It’s Labor Day, and the five members of The Folka Dots sit down for eggs Benedict and omelets at the Blue Plate Diner before an afternoon gig. It seems odd there isn’t a plate of biscuits & gravy on the table, because the musical meanderings the band creates—harmony-laden, old-timey songs—are rooted in southern Appalachia, where made-from-scratch biscuits & gravy sit on many lazy-morning plates.
The Folka Dots’ music is kind of like Blue Plate’s biscuits: delicious, although not truly authentic. The band draws upon unamplified, stringed instruments and takes musical cues from that region, but their music is less humid and has a decidedly Western bent, which speaks to the band’s actual home turf being Salt Lake City, rather than the South.
“We try to evoke the imagery of Appalachian front-porch music when we write or even perform,” says fiddle player Corinne Gentry, adding that it happens in a strangely natural way, being as far removed from the South as they are. “We’d like to go to Tennessee and the South and breathe the air of the place that inspires us. That’s our soulful roots.”
Southern fare, like folk songs, is an art that takes time to perfect. The band’s recipe is becoming more refined as time passes, and they frequently perform at venues and farmers markets around the valley; the latter is where they feel most at home.
“The big thing about those gigs is that we get to have an intimate conversation with our audience. We can stop in between songs and make a real connection,” guitarist Brian Manecke says. “Sometimes, if you’re on a stage, you can’t tell if people are enjoying it.”
After breakfast, the band leaves for a similar performance, this one at the Extreme Yard Sale at Fairmont Park in Sugar House. Vendors sell trinkets interspersed with a few gems as the band plays. At one booth, there’s a box of old, scratched-up country LPs—the likes of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, The Carter Family and more. It seems like a fitting find.
“Those old greats are inspirations for us. We all have a knowledge of them and it’s what we connect on when we create music together,” says guitarist Marie Bradshaw.
Little children and a few brave adults dance as The Folka Dots play their sunny songs. Many folks try to walk past and are stopped in their tracks by the infectious harmonies produced by a trio of women—Gentry, Bradshaw and Bradshaw’s sister, Kiki Sieger. It’s simple and clean; it’s pure.
The Folka Dots began in the summer of 2010 with those three harmonizing on classic country and folk. For their first gig, they were encouraged to enter the Bountiful’s Got Talent contest, where they finished second, besting a group of middle schoolers. Soon after, in September 2010, they recorded Down Below. Just weeks prior, guitarist Brian Manecke and bassist Andy Murphy joined the band, which created a more well-rounded sound.
The album is an easy listen, but their new material is brimming with much more confidence and charisma.
“I don’t feel like we were open enough to give good constructive criticism [when we recorded the first album]. Now, we connect on so many levels,” Manecke says.
“When we play [songs from Down Below] over and over again, we just get to looking forward to playing our new songs. We’ve been putting in a lot of effort to making upbeat songs,” Bradshaw says.
Those new songs are being cooked up faster than biscuits & gravy on a Tennessee weekend. Bradshaw herself has written more than 20 songs in the past year, with the others contributing as well.
“There’s been a whole new level of collaboration on the newer songs. We’re more comfortable playing together,” Bradshaw says.
The Folka Dots will enter the studio this winter to record their second album. But for now, they continue to play intimate, outdoor shows to master the art of folk music. They’re happy to play anywhere someone might let them—each gig puts them one step closer to their collective vision.
“We’re trying to take all the steps necessary to be The Folka Dots full time. If we could just quit our jobs and go on tour, well, that’s what everyone in the band wants,” Gentry says.
“Getting on tour is what gets you going as a professional musician. We just want to play music.” Manecke adds that their local niche might just come in handy with that. “I think it would be great, one day, to do a national tour of farmers markets.”
THE FOLKA DOTS
The Salty Streets Flea Market
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Sunday, Oct. 2, 3 p.m.