Sarah Kramer-Harrison
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Sarah Kramer-Harrison

The Bronx, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2005 | SELF

The Bronx, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2005
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter

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"'Music because you love it...'"

When Meryl Kramer and Bill Harrison got hitched and moved into Big Pink in West Saugerties in 1977, they were ahead of the curve. Both took the hyphenated name Kramer-Harrison. And they laughingly called that hyphen their tug of war.

It became something more with the birth of their daughter in Rhinebeck, on May 24, 1980. Sarah Kramer-Harrison sat for an interview last week, a stone's throw from the historic ranch that housed the birth of music from Dylan and The Band, as well as the first Kramer-Harrison household, and she talked about growing up Woodstock.

"I remember sitting at the bar with Mr. Deanie and my pink pig called Vuck for hours on end," she said. "It was mutual love...and lots of turkey clubs! My Dad refinished the bar at Deanie's and would tell everyone where every ding came from, about every character...he tended bar there and at La Medusa."

Sarah said she got her start in the Medusa kitchen at three-years-old.

"Claudia and Jane had me cutting tomatoes with a sharp knife, and when my Mom came into the kitchen, they shooed her away, saying, 'she's fine don't worry about her.'" More than fine, today she has a deft hand with sushi and decorated cakes alike. One of her many talents.

Mama Meryl did some cooking at Medusa too, but her main occupation is as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Papa Bill's genius lies in the building of guitars. He's been a luthier relied on for prize instruments and repairs by many well-known and discerning musicians for three decades.

His first shop was in Kingston, above Abrams Music but he operates from Shokan now.

Baby Sarah grew up among the wood chips of her father's shop.

"Drawing with chalk on his metal drafting tables, and sanding and polishing his benches just for fun...Inevitably, all kinds of people would come in," she said. "Days off from school, I'd hang out and build things with my Dad, and go to Woolworth's!"

She made her first instrument, a kind of solid-bodied mandolin, when she was seven-years-old. "It's a T with strings," she shrugs. "It's not awesome but it plays...When I was 16, my Dad taught me how to do set-ups and I'd make chips to line the tops of the guitars, and I began to work with him on a steady basis. At 17, I started building guitars with him."

But when it came time to study an instrument, she chose the cello. She studied for ten years with Erica Pickhardt, and still has the chops to accompany herself, as she did on a recording this summer.

She also studied jazz and tap dance at New York Conservatory for the Arts in Hurley, beginning in second grade. "I traveled to Seville, Spain, with them in '92 to perform at the World Expo. We danced a Robert Starer series on color...and Yankee Doodle Dandy!"

And she studied voice at the Conservatory with Doug Farrell. At 14, she was considered too young to audition for a part in their adult "Chorus Line." So she tried out for rival Woodstock Youth Theatre and won the lead in their musical, "Fame." She acted in all WYT shows from then on, as well as moving into more professional performances.

"I took lessons with Amy Fradon and started singing back-up for her when I was 14," she said. "I was the first young person in her band. We sang at Tinker Street, the Rosendale Cafe, Bearsville Theater, all around...Once when Amy and I were singing in the dressing room at Bearsville, Rick Danko came out of the bathroom and said, Who are you? You sing like an angel!'

"I just told him my name. He wouldn't have remembered, when I was maybe four years old, he called me the Information Station," she laughed. "I remember pulling into the Mobil station and seeing him there. I guess I talked a lot!"



As a Woodstock kid, Sarah attended Onteora Schools. Through the excellent Onteora Mentor Program, she worked as apprentice audio engineer all through high school, at Nevessa Studios with Chris Anderson. "I liked being in the studio. Who wouldn't be totally enamored? All those buttons!"

When it was time for college, she applied to only one: "It was Berklee or Bust!" She did the four-year Bachelor of Music program in three years, with a degree in music production and sound engineering, and studying voice as her instrument. She says the very competitive atmosphere could be intimidating. "I was with the best in the world, and I didn't see myself that way. Forty percent of the school was international...I hid away in sound engineering."

Shyness kept her behind the scenes and to a degree, away from music as an adult. "Most people have to decompress from Berklee," she said. "When you leave, it's not fun anymore. It's become over-technicalized. You've got to do music because you love it."

She traveled to San Diego for awhile but came back. "This is home." And she still knows where all the good swimming holes are.

Her direction changed when she took two courses at SUNY Ulster and started to write songs. (Bar Scott's AIR course and, full disclosure, my "Art And Craft Of Lyric Writing.")

"I never really thought I had anything to say. Or I was too scared to say it. I found when I began to sing my own music, I was better. I could engage better, interpret better."

Asked to do a slot on a Colony concert organized by Bruce Ackerman last spring, she duly put together a few songs with guitarist, Guthrie Lord.

Her re-emergence as a performer was such a hit that proprietor Marianne Haringfeld immediately booked her to headline a show. So at 8 p.m. Friday, July 21, she'll be playing there with Lord and keyboardist Ross Rice. On Saturday, July 22, at noon, they'll take the Cafe Stage at the Rosendale Street Festival.

Also in the Colony audience that fateful night, was Barbara O'Brien, of Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble, doing some talent scouting. She signed Sarah for last Saturday's Playhouse concert. Opening for Alexis Suter, Willie Nile and Levon Helm with Amy Helm, she also got to sing with Levon on two songs, "Take me to the River", and "I Want to Know".

But it was on one of her own songs that Mother Nature seemed to sing along. In the summer twilight, she sang her moving chorus, "November rain comes again/ Brings me home while I mend/ The rain it dances to the wind."

Out of a clear blue sky, a sudden downpour swirled and sounded around the open-sided theater. The crowd cheered.++ - Woodstock Times, by Johanna Hall


Discography

"Here" an EP of original work is currently receiving radio air play in New York State. Selected tracks are located on line through myspace at the above address.

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Bio

Sarah Kramer-Harrison was born to sing. Growing up in the Woodstock of the rock renaissance, daughter of a skilled luthier/bartender and a gifted chef/psychiatric nurse practioner, her childhood games were played among the giants of music. She made her first instrument at seven, began singing professionally at 14 and apprenticed as a recording engineer at 16 in one of the busiest studios in town. She studied classical cello for 10 years and toured in youth theater as singer/dancer/actress.

An evolution that led logically to a dual degree from Berklee College of Music in Voice and Music Production/Sound Engineering. Kramer-Harrison writes and records original material, rating kudos from some of those giants she grew up among. Levon Helm tapped her to open a rare public show at the Woodstock Playhouse. She shared the stage with Rick Danko, John Sebastian, Happy and Artie Traum, James Earl Jones, Tom Pacheco, Betty McDonald, Molly Mason and Jay Ungar, Willie Nile, and many more.

“You sing like an angel,” said Rick Danko. “Who are you?”

Listen and find out.

Band Members