Karen Yates is the lead singer of Wiley Dew. She lives in Minford, Ohio – but her family is part of the pioneering group that settled eastern Kentucky. You’ve heard of Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, named after the lady who was kidnapped by Indians and made her way home? That’s Karen’s ancestor. So, it’s no wonder that she and her band specialize in the area’s roots music: Appalachian and Celtic folk music.
Yates plays guitar, stand-up bass, penny whistles, flute and the Irish bodhran drum. She is also a registered songwriter with BMI. For more information, check out www.wileydew.com .
Graffiti: Tell me about your latest projects.
Karen Yates: We have three CD’s out to date: “Hill Jack Stew,” “Black Diamond Towns,” and “Climb Up Mountain”. There are a lot of different styles on them all. We don’t like to limit ourselves when it comes to what we write. Good or bad, it is all on those CD’s. It is the musical journey of us as a songwriting band. Some folks say, “Hey, do you think that you could Wiley Dew a song like ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Imagine,’ we don’t know what that means. I guess it is good we do have our own sound.
We have been doing a lot of song writing in the last couple of months and plan to get back into the studio sometime in early summer. We are in the play “Something In The Water,” at the Paramount Arts Center and are looking forward to more dates on that as well. We have also been rebooked for the River Barge Excursion Tour Barge this summer and are starting to take bookings for this coming year. So, all things Wiley Dew are looking pretty good so far for the next year. We plan to make a tour of the southern states and East coast in the fall sometime.
Graffiti: Where do you play in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia?
Yates: Wiley Dew has been booked for the last several years performing at the State Park of Kentucky. We also perform at festivals, such as the “Folklife Festival” in Frankfort and others around the area. We have done the Jenny Wiley festival in Prestonsburg. Jenny Wiley was my 4th Great Grandmother and we love doing that one when we can work it in. In West Virginia, we have performed at the Brazen Head Inn and the Purple Fiddle. We have done many State Parks there as well and the New River Gorge area, too.
Graffiti: How did you learn and study all the historical Appalachian and Celtic songs?
Yates: We have always had a love of the Celtic music and Appalachian music is in that same vein. We write what we get and often it sounds Celtic. It just sort of happens...when the music starts happening, we try to let it happen. No sense of looking a gift horse in the mouth! We listen a lot to Irish music and also to a lot of old-time. We enjoy both and bluegrass also has a hold of our hearts too. I think it all goes together like a smooth flowing river...
Graffiti: Who are your musical influences?
Yates: Gee, Wiley Dew has so many. Gillian Welch, Bill Monroe, The Chieftains, The Beatles, Doc Watson, and then there are all of the local folks, too. We love Rob McNurlin, Sasha Colette, Ritch Collin’s Three-o-, 1937 Flood, Luna, John Lilly, and all of our local great fiddlers like Bobby Taylor, J. P. Fraley & Paul David Smith. Then, there are the other groups like the great local bluegrassers. Dave Evans comes to mind, with those Hazel Holler Girls! Karen and Michelle also play in an all Girl Bluegrass Group called Hazel Holler, with another girl, fiddler Shirley Seim.
Graffiti: Who are you listening to these days?
When we are in the writing mode, we listen to what we are doing. Often outside influences creep in though.
Graffiti: When you aren’t playing, what do you do?
Yates: We mostly hang around the house and do a lot of outside work with the horses and gardening. Long walks where we live. Michelle works at a nursing home and has her own radio show on Morehead University Public radio station, WMKY. Her show is on Sunday afternoons from 2 - 4 and is called the “Pickin’ Parlor.” She plays a wide variety of Bluegrass and folk music. We are really proud of her. She went on a Bluegrass cruise and won the first Bluegrass American Idol competition. Look out Rhonda Vincent, here she comes!
Graffiti: How old were you when you started playing and how did you start playing?
Yates: We all started playing pretty young. I was around 14 or so and Steve, the same. Michelle has been playing all of her life, just about, as well.
Graffiti: Were your parents musical?
Yates: My parents were in the church choir and that is how I learned to sing harmony. Michelle’s were musical, Steve’s not so much.
Graffiti: Did your parents encourage your musical talent?
Yates: I don’t think any of us would be in the music business if we didn’t have the support of our parents and loved ones. My folks come to a lot of our shows. Steve’s folks have also seen us perform. They dig the music... but sometimes get embarrassed if they are mentioned in the songs. Hey, that is a casualty when you are around songwriters — everybody is fair game.
Graffiti: What are some of the big shows you’ve played?
Yates: We have performed on the Paramount Stage for the Highway 23 Jamboree and we also get a kick out of performing at Camden Park for WOWK’s Hot Summer Nights in the summer months. We are the musical group mentioned from Greenup on the Kentucky Highway 23 Drive Tour CD.
We have been the lobby warm-up band for the Paramount Arts Center when big acts come to town, everyone from Wynonna to Ricky Skaggs to Keb Mo and Gillian Welch and David Rawlins. We even got to meet Loretta Lynn and her girls and we took them blackberries. They ate them just about up and took the rest with them. They were good blackberries... So we never know who we will meet there. But it has been fun to meet the crowds as well. We love the Paramount and feel as if it is our home base. All things good started there with us. It is where we all met and played for the first time. What a gift it has been to us.