Three Play Weird Music
May 18, 2001 By Mark Saal for the Standard Examiner, Ogden Utah
So when it comes time to hire a band for your science fiction convention, who do you get to play? That funky little blue elephant and his alien buddies from "Return of the Jedi," right?
But what if they've already got a gig that weekend in another sector of the galaxy? Then what? Well, you do what CONduit did. You hire Three Weird Sisters.
The Atlanta-based Three Weird Sisters will headline at this year's science fiction convention in Salt Lake City, playing their own brand of filk music for the convention-goers. They'll perform at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
That's right, filk. No, it's not a typo, though it once was, a long time ago at a convention far, far away.
It's filk, not folk. Filk music is a sort of folk music for lovers of science fiction and fantasy. It's been called "the folk music of the future."
Nick Smith of the Los Angeles Filkharmonics is quoted as saying: "It is a mixture of song parodies and original music, humorous and serious, about subjects like science fiction, fantasy, computers, cats, politics, the space program, books, movies, TV shows, love, war, death..."
But we prefer filk singer Leslie Fish's definition, which just happens to be the title of her filk album as well: "Folk Songs for Folks Who Ain't Even Been Yet."
Three Weird Sisters is a trio of Atlanta women who have been performing together for the past two years. Brenda Sutton beats the bodhran. Gwen Knighton plays the wireharp. Teresa Gibson Powell plucks the 3/4 upright bass. And all three sing, blending their clear voices in harmonies that have been described as "what the Carter family would have sounded like if they'd done filk/folk/Celtic/blues/insert music type."
That "insert music type" is quite apropos for Three Weird Sisters, since it can be an exercise in futility to attempt to pigeonhole their music. For want of a better term, the sisters call it "eclectic acoustic."
"That means we play just about anything, as long as you don't have to plug it in," Knighton said. "We play what we like."
And what they like is a little bit of everything. The three women bring their own unique backgrounds to the band. Sutton comes from a blues and filk tradition. (She and her husband were recently inducted into the Filk Hall of Fame.) Powell grew up on bluegrass and roots music. And Knighton is into the classical/Celtic tradition.
"So there's just a whole big pot of stuff to choose from," Knighton said.
"We don't place any stylistic restrictions on ourselves at all. When you're a band, people try to categorize you - because that makes you easier to describe - and all bands resist categorization. But the musical background we bring is so varied, we come from so many different musical worlds, that 'We play what we like,' pretty much describes it."
Folk to gospel
The band plays a lot of traditional folk ballads, Celtic, standard American folk, bluegrass, country and gospel music.
"It's just weird," Sutton said. "But it works when we do it. For some reason, this blend clicks when we do it."
And filk doesn't even cover everything the band does.
"We're called a filk band for the purposes of science-fiction convention touring," Knighton said. "We're called a Celtic band for the purposes of festival touring. And we're called a folk band for the purposes of radio airplay on the stations in Boston."
The three do songs from the early 1600s all the way up to songs that they wrote yesterday.
"We even do songs where everybody dies," Knighton says. "I actually specialize in songs where everybody dies. I collect murder ballads.
Weirdos in their wake
Three Weird Sisters has developed a small but loyal following - the fans have begun calling themselves "weirdos" and follow the band to its frequent gigs in the Atlanta area.
"We didn't call them weirdos, they call themselves weirdos," Knighton insists. "A couple of them came up with it. A lot of our fans are science-fiction fans too, so they're people who go to science fiction conventions, and they're not afraid of the word 'weirdo.'"
Sutton said she and the other two women are having the time of their lives. The band is only a part-time job for them, but they say they're not sure they'd want it any other way.
"We've got a lot of musician friends who've done the musical thing full-time," Sutton said. "Gigging is exhausting. Touring is exhausting. It has this huge, tremendous toll on your family life and on your friends, and on your social life and - well, you have no life."
"And that's not what any of us got into it for. We just want to have a really good time. If we made millions and millions of dollars, that would be great. But we're realists, and we know we're not going to. We're just enjoying it too much."
An album about changes
The band has an album due out next month. The women say they were hoping to have it done in time for the Salt Lake convention, but it's still in final production. Called "Rite the First Time," the original and cover tunes all have to do with making changes in life, a coming of age or rites of passage.
"One thread goes through all our songs - transitions, rites, rituals, the things that bind people together," Sutton said.
Knighton, who has never been to Utah, is a bit apprehensive about the trip.
"Both Brenda and Teresa have been there, and they tell me its like another planet - they roll up the sidewalks at five," she said.
Sutton lived in Salt Lake City in the 1970s, and Powell grew up in Idaho.
Although Three Weird Sisters is only a part-time job for the women, that doesn't mean it's not important to them.
"We're very particular about our songs, because music is important to us," Sutton Said. "When we don't practice during the week, we get depressed.
You can reach reporter Mark Saal at (801) 625-4272 or email@example.com