Category Archives: Artist Interviews

Interviews with KC Cafe Radio Performing Artists

Donna Lynn Caskey: Accidental Banjo Gal

If someone had told the teenage Donna Lynn Caskey that one day she would play banjo and perform original music in public, she would’ve thought they were joking. Born in the Tidewater region of the Virginia coast, the youngest of ten children in a family of music makers and music lovers, Donna Lynn came to believe early on she would have to make do in the “music lover” camp only.

Donna Lynn’s early experiences with formal music education left her feeling insecure. She felt dyslexic when it came to reading standard musical notation during piano lessons, so she doubted she could ever be a real musician. Nontheless, she continued in the role of music fan and appreciator by devouring eclectic public radio broadcasts, checking out stacks of recordings from the library, going to concerts, compulsively making mix tapes comprised of beloved songs and new musical finds and sharing them with friends. She eventually realized that some of her favorite songs and voices were often rough around more than just the edges, yet were tremendously affecting. She was also encouraged by stories of musicians who couldn’t read a note, but who could touch hearts with their gifts just the same. She began to think maybe she could make music, after all. It didn’t have to be pretty and perfect. Simple, homemade music could be powerful music.

Music also started to feel more within reach while Donna Lynn studied art at Hollins University in the Blue Ridge Mountains. College years were also the time when she discovered a deep love of the banjo. A regular attendee of the local Roanoke Fiddle & Banjo Club, she found herself weeping with joy more than once during banjo solos. On Saturday mornings, she would go listen to old-time and bluegrass jams at an acoustic music store inside Happy’s Flea Market. Before long, she had her eye on a lovely banjo hanging on the wall. As her college days waned and she was unsure what was next, she bought herself that banjo for graduation.

Donna Lynn proceeded to spend the next two years traveling, moving from job to job and place to place. The banjo gathered dust at her parents’ house, and she felt guilty letting that beautiful instrument go unplayed. She took it to a local music shop for consignment. The woman behind the counter convinced her not to, however, and Donna Lynn ended up paying to have the banjo set up and restrung instead.

Soon after, a friend was heading to Brasstown, North Carolina for an internship at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Donna Lynn looked at the course catalog, which listed a class called “Beginning Clawhammer Banjo by Ear” taught by Diane B. Jones. The catalog also indicated scholarships were available. The week before class was scheduled to start that summer of 2001, Donna Lynn was notified she was awarded a scholarship. Three days in to that week-long, intensive class, the basics of playing clicked.

The following week, Donna Lynn and her banjo moved to California by train. She was afraid she’d left the music community behind her in Virginia, but within days of arriving, she met a fiddler at the farmers’ market who invited her to a weekly old-time jam. Through the jam, she was connected to local music festivals, banjo workshops, lessons with master old-time musician Brad Leftwich while he lived in the area, and to her first paying gigs. She remains friends with members of that group to this day.

Within months of starting banjo, Donna Lynn also began writing songs and performing. Her debut album of original material, Nameless Heart, was released in 2014 to glowing reviews for innovative clawhammer-style playing and strong writing that simultaneously acknowledges life’s difficulties while offering a genuine message of hope. The Ventura, California based artist recently completed her second album, The Love Still Shows.

Recently, KC Cafe Radio Music Director Kathy Forste spoke with “Banjo Gal” Donna Lynn Caskey via Skype. They talk at length about Donna’s upbringing being surrounded by music, the significance of her challenges, and how those challenges shape the music she writes and performs today.

Listen to the interview here:

Download the interview here: Interview: Donna Lynn Caskey 9/27/2017

Music by Donna Lynn Caskey on KC Cafe Radio:

Roger Street Friedman releases second album

The last time we caught up with singer/songwriter and KC Cafe Radio Performing Artist Roger Street Friedman, he had just released his first album, The Waiting Sky. Now, he has a new project under his belt, the just-released Shoot The Moon. Still offering up the trademark”Roger Street Friedman sound,” this one steps things up, featuring Roger’s ever-evolving musical journey, offering up memorable melodies in a variety of genres ranging from Jazz, Blues, R&B and Rock.

Recently, KC Cafe Radio Music Director Kathy Forste talked with Roger via Skype about “Shoot The Moon.” They talk about the lessons he learned since producing his first project, the advantages of recording this project at his in-home studio, the variety of genres exhibited within the individual songs on the album, and his plans for more projects in the future.

Listen to the interview here:

Download the interview here: Interview: Roger Street Friedman 6/12/2017

Music by Roger Street Friedman on KC Cafe Radio:

Joy Zimmerman releases 4th album, “Say My Name”

Joy Zimmerman was just 5 years old when she first became acquainted with music.   Her mother played piano and her grandmother was an organist.  Mom thought Joy would also take a liking to the piano, however it was the violin that piqued her interest.  There was something pure in the sound of the violin, a sound that would lure her in to a fascinating musical world.  

Joy grew up enjoying a very diverse exposure to music.  Thanks to St. Louis rock radio, she became influenced by the likes of Carol King, James Taylor, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Beatles, Sting, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Joy continued to play violin through her college years, performing in churches, for weddings and for funerals.  With all the love that she had for the violin, however, there never seemed to be a real connection between music and career.  She pursued studies for, and eventually a career in social work.

