Fall 2013Impact

The Whipstitch Sallies

Band’s success a pleasant surprise for recent grad

WhipstitchA funny thing happened while Kat Erickson ’13 was pursuing her master’s degree in sociology at UIndy: she found herself playing upright bass in an old-timey string band that’s making waves on the regional folk circuit and is soon to release its third album.It’s not hard to grasp the appeal of the Whipstitch Sallies, four young women whose instrumental chops fully measure up to the sweetness of their vocal harmonies. Onstage, Erickson (far right) and her bandmates—Allie Burbrink on guitar, Sam Roberts on mandolin, and Katie Burk on fiddle—can gather around a single microphone and kick up an exuberant racket that’s rooted in traditional mountain music but informed by styles from country and jazz to indie rock.As they prepared this summer for a quick tour of Appalachian states, Erickson mused over the Sallies’ unlikely rise, which was not driven by ambition but simply evolved from their established friendship.

“There were no Craigslist ads, ‘Bass player wanted,’” says Erickson, who had never before played the instrument. “Most of the time it just feels like we’re hanging out and having fun.” Erickson and Burbrink met in an undergrad poetry class at Taylor University. Burbrink and Roberts met as guitar-strumming summer camp counselors. In early 2010, they agreed to play a small benefit concert, and one thing led to another.

“We just had so much fun,” Erickson says, “and people kept asking us to play.” So they deliver. In February, they packed the house for an Indy Folk Series concert at the midtown Unitarian Universalist Church. In April, they headlined Broad Ripple’s storied Vogue nightclub. In May, they played the John Hartford Memorial Festival at Bean Blossom’s historic Bill Monroe Memorial Music Park. In June, they rocked the Brown County Playhouse. In July, they toured through Tennessee and North Carolina. In August, they made a return appearance at the annual Folky Fish Fest in Angola.

Whipstitch-Sallies-logoThe Sallies’ basic style and repertoire derive largely from Monroe, the undisputed king of bluegrass. But they often revamp traditional tunes in unorthodox ways, and they’re just as likely to cover songs by more recent musical mavericks like Tom Waits and Gillian Welch. “The four of us pull from different musicians and styles,” Erickson says. “I really like classic country—Patsy Cline, Hank Williams.” The band took a big step this summer with a five-song EP, recorded at Bloomington’s Farm Fresh Studios, on which four of the tunes are original work. They expect their next album, due out late this year, to be all original.

“That’s a little new for us,” says Erickson, whose contributions include a wry, honkytonk-ish number called “Oh, Mercy,” a tale of regret over a brief relapse into a bad relationship. (“There’s a reason I left you,” she sings in the chorus, “so honey, let’s keep it that way.”) Words come easily for Erickson, who hails from Hartford City, north of Muncie. In the Sallies’ do-it-yourself promotional efforts, she is the composer of the news update emails. “Kat’s really good at writing those,” Burbrink says.

Erickson pursued her master’s in applied sociology with a concentration in community leadership and an eye toward writing grant proposals for nonprofit agencies. She interned in the fundraising operation at Bosma Enterprises, an organization that provides job training and employment services to the visually impaired.

So, what drew her to UIndy?

“I just got excited about the program and the classes,” she says. “I really enjoyed working with Dr. (Tim) Maher and Dr. (Jim) Pennell.” And what does the future hold for her now, with degree in hand? A job search, naturally, and a new chapter in life. “Hopefully, balancing grant-writing and nonprofit development with playing music,” she says.

Keep up with Erickson and her band at www.thewhipstitchsallies.com.

—Scott Hall

Upcoming performance dates:

Sept. 8: Prairie Guest House,  13805 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, Ind.
Sept. 14: Eddie’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, 11693 Fall Creek Road, Indianapolis
Sept. 15: Mallow Run Winery, 6964 West Whiteland Road, Bargersville, Ind.
Oct. 19: Pine Room Tavern, 51 E. Chestnut St., Nashville, Ind.

the authorMarty