On Sunday, July 16, 2017 the beautiful rolling hills of Griffis Sculpture Park will be filled with the unmistakable sound of Jamestown’s music icons: 10,000 Maniacs.
Playing this year’s Summer Festival at Griffis, the band loves performing in their own backyard in front of the fans that put them on the road to musical success.
Originating in Jamestown, New York in the early 1980’s, the band has been credited as one of the original “indie” bands, and was part of the invention of the new “alternative” rock music that was forming on FM radio at the time.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Mary Ramsey, lead singer of the band. We talked about when she took over the lead vocals after original lead singer, Natalie Merchant, decided to go on as a soloist. We also talked about album titles, the thought behind the band name, a new project in the works, and whether or not the members of the band all live locally or have scattered to the wind.
The debut of Ramsey as the lead singer was the perfect fit, as their first Billboard charting single, “More Than This”, reached #24 after she stepped into the spotlight, which was the highest charting single in the history of the band.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of their debut album, “In My Tribe” and they will be playing many of the songs from the album as a thank you to all their fans.
Talking about the fans, Ramsey said, “The reality is that the fans are an element … they are part of the band … when they’re there they inspire us and we see smiling faces and people having a good time. It’s pretty contagious.”
Bring a blanket or lawn chair and hear the incredible music of 10,000 Maniacs soaring against one of the most beautiful backdrops that Western New York has to offer.
Griffis Sculpture Park is located just a short drive north of Ellicottville, at 6902 Mill Valley Road, East Otto, NY 14729. The park is open daily May 1-Oct. 31, dawn to dusk. Tickets for the 10,000 Maniacs concert are $20 in advance or $25 at the gate; children 12 and under are free! Gates will open at 12 noon, with the concert starting at 2pm featuring opening act, Jim Donovan & Sun King Warriors. To purchase tickets, visit www.eventbrite.com or griffispark.org. For more information on the band visit www.maniacs.com.
A CONVERSATION WITH MARY RAMSEY
HULICK: You will be performing at the Griffis Sculpture Park Summer Festival on July 16, 2017. Have you visited the park before?
RAMSEY: Oh yes. I believe we played there before when Natalie (Merchant) was the lead singer. It is a beautiful place.
HULICK: You’ve been the lead singer of the band since 1995.
RAMSEY: Something like that. When Natalie decided to go on to a solo career it was about that time. I had done the last tour with her in Europe and when she decided to leave, the guys wanted to keep the band together, so John (Lombardo) and I were their kind of extended family … we had toured with them as an opening act duo, John & Mary, and I was a background singer for the band as well as a string player, so they knew my abilities, and John was a member of the band in 1981 before he left … so it was kind of just a natural progression to ask us to join.
HULICK: Does everyone still live locally?
RAMSEY: Yes. Jerome Augustyniak is in Buffalo on the west side, John and I live on the west side, Dennis Drew and Jeff Erickson live right in the city of Jamestown and Steven Gustafson lives in Frewsburg in the country.
HULICK: You just got back from performing in Brazil. How did that go?
RAMSEY: It was great! We went there around 1998 and they have brought us back I think this makes our fourth time. We became quite popular there because our introduction to the people was through a soap opera that played our song, “More Than This,” and it was played on the radio quite a bit.
HULICK: You got to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
RAMSEY: I was thrilled and scared to do it because years ago I had been asked to sub with the viola in the orchestra and so I thought … “OMG! I know these people” … I was with them in the back of the orchestra and now being in front of the orchestra was so amazing. I have such respect for the members. They are like athletes … very good at what they do … everything is so exacting.
HULICK: Do you write all your own songs?
RAMSEY: Well when we do albums … for example, two years ago we did an album of Celtic music, “Twice Told Tales,” and those were songs that were public domain … we had an album the year before, “Music From The Motion Picture,” and those were songs we collectively wrote.
HULICK: Any new projects in the works?
RAMSEY: Yes, this year we’re going to do another album. Last year we did an album titled, “Playing Favorites,” which was a live record of our concert in Jamestown, so we are due to do another album of our own original music.
HULICK: Who comes up with the names of the albums? You have some great titles.
RAMSEY: Well, it depends … sometimes they’re voted on … and there are some great ones that don’t get chosen (laughs). With the album, “Playing Favorites,” John had a list of titles and we thought that title was a good one for what the album was about. “Twice Told Tales” came from Dennis I think. I’m not sure about any of the earlier albums because I wasn’t part of the process at the time.
HULICK: How about the name of the band … what is the story behind that?
RAMSEY: Well, that is before my time as well, so I am going to continue the folklore (laughs). There was a movie called “2000 Maniacs” and they had different titles they were thinking about, but somewhere along the way they thought it would be cool to call the band 10,000 Maniacs because the music doesn’t sound like the title, being of a gentle folk-rock kind of style.
HULICK: True … it makes you think the opposite of what the music really is.
RAMSEY: Yes. There were a few other ideas I’m told, but that one stuck.
HULICK: I read a piece written about your 1999 album, “The Earth Pressed Flat,” and they described your music as “your greatest achievement … the perfect post-punk Celtic folk rock album.”
RAMSEY: (laughs) Whoa!
HULICK: (laughs) Your mind just conjures up so many genres of music that it’s hard to put a finger on it.
RAMSEY: It’s a nice quote. That was an album that didn’t get as much attention as the other ones. I think that just exemplifies all of our different musical influences, and when you melt all of that together, it turns into some kind of recipe.
HULICK: Like a Heinz 57. (laughs)
RAMSEY: (laughs) Yes!