Hillary Klug is well-rounded and multifaceted, like the most interesting of gems. Not only does she play the fiddle, but she also sings while she does it…and dances! She hits them with all she's got when she entertains her audiences. It's clear to see when a performer is "all-in," and in the case of Klug, her talent trifecta brings a real sense of energy.
"It's unique," Klug agreed, "and so it has distinguished me from all my peers because it's completely different and memorable."
That said, Klug describes her talent with admirable humility and self-awareness.
"I'm actually not a very impressive fiddler or vocalist or dancer. I'm very mediocre," she said, adding that many vocalists, fiddlers, and dancers are more skilled than her. She's figured out how to do all three simultaneously, so she agreed that it makes her "stand out."
"I've done so much fiddling and dancing at the same time that I'm a better fiddler when I dance, and I'm a better dancer when I fiddle," she said. "I've put the fiddling and dancing together in such a way that the entertainment factor has attracted audiences outside of the bluegrass world. I'm very proud of that. I have people watching and listening who would otherwise never be exposed to this type of music."
Klug described the interplay between music and dance.
"My dancing is more than just entertainment," she said. "I'm making music with my feet. My dancing lays a good rhythmic foundation for my fiddle music."
Klug is a two-time National Buck Dancing champion. This style is similar to clogging but is "a lot older and more traditional, and clogging has evolved from buck dancing much the same way bluegrass has evolved from old-time music."
"Cloggers dance to the music, but the sounds from their feet don't contribute to the music," she explained, differentiating the two styles. "A buck dancer is a musician; their feet are their instrument. It's a solo dance, and it's always improvised. Buck dancing is not standardized or formalized like clogging. Each unique buck dancer has their unique style, as the dance is learned the traditional way, passed down from generation to generation."
Klug has always loved Irish music and dance and includes it in her repertoire. "I started clogging when I was eight. I grew up listening to country music, mostly because I was a daddy's girl, and that was his kind of music. I started playing fiddle at age 13," she said. "I learned some Irish dancing with a local group in Bellbuckle around age 18, and later I took a trip to Ireland to learn Irish dancing from real Irish dancers."
Klug explained that there's an Irish dance called "Sean Nos," and it's the Irish equivalent of buck dancing. She enjoys performing in both styles.
"Unlike the rigid River dancing with a stiff upper body, Sean Nos is relaxed with loose, dangling arms."
"Sean Nos is always improvised, and it's all about making music with the feet." She's learned a few Sean Nos steps and incorporated them into a few videos and songs during her shows. "I've learned steps in both 2/4 and 6/8 time in order to dance to both reels and jigs."
She learned more about Irish dancing directly from the source; she went to Ireland.
"I had been dancing in my big clunky dance boots, and I didn't realize I had been dancing on my heels with my buck dancing," she said. "My footwear had dictated my dance style, with the heavy heels on my boots. When I tried learning Irish dance, I had a hard time at first with my big clunky dance boots. Did you know Irish dancers dance on their toes? I couldn't do the Sean Nos dancing in my boots, so I changed into tap shoes to dance on my toes and execute the more delicate Sean Nos dance steps with precision."
Unsurprisingly, she's interested in Celtic and Appalachian music; there's overlap.
"Many settlers in Appalachia were of Scotch-Irish heritage, and they brought their Celtic music with them to America," Klug said. "Celtic music was one of many influences in bluegrass music as we know it today. There are many differences, including the fact that bluegrass repertoire doesn't include any jigs. Also, bluegrass fiddle tunes emphasize the backbeat, whereas Irish fiddle tunes emphasize the downbeat. Bluegrass music has a lot of blues notes and rhythms that come from its African influences. There are no blues whatsoever in traditional Celtic music."
Klug said she is drawn to old-time fiddle music that is "related" to Celtic music and plays some Americanized versions of Celtic music tunes.
"For example, the tune 'Did You Ever See the Devil Uncle Joe' is an old-time version of the Irish tune 'Miss McCleod's Reel.'"
She incorporates both genres into her shows and videos. "I also incorporate Canadian and bluegrass music as well as clogging and podorythmie, or French-Canadian foot percussion dancing," she said.
Klug has been sharing her multifaceted talent with audiences both in-person and online.
"I've been busy all spring, summer, and most of this fall with touring and performing at Silver Dollar City," she said of the theme park near Branson, Missouri. "Now I'm home in Nashville, and I've been focusing on social media."
She said she has no gigs lined up right now for the winter but says this fact is both "terrifying" and "liberating" at the same time.