Country roots for so. Chester County siblings at Flash, May 31
By Denny Dyroff, Correspondent, The Times
When the Born Sisters headline a “CD Release Show” at The Flash in Kennett Square on May 31, it will be a hometown event for the sweet-singing sister duo. The sisters, who are actually the Zack Sisters, grew up in Kennett Square and still attend school locally — Kristen Zack at Millersville University and Kara Zack at Padua Academy.
While many of their peers have been listening to EDM (Electronic Dance Music), rap-influenced rock and straight-up pop in recent years, the Born Sisters have been following a very different trail. The music they listen to and the music they make is country-influenced — a contemporary blend of Americana and country pop.
“We’ve listened to country music since we were young,” said Kristen Zack, during a phone interview earlier this week. “We’ve been influenced by older country artists like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, June Carter and Loretta Lynn, and newer acts like Michelle Branch and Taylor Swift.”
Actually, it’s not that surprising to find young country music fans in the southern part of Chester County. Some of the artists listed as influences for the Born Sisters performed not far from where they live but many, many years before they were born.
For a long time, Chester County was a key stop on the tour schedules of almost all of the top acts in country-and-western music. That destination was Sunset Park in Jennersville. The park/music venue, which was located just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, presented country music concerts every Sunday from mid-spring to late-fall.
Most of the major starts in C&W music played Sunset Park including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Flatt and Scruggs, Lefty Frizzell and Bill Monroe.
After continually operating for more than 55 years, Sunset Park closed in 1995. Now, it seems as if the spirit of the park and its music is still floating around and has been captured by the Born Sisters.
“When we started playing piano, Michelle Branch and Taylor Swift were influences as songwriters,” said Kara Zack. “When, we saw Carrie Underwood. When we saw her play — that was what made us want to play and write country songs.”
Kristen Zack plays piano, banjo, mandolin and guitar while her younger sister Kara plays piano, guitar, mandolin and bass guitar. And, they both sing — and produce heavenly harmonies.
“Harmony is our biggest asset,” said Kristen. “Born Sisters in what we decided on when we were trying to think of a name that would describe our act well. We have harmonies that only sisters have.
“We both write all the songs 50-50. Sometimes, Kara will write a melody and I’ll finish the song. Other times, it will be the other way with me starting the song and Kara finishing it.”
Both sisters admitted to frequently finishing each other’s sentences as well as the duo’s songs.
“We started doing this about seven years ago,” said Kara. “The songs just come to us. It’s pretty natural. The lyrics are 50-50. I can’t name a song that is all me or all her.”
The Born Sisters released their debut album “Rodeo Home” a little over five years ago and followed with their sophomore album “Two” a few years later. Their new disc is “Smarter,” the focal point of this weekend’s CD release show. Both “Two” and “Smarter” were recorded Nashville, the capitol of country music.
“Our writing has a country feel — songs about broken-down feelings,” said Kristen. “But, the new album also has a rock feel — a cool 70’s things with a beach vibe. But, it still has a lot of mandolin and fiddle. We make our own sound.
“We just recorded ‘Smarter’ down in Nashville in January. We’ve also released a few singles — ‘Strong,’ which was for women with breast cancer, and ‘Christmas Bring Me Home Again.’”
The duo recorded “Smarter” at the Hot Closet Studio in Nashville. Just as they did on “Two,” Kristen and Kara wrote all the songs and then joined forces with Mark Mulch and Jim Kimball who produced and mixed their latest musical offering. Mulch and Kimball have worked with top acts such as Reba McEntire, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
“We’re going back to Nashville in June,” said Kara. “We’re going down there to so some songwriting and to perform at open mic nights.”
While in “Music City,” Kara and Kristen will also perform at the fourth annual “Wake Up Nashville!,” an event held to raise awareness of the sleep disorder narcolepsy and generate funds to support medical research.
The Born Sisters have an impressive resume of shows in Tennessee at venues such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, Marathon Grill, Tootsies, Sambuca, The Post and Beam, The Blue Bar and Dan McGuiness Pub.
Closer to home, they have performed at the Grand in Wilmington, the Delaware State Fair, the Salem County Fair in New Jersey, the York County Fair and local events such as Kennett Square’s Mushroom Festival, the Unionville Fair and the Chester County Balloon Festival.
