Music on the Green: Freddy & Francine Back for Encore, 7/20

Music on the Green: Freddy & Francine Back for Encore, 7/20

Anyone who heard Freddy & Francine (aka Lee Ferris & Bianca Caruso) at the 44th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival knows the Americana-Soul duo came, saw, and conquered. In other words, we fell in love with them and they with Telluride. And now thanks to Denise Mongan of Beyond the Groove Productions and TMVOA, they are back for another encore.

Freddy & Francine’s show is part of Mongan’s Live Music on the Green on Reflection Plaza just outside Madeline Hotel & Residences. If you heard them at Bluegrass or in Mountain Village last year, you will want to hear them again. If you missed the Bluegrass gig or last year’s Music on the Green set, catch them this time at Music on the Green. The show takes place Friday, July 20, 5 – 7 p.m.

Freddy & Francine are also scheduled to be part of the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Holiday Concert Series 2018 at the Sheridan Opera House on December 29.

Please scroll way down for a sample of the duo in action. 

Freddy & Francine, courtesy Kaitlyn Raitz.

This is not your typical boy-meets-girl story.

It is all about two voices with a palpable chemistry coming together as one.

Plus one acoustic guitar.

Two stomping feet,

And a down-to-earth vibe.

Pop goes the dynamic Americana soul duo of Freddy & Francine– aka, Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso.

“‘Pop’ music gets a bad rap, but it comes from the word ‘popular.’ I’d love to be popular,” Bianca said. “I never discriminate against a song because it’s popular if it stays in your head … every Beatles song is a pop song. We just want to be an annoying pop band!,” Bianca told Billboard earlier this month.

Lee and Bianca met in 2007 in the 40th anniversary revival of the counter-culture Broadway blockbuster “Hair” and then, a few years later, went on to become perhaps one of the most talked about acts at Planet Bluegrass’s Folk Festival in Lyons and at Telluride Bluegrass and Music on the Green last summer in Mountain Village – that is well after becoming Freddy & Francine.

How did those alter egos come into being?

The answer dates back about 10 years when the couple was playing what Bianca once described as an original “1950s prom-rock” song during a show at an L.A. watering hole. During their set, they encouraged everyone to grab a dance partner and choose a cheesy ’50s name. In a blink, Lee morphed in to Freddy; Bianca became Francine. And for better for for worse, the handle stuck.

Having charmed Telluride twice before, Freddy & Francine are scheduled to return twice more this year: first to light up Reflection Plaza at Denise Mongan/Beyond the Groove’s Music on the Green series on Friday, July 20, 5- 7 p.m., in Mountain Village, then later in the year in town, where they perform in December at the Sheridan Opera as part of the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Holiday Concert Series.

By praising Freddy & Francine to the skies as we do, we are singing harmony with a chorus of  critics:

After a three-year hiatus, the duo of Freddy & Francine – Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso– is coming back strong with a move from Los Angeles to Nashville and a new EP, Moonless Night..,” wrote Billboard in a recent story.

“Ferris and Caruso have found their respective vocal soulmates, the kind of perfect harmonies that send a gripping shiver down the backbone of the listener,” raved The Deli Magazine.

“Freddy & Francine currently top my list. There is definitely a palpable chemistry between these musicians, with their vocals blending like milk and honey,” said No Depression.

“National audiences continue to be drawn to the duo as they “bring it all out on stage from a lullaby so sweet you’d swear a choir of angels were harmonizing just for you; to gut-busting, foot stomping tunes befitting a New Orleans gospel choir,” wrote the Flagstaff AZ Daily Sun.

“Authenticity in the music industry is slippery when wet,” wrote biographer Jack Johnson. “Everyone praises its value, yet when an artist is truly authentic, it is often only embraced if it can be easily walked on without slipping and landing in a pile of genre-related questions.”

To the casual observer, Freddy & Francine seem safely cemented as a folk duo. They’ve got the look, the soulful harmonies, the folk circuit bookings — over 150 a year (including Telluride Bluegrass).

And they are even getting married. Very very soon.

But Freddy & Francine are not interested in acting, or genres or even talking about their relationship.

Been there. Done that.

However, the couple did recently leave their longtime home of Los Angeles for Nashville. And since landing in their new home, they have never looked more like themselves.

“We just want to play music all the time and we don’t care about the rest of the bullshit,” Lee said.

Apparently there was plenty of that to go around at their former address: Hollywood types, the rat race, the traffic, Lee’s struggle with alcoholism. (He is now five years sober).

Longtime fans know the band took a three-year hiatus when Lee and Bianca’s relationship unraveled, a time which found Lee turning his back on music and driving trucks in L.A., while Bianca worked an office job in New York.

Around that break, both were able to land on their feet: Lee was cast as Carl Perkins in the Broadway and touring productions of “Million Dollar Quartet”; Bianca co-wrote and filmed a TV pilot in Joni Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon home (her friend rents it), featuring Seth Rogen. She sold the property to ABC.

But all that glitters…

“I was miserable in the whole process, because I wasn’t connected to myself in my gut,” Bianca said. “I didn’t enjoy it. I enjoy traveling and playing music.”

