If you’re gonna get rootsy for a living, playing old-time and bluegrass music, you better know how to diversify your talents if you want to survive.
“We have a triple or quadruple pronged approach to our music careers,” says John Claude Miller, half of the Asheville-based husband and wife Americana duo, Zoe and Cloyd.
In addition to his onstage song-slinging, Miller teaches string band and songwriting classes at Warren Wilson College and his wife, Natalie Zoe, Weinstein teaches fiddle students. But the duo also has a marital sideline.
“We do a lot of weddings, probably an average of about 15 a year,” Miller says. Whether the nuptials are for a down home hoe-down or a classy, high-falutin’ shindig, the two can accommodate all comers with tunes from “Groundhog in the Taters” to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire.” For a little more monetary layout, Weinstein will also throw in a custom wedding waltz.
“Nat can play classical violin, and there’s a lot of demand for Appalachian-y kinds weddings in Asheville. Then a lot of times they want a little bit of classical, so we’re pretty good for that.”
Miller left his native North Carolina after graduation from Appalachian State, moving to Utah to join the bluegrass outfit Lo-Fi Breakdown. Coming back to N.C., he formed Red June (named after a Southern apple variety) in 2009 with singer fiddler Natalie Zoe Weinstein and vocalist and multi- instrumentalist Will Straughn.
Both Weinstein and Miller come from musical families. His grandfather was Jim Shumate, an innovative fiddler who toured and recorded with Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs. Weinstein’s granddad was a klezmer musician, and her dad is a jazz pianist. Miller won first place in the 2013 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest 2013. A contest-winning fiddler and classically trained violinist, Weinstein has taught fiddle workshops at Swannanoa Gathering and Mars Hill Bluegrass Week.
As Zoe and Cloyd, the couple has put out two records, 2015’s Equinox and 2017’s Eyes Brand New, mixing traditional music such as the Scottish air “Farewell To Fiunary” with original tunes such as “Running On Empty,” a diatribe about the stressful joys of new parenthood written under duress soon after daughter Cadence was born in 2015.
“That’s been our current hit,” Miller says. “It was almost written as a joke song, because we were really tired that day, and Natalie’s mom was in town and she was like, ‘Oh, just go take a nap,’ and sometimes you just can’t shut your brain off to take a nap. So we just sat on the couch and wrote that song in 10 minutes.”
Miller thought at first it was too hokey and was reluctant to perform it until Weinstein urged him on. “We played it a couple of times and people just loved it. It has that universal appeal. People get it.”
Collaborating on that song was part of a coming-out process, singer/songwriter-wise, for Weinstein, whose background was more rigid than Miller’s. When he first met her, she was playing with Laurelyn Dossett and Kari Sickenberger in Polecat Creek.
“They didn’t hire her initially to sing; she was just a fiddler, played with them for years and didn’t sing at all, none,” Miller says. He encouraged her to sing with his bluegrass band Lo-fi, then began to utilize her on vocals with Red June.
“It was just a trio, nice to have two men and a woman’s voice in there, you could do interesting things.” Slowly, over a few years, Straughn and Miller got her into feeling comfortable singing, developing her voice. “We nudged her into songwriting, and one of first songs she wrote was “Bittersweet,” for our second Red June album,” he says. “Nowadays, we do a lot of co-writing, because we’re in the house together. It’s easy to bounce ideas of each other because our time is a lot more limited than it used to be.”
In between parenting, teaching, helping folks get hitched, recording, performing and touring, Miller works on his legacy.
“In workshops, I always talk about Bill Monroe or Flatt and Scruggs. When those people were starting out, they were innovating, trying to do something new, writing a bunch of new songs, trying new licks.” Miller says he believes that innovation is a big component of being a traditional musician.
“Sometimes people forget that. They think that maybe tradition is very static. I’d like to be thought of as somebody who carries on the tradition of musical innovation while still being true to the past in our region.”