Sierra Hull sets record straight about her name and that ring

Tahoe Onstage

Sierra Hull played at the 2016 High Sierra Music Festival.
Tahoe Onstage photo by Larry Sabo

Singer-songwriter and mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull was not named for the mountain range where she will perform on Saturday. She’s actually from the hills of north central Tennessee.

“My mom said that was a beautiful name and if she ever had a daughter she would name her Sierra,” Hull told Tahoe Onstage. “My dad always joked that I was named after my grandpa’s truck, but that’s not true.”

Hull, who performed at the 2013 and 2016 High Sierra Music Festivals, will visit Lake Tahoe for the first time when she appears in the Crystal Bay Casino for a rare seated show in the Crown Room.

At 25, she lives in Nashville but she is from tiny Byrdstown, Tennessee, which has a population of about 900. Its most famous resident is a distant relative. Cordell Hull was a United States Secretary of State who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping start the United Nations.

Sierra Hull’s becoming pretty famous herself.

She was named the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association Mandolin Player of the Year after releasing a hypnotically captivating album, “Weighted Mind.” She wrote 11 of the 12 songs on the record produced by banjo legend Bela Fleck, who said “(Hull) plays the mandolin with a degree of refined elegance and freedom that few have achieved. And now her vocals and songwriting have matured to the level of her virtuosity.”

The compositions have a maturity a listener would imagine belies her years, other than knowing she released her first record at age 10 and first played the Grand Ole Opry a few days after her 11th birthday. She’s also performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House and Kennedy Center.

“Weighted Mind’s” introspective songs blend seamlessly from start to finish, examining the life of a 22 year old. The singular album is as much a classical record as it is bluegrass.

“What really affected me as a songwriter (was) what I had learned and what I wanted to say,” she said. “I have a good sense of who I was and who I had become.”

She’s always been a gifted mandolin player. Three weeks after she first picked up the instrument, Hull performed at her church, playing the chords to “Crying Holy and to the Lord.” Soon after, she was onstage playing “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz,” and her career ascended.

“Dad always had an interest in music and a great uncle on mom’s side was our neighbor who played mandolin and fiddle. I grew up hearing those instruments.”

She’s never has been afraid to sing in front of people.

“Since a young age, I’ve not had any sense of self-consciousness,” she said. “There was not too much negativism around me. When you’re little, everybody’s got your back. My parents were always very real. They’re not the type to pat you on the back about everything. They give good, constructive criticism.”

Hull signed with Rounder Records when she was 13. But she grew up as a regular child, attending a public high school, whose teachers would let her work ahead in order to miss occasional days when she was on the road. Later, she received the Presidential Scholarship to study at the Berklee School of Music.

For the Crystal Bay show, the mandolinist will be onstage with double bassist Ethan Jodziewicz.

“We will play a good mixture of songs,” she said. “Plenty from ‘Weighted Mind,’ some covers and some new stuff. So there’s a whole slew of stuff for the people.”

It’s part of a short West Coast run. She plays Friday in Mill Valley and Sunday in Marysville. The following weekend Hull will get married.

“People kept asking me about the ring on my finger, so I figured I needed to make an announcement,” she said.

They grow up so fast.

  • ‘An Evening with Sierra Hull’
    When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 6
    Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room, a seated show
    Red Room after-party: Royal Jelly Jive
    Tickets: $20
    Where else: Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley on Friday, May 5; Yuba College, Marysville on Sunday, May 7

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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