The Paramount Theatre is the place to be on Friday night, March 30, at 8 p.m. for the reunion performance of Cry Cry Cry — a folk supergroup consisting of acclaimed singer-songwriters Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, and Dar Williams. All three of them play guitar and sing, and Kaplansky also plays mandolin. I had the pleasure of speaking with Williams to learn about the group.
In October 1998, Cry Cry Cry released a critically acclaimed album that was a tribute to fellow tunesmiths from Robert Earl Keen to Greg Brown to Julie Miller. The trio performed together on an extensive tour in 1999 singing mainly the songs included on their collaborative album. The tour was met with very favorable reviews. The trio performed on June 18, 2017 at the Hudson River Clearwater Festival in New York. It was the first time they had performed together in 18 years. Williams said, “It was exciting, but it was a lot. We were learning new songs and also trying to challenge ourselves musically and it was an emotional thing to be returning. It was a big day. We were excited, but relieved when it was over.”
The band is in the midst of a limited run of shows that includes this performance. Williams has never performed here, but said she once had a delicious meal at Three Tomatoes which used to be on Merchants Row, and she also hiked Killington mountain as a child at summer camp.
Williams said they love singing harmonies and playing songs that they sang in the 90s. “We sing songs by other singer-songwriters that we knew, and now we’ve found some new songs, too. What we love to do is find songs that are … beautifully written and bring harmony to them and perform them together.” They all hand pick the songs that they play. She added, “It’s fun to perform songs by really great singer-songwriters that audiences haven’t necessarily heard of.”
One of those greats is John Fullbright from Oklahoma. Williams said, “He is doing very well, but it’s fun to spread the word about him.” Another is Jay Clifford from Jump Little Children. Williams said, “He’s from South Carolina and it’s nice to say that this country has all of these great singers. It’s fun to find these songs which are hidden gems and share them with audiences.”
The three of them originally got together because Williams had toured with Shindell and Shindell had toured with Kaplansky. She said, “Richard and I, in the late 90s, had wanted to do an album of songs by our friends that we both loved. Our manager recommended that all three of us do a tour together so that we could explore more, musically. At the end of the day, the very best musical collaborations are also friendships, and that is certainly the case with us.”
Williams grew up in New York and always thought she would never go home, but now lives only 30 miles from where she grew up. She took up the guitar when she was 9 years old. She said, “I put it down for a while and then picked it back up again when I was in high school and college.” She left New York for Boston in 1990 because she was interested in being a playwright, but couldn’t escape the music. She said, “The Boston music scene was happening on every front from classical to alternative rock and everything in between. I was really caught up in a great scene. To this day when people are starting out, I tell them to go to where you can find a scene. That’s where you’ll learn the most and be the most inspired.”
Williams was playing music part-time until January 1994 when it became a full-time job. It was then that her first full length CD, “The Honesty Room,” was Express-mailed to her gig at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass. It was her parents’ record collection that got her interested in music. She said, “They had all the folk music from the 60s, classical music, and a lot of Broadway shows. I used to choreograph Broadway shows in my parents’ living room for myself and listen to folk music in giant headphones. I would listen to my dad’s classical records while he puttered around in the basement. It was great — it was a houseful of music. My father’s record collection was alphabetized so everything at the beginning of the alphabet was covered like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Band. Then we would go down to Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and The Papas. There was always a lot of really harmonically based folk-rock.”
Williams talked about what she loves best about playing gigs and said, “I think there’s moment when a show is going really well and there’s something in the air that you can almost hear. It’s almost like you can hear how everybody is listening. You can hear yourself and you can hear the music coming off all the surfaces. You can hear how the audience is hearing it, too. It’s a real special moment when you just can tell that everybody is focused in the same way. It’s a wave length thing. The only way to believe in it is to experience it. It makes you believe in other ways that we can all be attuned in certain moments and that’s really meaningful.”
Williams has no favorite places to play and loves them all, but does really love returning to places and said, “At this point I’ve been touring for 25 years so I have relationships with neighborhoods, restaurants and audience members. It’s kind of great to feel like you have a home away from home in 50 different places.” As far as the gig goes, she keeps her expectations simple and said, “If there’s a good sound system and a good crowd, or one or the other, I’m happy.” I think she’ll have both of those Friday at the Paramount.
Photo by Steven Silberstein
Dar Williams (left), Lucy Kaplansky (center), and Richard Shindell (right), make up Cry Cry Cry.