wrote her very first song, “Remington,” in 2011, the story of the Remington Arms Factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that won them the 2013 Podunk Bluegrass Songwriting Competition—and banjoist Doug Goldstein, the brains behind the band’s name.
“[He] had heard the phrase in a play he was in,” she recalled. “The idea of watching the way the wind blows has been a theme in American folk, and crickets have been cartooned with fiddles all over the place, so the imagery fit for us.”
The band’s roster has ebbed and flowed over the last five years or so, and Ms. Asprelli said she prefers it that way.
“I’ve always played with bands that have more permanent members, but in New York City, the scene has so many great players around involved in so many fantastic projects that it seems to work better to have a more rotating membership,” she said. “It makes it easier on everyone, plus it helps keep things fresh for all of us.”
Backing Ms. Asprelli on Saturday night will be guitarist Mike Robinson, Hillary Hawke on banjo and Dave Speranza on bass, who said he has played about 20 shows with the band in the last year.
“I first met Andrea when I was living with a previous Cricket Tell The Weather bassist, Jeff Picker,” said Mr. Speranza, who plays both electric and upright bass. “I really didn’t know anything about Andrea, and I don’t think we really every spoke until I started playing in the band. We’re great friends now. And you wouldn’t know it from her text-based communication, but she’s hilarious.”
“It’s great,” he said of the experience thus far. “The music is more mellow and folky than anything I’ve done in the past.”
Ms. Asprelli describes the band as “sort of a bluegrass band that doesn’t fit neatly into a bluegrass niche. We have more modern, contemporary songs, and I pay a lot of attention to the lyrics. They have to feel honest, and I don’t sing songs that don’t feel relevant to me. We also have songs that have a more old-time feel, and others that feel more Americana.”
Cricket Tell The Weather’s second album, “Tell the Story Right,” which is due to drop this summer, is a collection of select covers and mostly original songs, as opposed to their debut album, which was a mosaic of the writers and singers in the project at the time.
“Sometimes, I’m inspired to write if there’s a moment that happens in daily life and I want to record the feeling somehow,” Ms. Asprelli said. “Other times, I’ll notice a theme or a pattern happening in my life, or with my friends, or current events, and I want to say something about that. I listen to songwriters I like, or read authors and poets I appreciate sometimes as I’m writing to help get the wording or tone I want. And I listen to a lot of old blues or folk traditionals for melodic ideas.”
From time to time, she still seeks encouragement from Dylan, Guthrie, Welch and Simon. But a lot has changed for Ms. Asprelli in just five years. Now, and forever more, she has her voice.
Cricket Tell The Weather will play two concerts on Saturday, April 23, at 6 and 8 p.m. at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island. Tickets are $20. For more information, call (631) 749-0626, or visit sylvestermanor.org.