On the Edge: The Barefoot Movement
If you passed the four members of The Barefoot Movement—Noah Walls, Hasee Ciaccio, Tommy Norris and Alex Conerly—on the sidewalk, you’d probably guess they’re musicians. And you might even wager that they’re a string band. After all, at least one of the fellas sports the requisite bluegrass facial hair, and the two ladies are appropriately hip.
The talented young players with an ear for all things musical (and an apparent aversion to shoes) found their niche by creating their own brand of bluegrass. But it wasn’t intentional—instead, their sound seems to have chosen them.
“I started writing songs and the songs that I wrote kind of fit into this acoustic world better than they would anywhere else,” explains Noah, the group’s fiddle player. “I don’t think my songs would work with bass and drums and electric guitar.” Her solution came when Noah met classical guitarist Tommy Norris in their Granville County, N.C., high school. The two began collaborating and eventually enrolled in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies program, where they immersed themselves in the bluegrass crowd and culture.
Gradually, they recorded their first album, Footwork, with former bandmate Quentin Acres. Afterward they added the group’s youngest member, tiny doghouse bass player Hasee Ciaccio, and the picture looked complete, at least for Noah. “She added so much,” the petite fiddler says of bringing in Hasee. “She can sing and then I felt like her bass playing kind of made some of my songs make more sense. It felt like she was definitely the missing link.”
The group hit a snag when Quentin departed, but guitar-picker Alex Conerly has stepped in. Yet even back to full four-piece strength, the Barefoot Movement is met with its share of challenges. “There are a lot of festivals that want traditional bluegrass and we still want to be involved in those events, but I’m not sure they want us because they don’t really want anything outside that genre. We’re not modern country the way that it is on the radio, but we’re not pure bluegrass either,” laments Noah, who is nonetheless understanding. “That’s fine—you wouldn’t want us to come play a rap festival either.”
She gives credit to popular string-heavy bands like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers for breaking down walls. “I really think now is a good time for us,” she says happily. “I didn’t see that when we were first starting out, as far as fitting in somewhere, but it’s working out now.”
The Barefoot Movement’s latest album, Figures of the Year, which they recorded via a fan-funded Kickstarter campaign, features a mix of originals and a few covers, including an impressive take on 1990s alt-rock band Blind Melon’s hit “No Rain.” But the bulk is all Barefoot—and their originals, expertly played and written, feel as timeless as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Even Flatt & Scruggs would be proud.