Despite rockin’ in Perkins’ blue suede shoes from Memphis to Japan, in front of thousands of people, Lee was also unhappy because he was singing someone else’s songs.

“My heroes are Joni Mitchell, The Stones, Dylan, B.B. King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Carl Perkins, the guys who just tapped into something in themselves, who needed to write and speak their own truth. That’s who I am,” Lee said. Adding, “The experience of sitting down with an instrument and coming up with something for the first time, you can’t beat that. The best experience I’ve ever had as a person doing that, and coming up with something that is bigger than the sum of its parts, is with Bianca.”

That is, however, all yesterday’s new.

Today, Freddy & Francine are full-time musicians, who have released three full-length albums and two EPs — not to mention Lee’s production of an album by award-winning actor William H. Macy (featuring Bianca’s vocals), and the duo’s collaboration with Dead & Co. keyboardist Jeff Chimenti on the musical direction and casting for 2017’s Off-Broadway musical “Red Roses, Green Gold,” featuring the music of The Grateful Dead.

And Freddy & Francine will release their latest Nashville-recorded EP in September. The six-song Moonless Night, co-produced by Dan Knobler (Lake Street Dive, Rodney Crowell) finds duo — which has often used full bands on its recordings — still produced, but more intimately portrayed, so the outcome is closer to their live performances.

As for the sound, please don’t call what they do folk music. Their music is way too energetic.

“We’re performers. We’re not just folk musicians who play and sing mellow songs with little voices … There’s screaming,” Bianca said.

Don’t call it Americana either.

Lee and Bianca don’t wear hats.

Besides, Bianca says, “The minute you think one of our songs is an Americana song, it can turn into a retro pop song.”

Despite the reaction of most roots music fans to the dreaded “P” word, Bianca says she doesn’t mind Freddy & Francine being labeled a pop band. Not at all.

But mostly, Freddy & Francine sounds like Freddy & Francine. That is not the easiest thing to explain, but it makes sense when you hear them doing their thing.

And finally, it makes sense to the two people who matter most.

“I’m really happy with who I am and I’m happy with the life I have,” Lee said.

At the end of the day – or road– authenticity appears to come from inside.

Those in the know, including fans, say Bianca sounds like Aretha Franklin. Her powerful, passionate voice can go from smoky and dark to a belting range.

Lee is aligned with the legendary Van Morrison, whom John Lee Hooker once described as “my favorite white blues singer.”  So expect similar unexpected phrasing, growls, and ululations.

Heady stuff for this burgeoning folk/pop duo, whose sound blends soul, R&B, folk, and Americana soul, with a modern, yet timeless appeal – like Streisand?, Sinatra? or better, Bonnie & Delaney?– for all ages.

The road to Freddy & Francine today: Lee Ferris & Bianca Caruso, more history:

Harmony and understanding was not always the way it was for Freddy & Francine because real life does not always play according to the rules.
Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso’s path to imminent Sonny & Cherdom 2.0 has been anything but straight and narrow.

In “Hair,” as we said, the couple clicked: very soon they were writing original music together. Their initial defining moment came when Lee asked Bianca to join him onstage to sing one of their co-compositions, a song entitled “Over and Over.” As Freddy & Francine the two captured the spirit of the super cutesy pop vibe in the air around L.A. at the time. Their newfound fanbase played along, calling out to them by their adopted moniker.

A self-titled debut EP appeared in 2008, following by a full-length set entitled The Briar Patch. Recorded over the course of nine days at a cabin in northern Arizona and largely self-produced, the album was an immediate success, courtesy of airplay on the influential L.A. radio station KCRW, which also named one of its songs, “Brownstone Alley,” its Top Tune of the Day.

Initially Freddy & Francine were together on stage only; they were not yet romantically involved.

Tinder finally flamed in 2010 with the release of the next album, The Forest and the Sea.

“In many ways, that album was autobiographical,” Lee reflected. “We had written these songs before we realized we had feelings for one another. In the past we had assumed certain fictional characters in order to inhabit our material. But with this album we were stepping into new roles, as ourselves. It was subconscious at first, but it soon became evident that what we were doing was wrestling with a sense of entanglement and struggling with ways to keep our distance and preserve our boundaries while still facing the fact that we were now totally romantically dependent on one another.”

“It was a kind of catharsis,” Bianca recalled. “It helped us make sense of the things that were playing out between us. It plotted out a course for the future.”

Except it did not: after a sold-out release party, Freddy & Francine broke up, personally and professionally.

The pause between the inhale and the exhale lasted about three-and-a-half years.

The ice was broken when Bianca decided to record a solo album she dubbed Bravado. In it was a song called “I Wanna Go Home With You,” which she and Lee had co-written several years before. That led to her asking Lee to join her in the studio and Poof!, like magic, their innate chemistry won the day and the pair were making sweet music together again.

Since then, Freddy & Francine have put out two releases: Gung Ho (2016) and an EP, Don’t Just Stand There, in early 2017.

Next comes a wedding followed by the relase of Moonless Night.

With featured sets scheduled for Telluride, the Troubadour in LA and more, plus past headlining performances at Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Sisters Folk Fest, and Madison Square Park, could it be the dawning of the age of Freddy & Francine?

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