Sierra Hull is a Lyric favorite. The bluegrass singer, mandolinist and guitar player first played the Grand Ole Opry when Alison Krauss called her to the stage. She was 11. 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 Berklee College of Music.
Hull was raised in Tennessee and began playing the mandolin when she was 8. She put out a self-released album when she was 10 and began jamming with other musicians in her family. By the time she was 10, she was entering local talent contests and her parents took her to bluegrass festivals. During the International Bluegrass Music Association festival, Rounder Records discovered her and she was mentored by Krauss, who knew something about being a child prodigy. On Nov. 21, 2011, Hull and Krauss, along with Dan Tyminski, performed in the White House.
As she entered her twenties, Hull became dissatisfied with the music she made as a teen. She talked to Krauss, the mentor who was now a confidante. She advised Hull 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,” he 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 the mandolin. “Even when I was fronting a band, I’d always been an ensemble player,” Hull 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, this music is Hull. She wrote 11 of the 12 songs and arranged the 12th.
“She plays the mandolin with a degree of refined elegance and freedom that few have achieved,” said Fleck. “And now her vocals and songwriting have matured to the level of her virtuosity.”
For Hull, it’s about being herself. “The moment you start to be yourself, there’s an honesty about that, that people connect with,” Hull 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.