'Stompin' grounds': A few words with Barefoot Movement bassist Katie Blomarz

'Stompin' grounds': A few words with Barefoot Movement bassist Katie Blomarz

KATIE BLOMARZ has a heavy instrument to heave around, one amazing bass, but a light touch in the internationally touring acoustic band The Barefoot Movement. She calls Champaign her "stomping grounds," and she'll be stomping barefoot with other artists including MARTY STUART on Friday and Saturday at Allerton Park & Retreat Center. Staff writer Paul Wood asked her a dozen questions ahead of the Prairie Sky Music Festival.

Tell us how you started with the band.

I first played with the band in December 2015. I actually met them on a Facebook page in Nashville, Tenn., through a friend.

You're a class of 2014 alumna of the University of Illinois. What did you major in?

I got my degree in music education with an emphasis in jazz. I knew part of the way through college that I wanted to try to be a professional bass player, so I started to study more jazz while I was there. I wanted to make sure I was as prepared musically as I could be before moving to Nashville. I am the upright bass player. The group was already established when I joined it, and there was a need for me to step up and sing some harmonies, too. So since I've been in the band, I have also become a background singer.

When you lived here, were you interested in Americana music? Did you ever play in those bands? Or did you have different interests?

When I was at UI, I studied a lot of jazz music. I was heavily involved in the jazz program, along with the community of jazz musicians around town. I also played a weekly cover band gig at the Canopy Club and did a plethora of other kinds of music when I was in town. I didn't get completely submerged in the roots/folk/Americana world until I moved to Nashville.

Do you have a favorite musician? (Perhaps Alison Krauss?)

I have many different favorite musicians. As a bass player, my favorite bass players include Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Jaco Pastorius, Paul Chambers, just to name a few. I do love Alison Krauss, especially because she is a C-U native. We actually played a festival in Kentucky with her a couple months ago, so I got to see her live.

Who else is in your band? Or does its lineup change?

The lineup has changed over the years, but the current lineup does not change. It is Noah Wall, vocals and fiddle; Tommy Norris, mandolin; Alex Conerly, guitar; and me on upright bass.

Do you have a favorite Barefoot Movement song?

My favorite song we do is an old chain gang tune we learned from the Library of Congress. It originated as just a field recording of the singers singing while they were working on the railroad. We arranged it to be "barefooted," and now it's one of my favorite tunes we do. It is called "Early In The Morning." We are currently working on a new record, and that's one of the songs that will be included.

Do you write songs?

I mostly write jazz tunes that are instrumental based. I have been trying to work on my lyric writing, but it's a slow process.

Is this your first return since joining the Barefoot Movement?

Yes. I haven't been back to the C-U area since I left town in 2014. I did my student teaching in Champaign the fall of 2014, moved out of the C-U area in December, then went to Nashville a month later. It is time for me to come back and see my old stompin' grounds.

Tell us about the Prairie Sky Music Festival.

I'm excited to come up for the fest. We haven't been yet, and I am excited to come back to Allerton. I used to come see various shows at the Allerton Barn when I was in school, so I'm stoked to come play myself. We love the lineup, including our pals, The Way Down Wanderers, are on the bill, too. I met their drummer, John Merikoski, at UI in the jazz department.

Do you like living in Nashville? Do you play with other bands there?

I love Nashville. It is such an inclusive community of musicians, and I am so happy I moved to town. I get to play in a ton of different bands while I'm in town, too, ranging between folk, jazz, Americana, singer-songwriter, big band, funk, etc.

Producer Chuck Plotkin has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Bod Dylan and Hank Linderman. What have you learned from the experience?

It has been an amazing experience. They have been involved in producing our new record as well. Chuck has such an inspiring understanding of music and has really made us open our minds up. Hank has pushed me to be a better musician and challenge myself thru the album process, too.

You were guests of the United States Embassy in Burkina Faso?

The band went to Africa with the Embassy before I was in the band. They were invited to Burkina Faso as part of the 4th of July Celebration back in 2014. It was a cultural exchange they did with the neighboring tribes, as well. They had a great time and even got to sit on a wild crocodile.

If you go

What: Second annual Prairie Sky Music Festival.

Who: Bands including Marty Stuart & his Fabulous Superlatives and the Barefoot Movement.

Where: Allerton Park & Retreat Center meadow, 515 Old Timber Road, Monticello.

When: 6-9:30 p.m. Friday; 12:30-9:45 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $37 festival pass in advance ($45 at the gate); $15 Friday only in advance ($20 at the gate). Kids 12 and under are free.