Sierra Hull, who we celebrate on this Saturday Soundtrack, has been playing music professionally since before she reached her teens. Her debut on the Grand Ole Opry came at age 10, she brought her exceptional mandolin skills to Carnegie Hall at age 12, had her first deal with Rounder Records at age 13, and at age 17 became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music. As a 20-year-old, Hull played the White House.
The way I best remember how young she was when she burst on the music scene is from her performance at the Merlefest music festival in 2012. When introducing the band, she noted that the bass player was a good musician, but he was also “the only one of us old enough to rent a van.”
I’ve heard Hull play over the years at both the Merlefest and Red Wing festivals, and she’s always had the chops to play amazing bluegrass and traditional music. Her first album post-Berklee hinted at new directions, but it wasn’t until 2017’s Weighted Mind (produced by Bela Fleck) that she came into her own and broke away from the “I can play incredibly fast and clean bluegrass” camp. Hull and bassist Ethan Jodziewicz (recommended by no less a talent than Edgar Meyer) have toured together, and she’s also on the road with her multi-instrumentalist husband, Justin Moses. In a 2019 review, Rolling Stone noted “that the couple fluttered around each other with dueling mandolins, leaving the listener hanging on every single fluctuating note.”
Hull continues to expand her reach, playing this past summer with Sturgill Simpson on his first return to the Opry in more than four years, and then joining with Dolly Parton and the Highwomen for a historic collaborative set at July’s Newport Folk Festival. Hull is touring now with a wide range of musical partners, and can be seen in the D.C. region at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland, on February 13th with ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro.
Hull’s “Black River” video from the national show eTown is a good example of the direction of her newer stylings, while you can still catch her more traditional work on the 2011 “Bombshell” video from WAMU’s Bluegrass Country.
More to come…
Image: Sierra Hull at Merlefest 25 in 2012 by DJB