While artist Melody Walker performs from within a genre usually considered traditional, she offers a voice in favor of continued progress. She proffers a more accepting way of thinking, an alternative paradigm aimed at busting old stereotypes. She yearns to see performers of all stripes thrive in a world that might have previously been closed to them.
Walker does solo work, performs with bands, and pens songs – including acclaimed music she co-wrote with bluegrass superstar Molly Tuttle. With these varied experiences under her belt, Walker's been around the block in the biz and has clear opinions about the role of women in roots music.
"Progress in the music industry has moved slower, in my opinion, than in other workplaces," Walker said. "Most of the women in bluegrass are still in family bands, or [are] the singer fronting an all-male backing band."
She mentioned Tuttle as someone who recognized well what women bring to a project.
"I really respect how Molly prioritized making her band majority female," Walker said, "and has shown how women can absolutely occupy the top tier of modern bluegrass players. More women are winning IBMA awards as instrumentalists now, too. I think this level of representation – which starts simply as a hiring choice – ripples out into the next generation. We will see even more monster women grassers coming up very soon. "I cannot overstate how impactful it was for me as a kid to see Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick do what they do," she added, "so I'm really excited for these young girls getting to see Golden Highway right now!"
Walker also has opinions on accepting people of all identities, such as those on the LGBT+ spectrum.
"I don't really know if people are more accepting now or if it's just more unacceptable to be an unabashed bigot, but I do know that more young pickers are deciding to push past that unwelcoming reputation to simply claim their own space in the genre," Walker explained. "Movements like Bluegrass Pride have been a beacon of hope to folks who might have felt completely alone before, letting them know that there's solidarity and support here."
Walker clearly "walks the walk," working towards acceptance of all with a "drag Grateful Dead tribute band" project called BERTHA.
When not writing with Tuttle or performing drag for Deadheads, she works on solo music, including her EP release, "Already Alone." She also performs with an electric Americana soul band and is part of a folk trio called Silo Sisters alongside friends Bonnie Sims and Phoebe Hunt.
Getting to work with Tuttle on an acclaimed release such as "Crooked Tree" is…well…brag-worthy. Walker described that experience.
"I was very lucky that Molly asked me to write with her for her first Golden Highway album, 'Crooked Tree,'" Walker said. "We are both California bluegrass girls, and we set out to try and write in that tradition, which to us meant feminist, naturalist, eclectic folky songs."
She said, "We were super-inspired by the iconic writers of the West: Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Kate Wolf and converts like Peter Rowan and David Grisman." She guessed that she and Tuttle wrote approximately 10 songs together in 2021, and four ended up on the album: "Crooked Tree," "The River Knows," "Side Saddle," and "San Francisco Blues."
It's hard to imagine Walker has time for even more, but she managed to fit yet another really cool thing into her schedule.
"I host a weekly writers' round focused on roots and Americana music at a cool neighborhood restaurant and cocktail bar called Jane's Hideaway," she said. "They call themselves a 'Bluegrass Supper Club,' which I love. The show is called 'Writers' Kitchen,' and I'm very serious about ensuring the night is at least 50 percent women every time. There's just no excuse to not represent half the population in our music events. I wish more festivals and venues would get on board with that philosophy."
Being also incredibly spoiled in Nashville, “with a glut of astoundingly good songwriters," she added. "It's mainly an excuse for me to get to sit and listen to my peers up close and personal and jump in on a harmony whenever I have the notion. Nice work if you can get it!"
From penning songs with feminist themes – to Deadhead drag – to assuring women have a seat in her weekly circle, Walker is certainly encouraging change as a "woman of bluegrass."