Jul 05, 2013 - Singer-Songwriter Kristen Hemphill Sets CD Release Party Saturday at the Jazz Depot


           When Tulsa native Kristen Hemphill found herself torn between William Shakespeare and bluegrass, she went for the music without realizing that she’d made a conscious choice. And while, she says, “I still love Shakespeare – he’s definitely still in my heart,” these days she’s far more likely to be performing her own words on stage instead of those penned by the Bard of Avon.

            “I’d planned on doing theater after college, and I went down to Dallas to audition for some Shakespeare productions,” says Hemphill. “But I ended up turning down a role to do a concert show. So I thought, `Well, if I’m getting parts and I’m turning them down, I guess my heart really is in the music side of it.”

            Now, the singer-songwriter is seeing the release of her first CD, Future Man, which will be celebrated with a concert at the Jazz Hall of Fame on Saturday.  Future Man discs will be available for purchase at the free, all-ages event. 

            At the time she made the decision to pursue a career in music, Hemphill was no stranger to singing on stage, having begun performing at a very early age, and continuing through her days at Broken Arrow High School. “I’ve always been in plays and musicals,” she notes, “and I got my degree in theater from Oklahoma State. Then, during college, I met some people who picked and sang bluegrass, and I really got into bluegrass music. I got myself a guitar, went to the [Walnut Valley] festival in Winfield, Kansas, and just really got inspired.

            “So, after I got my bachelor’s degree, I went for a semester down at South Plains College in Texas, to learn guitar and figure out how to sing, you know, not so theater-like,” she adds with a laugh.

            Eventually, Hemphill moved to Boulder, Colorado, where she began doing her country-oriented material for audiences, “just basically learning my chops, playing in coffee shops and anywhere, really,” she says.  It was there that she started working on her first disc, which would ultimately become the 14-cut Future Man.  As she gained experience performing her songs, the bluegrass elements gradually became infused with other styles, until it metamorphosed into what she terms “country-Americana.”

            “I’ve always enjoyed old classic country,” she explains. “My dad listened to that when I was younger; I didn’t even know pop radio. When I was, like, seven, I’d always listen to old country like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. And my first concert was the Monkees.” She laughs again. “I just liked old music. I’ve always been influenced by the old-fashioned stuff. That’s always been my thing.”

            Although she left Colorado some time ago to return to her hometown – where she’s played gigs at area venues like Smoke, the Hunt Club, and Elwood’s – Hemphill’s Future Man was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, at a studio owned by Gary Baker, a veteran performer and Grammy-winning writer (for the John Michael Montgomery country hit “I Swear.”) His partner in the studio was a former business associate of Hemphill’s father, which gave her entrée. She and Baker, along with Baker’s protégé Matt Johnson, hit it off and began writing songs together, which they’d then take into the studio and record.

            “I think we wrote eight songs for the album in four days,” she says. “It was one of those things that was just magical. We’d be in a room, and we wouldn’t eat lunch until we’d written a song. Then we’d come back, and we wouldn’t eat dinner until we’d finished a song.

            “Dad was in the studio, and he loves to eat,” she adds, chucking. “He’d be saying, `You guys written a song yet? I’m hungry.’ So we were driven by hunger.”

            Her six-person band for the Jazz Depot release party includes top Tulsa fiddler Rick Morton, who’s worked with the Tractors, Brooks & Dunn, the Tulsa Playboys, and many other acts.

            “I think a fiddle is such an integral part of the sound,” she says. “He gives the music that rootsy part that I like; it kind of brings that home.”

            And while Hemphill’s “country-Americana” isn’t exactly the kind of sound usually heard from the Jazz Depot stage, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO Jason McIntosh feels that it fits there just fine.

            “Part of what we do is help musicians,” he explains, “and Kristen is a rising young talent. We’re very pleased to have her here for the CD release show.” 

            Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 13, for The Future Man CD release party at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.  Desi & Cody are scheduled to begin the show at 8:00 p.m., with Kristen Hemphill and her band starting at 9:00 p.m.  Admission is free. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.