The first full weekend of 2018 was coming to a close when Lillie Mae Rische sought to cement her new found friendship with Lexington.
Headlining at The Burl on a chilly Sunday evening, the Illinois-born, Nashville-based musician had been peeling off one sterling tune after another from her 2017 album “Forever and Then Some” that meshed country, bluegrass, Americana and some unexpected pop vernacular.
But soon into the set, she shifted course and dug into the catalog of the Osborne Brothers, the Kentucky-born and bred bluegrass duo whose career began nearly four decades before Rische was born, and came up with “Listening to the Rain.” While the electric-acoustic make-up of her band, along with the unapologetic meshing of styles, made the tune sound more like an early 1970s John Hartford song, the contemplative country lilt of Rische’s singing and the effortlessly traditional cast of her fiddle playing more than upheld the Osbornes’ bluegrass legacy.
“I’m just a sucker for a melody,” said Rische, who performs professionally as simply Lillie Mae, while en route to a Richmond, Virginia performance last week. “There’s always one floating around in my head. I guess it must come from being a part of music for so long.”
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A featured performer at this weekend’s Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati, Rische has indeed been long involved at the practice of making music. She began singing at the age of three, took up the fiddle at seven and spent much of her youth on the road with five siblings and her father in the Forrest Carter Family Band. The kids eventually branched off to form their another family group, Jypsi.
All of that prefaced “Forever and Then Some,” an album with an Americana view that stretches from the traditional country sway of “Honky Tonks and Taverns” to the modestly more progressive “Over the Hills and Through the Woods” to the neo-psychedelic pop chant of “Dance to the Beat on My Own Drum” that closes the album.
If that sounds diverse, get a load of the giddy version Rische and her band recorded for OurVinyl Sessions of “El Cubanchero,” the Cuban-flavored instrumental that has been recorded through the years by everyone from Tito Puente to The Ventures. No wonder a lifelong regimen of touring and music making has been second nature to Rische.
“I’d say it might be first nature," she said. "It’s definitely, ‘Do better when moving,’ that’s for sure. To be playing constantly, daily, for so long, for so many years, to get to whatever position I’m into at this point, to have been able to get onto some of these festivals, is just wonderful. It’s like, ‘Finally!’ The last trip we were on, we were opening for Tyler Childers. I was so grateful to have been there, to have been able to reach a group of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise that don’t know who I was.”
While her travels returned her to Lexington for a Burl performance over Kentucky Derby weekend, Rische’s Sunday outing for Bunbury puts the current momentum of her career in full perspective. Headlining the festival that day will be Jack White, the artist who recruited Rische for his touring band The Peacocks in 2012 and served as producer for “Forever and Then Some.” The album was also released on White’s Third Man label.
“Obviously, a lot of doors opened when I started working with Jack,” Rische said. “These are doors he made open. He welcomed me into that world and gave me work. So many cool things sprung off of that. In different projects, I’ve always worked real well with Jack. In playing with someone for that long, we’ve become pretty close friends, too.
“While I’m comfortable doing my thing, the album that’s out currently wouldn’t have happened without him. I would not have made that record any other way. Jack has always believed in my songs and in my music. He really gave me the freedom to stand on a platform, and that’s just an incredible thing. That doesn’t come along very often in life, where people give you the opportunity and freedom to be yourself, to just naturally create.”
If you go
Bunbury Music Festval
When: Noon June 1 and 2, 1 p.m. June 3
Where: Sawyer Point and Yeatman’s Cove, Cincinnati
Performers include: The Chainsmokers, Young the Giant (June 1); Incubus, Foster the People, Third Eye Blind (June 2); Jack White, Dropkick Murphys, Manchester Orchestra, Lillie Mae (June 3)