After learning to play string instruments at age 8, sisters Rainy and Lela Miatke decided not to wait until they were grown-ups to start their own band.
The two Willow Wind students play bluegrass, jazz and their own tunes with dad Ray Miatke in Rainy and the Rattlesnakes, formed more than a year ago. The group plans a release party for its first CD, "The Steps of Solarest," at 7 p.m. today at the Ashland library, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.
Lela, 12, sings and plays fiddle, backed up by her 9-year-old sister on vocals and mandolin. Ray plays guitar. And friend Greg Allan rounds out the group on base.
"It's pretty cool how fast they are picking it up," Ray says. "They are writing tunes, too, which I'm really amazed by that."
The two girls say they love performing, even though they sometimes get nervous before shows.
"When I get nervous, I just run up and down the halls beforehand," Lela says.
"I tried that, but then I got lost in the hallway," Rainy says. "I ended up in a conference room. If my dad hadn't been noodling around on my mandolin, I wouldn't have found my way back."
The girls started performing when their dad was playing in his bluegrass band Juniper Ridge a few years ago. The band was playing a gig at the Ashland Community Center when Lela started singing a Patsy Cline tune and caught the audience's attention, Ray says.
"She was 6 or 7," he recalls. "She got on that microphone and that whole place went dead quiet. Lela sang her song, and when she finished the whole place erupted in applause.
"So Lela was hooked, but Rainy was just sitting there with kind of a sad face. I told her, 'Don't worry you'll get your chance' — and now she's got her own band."
The girls cut their musical teeth busking in downtown Ashland with their dad.
"They've done pretty well busking the last couple years," Ray says. So well in fact, that Lela was able to buy her 100-year-old fiddle with the money she saved.
After being asked repeatedly whether they had an album, the group decided to record "The Steps of Solarest," named after Ray's home in the Greensprings. The group will play tunes from the CD tonight, joined by Ed Dunsavage and Glenn Freese on guitar, Duane Whitcomb on fiddle and Sue Lundquist on drums. Attendance is free, but a $5 donation is suggested. The CD will be available for $15.
The album was recorded in just three sessions at Jim Abdo's recording studio in Ashland.
"It was fun, but it was hard work because if you make the tiniest mistake, you have to do it all over again," Lela says.
"An audience helps because the energy level is higher, and with recording there's no audience," Rainy adds.
The album includes six tunes written by Lela and Rainy.
"I can't just say, 'I'm going to write a song,' and sit down and write one," Rainy says. "It's really hard to do that. When I'm inspired I can write one."
For the Tidings Cafe, the group performed one of its favorite tunes, "Tall Buildings," by John Hartford, at the girls' mother's house in Ashland.
The Miatke girls have caught the attention of a San Francisco filmmaker named David Brown, who has been filming the group and documenting its progress.
"He filmed a couple festivals and came up to our house and filmed. His idea is to do a three-year project," Ray says. "He'll be there Saturday, too."
Citing bluegrass/newgrass musician David Grisman as an influence, Rainy and Lela got to meet him when he performed in Ashland recently.
"It was really, really cool, and I got this pick from him," Rainy says.
The girls also say Laurie Lewis and local band the Bee Eaters are influences in their music.
Ray says he's proud to be in a band with his two daughters.
"It's awesome," he says. "It's one of the funnest things that I've ever done."
Rainy recalls the day the band officially got its start, when she and her sister were at music camp with their father.
"Some people saw a rattlesnake the day before, and I thought that was really cool," she says. "I knew I wanted to be in a band when I grew up, so I thought of Rainy and the Rattlesnakes and I told my dad. He told me I didn't have to wait until I grew up to be in a band."
Reach Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.