At 11, bluegrass singer, mandolinist and guitar player Sierra Hull played the Grand Ole Opry. She was called on stage by Alison Krauss. Now 26, she has played the White House, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center and was the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Hull was raised in Tennessee and began playing the mandolin when she was 8. She jammed with members of her family and put out a self-released album when she was 10. By then, she was entering local talent contests and going to bluegrass festivals with her parents. Rounder Records discovered her at the International Bluegrass Music Association festival and Alison Krauss, herself a child prodigy, became a mentor.
As she entered her twenties, Hull began to re-evaluate the music she’d made as a teen. She talked to Krauss, who was now a friend as well as a mentor. Krauss advised her to talk to banjo-master Bela Fleck. “Sierra lives in the border area where new ideas mix to create hybrids and sometimes brand-new directions,” Fleck said. “Her own voice was quietly telling her something that was hard to hear over all the advice she was getting.”
Fleck asked her to play her new songs for him without accompaniment other than her voice and her mandolin. Hull learned some truths about herself. “Even when I was fronting a band, I’d always been an ensemble player,” she said. “To do something by myself made me rethink everything.”
The result was the 2016 album, Weighted Mind, produced by Fleck. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Folk Album. To the mandolin and her voice, she added bass player Ethan Jodziewcz. Fleck is heard, as are Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens. While the album certainly pays homage to its bluegrass roots, the music is pure Hull. She wrote 11 of the 12 songs and arranged the 12th. This is not the work of the young or teen Sierra Hull. It is the work of a grown-up. “She plays the mandolin with a degree of refined elegance and freedom that few have achieved,” said Fleck. “Now her vocals and songwriting have matured to the level of her virtuosity.”
For Hull, the key to her more mature sound is being true to herself.
“The moment you start to be yourself, there’s an honesty about that that people connect with,” she said. “This album feels like the story of my early twenties, of that searching. Now it feels like everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”
One of her songs on the album is “I’ll be Fine.” Come to The Lyric to hear an artist at peace with herself and her talent, making the best music of her life. She’s fine, indeed.