BEST BETS: Delmarva Folk Festival-bound Cary turns tragedy into tuneful bliss

Meghan Cary performs with her trio at the Delmarva Folk Festival Saturday night at 8. (Submitted photo)

Meghan Cary once heard that if you’re really off track in life, God or some force in the universe will “t-bone you” and put you on the track you’re supposed to be.

More than 20 years ago, she caught the back end of one of those seismic shifts and has never looked back since.

Ms. Cary, an accomplished singer and actress, will perform with her trio at Saturday’s Delmarva Folk Festival near Hartly at 8 p.m.

While just starting to get her acting career off the ground in New York City in the early ’90s, Ms. Cary met musician Matthew Black. They fell in love and got engaged.

During many of Mr. Black’s gigs at area nightspots, he would pull Ms. Cary up and she would somewhat reluctantly add the harmonies on the choruses of many well-known cover songs. They made beautiful music together in life and on stage.

Then suddenly it all changed in 1995 when Mr. Black unexpectedly passed away.

“I just thought ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ We had our whole future ahead of us. We had all these plans. Now there are none,” she said.

“But I had music. I never had music before and I decided to keep that.”

So one day she picked up Mr. Black’s Gibson guitar and taught herself how to play.

“I wanted to have music. I didn’t even know any songs the whole way through. I only knew the harmonies,” she recalled.

“But singing is healing, especially through grief. Grief lands in your chest. And with singing, it moves the air through your chest. It really was life saving and life changing. The only other options weren’t nearly as healthy.”

So she just started writing about her feelings and about her time with Mr. Black and she put it all to music.

After his death, Ms. Cary said the theater world was very kind to her and offered her parts in shows. During one of those productions in the Catskills, she found herself the only woman in the play. During the off time, she worked on her music behind closed doors, never intending for anyone else to hear it.

“After one of the shows, we were sitting around and having a drink and one of the guys asked me ‘What is it that you’re playing?’ And I just said that I was trying to learn guitar and making up songs,” she said.

“He said ‘Can you play one?’ I said ‘I don’t know’ and he said ‘Come on, just play one.’ So I played this song called ‘Rain’ because it literally rained for six weeks straight and it felt like the universe was weeping with me.

“And I could see that it really affected them and they kept asking for more.”

The Megan Cary Trio, from left, Bob Beach, Ms. Cary and Peter Farrell. (Submitted photo)

Going back to New York City after the play’s run, she had to tell the bartender at O’Flaherty’s, the site of one of Mr. Black’s regular gigs, that he could no longer play because he had passed away.

“‘So can you play then?’ he said. Then I said ‘Yes,’ which was not what I was expecting to hear myself say at all,” she said.

Armed with two cover songs and six of her own, she played the first set. Then she played the second set with the exact same eight songs. Then she repeated the third set.

“I just told different stories in between and the audience never left. It was like ‘Go home already.’ But by the third set, they were singing the songs with me. Then they started passing a notebook around to start a mailing list for when I played again. But I said I’d never play again. This was it,” she said.

But it wasn’t it. Ms. Cary, who originally studied to become a doctor at Duke University, was on her way to become a real honest to goodness musician.

Ms. Cary recorded a collection of her songs that she thought were only going to be heard by those who know Mr. Black.

“A friend knew this guy who was a producer who had a studio. He told me how much it would cost to record and I couldn’t afford it,” she said.

“But I was doing voiceovers for commercials at the time and you used to get mailbox money, which were residuals. I went home after the first meeting and there were three checks, all adding up to exactly what they wanted.”

As fate would have it, someone at Billboard Magazine got a hold of what would become her first album “New Shoes” and she was named Best Newcomer in 1998 for a recording she thought few would even hear.

Drawing comparisons to Shawn Colvin, Stevie Nicks, Blind Faith and even Bruce Springsteen, she has recorded five albums, including her latest “Sing Louder” in 2017, which debuted at No. 6 on the International Folk DJ chart.

During the album’s recording, she gathered 48 of her fans in the studio to sing with her on the title track and also a song called “Responsibility.”

“That was such an incredible day. There were people who had never been in a studio, let alone put on headphones before. They all just sang out and the energy of that room left everyone so elevated,” she said.

Ms. Cary talks of singing as a powerful tool.

