The Grammy-nominated band Della Mae is full of disrupters. Since the all-female string band formed in Boston in 2009, its ambition has been to disrupt the male-dominated bluegrass scene. The band was ahead of its time in putting women in the forefront, and its name reflects that.
Kimber Ludiker is a two-time Grand National Champion fiddle player and founder of Della Mae. She explained how the band got its name. “Della Mae is a woman who pops up in a lot of bluegrass songs and who’s a victim of physical abuse,” she said. “She done her man wrong, and now he’s gonna get her. From the beginning, this band has been about reclaiming her story and changing the conversation for women, especially those whose stories haven’t been told.”
The band, which includes Ludiker, lead vocalist/guitarist Celia Woodsmith, guitarist Avril Smith, and bassist Vickie Vaughn, is one of the most charismatic and engaging roots bands touring today. They have traveled to more than 30 countries spreading peace and understanding through music. Their mission as a band is to showcase top female musicians and to improve the opportunities for women and girls through advocacy, mentorship, programming, and performing.
The band is known for an up-tempo, rollicking sound in live performances and in its albums as well, although both also reflect some of the turmoil of the last few years as touring stopped because of COVID. Band members, who live in different parts of the country, were unable to play together. In early 2020, just before COVID, Della Mae released Headlight, an album dedicated to celebrating powerful, trailblazing women. They pushed beyond their bluegrass roots and saw the album’s potential as a platform for change.
“So many things have happened that we knew we needed to write about, so we shelved old ideas of what we were supposed to sound like, and just played these songs in the way that felt right,” Ludiker said. Woodsmith added that they didn’t want to meet the expectations of others. “As women living in today’s world, we no longer feel the need to bow down to anything or anyone, and it feels incredibly liberating,” she said.
In the summer of 2021, after a COVID-enforced hiatus, the band returned to touring and released another album, Family Reunion. The band that had been talking, texting, Zooming, teaching, writing and playing was finally able to get back together and they wanted to record it. Family Reunion is a snapshot of that coming together, playing as a group for the first time in 18 months. The album celebrates surviving a tough time by deepening the bond with a community of fans through weekly live-streamed performances. The album showcases the band’s dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass chops while stretching out lyrically and texturally.
“We are always evolving, changing and growing as a band,” Woodsmith said. “There is always further to grow and more to experiment with musically. To me, this record is about independence, ownership, trust, and family. We relied on our instincts, skills, and musicianship. It is also a bit about catharsis, rising from the ashes of a global pandemic with new skills, songs, and outlook on life.”
Of Family Reunion, the website and radio station Folk Alley had this to say: “Every song on Family Reunion is a little gem of perfection. They shine brightly in all musical facets, with every note in its place but often leading us down unexpected paths.”
Unexpected paths of perfection. That describes Della Mae as well.