Kites & Crows

Oregon Shakespeare Festival employees channel the soft gentle sound typical of indie groups of the Northwest in their band Kites & Crows.

Kites & Crows started three years ago when OSF employees Jesse Baldwin and Mysha Caruso started playing together as a duo. Two years later they added Nancy Martin on cello, another OSF worker.

"A cello player adds an air of legitimacy to the band," said Baldwin.

"Plus emotion," added Caruso. "Like a bass guitar, it's really an emotional sound, and I'm a bass player so I can safely say that."

Caruso, the band's principal songwriter, plays guitar and sings in a lower register tone that smoothly caresses each lyric. Baldwin plucks away on the banjo, adding a percussive element to their delicate sound.

All three members of the band call Ashland home and prefer to play to a more mature audience as opposed to the rowdy bar scene.

"Nancy is classically trained," said Baldwin, "we feel like we can play to the buttoned-up crowd."

Bands that have shaped the Kites & Crows music include Iron and Wine, the Decemberists, Pink Martini and Sufjan Stephens.

"Sometimes it's hard when you're a folk band because you don't have the total listening audience," said Caruso. "It's really challenging to play to a noisy audience. Sometimes you have to play as hard as you can."

The unique arrangement of banjo, cello and guitar has been an evolution that is continually changing as the band experiments with Baldwin on accordion and Martin on vibraphonette and vocals.

"Nobody dislikes the cello. Now, I, on the other hand, play the banjo and the accordion, which are two universally loathed instruments," said Baldwin.

Being OSF employees, it's only fitting that the band's name was taken from a Shakespearian play. Caruso happened upon the name during a showing of Coriolanus.

"One of the lines in the play when Coriolanus was banished from Rome, he's at the door of his enemy and they say 'Where dwelleth thou?' and he says 'Under the canopy in the City of kites and crows,' " said Caruso, a stage hand at OSF.

This tight-knit musicians not only work and perform together but also live in close proximity to one another with Baldwin and Caruso living in separate apartments in the same house and Martin just down the street in the Rail Road District.

With three green show performances under their belt the band members hope to build their audience outside of the Rogue Valley as they prepare for their summer tour.

"We're planning a summer tour, and I'm targeting house concerts, wineries and select folk clubs that have listening audiences," said Caruso.

Since more and more tasting rooms are opening with the growing wine industry in the valley, there are more places for Kites & Crows to play.

"We tend to gig more than we practice," said Baldwin. "Which is not to say we don't practice."

Each member of the trio has side projects that take up a portion of their time. Baldwin is a member of the local group Hamfist, and Martin often accompanies her parents, Beth and Craig Martin, every second Thursday in a performance at the Wild Goose. Caruso, a member of local Americana group One Horse Shy, which is on hiatus, also spends time recording solo work and is a publicist for three other bands in addition to Kites & Crows.

"The wine crowd are often looking for a jazz guitarist or jazz combo, we bring something a little bit different from that," said Baldwin, "It's not just a singer/songwriter and not just a classical instrument, the whole package together is something of a synergistic combination."

Catch Kites & Crows at Liquid Assets Saturday, January 29, at 8 p.m. in Ashland.

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