“When we sing, we raise our voices together. I love to have people sing with me. I’ll ask people to sing with me on Saturday. There is such a physical thing that happens when the sound resonates and we are all connected. It’s just so empowering and so unifying. It just embodies all that we need right now when it’s so easy to get stuck in the us-versus-them mentality,” she said.

Married with two children and living in the Philadelphia area now, Ms. Cary is a veteran of over 100 stage plays along with on-air and voice roles in commercials. She also tours with a one-woman musical production detailing her journey called “On the Way to the Waterfall.”

Additionally, she is composing music and lyrics for the Broadway-bound musical, “The Accidental Caterer.”

Ms. Cary says that the road life put her on would have never been tread without Mr. Black coming in — and then out of — her life.

“Matthew used to tell me angels are like messengers. And they come to bring us something and then they have to leave so that we can take that gift and own it ourselves,” she said.

“With that in mind, I just figure, ‘Well, I guess I gotta do this thing.’”

Full of folk

The Delmarva Folk Festival, presented by the Delaware Friends of Folk, actually begins tonight with the finals of the 12th annual Delmarva Folk Hero contest at 7. It will take place at the Bennett Chapel at Wesley College on Division Street in Dover due to wet field conditions at the festival site.

Current Delmarva Folk Hero Tom Hench will host the program with six acts selected by audience vote at the July and August Friends of Folk open mic preliminaries. Tonight’s audience will select the new Delmarva Folk Hero.

Sol Knopf, who was just selected as Dover Mayor’s Arts Award winner, will play at Saturday’s Delmarva Folk Festival. (Submitted photo)

Those artists include Bob Barto, Joe Cahill, Rick Hudson, Simon Purchase James, Last Chance and Jim Rezac. Tickets are $7.

The music resumes Saturday at Fields Farm, 352 Downs Chapel Road, near Hartly, rain or shine.

It all begins at noon with a set from the new Delmarva Folk Hero winner.

Then longtime festivalgoer Amy Duckett Wagner’s emergent solo career will put her on the festival stage for the first time at 1 p.m.

The energetic Celtic and old-time duo Kindred Spirits represent Maryland’s Eastern Shore at 2 p.m. and the afternoon portion concludes with a 3 p.m. set from festival favorites Sand Creek.

The evening segment begins at 5 p.m. with the Delaware County, Pennsylvania trio Katherine Rondeau and The Show. At 6 p.m. Chris English, who has appeared at many Friends of Folk events will perform, but this is the first time he’ll have his son, Grayson, beside him on bass.

New to the festival this year is well-known Smyrna singer-songwriter Sol Knopf, who this week received word that he is one of the latest recipients of the Dover Mayor’s Arts Award. Mr. Knopf will play at 7 p.m.

After The Megan Cary Trio, which also comprises Bob Beach and Peter Farrell, at 8 will be the old-time and bluegrass band Cold Chocolate finishing the day at 9 p.m.

The day will also include workshops, special kids activities, and craft and food vendors featuring beer from local brewers.

Weekend tent and RV sites are available too.

Advance tickets for $15 for Friends of Folk members and $20 for nonmembers can be purchased today at Parke Green Galleries, 331 State St. in Dover or online before 11 p.m. at www.delfolk.org.

Tickets at the gate on Saturday will be $30 for everyone.

The Delmarva Folk Festival is partially supported by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tee-Tones in Smyrna

Also Saturday, The Tee-Tones will perform at the Smyrna Opera House, 7 W. South St., at 7:30 p.m.

The Tee-Tones are a singing group from New York City that got its start singing “street corner harmony” in the subway tunnels and who combine group harmony with passionate vocal performances of classic hits from the doo-wop, soul and Motown eras.

They have opened for legends such as The Drifters, Little Anthony & The Imperials, The Duprees and The Contours in venues such as New York City’s Beacon Theatre, Asbury Park, New Jersey’s Paramount Theater and the Wildwoods Convention Center in New Jersey.

They have also performed in exclusive events for Paul McCartney and Berry Gordy, and were recently featured on PBS’ “Doo-Wop Generations.”

Tickets are $25 and may be purchased online at smyrnaoperahouse.org, by calling 653-4236, or the box office.

Doors open at 6:45 p.m.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the horror film “Hell Fest,” the Kevin Hart comedy “Night School” and the animated feature “Smallfoot 3D.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the horror film “The First Purge” and the action sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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