Getting to Know Brad Yoder
Brad Yoder is definitely a Music Man. He has a certain something that he adds to his own music and that of so many artists he’s played with over the years. I always know that when he wanders into a room or a campfire circle or a stage, some great musical moments will transpire regardless of what instrument he lends to the tune. This year Brad has been recognized as one of the Emerging Artists at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival In Hillsdale, New York.
Falcon Ridge is celebrating its 25th anniversary the first weekend in August and the Emerging Artist showcase is always one of the highlights of the festival. The musicians are chosen by a three-member jury and are given the opportunity to perform two songs (not to exceed ten minutes).* The audience votes for their favorites and three or four acts are asked to return to the main stage the following year.
For more information about Brad, check out his website.
You’ve been gigging around for at least ten years now (MORE LIKE 20?!) and have a definite musical presence in Pittsburgh. How would you describe the music scene in western Pennsylvania?
I can best speak for Pittsburgh, which has a vibrant and diverse musical scene, as well as a rich history (of jazz in particular). There are some great musicians and songwriters here in town, and I’m honored to be part of my local musical community.
Do you recall the first couple of times that you played away from your home base?
Hmmm… well, I played some small shows even before I moved to Pittsburgh, back when I was living in Northern Indiana. My first “away” shows were playing in my hometown (Harrisonburg, VA), and “college town” (Goshen, IN). Those felt like home base shows, really, before Pittsburgh did, if that makes sense. I also started pretty early to play lots of little coffee shops in small outlying towns (Lower Burrell, PA!) I discovered that, if you play somewhere where not much is going on, you’re more of an event.
You play a number of instruments: guitar, sax, and glockenspiel to name a few. Which one did you learn first?
I used to noodle on an electric organ we had at home. I started sax in 6th grade band, so that was my first formal musical instrument. I started guitar in a little class in 8th grade, where everyone played the guitar for a quarter. (I wonder if they still do that? I hope so!)
I’ve witnessed you jamming with any number of musicians and you always seem to know the exact instrument and the exact place to add your own distinct Yoderisms. Being able to play a song you’ve never heard before and being able to jump right in and add so much is something that is truly special. Is this something that you’ve learned over the years or have you always had a good ear or sense of song structure that has enabled you to be such a great asset to others you play with?
Music is a language, so no matter what anyone says, that stuff is all learned! (The same way you learn to speak your first language.) It’s all about quantity and quality of exposure and practice. I’ve been very lucky to be able to practice playing along with people for many years, especially of late at folk music conferences and festivals. If you asked someone I played along with 20 years ago, they would tell you I wasn’t as good at it (and was playing too much stuff, which interfered with the music they were trying to make!) Fortunately, I’ve gotten better.
It’s like your friend who says funny things, or insightful things. They didn’t always do that–they learned a language, and over time, came to use it in creative ways. Music is one more language you can learn (actually, it’s a whole family of languages!).
Your dad is a Mennonite pastor and counselor and he’s mentioned many of your songs in his writings. Many of your songs do have a compassionate sensibility about them and now that I know that about your upbringing, it makes sense. Since he’s taken the liberty to quote you, have you done likewise? Have you gotten any song ideas from your dad?
This is a great question! I have never directly quoted my father, but his personality, his values, and his gentle spirit are all a big part of the person I am (as are my mother’s kindness, perseverance, & humor). I’ve never quoted him directly, but I’m sure that many things I heard him say, or preach in a sermon, have leaked into my songs.
Your bio notes that you had a song that was part of Senator John Heniz’s History Center’s 9-11 Exhibit. What was that all about?
The History Center was hosting the Smithsonian’s 9-11 exhibit, and wanted to add items of local (Western PA) interest.
They were looking for a song inspired by 9-11, and asked my friend Paul Labrise if he had one. Paul suggested they ask me, and I did (“Till the Colors“), so they put it in the exhibit–you could listen to it, and also see the little guitar I wrote it on.
I love playing with him–he’s such a musical player. His presence always makes whatever song he’s playing on better.
We first played together in the Spring of 2005. He had attended Falcon Ridge for quite a few years, and in the summer of 2005 I went along for the first time. So, this year is the 9th year I’ve gone to Falcon Ridge with Jason & his siblings. (And we’re “Emerging Artists” for the first time.)
Do you have any favorite musical memories—on or off stage?
Wow–yes, too many to list, really. I particularly love when random things happen, like small children dancing to a song, or an old friend showing up. And I have some great memories of backing up other musicians, such as playing soprano sax with Erin McKeown on “You were right about everything” at a me & thee show a few years ago. That was a serious highlight!
Top photo: Vada Kelley
Bottom photo: Heather Mull
**The judging panel changes year to year. Many thanks to this year’s panel, Carter Smith, producer of Common Ground Community Concerts in Hastings-on-Hudson NY, Dennis O’Brien, talent buyer for the Newtown Theater in Newtown PA and Kathy Sands-Boehmer, booker for the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead MA now in its 43rd year of presenting great acoustic music.