Interview with Linda Sharar: Reconnecting and Playing More
Linda Sharar is an award-winning singer-songwriter whose songs are honest and pure. She expresses herself in an easy, familial, and tangible way, as though she’s been a good friend for years . There’s a musical comfort zone that wraps around you with each and every one of her songs. That kind of rapport is something to appreciate and respect.
Kathy Sands-Boehmer: Your bio states that you started playing guitar and writing songs when you were a teenager, and started playing open mics during college. Looking back, what do you think of your songwriting back then?
Linda Sharar: In my teen years my songwriting was very predictable, lyrically, but had emotional truth and a strong feeling, musically. My older sisters were all musically talented and encouraged me as a writer, which made me feel confident enough to keep at it. I was a very shy about my songs and did not promote myself as a songwriter with any real effort until I graduated from college.
If you could pick up a brand new instrument and have the time to learn to play it well, what would it be?
I would love to have another go at the fiddle, and there is also a very nice Appalachian dulcimer at my home waiting for me to spend more time with it.
What’s it like playing with your sisters. Did you grow up playing together, or is this something that you started to do as adults?
We’ve been playing music together forever. Our mom, Helen, played guitar, sang, covered songs, and wrote poetry. Our dad, Paul, also encouraged us all to sing, and [he] recorded us often as kids with his basic tape recorder. My mom had a group that performed around town (and surrounding areas). All of us were inspired and learned guitar and/or singing -- part from Mom, and part from lessons, from listening to and watching others perform. At family holiday gatherings and often just around the house, we were always singing, playing instruments, and carrying on.
As kids, and into adulthood, we’ve all had different musical paths. Carol studied violin and has played professionally with large symphonies, folk acts, [and] large pop acts from a young age. Carol also teaches orchestra, bluegrass, and other instrumental classes at a New Jersey middle school. Connie and Kathy have both performed as singers in rock/blues bands and have learned some instruments. I took piano and tried violin, but ended up mostly a guitar player and songwriter. But there have been periods in our teens, and later, where we did gigs with each other and would get up on stage at times, at each other’s performances.
Our divergent paths have kept us from performing as an “act,” at least until recently. Just in the past few years, we’ve had regular appearances at the Black Potatoe Music Festival, as well as some other smaller venues -- [like] Fox Run last year. Playing gigs with my sisters is one of my utmost favorite things to do in life.
When you moved to New York City, was your intention to make your living as a musician?
I was exploring several different options, including possibly going to law school. I worked for a year as a legal assistant in a large firm in Manhattan, then switched to a job in Business Affairs/Legal at Sony Music, where I stayed for five years. At that time, I knew I couldn’t afford to live off of being a musician, but was exploring all the possibilities of my various skill sets. Eventually I realized I could probably work as a software engineer/IT professional -- something I picked up at the Sony job -- and play music at the same time. I made that career change in 1996, when I moved to Boston.
How did you hook up with the Fast Folk songwriters and what did you learn at Jack Hardy’s songwriting sessions?
Jack -- and Wendy Beckerman -- lived diagonally across from me in New York. I had a little apartment on MacDougal St off 6th Ave below Houston, and they were on the Northeast side of that large intersection. Some of my friends, including Chris Bauman, Gregg Cagno, and Catie Curtis, were involved with Fast Folk. So, eventually, through one of them, I met Wendy, and then joined the regular meetings at Jack’s. It was a wonderful community to join at that time because they had just gotten the Fast Folk Cafe going and there were not only great songs to hear but gigs to be had.
My first Fast Folk gig was opening for Cliff Eberhardt, then Paul Geremia, and I played there several times over the years. I also was recorded performing my song “Nathan” on the New Voices NYC CD in 1996, and had a song covered, “Carriage Horse,” at a Fast Folk show at the Bottom Line. Also, at the same time there were songwriting meetings held over at David Seitz’s apartment (Prime CD). Just tons of great songwriters were revolving between those two meetings. I was extremely grateful for the regular nights of shared meals and creative community, which is not always easy to find in a sprawling city like New York.
