Serendipity in Music City

We packed up an acoustic guitar and mandolin, stuffing their canvas cases with t-shirts and beanies to cushion their journey. It’s always risky, flying with acoustic instruments – but keep them in a soft case and try as they might, those airline employees can’t quite force you to surrender your baby to the crude handling of the luggage team. (“What was your name? Just so I know who to call if you make me check this and it’s a pile of matchsticks when we arrive.”)

Oh, but that’s the worst-case scenario. The matchsticks reference doesn’t really come up that often. For the most part, people are just curious about what you’ve got strapped to your back. That is, until you fly to Nashville, where a gleaming, cherry-red 1960s Gibson 335 in a crystalline display case greets you by baggage claim. Merle Travis is piped in over the loudspeakers. Patsy Cline smiles down from a giant billboard; next to her, Johnny Cash’s scathing gaze looks right through you. Welcome to Music City.

After landing we headed straight to Exit/In, a club that since its opening in 1971 “has taken its place among the nation’s most venerable, historic music venues.” Everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Etta James, from the Black Crowes to Death Cab for Cutie, has played there. We caught a raucous set by sister duo Larkin Poe, whose powerful voices and soaring guitars filled the room. For an encore, they invited up and coming guitarist Tyler Bryant and incredible slide player Robert Randolph (who had been standing next to us at the bar, unbeknownst to me!) to join them onstage. They then proceeded to bring the house down.

Even though we were new to town, and even though we had followed the impressive careers of some of these musicians but had never actually met them or heard them live, the whole night felt like an easygoing party amongst friends. After their killer encore, Robert Randolph stepped offstage and raised a glass with the crowd, which was mixed: all ages, some in cowboy hats, some in combat boots; young bucks barely of drinking age rubbing shoulders with old bikers who looked like they were born with beer in hand. It all felt very open and honest and straightforward: come as you are and enjoy the music. We’re glad you’re here.

The next day we headed to ASCAP (Association of Songwriters, Composers, and Publishers), the performance rights organization (PRO) which represents both me and Berna as music authors and publishers. I had heard that in the old days, the best thing was to meet a rep from your PRO, play your three best songs, and get their feedback. Maybe they’d tell you to take a hike, and keep your day job; maybe they’d pair you up with another writer.

In trying to schedule such an appointment, I had repeatedly heard the line that ASCAP represents over 750,000 writers and publishers these days, and their reps don’t have the bandwidth to meet with just any writer in their constituency. Fair enough. We showed up anyway.

While we were waiting in the lobby, the elevator opened and a tall, slim gentleman dressed all in black, with bright blue eyes, smiled. We smiled back, shook hands. He introduced himself – Ralph Murphy – and said if we waited he could meet with us. A few minutes later he ushered us into his office. The glass walls and modern furniture contrasted with the piles of books and old school stereo receiver. A large Bugs Bunny stuffed toy sat in one of his desk chairs, holding a guitar; Mickey Mouse lounged in another corner.

Ralph, Bugs, and Mickey all looked at us and waited. A little frazzled (he is the VP of ASCAP Nashville, after all…), I explained what we were there for and asked if we could play some songs for him. He nodded (Bugs and Mickey were stone faced), and from one phone we played a selection of our tunes while he read lyrics off another phone. He tapped his foot and listened intently, and for each song he had both general comments about the rules of writing hits and specific comments on the music and the message of the song. In 20 minutes I got more substantial, concrete feedback on my writing than I had in 15 years of gigging. I came away with some clear marching orders, all outlined neatly in the fresh copy of Ralph’s book which he generously gifted me. But perhaps most importantly, we came away inspired anew to work, reach, and refine our craft.

Despite the downpour outside, our footsteps were light. We walked by RCA Studios A and B – no big deal, just humble little studios where the likes of Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, and B.B. King have recorded (to name a few) – on our way back to the car. We spent the rest of the day in vintage guitar shops playing precious, beautiful, completely unaffordable museum pieces before heading to The Ryman Auditorium, the famed hall that originally hosted the Grand Ole Opry.

The band was Blackberry Smoke, whose sound blends the liquid, dual guitars of the Allman Brothers with the soulful edge of the Black Crowes. Pure southern rock with catchy guitar riffs and a tight rhythm section, punctuated by interjections from the guest pedal steel player. As has been happening to me a lot lately, this music at once brought me back & pitched me forward. The familiarity of the song forms, the harmonies, and even the bands’ flowing locks (a-la-Gregg and Duane) were comforting, and felt like home; but the songs’ insights and delivery were very much of the current moment.

