Meet A Musician: Hillary Kay

Bob’s Note: This month we start a new recurring feature on Let’s Get Fresh, Meet A Musician. Over the years the Market has become just as well known as a local music venue as it has a great place to get your groceries. Every week of the outdoor season you will find some of the area’s finest musicians of every genre under our music tent. Our inaugural musician is, along with her musical partner John Posey, one of our favorites. Both for her music and for her love of the Market. Hillary Kay grew up in Michigan and, as she will now explain in her own words, made her way to the Mountain State in pursuit of a piece of Appalachia, its music. Be sure to check out Kay & Posey every Sunday of the indoor season. And leave a token of your appreciation in their tip basket! Thanks, Hillary!

At the beginning of January, as the calendar restarts, it is customary to look back over the previous year and attempt to make a tidy summation of the whole experience. After weighing the good memories against the bad, we tuck it neatly in a box and move on into the next 12 months with wide-eyed optimism and a fresh start. If I tried to do that with my 2017, I think it would look something like this:

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We’re going to need a bigger box.

It was not the tidiest year of my life. After triumphantly graduating with my Master’s in Musicology from WVU, I quickly realized that I had to catch up with everything else outside of the university. The first six months after graduating were a whirlwind of highs and lows, but from that chaos emerged one of the best and most defining constants of my year: Kay & Posey.

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Kay & Posey at the Bridgeport Farmers Market, 2017.

It’s funny how the universe can align when you need it the most. As I’ve spent this year trying to figure out what I wanted to do next with my life, playing music with John Posey has kept me grounded, grateful, and inspired. However, our musical partnership actually began several years before, thanks to our professor and friend, Dr. Travis Stimeling.

I first met Dr. Stimeling in 2009 while I was studying at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois where he was head of the Music History department. I had moved from Michigan to pursue a degree in classical voice, determined to become a mezzo-soprano opera diva. However, I quickly became interested in musicology and took as many of Stimeling’s classes as I could. During my last year at Millikin, he decided to start a bluegrass band and I decided to join. That experience was transformative. I remember feeling like I had found a home place in the music that we played, one that had always been there waiting.

After graduating, I decided to take some time to work and adjust to real life, but I never stopped listening to the bluegrass and Appalachian music that moved me. When Stimeling accepted a teaching job in the School of Music at West Virginia University, he mentioned that he wanted to start another bluegrass band there. Central Illinois didn’t have a very vibrant bluegrass scene, and I knew I wanted to be in a place where I could immerse myself in that kind of music. West Virginia seemed like the obvious choice.

I met John Posey at the first day of WVU Bluegrass rehearsal in August of 2014. He had only recently started playing bluegrass guitar with his band, Whitewater, but you never would have guessed it by the way he played. We sang together often and worked on our vocal blend that now feels like second nature. That year we toured around the state to elementary, middle, and high schools to perform and teach young people about their heritage music. We also got to perform at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV! I learned how to engage with the music in a meaningful way, went to countless jams, and met so many kind, talented people.

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WVU Bluegrass at the Purple Fiddle, 2015.

John graduated with his master’s in Jazz Pedagogy in 2015 and began exploring other opportunities and I was increasingly busy researching women in bluegrass for my thesis. We played a few bluegrass gigs here and there, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that we began working together and playing out as a duo. That August we played the BFM for the first time and absolutely loved it. John and I have a lot of fun sharing music we love and finding songwriters who write meaningful lyrics and can’t be easily classified. We recorded a few of those songs, including one of my own, at Squirrel Sound in Morgantown this fall.

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Hillary performing solo at last year’s BFM A Wild and Wonderful Table.

John and I like to keep ourselves entertained, so we plan to spend 2018 learning a lot of new music and perhaps writing a few songs of our own. We are always grateful and excited for the opportunity to perform at the BFM and can’t wait to see you all this Sunday. Happy New Year!

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Until next time, Stay Fresh!

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