A Visit with Kara Barnard

by Bill Weaver
photo by George Bredewater

“My goal for 2004,” says Kara Barnard, “is less touring, more hiking.”

Barnard’s love of music has led her to master a wide range of instruments—from guitar to musical saw. But it is her enthusiasm as a performer and as a teacher that most people take away from an encounter with this woman.

“I love that audience reaction when I’m performing,” she says. “Teaching is an extension of what I do when I’m performing. I like questions and answers. When I get to do one-on-one with people every week it’s the epitome of that relationship.”

A longtime Nashville resident, Kara lives on a hill overlooking the town where she bought an old, neglected log cabin that she rebuilt with the help of “my stepdad and a handful of friends.

“There was a big hole right here,” she says while pointing to the kitchen ceiling. “When it rained it was like a waterfall. I chainsawed this out all the way down to the crawlspace. Anything that I could possibly save that wasn’t rotted or moldy I saved. It was an amazing find. I was extremely lucky. Musicians don’t have the biggest incomes and finding an affordable place like this in Brown Country, so I can stay here, was a gift.”

Born in Linton and raised in Bloomfield Barnard lived in Bloomington for a short time before finding Brown County more to her liking. “I had a store in Nashville where I did my caricatures and artwork. I then moved up to Greenwood and for that year I stopped writing, stopped creating anything at all. Just the wrong environment,” she laughs. “There’s a different rhythm up there. I knew that I wanted to be in Brown County.”

Between traveling to performances throughout the eastern part of the country, producing and recording CDs, and teaching forty students, Kara still finds time each week to appear at her favorite venue. “I play the Abe Martin Lodge pretty much every Saturday and have for years. To miss a date I have to be so far out of state that I can’t physically get back. Last summer I would do a show in Kansas City on a Friday night and immediately start driving to get back here to play the Abe Martin Lodge on Saturday.

“People that I play backup for, if they had their way, I would be on the road with them all the time. It’s hard for anyone to comprehend that I can stay right here in Brown County, five minutes away from my home, and play every Saturday night to a brand new audience that comes from all over the country. I love the Lodge. It has spoiled me rotten. It’s just like this cabin, it’s an incredible blessing.”

Known for her versatility, Kara skillfully plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, mountain dulcimer, autoharp, octave mandolin, and musical saw. She plays traditional, old-time, bluegrass, and original music. Her most recent collaboration is with the band Wishing Chair (Kiya Heartwood and Miriam Davidson).

“I was playing a festival at the same time they were and people were telling me, ‘You’ve got to meet these two women from Kentucky because you remind us so much of each other.’ I invited them on my set and we had such a huge audience response that people started booking us. We were kind of forced together. It was awkward, but it’s been a lot of fun.

“In the early 80’s I can remember seeing Kiya on MTV from time to time with this big blond hair. Now that we’re all in our 40’s we don’t play the rock any more. It’s all acoustic. But we play our instruments really hard!

“We play all kinds of festivals: Falcon Ridge out in New York, which is a huge folk festival; the Waterfront Festival, up in Rockford, Illinois; the National Women’s Music Festival—all kinds of music and women’s festivals.”

Wishing Chair and Kara Barnard recently released their first CD, Dishpan Brigade, which is also Kara’s fifth CD. She’s had innumerable appearances on stage and in recordings, including with Tret Fure, Jamie Anderson, Sindacato, Lisa Koch, Edie Carey, Beth Lodge-Rigal, Slats Klug, and many others.

“I tell my young students that are getting out and playing coffeehouses that I didn’t start getting recognized nationally until my late thirties—and by that point I didn’t care anymore. You build up so many battle wounds and scars from people saying no, or by walking into a little coffeehouse and getting dissed. And the next weekend you might play in front of five thousand and they’re on their feet. It’s a constant up and down and it can wear you out. At some point you stop caring—that’s when the really good music starts.”

Kara’s other great love is hiking. “I try to hike at least three or four times a week. My latest hobby is to have friends drop me off in various points in Brown County Park, taking my compass, and walking home. The most fun hike was starting at Hesitation Point and walking home from there. It makes me appreciate why we don’t have hiking trails in some parts of the park because you literally just hang on and hug the hill. There are parts of the park that are so beautiful….It’s so quiet you can hear your own heartbeat.”

“I could not have asked for a better life,” Barnard says earnestly. “I don’t want any more than what I’ve got. On Thanksgiving Mom always does that thing, ‘Okay, everybody go around the table and say what you’re thankful for.’

“I said, ‘I’m thankful for being allowed to live in Brown County and have all that beauty around me that I can step out and walk into every day. And all the music that I play. I’ve never had to do anything with my life to make money other than play music.’ Then my kid sister said, ‘Well, I’m just thankful for my diamond earrings!’” Kara laughs gleefully.

“I’m grateful that I’ve got this little house,” she goes on. “It’s still got all kinds of work to do to it but it’s a roof over my head. I feel like I’ve been blessed with the biggest gifts in the world. I’ve got everything I want. Any more would feel wasteful.

“I get grief from some of my friends that tour all the time because I could be playing festivals all over the country all the time. But why—when I can hang out here in Brown County and meet all these wonderful people that come into town to visit us, that come out to hear me play at the Lodge. I get to know who they are. I’ve got all these wonderful musicians that come to take lessons and hang out with me every week. There’s not much more to want.”

Kara performs at the Brown County State Park Abe Martin Lodge every Saturday night. Don’t miss her after the Winter Hike on January 10th.

You can find more about Kara Barnard and her music at <http://www.karabarnard.com>.