My favorite song of their set was one I have come to call “Itty Bitty Town”(though the song is actually called “One Horse Town” and the lyrics talk about a “little bitty town”, not an itty bitty one… remember the “creative” song lyrics you’d come with as a kid, based on what you thought you were hearing on the radio?). Contrasting nostalgia and loyalty to family and home with ambitions of something bigger, “One Horse Town” illustrates a conflict that’s all too familiar to the artists and dreamers of small town America. And it’s just as true today as it would have been over a century ago (when leaving town actually did require you to saddle up your pony).

This was the kind of timeless story and detail that Ralph (and Bugs and Mickey) were pushing us towards – something specific yet relatable, unique yet universal. To see and hear such a stunning example of this kind of writing live, so soon after our meeting with him, seemed uncanny… or at the very least, serendipitous. But really, that’s just living in Nashville. The place is simply saturated with music – good music – and everywhere you turn, musicians are reaching back and looking forward, honing their craft, their ears and hearts open. It was all we could do to soak it in for the brief window we walked those streets, tucked into the curves of the swelling Cumberland River, whose singing currents blended with the twang of the honky tonks and drifted up, up, up over the valley, fading into the stars.

Riverwalk Nashua w/Dwight & Nicole

Dwight & Nicole supported by Marina & Berna at the Riverwalk Cafe.

Marina & Berna are looking forward to returning to one of their favorite New Hampshire venues, the Riverwalk Cafe & Music Bar in Nashua, to support blues-soul trio Dwight & Nicole on February 2.

Together, Dwight & Nicole have toured up and down the Northeast, growing a fiercely loyal fan base, and self releasing two award-winning albums through crowd funding. The Boston Globe calls them “A tour de force that demands much wider success” and describes their sound as “poignant, hard-driving and heavenly”.

Marina & Berna will open up the show with their unique blend of folk, americana, and gritty blues, refined over many years spent together on the road, the stage, and in the studio, from Italy to California and just about everywhere in between.

Join us for this great show at the Riverwalk – click here for tickets and more information.

Folkin’ Christmas in NY

marina berna livorno

On Sunday, December 9, Berna & I are psyched to be returning to New York City! We’ll play a cozy acoustic set at Rockwood Music Hall (stage 1) starting at 6pm. Nestled on the lower east side, Rockwood presents a variety of independent music 7 days a week on 3 different stages. The tunes are top notch, the staff is great, and the beer’s not bad either – so join us to kick off the holiday season in beautiful New York!

NEW MUSIC: “Sunday Morning”

Marina & Berna - Sunday Morning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Friday, spring has arrived (…somewhere, I’m sure), and apparently, Mercury is in retrograde. So, what better time to release an angsty single number two off Tide & Stars?!

Click below to check out my latest release, “Sunday Morning”!

Berna and I are VERY proud of how this track turned out, and hope you dig it. As ever, we recorded this one on two continents (the scattershot approach seems to be working for us), and we want to extend a grazie mille to everyone involved, from Boston to Firenze. Click here (or above) to purchase, download, and share the track.

From the wilds of Maine to NYC

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Ah, the beauty of New England in the summertime: my two next shows couldn’t be more different from each other! First, Bernardo and I head north to the wilds of Maine to play an intimate concert at the beautiful Somerset Abbey up in Madison, ME on September 9. We will camp in stunning Acadia before heading over to Madison for dinner & a show — let us serenade you as you dine! Tickets and more info available here.

Next up, we’re southbound for New York City! We’ll be playing an acoustic set at the Rockwood Music Hall on the lower East Side, down on Allen Street, on September 16 at 4pm. A cozy venue with great original music from local and touring acts, Rockwood features some of the best undiscovered, up and coming music around. Visit their website to see the full lineup… hope to see you, New Yorkers!

Summer shows!

Marina & Berna in VT 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, hello! I write from a glowing screen in an old stone house in the hills of Chianti, the dark green Persian blinds drawn tight against the summer swelter outside. The wheat sways and glows gold, spilling down the hillside to the well in the valley below. Summer is here, the cicadas are singing, the jasmine is blooming… and I am booking, booking, booking!

