Pharis Romero, Artistic Director
Pharis has been singing and playing music her whole life. An early student of classical and country, she grew up performing with her family’s band and learning the songs and stories that made her want to dig deeper. These days she performs mostly with her husband Jason, and is equally at home disappearing into an old-time jam as she is singing on stage or teaching the joy of song and sound. She’s the Artistic Director for Voice Works, has won three Juno Awards for her recordings with Jason, and is a three-time Canadian Folk Music Awards Traditional Singer of the Year. After more than ten years of teaching at Centrum, she is honoured to be the Artistic Director of Voice Works.
Nikki Dee – Hawaii
Nikki Dee is an award-winning vocalist, vocal coach, consultant, arranger, music director, and bandleader based in Honolulu. Specializing in a unique blend of international jazz, blues, and cabaret repertoire in the original languages, she currently sings and plays ukulele with the Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy 808 as well as the “tropical jazz” band, Blue Hawaiian. As winner of the 2017 Seattle-Kobe Female Jazz Vocalist Audition, Nikki represented the Seattle jazz scene in Kobe. She performed at the Kobe-Shinkaichi Jazz Queen Vocalist Contest in addition to performances at Kobe’s renowned Sone Jazz Club and historic Shushinkan Sake Brewery. The same year, Nikki was also an Earshot Jazz Award finalist for NW Vocalist of the Year. She has performed throughout the United States as well as in France, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia.
Nikki’s signature style includes timeless songs from around the world in their original languages, performed in an eclectic variety of styles. Inspired by her love of world travel, Nikki regularly performs in French, Portuguese, German, Hawaiian, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese, some of which are featured on her Brazilian-themed album, Estrada do Sol
Bridge Hill Kennedy – Alabama
Dr. Kennedy (he/him/his), attended his first Sacred Harp singing in June of 2002. This life changing event came about when he was invited to accompany his sister-in-law to a singing for a commissioned painting (“All Day Singing and Dinner on the Grounds” by Bethanne Hill, 2003, commissioned by Max Berueffy). Since then, Bridge has been honored to serve as an instructor at both Adult and Youth sessions of Camp Fasola (2013-2018), Camp Fasola, Europe (2014) and several Sacred Harp Convention singing schools—including: Berlin, Germany (2022) Cork, Ireland (2019); Ontario, Canada (2018); and Portland, OR (2015). Bridge has, also, conducted singing schools in collaboration with Gotham Early Music Scene, Inc., the band Ruckus (LaGuardia High School, 2022), and the Ruckus Holy Manna tour (2022). As a social scientist, Bridge enjoys teaching on the sociocultural aspects and benefits of Sacred Harp and the importance of the Memorial Lesson. However, he is most frequently sought after for his Sacred Harp leading workshops. Currently, Bridge serves as an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Online Undergraduate Degree Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where his teaching and research interests focus on: special topics in LGBTQIA+ rights, Psychology of Gender, and Positive Psychology.
Johnny Nicholas – Texas
Time is a river and you can never step in the same river twice. It’s all gonna change, but what came before shapes what comes after. There are certain people who seem to be in both places at once. Johnny Nicholas has played music and rambled with some of the most original and artistically powerful individuals of the American 20th century. To name a few, Big Walter Horton, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Koko Taylor, Jimmie Vaughan, Nathan Abshire, Houston Stackhouse, Carol Fran, Lightnin’ Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, Arthur ‘big boy’ Crudup, BB King, Bonnie Raitt, S.P. Leary, Marcia Ball, Lazy Lester, Snooky Pryor, Robert jr. Lockwood and Johnny Shines.
Johnny’s live performances and the music on his nine solo albums attest to this journey along these age-old paths. There’s no way that they couldn’t be with the life that he’s led and the people he’s known. Yes, there are people who seem to be able to stand in two places at once. Where they are now and where it all began. Destroy the illusion of time and live in the truths that spoke to you as a child. The sounds of the summer night, the train whistle and the open tuned guitar. Surely you are there at least as much as you are here.
