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Say Darling’s chemistry is a story of connections made

Celia Woodsmith is hard to reach.

Camping out in the Adirondacks, she was cut off from cell service and the Internet for days before we connected for an interview.

Chris Hersch was able to talk first — before he secluded himself at a meditative retreat, off the grid entirely, just as Woodsmith returned.

But then, that’s kind of the whole aura of Say Darling: They play when they can, when their schedules line up, for the joy of it.

Music’s not a business for these two, it’s a passion.

So when Say Darling is playing a local show, like Friday’s gig at the Burren in Somerville, to their circle of fans, that’s a drop-everything-and-go deal.


Woodsmith, of Kittery, Maine, is part of the Grammy-nominated all-female bluegrass supergroup Della Mae, recently tapped by comedian-turned-bluegrass musician Steve Martin and pal Martin Short as their backing band.

Hersch, of Medford, was a member of Boston Music Award winners Girls Guns and Glory, before leaving because “I was ready to explore something new. Sometimes you have to take risks and trust something good will come of it.” He now also fronts western swing band Chris Hersch & the MoonRaiders.

“As much as Celia loves music, it’s not the only thing in her life, and I connected with that,” says Hersch, 37. “I ski, hike, mountain bike — anything outdoors. She’s the same way.

“When we first played together in jam sessions, there was a goofiness, a lightheartedness, about her. I perceived her to be someone extremely talented, but not a victim of her talent. Her value system was in the right place. Sometimes extremely talented people, their value systems can be off.”

We talk a day before Hersch leaves for a retreat at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. “I do retreats once or twice a year. That’s helped me through this craziness of being in music. I used to ride the roller coaster a lot more, but I have more persecutive on it now.”


As Hersch goes off grid, Woodsmith comes back on.

“Chris has this Buddha-like energy on stage, he’s very focused and calm, but manages to be joyful at the same time,” says Woodsmith, 34, in a phone interview once she gets service. “He complements my untamed energy — I’m practically jumping off the stage. You need that yin and yang.”

Woodsmith also brings that energy to Della Mae, her band with two-time national champion fiddler Kimber Ludiker, mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner, and upright bassist Zoe Guigueno. (In fact, she’ll switch hats and play three area Della Mae shows — in Charlestown, R.I., Rockport, and North Truro — after Say Darling’s Somerville gig.

“I saw Della Mae at Passim before I was in it — little did I know I’d join,” recalls Woodsmith, a Vermont native who moved to Boston to join the music scene as part of folk duo Avi & Celia.

“Kimber asked me out to coffee at Diesel [Cafe] in Davis Square [in Somerville] and asked me to sing. She was fed up with the fact that there’s not many all-female bands. And it’s hard to get a job as a side-woman — there aren’t many women instrumentalists. Up until then, I’d never seen an all-female band, it was startling how rare that was.”

When Martin’s Steep Canyon Rangers took a break recently, the actor/musician tapped Della Mae to tour.


“I can’t really compete with Steve Martin,” Hersch says with a laugh.

Hersch grew up in Orefield, Pa., and moved to Boston to study jazz guitar at New England Conservatory, graduating in 2004.

He played with Girls Guns and Glory (which became Ward Hayden and the Outliers) among other groups, and met his fiancee while on tour with the band in Idaho in 2011.

“We played a show in Boise, and after I met her, I flew her out here to see a [GGG] show at the Lizard Lounge. I bought her a plane ticket. My family was there, so she met everyone immediately. Then I asked her to move to Boston. It was risky, but it worked,” he says with a laugh.

Say Darling’s own meet-cute starts at a bluegrass jam at Cambridge’s Cantab Lounge in 2009.

“We just hit it off,” Hersch says. “We started to jam at people’s houses. Bluegrass players play in kitchens, all over the place, there’s all these bluegrass parties. We always talked about making a band, but we were both involved in all these different projects.”

“I’d seek him out to play with at jams,” Woodsmith says. “We loved similar music.”

They ended up as roommates, with a few other Boston musicians, when “we were all just trying to make it,” Woodsmith says.

Eventually in 2016, Della Mae went on hiatus at the same time Hersch left Girls Guns and Glory.


For the fun of it, they played what they thought would be a one-off at Portsmouth Book & Bar in Portsmouth, N.H. It went so well, they did another show at The Burren.

They recruited noted Boston musicians — drummer Jared Seabrook, bassist Paul Chase, and Hammond B3 player Scott Coulter — and released a self-titled debut EP in 2017.

Between Woodsmith’s smoky vocals, Hersch’s guitar, the Hammond organ, and powerful bass and drum lines, Say Darling tends toward a big, groovable, movable sound. (YouTube “Stoned on You” for an example.)

“Say, darlin’, say,” is an old-time bluegrass lyric used in a few songs, Woodsmith says, explaining the band’s name; she used it in the song “Thread That Shimmers.”

“We went with Say Darling [because] it felt both like a command — “Say darling, dammit” — and like a gentle way to address someone,” says Hersch.

The band is now working on their sophomore album, slated for an early 2020 release.

Overall, Say Darling “was an easy project to put together. It never felt forced; it always felt natural,” says Woodsmith.

“She’s the first artist I can sit down and write with,” Hersch says. “There was no fear of criticism. For whatever reason, we can do that. And it felt like a special thing.”


At The Burren, Somerville, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets: $15 in advance, $19 at the door, www.burren.com

Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. She tweets @laurendaley1.