Her interest in music would again become piqued when her son began taking guitar lessons.  She became so intrigued that she asked if she could also begin taking lessons.  As she became better at learning chords, she discovered her own melodies springing forth from the strings. She would go on to join a Folk trio that allowed her to experiment between the violin and her newfound guitar interest.  She would go on to challenge herself with songwriting, and found that it came to her quite naturally.  From that fortunate discovery,  Joy went on to release 4 albums, the latest of which is titled Say My Name.

Recently KC Cafe Radio Music Director Kathy Forste talked with Joy about her journey of musical discovery, and the valuable lessons she has learned along the way.  She also talks about recording her latest album, Say My Name, and the decision to record this one in Kansas City.  And we hear her reaction to having received an Honorable Mention award from American Songwriter Magazine for her song, “Messy Girl.”

Listen to the interview here:

Download the interview here: Interview: Joy Zimmerman 5/31/2017

Music by Joy Zimmerman on KC Cafe Radio:

Raveis Kole: A unique musical duo born out of unique synergy

Perhaps it was luck. Perhaps it was some kind of divine intervention. Or maybe it simply was a case of being in the right place at the right time. What is absolutely certain, however, is at the moment when Laurie Raveis and Dennis Kole first met, a synergy was born that would blossom into one of the most talented singer/songwriter duos around today.

At the time, Dennis had been working in a law firm. There was something else nagging at him intellectually however, and music seemed a perfect fit. He was first introduced to music at age 8 when his teacher put a cardboard cutout keyboard in front of him. His mother had bought him a violin, but he was more partial to the guitar, and at 14 purchased his first guitar. He played mostly classical music, but occasionally made up his own tunes, mostly revolving around “primitive teenage” themes.

Laurie Raveis comes from a long line of teachers. She had been teaching marketing in Boston Massachusetts, but also felt the urge toward the performing arts. Her first introduction to music came about thanks to the piano lessons she took at a young age growing up in Connecticut. Later she would try her had at various performing arts, and found she liked music the most. Later in life she would perform in various bands, including an all-girl band.  Eventually she would be asked to sing in some of those bands.  Her singing would lead to songwriting, exposing her to a whole new world of expression.

The two met at a guitar festival in Montana.  They had both attended the same guitar jam, where Dennis found himself impressed with Laurie’s inventive and original style. It wasn’t  long before the two began playing together.  They would continue to collaborate their musical talents, which eventually lead to the dynamic musical duo we know today simply as Raveis Kole.

Their newest album, Electric Blue Dandelion is an excellent representation of the “chemical reaction that ignites the human spirit by melding Raveis’ caramel smooth, emotive vocals and percussive, groove driven acoustic guitar rhythms with Kole’s fingerstyle and harmonic explorations.” Indeed, it is the essence that is Raveis Kole.

Recently, KC Cafe Radio Music Director Kathy Forste talked with the duo via Skype. They discussed their lives growing up discovering their unique musical talents, that moment when they first met, and how they have grown together musically since then. They also talk about their contrasting approaches to writing music, and how that contrast is the “magic” behind their synergy.

Listen to the interview here:

Listen to the interview here: Interview: Raveis Kole, 5/10/2017

Music by Raveis Kole on KC Cafe Radio:

Elaine Mahon Keeps Reaching For The Stars

Photo by Randy Batista

Elaine Mahon’s songs, as her new album is titled, may Reach for the Stars but they are also deeply rooted in the natural world we all live in. Elaine’s sensibilities as a songwriter developed from a childhood spent roaming the woods and the beaches of North Florida. But it was her work in extragalactic astronomy, which earned Mahon a Ph.D., that broadened her perspective and strengthened her appreciation for nature. Elaine left her career in order to remain near family, and to begin to explore her creativity through music. A masterful storyteller and tunesmith, Mahon has made her mark. Elaine forms an immediate and intimate emotional connection with her audience by drawing them into lyrical songscapes that shimmer with imagery gleaned from the natural world.

Elaine’s newest release, Reach for the Stars, builds on themes of life and love that Mahon explored, through story and myth, in her 2013 release, RISE. However, in this new, cohesive collection of songs, Mahon subtly introduces her astronomical perspective in order to evoke wonder and offer hope and empowerment. A deft finger-style guitarist, Mahon employs alternate tunings to create a rich harmonic palette for the melodies of her songs which often take unexpected, yet pleasing turns. Add to that a sweet, resonant voice capable of expressing a wide range of emotion and you have a winning combination.

Recently, KC Cafe Radio Music Director Kathy Forste visited with Elaine via Skype. They talk about growing up musically, including a very pivitol moment in her life when she discovered her skill as a songwriter. They also talk about the interesting diffences and similiarities between musicianship and songwriting, her decision to pursue music full-time, and her plans beyond Reach for the Stars.

Listen to the interview here:

Download the interview here: Interview: Elaine Mahon 4/20/2017