When you’ve played Bonnaroo, South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Festival; when you’ve appeared twice on the late night TV talk show circuit; when you have already opened for the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Rusted Root and Indigo Girls, as well as toured with Company of Thieves and, most recently, Ron Pope; and when a fan Tweets from one of her band’s more recent shows that they delivered a better performance than that of Grammy-winning “Royals” singer Lorde, you would think she’s accomplished a lot.
For 16-year-old singer-guitarist Fiona von Grey, she and her sisters–18-year-old banjoist/keyboardist/violinist Annika; 14-year-old keyboardist/lap steel guitarist/electronic percussionist Petra; and 19-year-old cellist/mandolinist Kathryn–who perform on stage, of course, as von Grey, have more to accomplish going into 2015. But on a sunny and pleasant Sunday before Halloween, they were given the rather awesome distinction of being the grand finale for Folkfest St. Pete, held just west of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, which benefited a local artistic nonprofit organization called Creative Clay.
The classically-trained foursome made their mark with a hybrid of folk and alternative rock, a lot of which was on display during their concert, along with a few helpings of power-ballad rock, as exemplified in one of their originals, “Slipping” and what I would call a danceable, “organic electronica” number entitled “My Reflection.”
von Grey performing on stage as the closing act of Folkfest St. Pete 2014
Fiona, who also shares in the lead-singing duties with Annika, started on acoustic guitar before picking up the electric kind toward the end. Given their prior classical training, learning the guitar was relatively new for Fiona, as she explained to us after von Grey’s set:
“I started playing acoustic guitar about 5 years ago, when I was 11, and I really enjoyed that. I liked the percussiveness of the acoustic guitar, but I wanted to go into electric-guitar playing, so I did that probably months later.”
When we asked Fiona about what favorite guitars she has played or are currently playing, she told us that she enjoyed playing a vintage Martin guitar that she borrowed from the producer during recording sessions for their first EP a few years ago. As for what she’s been playing lately, Fiona said, “Takamine actually gave me a guitar not that long ago, and I’m enjoying that one as well.”
von Grey’s set included their original tune “Coming For You,” which they played during their nationally televised appearances during early 2013, on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman in New York, and on a special Atlanta-based episode of TBS’ Conan O’Brien show. It’s not often that, in an age of Internet and social media, an act not backed by a major recording label gets to appear on shows like these, but did those guest shots on a “legacy medium” like TV help von Grey increase their following?
“For sure, yeah,” said Fiona. “They were such awesome opportunities to get, and they’ve definitely helped us when we’re playing live gigs.”
Other original tunes that von Grey performed in St. Pete included their song about deforestation entitled “Ashes,” as well as “Upset Me,” “Bad to the Bone” [never to be confused with the George Thorogood tune of the same title], and a rather angsty, melodramatic piece called “All I Know.” They also threw in a couple of cover songs during their concert for good measure: Damien Rice’s “Volcano,” and “When in Rome,” originally done by bluegrass favorites Nickel Creek.
While we’re on the subject of cover songs, von Grey have also done a series of “Backseat Covers” videos on YouTube–about 15 so far–and while she’s not sure of whether any more such videos will be produced, Fiona did tell us that one of the premiums they are offering for their album crowdfunding campaign through Loudfund, of which more later, is a “cover video” opportunity for anyone who donates at least $1,000.
One of the songs von Grey did in that “Backseat Covers” series was their take on the aforementioned hit song “Royals.” Comparisons being what they are, we asked Fiona how she and her sisters initially reacted to that fan who Tweeted appreciation of von Grey’s set at the Austin City Limits Festival just a couple of weeks prior, and thought theirs was better than what Lorde did.
“That was awesome,” Fiona said, “We love how people enjoy our sets. Austin City Limits was such an amazing experience. We were so excited to play there.”
Given what I mentioned at the top of this article about all the big festivals von Grey have played so far, Fiona also told me that it would be cool if they were to play at Coachella out in California, or even Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
â€‹Fiona von Grey on acoustic guitar at Folkfest St. Pete
But while they’re not yet scheduled for either, von Grey do, indeed, have a couple of unique shows in January that will add to their list of accomplishments. First up, on the 8th, is a performance in which they will be backed up by the symphony orchestra of Kennesaw State University. While many a big-name rock act has done an occasional live show with a symphony, did such a concept ever cross von Grey’s minds?
“We had never really thought about the idea before,” Fiona said, “but then we were at a business class at KSU. They came to us with the idea of playing with an orchestra. We were so excited about it. We started working with a composer on the parts. As the idea was coming together, we really realized how so much potential there was in playing with an orchestra.”
That other moment of uniqueness for von Grey will come toward the end of January, when they and dozens of other acts, headlined by veteran bands Sister Hazel and Barenaked Ladies, will set sail from Miami to Cozumel on board The RockBoat XV.
“When we learned that there were these RockBoat and music cruises,” Fiona said, “it was such an interesting idea. We think it’ll be very fun.”
Getting back to that Loudfund campaign that I brought up earlier. With just days remaining to a November 16 deadline, von Grey have raised nearly $20,000 from fans, toward a goal of $30,000, to record their next album. With numbers like these, they probably don’t need a major-label deal, but we asked Fiona whether they would take such an offer if that were to happen.
“It really depends on the deal, when it happens. I think that something like Loudfund is an awesome replacement for that.”
So between their big performances in January and their crowdfunded album, plus whatever else follows, next year and beyond will be a time of more awesomeness and accomplishments for von Grey.
You can donate to von Grey’s Loudfund campaign until November 16 by visiting http://loudfund.com/vongrey. More info about RockBoat XV, which von Grey are going to be part of, can be found at www.therockboat.com Also, you can find out more about Creative Clay, which put together Folkfest St. Pete, by visiting http://creativeclay.org.
Fiona von Grey playing electric guitar at Folkfest in St. Petersburg, FL
“Backseat Covers” and other von Grey videos can be found on www.youtube.com/vongreymusic. Plus, you can visit von Grey’s website, www.vongreymusic.com, and you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter, both @vongreymusic.
Cover Photo: Left to right: Kathryn, Fiona, Annika and Petra von Grey
Photo creditsâ€‹: All photography by Steve Byrd