Mara Kaye with Tim McNalley – California
A joyous phenomenon, Mara Kaye simply becomes her songs. She doesn’t pose, she doesn’t copy, but her entrancing music pierces our hearts. Reminiscent of the best acoustic blues singers of an earlier time, Mara Kaye has a refreshing approach to the songs of Bessie Smith, the Smith Sisters and more. When others “sing the blues” as if offering an unusual small plate at the tapas bar, Mara has so immersed herself in the idiom that she goes down to the bottom and doesn’t need air until the show is over. She’s a modernist rather than a museum piece: her creations can be darkly mournful, savagely vengeful, or gleefully erotic, but they are always dusted with Brooklyn spice. Think 1928 Bessie Smith or 1937 Billie Holiday leavened with street smarts. Her heart is in her music, and there is no pretense, no distance, as audiences from here to Russia, at Joe’s Pub and Brooklyn dives have found out.
Mara will be accompanied at the gathering by Tim McNalley, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and songwriter from Southern California. While most commonly seen on the upright and electric bass, he also performs, records and tours on guitar, cello, mandolin and sitar- a breadth that has allowed him the opportunity to collaborate with artists such as Ariana Grande, Lianne La Havas, Changuito, Steve Grand, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Lianne La Havas, lostboycrow, Juanita Stein, Aashish Khan, Earl Thomas, Jim Kweskin, Burt Turetzky, and more.
Grace Love – Washington
Singer songwriter Grace Love is the Olympic Peninsula’s shining jewel of grit, beauty and power – think Etta James and Betty Wright meet Mahalia Jackson. She grew up in Tacoma, just a stone’s throw from Seattle, which infused her R&B melodies with fortitude and grunge. She was raised on soul music, southern food, and stories about the south.
“I breathe music and do my best to give that divinity to others,” says Grace, who between her tireless performance schedule runs a soul food restaurant and community show space, Nadine’s Kitchen.
Outside of her band life and arts organizing, Grace is an accomplished actress and playwright who has produced several one-woman plays and large-scale productions throughout the U.S. She is a 2016 OneBeat Fellow.
Yoseff Tucker – California
Yoseff’s early life exposure to traditional bluegrass and American roots music came courtesy of his grandfather who moved to Central California from the Ozarks in the early 20th century. His first guitar came to him while he was still in diapers and an appreciation for music laid a great foundation in his life. After years of playing rock ‘n roll, Yoseff found his way back to bluegrass music and in a matter of years created a life centered on the proliferation and progress of bluegrass. His prodigious flatpicking skills have been acknowledged by the Northern California Bluegrass Society via the Guitarist of the Year award (’09, ’10, ’11, ’13, ’15). He has also been humbled with the award for Male Vocalist of the Year (’10, ’16). Yoseff lends his guitar work and vocals to the Bow Ties, the Central Valley Boys, as well as San Francisco band Supermule.
Khari Wendell McClelland – British Columbia
Khari Wendell McClelland is a diversely talented and ever-evolving artist. Originally from Detroit, Khari has become a darling on the Canadian music scene with reviewers lauding his performances as a clever mix of soul and gospel. Khari’s songwriting crosses genres and generations, joyfully invoking the spirit of his ancestors who straddled the US-Canadian border in efforts to escape slavery and discrimination. His music draws from this rich history, integrating the rhythms and folklore of early African-Americans with contemporary sounds and stories of struggle. Recently, Khari received critical acclaim for his Freedom Singer project, recreating the music fugitive slaves carried on their journey north into Canada. Khari also performs with the Roots Gospel group The Sojourners. Whether on stage or in the studio, Khari’s passion for community, equality and justice is palpable, as is his belief in the redemptive power of music.
