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Marideth Sisco's band brings the music of ‘Winter's Bone' to an Austin church

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Marideth Sisco gave up the idea of being a professional musician decades ago.

She describes herself as "not pretty enough to be in front" and with "too much ego to be in back." Those honest admissions led the warm and garrulous woman from Missouri to follow her talent for storytelling into a career in journalism.

But over the years, she continued to play music, enjoying regular jam sessions with friends. When the producers of last year's indie hit film "Winter's Bone" culled the area for musicians to help provide the sonic landscape for the noir thriller set in the Ozarks, Sisco's moment arrived.

The longtime musician was featured in "Winter's Bone" and served as a music consultant on the Oscar-nominated movie. The haunting beauty of the roots music provided the violent movie with authenticity and an eerie calm.

Spurred by the film's success, Sisco and her band, Blackberry Winter, have taken the songs of "Winter's Bone" on the road for a tour that includes a performance Friday night at Central Presbyterian Church. The newly minted band's name references the last cold snap of the year, which happens late each spring in the Ozarks.

The music of the Ozarks, lush harmonies layered over the picked acoustic sounds of banjo and mandolin, reflects its people's connection to nature and takes its main musical cues from the Scots-Irish tradition.

"Some people think of it as kind of Appalachia Light," Sisco said recently from Seattle. "But it's a little more than that. There's a slightly different mixture of cultures that came into that country and stirred around together. Right on the edge of the Ozarks, we have Swiss-Austrian, Polish and Italian communities and German on the other side of that, so those influences come in. We have lots of migrant workers who came through."

As a child, Sisco's family had a 12-room hotel and would board immigrant workers who came to the area for the tomato harvest. One of her first memories of music came from the grandfather of a family of workers staying at the hotel. He would play guitar and sing for a young Sisco, who would rest on a blanket in the shade.

"I grew up listening to music of different cultures, not realizing that was the case, just soaking up music all around me," Sisco said. "Ozarks is kind of a hodgepodge of cultures, but it also has a very distinct flavor to it of hard work and ingenuity."

With Blackberry Winter, Sisco is able to introduce the indigenous music of the Ozarks, sounds borne of the springs, valleys and hills of Missouri, to people across the country. She says the response has been universal because of the ancient roots of the music.

Now, decades after she relinquished the dream of being a touring musician, the natural storyteller finds herself with a chance to share her beloved tradition with thousands.

"It's astonishing to me, but at the same time it just feels perfectly natural," Sisco said of Blackberry Winter's moment in the spotlight. "Here's another thing about the Ozarks: If you work hard enough and long enough at a thing, it happens. That's the way it goes."

modam@statesman.com; 912-5986

Music from the film ‘Winter's Bone' - Canceled