After another few weeks in this blissful place, Berna and I will hop a plane and head back to salty New England, guitars in hand, where my trusty steed (… Honda) awaits. The trunk is already packed: tent, fishing pole, amps, CDs. We’ll hit the ground running — as usual — with shows booked in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and New York City (and more on the way). We’ll be stretching out some new tunes — including one in Italian (!) — off my forthcoming album Tide & Stars. And we would LOVE to see & sing to you. It’s been too long!

Click here to view upcoming gigs on the books. I’m adding more shows all the time, though, so check back often if you don’t find one in your area — or follow me (Facebook) (Instagram) to stay up to date! Thanks team… and see you SOON!

<3 <3 <3

This weekend: Portland, ME and New York City!

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This weekend, Marina & Berna hit the road for two intimate acoustic (and FREE!) shows. The first is on Friday, 3/10 up in the salty city of Portland, ME: we will play two original sets on the newly-renovated stage at Port City Blue, one of Portland’s coziest venues for original folk, bluegrass, jazz, and more. Our set starts at 8pm. Join us for tunes & brews (and maybe some snow)!

Next up, on Sunday, March 12, we head down to New York City to play a set at the Rockwood Music Hall, down on Manhattan’s lower east side. Rockwood has three separate stages, each in its own space with its own bar and staff — so they up hosting dozens of independent musicians each day! It’s a great place to come to discover new music. We hit at 5pm on Stage 1 – hope to see you, New York friends & fans!

“A Part of Something Bigger” — Live Review!

Marina, Berna, and Adam at the narrows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last weekend, Bernardo and I were honored to share the stage with rising star Adam Ezra and his fabulous band at the beautiful Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. Several days later, while still riding high on the show’s good vibes, we were pleasantly surprised to see a glowing review from Tony Adams at the Live Music News & Review blog! Click here to check it out.

Tony is a dedicated fan of Adam’s, as you will read, and the sheer joy with which he writes of the concert is characteristic of Adam’s enthusiastic and inspired fans. As Adam said himself onstage, his main source of inspiration in writing, performing, and listening to live music is the feeling of being “a part of something bigger than yourself.” And this concert was no exception: we were all swept up in the moment, the music, the experience, singing and swaying together at concert’s end like the very best of old friends. It was an honor to be a part of this night, and to be a part of this incredible community that Adam has built up over many, many years on the road… and it certainly gave us something to aspire to.

 

Photo by Michael Sparks Keegan Photography

Opening for the Adam Ezra Group!

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Saturday, February 25: Marina & Bernardo head down to Fall River, MA to support New England favorite the Adam Ezra Group at the Narrows Center for the Arts! Marina’s sultry voice and Bernardo’s gritty slide guitar are a perfect warmup to the rollicking, heartfelt, socially conscious music of AEG, a group that’s fast-rising to national acclaim. This is one show of original, homegrown New England music that you won’t want to miss!

Tickets:

About the Adam Ezra Group: A tireless touring outfit, the Adam Ezra Group (AEG) played upwards of 200 shows in 2015, often devoting their time to local charities and always going out of their way to connect with fans. The Group is made up of lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, Adam Ezra, Alex Martin on drums, Turtle on percussion, Corinna Smith on fiddle, Francis Hickey on bass and Josh Gold on keys. Together they are creating a powerful, inclusive community around AEG shows that is beginning to be compared to a social-movement as much as a traditional music fan-base.

 

Homeward Bound: Stateside Summer Shows

Marina & Berna in VT 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of year again – when I fly across the Atlantic from Italy to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, only to hit the ground running (& singing!) for a summer tour across New England. And I couldn’t be more excited!

This summer, it’s quite the mix: solo acoustic shows, concerts in duo with my musical partner & killer slide guitarist Bernardo Baglioni, and performances fronting the incredible Compaq Big Band. Everything from house concerts (in living rooms, recording studios, and one on the stunning shores of Lake Winnipesaukee!) to museums, from the decks of one of Gloucester’s historic schooners to the hallowed halls of aged New England churches — there’s a concert for everyone. Click here to see the full calendar!

I’m also looking forward to a benefit concert for the Schooner Adventure, “the last of the Gloucestermen,” a historic ship that is a living testament to our rich maritime history (August 12). I’ll be performing in acoustic duo with Bernardo aboard the ship as she’s docked in her beautiful home port of Gloucester, MA. Come join us for a sunset concert beneath the spars!

More concerts are being added all the time, so stay tuned — click here to view the full concert calendar, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram for up-to-the-minute news. Many thanks all — looking forward to seeing you (and singing to you!) along the road!