As American schools de-emphasized music over the last decades, Chelsea and Saline high schools went in the other direction, forming and marshaling community support for fiddle ensembles that are a great deal of fun and get a lot of students involved. And lo, kids coming out of these programs are finding themselves with skills that people will pay good money for. Saline’s Jeremy Kittel is now moving in the top circles of new acoustic music, a mixed bag that includes aspects of bluegrass, Celtic music, jazz, and classical music, for starters. And now, following on his heels but not imitating him, is Kiana June Weber, who came up through the Chelsea House Orchestra.
At twenty-three, she’s already a veteran. As a high school student, she formed a band called Daughters of Newgrass that took the brilliant but rather arcane California fusion fiddler Darol Anger for a musical model. Like Kittel, she moved on to the U-M, but her studies were interrupted by a paying gig with a Celtic music-and-dance outfit called Barrage. She traveled with them to, among other places, Beijing, where she played on television for 50 million people.
Now she’s signed on with an even bigger Celtic group, Gaelic Storm, the one that played the steerage band in Titanic. But she also came back to Ann Arbor to finish her music degree, and last spring she played a concert at the Ark that was one-third recital for her music degree, one-third Celtic and bluegrass whirlwind, and one-third new acoustic music of one kind or another. Not many young people could have pulled it off and held it together, but she did.
There are aspects of Weber’s music that will grow stronger over time, but she’s already a formidable talent, and she has charisma to burn. She knows how to handle a crowd that may be expecting various things from a show, and she realizes that fast Celtic tunes really need to be taken a little bit faster than the fiddler can play them. At the Ark, she put together an intelligent program that built logically to a blistering “Old Joe Clark” and a broadly epic “Jerusalem Ridge.” She has a virtuoso’s command and an open ear.
Now Weber has a new single, a lovely version of the Bill Staines folk classic “Roseville Fair,” in which she sings and accompanies herself on a strummed violin, with the violin bowed at the end in a kind of epilogue. I’ve never heard anything exactly like it. And on December 17 she’s coming to the Ark (see Nightspots) with a show where she’ll call all the shots (and, she says, mix in a few holiday tunes). She’s pure Michigan, and she could be very big.