Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds are a seven-piece soul/rock band from the Catskill Mountains in New York. Arleigh Kincheloe and her brother Jackson grew up singing in their father’s wedding cover band, in which he still plays drums.
“I was 9 when they started letting me sing songs with the band,” Arleigh said. “It’s been a lifetime of stage time.”
The opportunity to experiment onstage built her courage and stage presence. From a young age, she had her eyes on the greats such as Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. When asked to pinpoint her first musical memory, she said her family was so musical, it was probably in the womb. The first one she can recall is crafting a song at age 2 as her dad fixed the porch. The lyrics were about hammers and her first musical influence.
“Apparently, at that age, I was very adamant about being an opera singer,” Arleigh said. “I practiced in the bathtub a lot.”
This bathtub rocker first attended High Sierra Music Festival in 2015. She was drawn in by the scenery, but fell in love with the vibe of the attendees and their loyalty and devotion to the festival.
“It feels like a club you were let in for a little while” she said. “Any festival that’s good enough to have a following is worth the trip.”
During their previous adventure, she and her Dirty Birds opened for Galactic during the wee hours of the morning. The enthusiastic fans at late-night sessions were ready to let loose. She said the band definitely experienced the festival in full. It was also the first time she explored this part of the country.
“It was a whirlwind” Arleigh said. “We feel at home in the mountains, but these ones are very different.”
The climate took her by surprise. She partially lost her voice and learned a valuable lesson about beautifully dusty Quincy, California. This time around, she kept hydrated.
Jackson Kincheloe introduced her as she took the stage: “My sister and yours… Sister Sparrow.”
Arleigh beams with confidence. She struts around the stage with the microphone and belts out passionately. Jackson plays a mean harmonica, squeezing in triplets as Arleigh scats along with it. Something I can image they’ve done for decades.
Arleigh finds freedom in performing. It’s helped her figure out who she is deep down.
“When you’re up onstage, there’s a specific place you get to where you’re not really thinking and you’re just doing,” she said. “It’s a very free and true moment. You get a peek at your inner self.”
There are also times when Sister Sparrow gets in her head and can’t connect to the moment. She recently took some time off and became a mother. As she and her band have returned to the touring circuit, she finds herself being more self-conscious, but offstage in her personal life, it’s worse. Playing music helps her break away from it.
“Self-conscious is the worst thing you can be onstage,” she said. “You have to let it go. It’s hard and it’s the easiest thing in the world, just like riding a bike.”
For the first couple songs the tires are wobbling from side to side, you fight to regain balance, then 10 minutes go by and you’re zipping around corners and popping wheelies.
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds have a new record, “Gold,” set to be released in October. It’s more of a solo effort than past releases. She’s been writing the songs all along, but their recording process changed.
“There’s definitely a sonic change,” Arleigh said. “It’s still rooted in soul and blues.”
In the past, the musicians would record as a band in the studio, but time restraints, scheduling conflicts and thirst for change led them to piecing the album together layer by layer. It took six months to record, which is the most time they’ve allotted to a release by far. The longest they had spent on a recording before was three weeks.
“It was fun to take time and really soak into the songs before moving on,” Arleigh said. “It was a creative leap. I was scared, but now I’m proud.”
— Tony Contini