Having a major central Arkansas road named for their band would be an honor, certainly, but it’s nothing The Cantrells have heard about before. In fact, the husband/ wife duo have never played in central Arkansas before.
But their chances are at least 50/50 to travel along Cantrell Road to get to their gig on Reservoir Road, so they admit they might prevail upon a passing pedestrian somewhere to take their photo under a road sign. Or they could always take a “selfie.”
“I don’t know why we’ve never played in Little Rock,” says Emily Cantrell, the duo’s guitarist and primary singer. “We used to go to Fayetteville and do shows at the Good Folk house concert when that existed. But we’re in our30th year of performing, so it’s high time we came to Little Rock finally.”
Cantrell’s husband, mandolin and fiddle player and harmony singer Al Cantrell, notes that he and his wife have certainly traveled through The Natural State numerous times from their base in Nashville, Tenn.
“We go out to the Rocky Mountain states and play a lot,” he says. “Mostly in the summers, we go to Montana and Wyoming, and of course, Colorado, where we first got together.”
Emily Cantrell was born in Memphis, but grew up north of there in tiny Nankipoo, Tenn. She moved to Boulder, Colo., in 1980, and with the help of Tim O’Brien, leader of the bluegrass band HotRize, she founded her own bluegrass band, The Tractors (not to be confused with the country rock group of the same name).
“We had already broken up by the time that band got started out,” she says. “Al had joined the band and we were enjoying playing together as a duo, and then we also got married.”
Her husband, who was born Al Ehlers, even took her last name because he liked the sound of it more than his own, he explains. A native of Oregon, he was raised in the Puget Sound area between Tacoma and Seattle.
“I was into surfing there. I considered myself a ‘Beach Boy,’” he says, and his wife adds, “I had to rescue him from that area, as he nearly drowned several times in that cold water.”
In 1988, the two musicians moved to Nashville, and embarked upon a career of concerts and songwriting. The Cantrells mostly play originals from the pen of Emily, but they also add traditional folk, bluegrass, swing and Celtic tunes. They have released four albums, the latest of which, The Heart Wants What It Wants, contains eight originals, plus versions of the Lead Belly song “Take This Hammer” the Johnny Mercer ballad “Autumn Leaves” and Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio.”
The Cantrells spent several summers at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio, with Emily teaching swing guitar and Al teaching fiddle.
“I think a lot of folks go there just to hear Jorma’s stories about his early life in the Jefferson Airplane and then in Hot Tuna,” Emily says.
In the early 1990s, during one of their frequent pilgrimages to the mountain states, they heard about a nearby Robert Redford movie project, A River Runs Through It, and decided to offer their musical skills.
“We went to the casting office in Montana and took our instruments with us,” Emily says, “and when we started playing, a secretary held her phone up so someone could hear us. Later on, we got a call that they wanted to hire us to play a cast party, and we thought, ‘Oh, heck, we didn’t make the cut,’ but we went and played and Robert Redford walked up and started listening to our music.
“Then he said he wanted to put us in the movie! And he had us playing at a church picnic scene. We were onscreen for about one second, but our music played for a minute and a half, and we couldn’t believe how good it sounded, considering it had been recorded by just one microphone out in the middle of nowhere.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Little Rock Folk Club, Thomson Hall, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1818 Reservoir Road, Little Rock
Admission: $15; $7.50 for students with IDs; free for accompanied children 12 and younger
Weekend, Pages 24 on 01/02/2014
Print Headline: Husband/wife duo to perform at LR Folk Club