Published Jun 02, 2011It's been about 60 years in the making, but Marideth Sisco is finally where she always wanted to be: on stage in the spotlight, out in front of the band, singing. If it sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood movie, well, it is. Sort of.
Sisco's sudden stardom is all thanks to a brief but memorable scene in the Academy Award-winning film Winter's Bone, a bleakly dazzling coming-of-age drama set in the isolated Ozarks mountains region. During her scouting phase a few years before filming began, writer/director Debra Granik asked to hear some traditional Ozarks music and met Sisco and her band, collectively known as Blackberry Winter. Now, four years later, the group are embarking on the Winter's Bone tour, an international adventure that will take them out of the Ozarks and throughout North America. Sisco admits that even now, the whole experience is still as surreal as when it started.
"We were just playin' in some body's house and these folks came in, said they were doin' a movie and wanted to hear some Ozarks music, so we played 'em some and they went on their way and we didn't hear a peep from 'em for two years," Sisco laughs during a recent interview with Exclaim! "Then one night I got a call and they said, 'We just can't get that one song out of our heads. Could you do it for the movie?' And I was thinkin' record it for the movie and said, 'Yeah, I guess I could do that.' They said, 'That's good, 'cause we got a scene written in the movie for you.' I said, 'Oh my god.' That's how it started. It just never quite quit."
It's a rapid rise to fame after a lifetime spent resigning herself to not making money from her music. Sisco was three when her great uncle taught her to sing, encouraging her to perform on the spot whenever she could. She studied classical music in school, but found herself bumping heads with sexist '60s sentiment.
"I decided I would go into orchestral work, but then the school I was going to told me that was nonsense, I was a woman, I'd never be able to make a living at that, so I would have to be a music teacher," Sisco recalls. "I said, 'To hell with ya!' and left school and went to California and played music for about ten years."
But her career never took off and Sisco is matter-of-fact about the challenges.
"I discovered, after long soul searching, that I was never going to be pretty enough to be up front and I had way too much ego to be in the back, so I better find myself something to make a living with that I could actually do and be happy with," she says.
Sisco went back to school and pursued a degree in journalism, eventually leaving California and spending 20 years as a newspaper reporter. But she never forgot about her first love and didn't need to look far for someone who shared her interests. At the desk across from her was sports editor Dennis Cryder, her longtime collaborator and friend, who played guitar in the film and is a part of Blackberry Winter.
"I've always needed to sing, I've always needed to be absorbed in music one way or another, so that was a way of keeping me happy and doin' what I love the best, but it wasn't anything to make money with," Sisco says. "I just sort of forgot about the money-makin' side and concentrated on being able to put together some good music. The only time we would play out in public is this old time festival in June here, until the movie."
The movie's soundtrack renewed interest in traditional music, not unlike the revival sparked by the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack in 2000. Now, the band are fresh out of the studio, having crafted their own album, which Sisco hopes to have in hand by the time they reach the Waldorf Cabaret in Vancouver, their first Canadian stop, on Friday (June 3). She's jokingly named this the Amazing Geriatric Hilbilly tour, but she admits she's excited to bring the sounds of the Ozarks to the rest of the world, one city at a time.
"Two years ago if you told me I'd be doin' this, I'd of laughed out loud," Sisco says. "It's a pretty ambitious undertaking for a bunch of old folks, but we're sure having fun at it."
You can see Blackberry Winter's entire North American tour schedule here and get more information about the Vancouver concert here.