They have also sold out the World Cafe Live at the Queen (twice) and The Flash (three times). Most recently, they performed on their own float at the Kennett Square Memorial Day Parade last weekend.
“The Memorial Day Parade was one of our finest shows,” said Kara. “Now, we get to go back to The Flash. We’ve been playing The Flash since it opened. We love doing shows there. We play there as much as we possibly can.
The Born Sisters’ “CD Release Party” is scheduled for 8 p.m. on May 31 at The Flash, which is located at 102 Sycamore Alley in Kennett Square. Tickets are $18 in advance and $22 day of show. For more information, call (484) 732-8295 or visit www.kennettflash.org.
In other action at The Flash this weekend, the bluegrass band Orpheus Supertones will play May 30 at 8 p.m. with tickets priced at $18 in advance and $22 day of show. On June 1 at 7 p.m., the venue in downtown Kennett Square will present an “Open Mic” show hosted by Sam Kwietniak and featuring a $4 admission charge.
One of the influences cited by the Born Sisters — Johnny Cash — is featured in the national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet.” The musical, which also features Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, depicts one special evening in the Sun Recording Studio in Memphis. It is running now through June 1at the DuPont Theatre (1007 N. Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 800-338-0881, http://duponttheatre.com). Ticket prices start at $35.
Audience members at the World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-994-1400,queen.worldcafelive.com) on May 30 will find it hard to remain in their seats when Sheila E. takes the stage. The veteran musician, who is a world-class percussionist, is known for her own hits like “The Glamorous Life” as well as the work she did with Prince back in the 1980s. Tickets are $40.
Another show this weekend at the Queen’s downstairs stage will take place on May 31 featuring the Peek-A-Boo Revue’s Sweet 16 Birthday Show. Philadelphia’s premier neo-burlesque show will start at 8 p.m. with tickets priced at $20.
The schedule for the upstairs stage at the World Café Live at the Queen for this weekend includes Bells and Thunderhawk on May 29, Mingo Fishtrap on May 30, “RUST — A Neil Young Tribute” on May 31 and the triple-bill of Carter Halsey, Heavy Lights and Widow Maker Social Club on June 1.
The local entertainment calendar also includes a double serving of blues on May 30 at the Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com). The Deb Callahan Band will be the headliner at the 8 p.m. show while the band Blue Bizness will fill the opening slot. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door.
David Poe, who has a number of his own albums and has had his songs recorded by Daryl Hall, Grace Potter and T-Bone Burnett, will perform on May 31 at Steel City. Showtime is 8 p.m. with tickets listed at $15 in advance and $18 day of show. Ben Kessler will open the show.
Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com/schedule) will feature Drymill Road and Fidlam Bens on May 29 at 8 p.m.; Anomaly, Retake the Video, Mile 181 and Brosef Gordon Levitt at 7 p.m. on May 30; and Jiggley Jones, Tyler Patchel’s The Process, Dead & Lovely and Davey O on May 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets for any of the nights are $10 online or $12 at the door.
The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will have a strong New Orleans vibe happening on May 29 with the “Nolafunk Presents: Raw Oyster Cult” show featuring the Radiators’ Dave Malone, Camille Baudoin and Frank Bua along with John Gros of Papa Grows Funk and Dave Pomerleau of Johnny Sketch. The concert begins at 8 p.m. with the Cabin Dogs as the opening act. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 day of show.
The list of weekend shows at the venue in Ardmore also includes The McLovins and Barkhouse on May 30 ($10) and Enstride, White Limo, DJ Marquis, Minshara and Kid Felix on May 31 ($10/$13). On June 1 at 4 p.m., the Ardmore Music Hall will host “An Evening to Benefit the Philadelphia Folksong Society,” featuring BlackRue, Michael Braunfeld, The Blue Plate Specials, The Mighty Manatees, Mason Porter, The Manatawny Creek Ramblers and the Philadelphia Jug Band. Tickets are $10 in advance and $13 at the door.
Matthew Ryan will showcase his highly-respected singer/songwriter talents on May 29 at 8 p.m. at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com). Bethel Steele is the opening act. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
Burlap & Bean will be closed on May 30 but live music will return on May 31 with a trio of singer-songwriters who are local favorites — Craig Bickhardt, Lizanne Knott and Michael Logen. Admission is $15.