Simi Stone, Catskills Secret
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because good music is coming down from the mountains.
By Anne Miller
Simi Stone rushes into the nearly empty Brooklyn bar, all legs and natural-hair halo in black overalls and scuffed black lace-up boots. She might be mostly Catskills, and aged out of millennial, but she’s easily mistaken for hipster. Or in her case, hippie.
Stone is the daughter of a Jewish dad and a Black mom who lived as squatters before settling in Woodstock, New York, and raising two daughters, one of whom found her calling among the town’s storied musical past and present.
Growing up in Woodstock was a blessing and a frustration — everyone plays music. Everyone knows everyone else. Amy Helm, daughter of the Band great Levon Helm, who records and plays herself and keeps her late father’s studio and performance space humming, is a “good friend.” Stone has played in the space, jamming with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame, who also lives nearby.
But that also means it can be harder to get approval, to stand out in such a small but talented crowd. Woodstock, she says, is “intense” in its creativity.
“It seems everyone who lives here is either involved with music in some way or is a music lover,” says Gary Chetkof, president of the parent company of local station Radio Woodstock (WDST) and founder of the Mountain Jam music festival in nearby Hunter Mountain. “The audiences at the concerts here are very discerning and really appreciate great performers.”
As for Stone, “she is dynamic and a free spirit and was born to be on the stage. She writes really good songs and really gets the audience going.”
Stone spent a good chunk of the mid-aughts in a Chicago party loft, with a fair number of illegal substances. She remembers calling a manager from a truck stop once, broke and desperate. She’s refreshingly open about discussing the breakups, career roller coaster and death of her father that brought her back to living with her mom in Woodstock. Finally, she said, she was in a place where making a solo album felt right, that place of adulthood where her adventures coalesced into lessons learned.
She constantly speaks of her gratitude: grateful for her career; for coming out of her sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll youth intact; for her album and the musicians who helped her put it together. “Like a gift from G-O-D,” she calls her solo release. She calls her style “mountain meets Motown.” She honed her skills backing international tours (she was in a Metallica video, and has played with Dan Zanes and Conan O’Brien’s late-night band), and accompanying her on the album are veterans who’ve toured with the likes of Bowie, Springsteen, Jackson (Michael). There are no egos in the studio, she says — only music.
The only label to sign Stone is British, and she’ll tour England for the month of October. She’s got some local New York state gigs, including the Mountain Jam festival, where she’ll open up a day capped by Alabama Shakes.
“Natural Grace” channels her performance anxiety, she says — not in a relationship, but in front of an audience. She offers her age as “somewhere between the third decade and the fourth,” though in the video she’s got on a skintight 7 Up shirt and short plaid skirt, a retro rebel schoolgirl.
Just look at her laying down vocals in the studio.