Eli West – Washington
It’s always illuminating to ask an artist how they understand music, but Eli West’s perspective is nothing short of ground-breaking. A trained designer, he sees music architecturally, visualizing his compositions spatially. It’s a highly unusual way to think about music, tied to his verdant natural world of the Pacific Northwest. On his new album, Tapered Point of Stone, West lays out original songs and tunes like houses built by hand, weaving their melodies into the setting of acoustic roots music that first inspired him. Recorded in 2020, just before everything shut down, the album brings together West’s favored quartet of musicians: Andrew Marlin (Watchhouse) on mandolin and guitar, Christian Sedelmeyer (Jerry Douglas) on fiddle, himself on mandolin, guitar, and banjo, and Clint Mullican (Watchhouse) on bass. This is the third album this quartet has built, including solo albums for Marlin and Sedelmeyer, and at this point they operate on a near-magical wavelength. As both a noted arranger, songwriter, performer, and composer, West has been crafting a Northwest-centric roots music aesthetic through earlier collaborations with Cahalen Morrison and John Reischman, and recordings with Bill Frisell and Dori Freeman. Tapered Point of Stone showcases West’s collaborative nature.
Karin Plato – British ColumbiaCanadian vocalist and composer Karin Plato came to jazz almost by accident. The music she heard in her formative years was the rock and pop music of the day and the classical music she studied from a young age. She didn’t get the “jazz bug” until she was in her early 30’s and that’s when her music career really began when she made the move from central Canada to the West Coast.
Karin was born on the prairies, in the province of Saskatchewan. She studied classical piano throughout her childhood and eventually she went on to study voice and piano at the University of Saskatchewan where she received a Bachelor of Music Degree. In 1985 she moved to Vancouver to further her studies at Capilano College in a quest to learn more about composition and arranging. In 1996 and 1998 she studied vocal jazz at The Banff Centre for the Arts with renowned vocalists Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton. Over the years she has also been able to study with Nancy King and Kurt Elling.
Karin has performed across Canada and in some areas in the USA and she continues to work in Vancouver as a music educator, pianist, vocalist and arranger and she is the artistic director of the Joy of Jazz Concerts series in Vancouver. She is a Juno nominated artist, West Coast Music Awards nominee and 3 times nominated Canadian Jazz Vocalist of the Year at the National Jazz Awards in Toronto.
Moira Smiley – Vermont
Moira has led vocal workshops and residencies at countless universities, colleges, high schools, conservatories, and musical organizations including the LA Master Chorale, Savannah Acoustic Music Seminar, Vancouver Youth Choir, Yale, and Oxford. Moira’s academic specialty is Early Music, and she has developed parallel experience with various folk traditions – especially early American, Irish, and Balkan vocal styles. By exploring the particularities of traditions, styles, and periods, she’s found something uniquely her own. Moira continues to develop new experiences for singers and is excited by the opportunity to share music with singers of all experience levels.
Smiley has lived by those words, taking seemingly every opportunity to explore musical and cultural avenues. In addition to her work with Tune-Yards, Solas, Rising Appalachia, and KITKA, she’s been featured on jazz pianist Billy Childs’ acclaimed tribute to Laura Nyro; studied and sung music ranging from the compositions of 12th-century abbess Hildegard Von Bingen to 20th-century sonic revolutionary Karlheinz Stockhausen; and sought and shared songs and sounds in such spots as a rural Ireland, rural Appalachia, and refugee camps in Europe, where she has volunteered with the humanitarian organization Expressive Arts Refuge.
Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms – Washington
Dust off your boots and gather around for some true and original modern honky tonk music. Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms are known to roots music fans across the globe for their soulful harmonies, driving dance tunes, classic original songs, and commitment to the raw truth of rural American music. They make their home on an island in Washington State, where they are foundational to the exceptional old-time and country music scene with the Caleb Klauder Reeb Willms Country Band and their membership in the Foghorn Stringband. Charismatic performers, they bring their unique set of talents to the stage with an eye towards good times and an ear towards the deepest songs and tunes. The two have come together in music and are hailed as some of the most compelling musicians making country roots music in America today. When these two sing together, their honest incantations leave us spell-bound and smiling.
The blend of true harmonies, the sharply-written country songs, and the un-showy authenticity strike a rich vein that makes them seem like they are born and raised in Music City. They quietly pursue a musical vision without much of a care for what’s expected or in vogue at the time. There’s a lot to admire in this singular perseverance and honesty.