Thursday November 29, 2012

PUTNEY -- Lissa Schneckenburger practically grew up with Childsplay, the all-star collective of fiddlers who play instruments made by Bob Childs.

For one thing, Bob Childs is an old family friend. When Schneckenburger, a Brattleboro-based traditional musician, was little, she remembers going to Childsplay.

"I have fond memories of that and was obsessed with their records," she said.

As a teen, Schneckenburger worked the merchandise table, selling CDs for all the standout musicians in Childsplay.

More recently, she has played fiddle for Childsplay and this year takes on a new role as singer for the annual tour of fiddlers and other musicians, which swings through Putney on Friday for an 8 p.m. concert at Landmark College’s Greenhoe Theatre.

"It’s really fun to get together and make a big sound. ... It means a lot to us to be part of a project with Bob," said Schneckenburger, who admits to being a bit anxious about stepping into the role of Childsplay singer. "The challenge is to be creatively your own person, while still filling the place that is needed."

Schneckenburger replaces Aiofe O’Donovan of Crooked Still fame, who has left Childsplay to pursue a solo career. Childs is completely confident Schneckenburger will do just fine.

"I think she has a beautiful voice. I think of it as an emotional clarity to her voice," said Childs. "I’ve known Lissa since she was a teenager.


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I’ve gotten to see her mature and develop over the years. I’m kind of in awe of her talent."

The same could be said of all the musicians on stage. Childsplay features 12 fiddler players and a cast of complimentary musicians that includes all-Ireland harpist Kathleen Guilday, flutist Shannon Heaton, Mark Roberts, Vermont guitarist Keith Murphy and Ralph Gordon on bass, along with step-dancer Nic Gareiss.

Together, this powerhouse group plays a mix of traditional and contemporary Irish, Quebeçois, Cape Breton, bluegrass, Appalachian and Scandinavian fiddle music, as well as jazz, swing and classical music.

"There’s a kind of festive quality to the music," said Childs. "The talent level of the band is so great. ... Everyone in the group is an all-star in their own right."

In addition to Schneckenburger and Murphy, other area musicians in Childsplay include Naomi Morse and Sam Amidon.

"Brattleboro is really special in that it has a really high percentage of, not just musicians, but artists," said Schneckenburger, who lives in town with bassist Corey DiMario. "It’s one of the reasons we’re here."

Childsplay began 26 years ago with a phone call Childs got in his studio in Philadelphia inviting him to play in a concert in Washington, D.C. "Oh, by the way," the caller said, "everyone in the group is going to be playing an instrument you made."

The familial, friendly bond has remained throughout a changing cast of musicians, who still remain devoted to the instruments Childs makes. Schneckenburger has had a Bob Childs fiddle for about five years.

"There’s a sound quality that is really beautiful. It’s been described as kind of a honey tone -- almost a viola timbre. ... It’s just a beautiful signature sound that people love." said Schneckenburger. "The sound has really, really grown on me, and the sound has gotten richer. ... I especially love it in the recording studio."

Which is where Schneckenburger has been spending time these days, working with Aoife O’Donovan on a CD of covers of pop songs from the last 60 years, from early rock and roll to Nelly.

The recording studio is also where Childsplay is headed after this tour. A new concert film is also in the works.

Tickets to Friday’s Childsplay concert are $20. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.childsplay.org.