A Band With a Mission Statement

Della Mae travels the world embodying bluegrass for all

(l-r): Bassist Vickie Vaughn, guitarist Avril Smith, lead vocalist/guitarist Celia Woodsmith, and founder/fiddler Kimber Ludiker. (Not pictured: mandolinist Maddie Witler.)

Traditionally, bluegrass has been a male-dominated musical field. But as the genre that began in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1940s grew and developed, female musicians have increasingly made their mark. And in 2009, the all-women Boston-based group Della Mae came on the scene. Founded by fiddler Kimber Ludiker, Della Mae has released six albums plus a pandemic-era on-demand concert film. Ludiker spoke to Bold Life ahead of Della Mae’s upcoming date at this year’s Earl Scruggs Music Festival. 

You had the original idea for Della Mae nearly 15 years ago. How has the group changed musically since those days?

We were a pretty traditional bluegrass band at the beginning. Our lineup evolved and solidified, and now we have a lot of people in the band who love to write, so we started to build a large repertoire of original music.

Just a few years after forming, Della Mae scored a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album (The World Oft Can Be, 2014). How did that high-profile recognition affect the group’s career direction?

We were very proud Grammy losers! A nomination is such an honor. It gives validity to what you’re doing. So at that point in our career, it was like, “Oh! People are paying attention; what we’re doing is important.” It definitely changed our outlook on our purpose — because we’re not only a band, we’re a band with a mission statement.

Tell Bold Life more about the band’s mission and advocacy.

One of our goals is to make music more accessible to people. We’re always advocating for women;  hopefully we’ll inspire young girls to pick up an instrument. We’re also involved in running camps. I personally run two, plus I’m the co-director of Kids on Bluegrass for the IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association]. … Any time we can get a seat at the table to help people understand the importance of diversity on stage — more women, more people of color — we take that opportunity.

In 2013, the group embarked upon a 43-day international tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department: You visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. What was it like being cultural ambassadors? 

It was some of the most meaningful work Della Mae has done. It meant a lot to have the opportunity to connect with young women and girls in these countries: to listen to them, and to play music for them and with them. In some places we’ve been, women standing on a stage isn’t something seen often, or at all.

You have a busy schedule in the coming months, including shows in Europe. What else is in the future for Della Mae?

We have been in the [recording] studio, and our plan is to release music in conjunction with the Earl Scruggs Fest; we’ll be releasing four singles throughout the summer. We’ve been doing a lot of writing, so hopefully, we’ll be able to get in the studio again this coming winter and have a full-length album for next year.

Della Mae (dellamae.com) plays the Earl Scruggs Music Festival in Mill Spring on Friday, Sept. 1, at 7pm. See sidebar for festival information. 

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