Tell us about Camp Hoboken. That musical collective was a big part of your life for a few years. What was your biggest joy during that time?
It’s hard to tell the tale of Camp Hoboken in a short answer, but my sisters were involved. One of my best friends Gregg Cagno, his best friend Chris Bauman, and I were initiators of it. We would meet in the front room at Maxwells in Hoboken and plot how we could improve our music careers. Don Brody booked the front room and started singing with my sister Connie in a rebirth of his well-known duo, the Marys. Out of some late-night imaginings, we decided to create a sort of traveling variety show with several different members, the goal being to make self-promotion, traveling, and conferences easier to manage (and bear).
Our first real engagement was the 1995 National Folk Alliance Conference in DC, and we made a compilation tape of all of our music, setting up several showcases as a group where we played songs in the round and together. People came to see us and said, “Can we book you as a group?” We also had our own campsites at Falcon Ridge and other festivals. Don -- who also worked at Razor & Tie -- was in many ways our fearless leader and guru. We lost him to a heart attack in 1997. That was devastating to all of us but made us closer.
Read Chris Bauman’s book In Hoboken to really get a feel for what our lives were about. I’d say the great joy for me in being a part of Camp Hoboken was all the incredible fun we had, anywhere we went. We focused on the fun first, and always treated each other like family. Too many wonderful stories to tell here, really, but a highlight for me was a tour I did with Gregg and Chris through Atlanta, [to] Dallas and back. We met Woody Guthrie’s daughter, were attacked by ticks, ate too many ribs, and almost crashed my car, but that doesn’t really capture it at all.
You’ve released three solo records and have taken a bit of a break to raise your children. Have you been able to grab some time now and again to write some new songs?
I have been writing recently -- I think mostly inspired by the passing of Jack Hardy. His loss really hit me in a deep way and I started to hear his voice urging me to get off my soapbox and start writing again. I also can thank Esther Friedman and Chris LaVancher who host a songwriting meeting I attend, as well as Timmy Riordan who hosts an online “Fearless Songwriting” challenge regularly. I am lucky to have so many talented musicians, engineers, promoters, DJs, etc in my life, who I truly appreciate just as people. The quality of the music is enhanced by these relationships, so I hope my musical compositions [and] recordings also reflect that.
You were deeply involved with the Respond compilation, which was a benefit CD for domestic abuse causes. That collection caught the attention of many people and the songs were powerful. Tell us about the genesis of that project.
I had moved up to the Boston area in 1996 and started playing open mics and gigs almost immediately. Charan Devereax was hosting the open mike at Club Passim on Tuesday nights and she invited me to a pancake breakfast at her house with some of the other women playing the open mics -- Colleen Sexton, Kris Delmhorst, Jess Klien, Pamela Means, Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier, etc. Charan spearheaded the project but got several of us on board as co-producers, as well as artists. We brainstormed together at a few meetings and came up with a list of other, better-known artists we also wanted to involve, as well as producers, promoters etc, Once we found the Somerville organization's “Respond” to be the recipient of the fundraising, lots of people jumped on board. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. What a group of women and what an amazing compilation we made!
Do you listen to much new music these days? Have you discovered any new voices that you feel are comparable to those you knew from the Fast Folk days?
I do love to listen and find new music, not through radio exposure or the typical channels, but mostly via house concerts, word of mouth, and/or at festivals. Mary Lou Lord has a great Facebook feed where she promotes a lot of great bands who are under the radar. I also just poke around to see who my favorite bands are working with and that kind of thing.
Will there be a new Linda Sharar recording any time soon?
In the past four years or so, I’ve recorded some individual songs at different places with different levels of finish. I think I would consider putting out an EP in the next year but nothing dramatic or expensive. I suppose, in this day and age, it might be enough to do this online and have a few YouTube videos to complement the songs. But, I also am hoping the Sharar sisters get some recordings in the works, because we all realize how valuable it is to document what happens when we make music together.
To learn more about Linda Sharar, visit her website.