Meet Chris Dollar
Non-Mainstream Music, Americana, Roots = Bluegrass, Old Time, Folk, Old Time Country, Acoustic Singer/Songwriter and Country Blues. It’s all really folk, folks. It’s just that when you say folk, people generally conjure up images of Peter, Paul and Mary, or Phil Ochs or even Bob Dylan, which is cool. Somewhere at some time, someone will come up with Roots Gospel. It’s all just plain good music which is written and performed by people who are not aiming at climbing the top 40 in Country or Rock and Roll. People break through though and are ushered, with their same music, into the bigger bucks mainstream even if it just long enough to “Look in There” like John Hartford. Look at Old Crow Medicine Show, John Prine, even Sam Bush.
We tend to come to festivals like the John Hartford Memorial Festival to escape the norm- to get away, to leave our politics at the gate or in the ditch and for several days, chill. We often see musicians whom we have never heard of along with the headliners. If you have attended for several years, then you have seen several performers in multiple configurations, either solo or in bands. Chris Dollar started out as a local/regional talent and because he is true talent, meaning true to himself, true to his gift and true to the Muse, he has been recognized and appreciated. Chris is the “real deal”. When you hear Chris Dollar, and when you watch him perform, and when you meet Chris, you get the same person. Chris Dollar is real and he is a multi-talented, multi- faceted good folk. You will like getting to know Chris Dollar.
Chris Dollar has played all but one of the JHMF events. Since 2008, the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter has been touring the country playing bluegrass and writing material for whatever outfit he has been a part of.. His solo shows include his own music as well as inspirations like John Hartford, Doc Watson, and Graham Parsons. In 2018 he joined the ranks of the Henhouse Prowlers, touring across the globe while being an ambassador of the bluegrass genre. Chris says “I can tell you I am hoping to make it real special whilst not putting too many rules on myself. I am pretty sure that Kyle (mando/fiddle HHP) will be joining me for the whole set, and I'll most likely have some special guests.” The Chris Dollar sets will be heavy on the music of John Hartford. Chris will delve into some songs from people who either played directly with John or who were heavily influenced by his work. Expect songs from Norman Blake or maybe a Vassar tune featuring brother Kyle. Chris will open the Hartford Stage with an all John Hartford Songs set on Thursday, May 30th!
Chris, I have known you for several years. You are an excellent multi talent, performing on guitar, banjo and what other instruments?
Thanks Ernie! I only take to the stage with guitar and sometimes banjo, but I play a good amount of mandolin when I'm home, and upright bass in jams sometimes because bass players always need a break! And when nobody is around I've been known to blow a trumpet a time or two.
How many shows a year have you been playing with:
Henhouse Prowlers - Last year (my first year) we did 130 shows across the globe
Chris Dollar - Since joining the prowlers I'm still able to play 10 - 20 gigs per year solo
New Old Cavalry - Just the ONE for now :) The New Old Cavalry has only played 3 shows in the last 3 years, and they've all been JHMF. And before that, Bean Blossom always felt like our home away from home for each of the 8 times we've been booked for it. When the band 'ended' we were at a point where it was just too difficult to stay on the road full time, and there wasn't an easy solution to slow down. Now, I think we're all in a place where we could do a few shows here and there, but its become a rule that it's strictly for FUN. Thats why we love Hartford Fest. This year we will have NOC members Justin Hughey, Alex Wukmer, Sean First, and myself.
Do you come from a musical family (parents, siblings)? Married with children? Does your wife play? - My family was a musical family, but it was always the thing you do other than your 'real job'. I believe I'm the first in my family to gig as a musician. Mom played the piano growing up and my sister took to the keys very well. My dad was in the drumline in high school, but I've never heard him play. However, I am still 'long term borrowing' his snare drum, and have used it on several recordings. Ayla comes from a family with deep values in the importance of music, but she's more of a listener. We got her a fiddle a few years back, but she has a passion for the visual arts. She won’t admit it, but she has a beautiful voice and we sing at home together. No kids, but the dog howls along sometimes.
At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to spend your life as a musician?
I think the decision was only a matter of time. I took just about every music related class that I was allowed to in high school and college, but it wasn't till I participated in an internship at a music camp in California that I started asking myself if all this was for fun or if I was trying to do this for real. That was around 2008. I was a "camp counselor" and got to work around some amazing professionals in the industry as well as a bunch of prodigy-like kids attending the camp.
Why roots music?
I feel like I can be my most honest self in roots music. I also feel like there are endless boundaries in it. If you’re being authentic and genuine people would say you are playing roots music in a lot of cases. And after entering the scene, I've made so many awesome musician friends that I wouldn't trade for the world.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Roger Miller, Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Michael Hurley, and Bill Monroe to name a few.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
The first song I ever wrote was for a girl I had a crush on in my high school years. Gosh, I don't even think I remember the words to it anymore. It didn't work, so it has been forgotten, but that was definitely the start of writing. Now I write songs about my wife, automobiles, and nature mostly. It's always been easier for me to write about real experiences in my life.
First instrument you ever played?
Trumpet all through grade school, but I guess technically in my school we all started on the recorder way back. Hot cross buns style.
Are you classically trained?
No formal training other than music classes in school.
College? I went to Indiana University for a degree in Telecommunications with a focus on design and production. It has definitely come in handy with today's world of social media.
Do you have a trade to fall back on?
I have had a lot of different jobs to make this life work. Delivery Driver, product description writer, product photographer, printing house for architecture and design, plumber (1 day), insurance salesman (1 day), call center operator (1 week), line worker at a distillery (currently), digital archivist, landscaper, sound guy, roofer... There's probably more. The point is, I'm adaptable and flexible, so unless I lose my hands or my voice, I'll be staying in the music industry finding a way to make it work.
How are times for a working Roots musician?
It’s always a struggle financially, but since joining the Prowlers they have been really good to me, keeping us on the road, and doing gigs other than just the bar-scene and festivals. Recently, we've been doing a lot of educational work in schools across the country, and even a few over in Europe. Every musician needs a side job of some kind, and this one is incredibly rewarding and worth the time and effort.
What advice do you have for beginners and for folks who are accomplished and just setting out on this course?
If you really want it, keep going. You'll find a way to make your life work around being a musician. And be honest about your path to yourself, but especially your loved ones. This life, to some, isn't worth living, but if your gonna do it, they've got to be on board.
Tell us about your recording history-
Since I started playing I also got into recording. After acquiring a certain amount of gear, I've almost always done the DIY method for albums. The New Old Cavalry put out 3 albums, and I've done 2 solo albums. I've spent some time in real studios though. During my 8 month tenure with Flatland Harmony Experiment we went into the studio at Ball State University to record, but I mixed the album myself.
Any future recording plans for HHP and/or Chris Dollar?
Nothing set in stone, but I cannot wait to get into the studio with Henhouse Prowlers. There is also talk of us putting together an album of live songs from one of these tours we are doing.
Do you have an all original Chris Dollar recording?
Soundscapes for the clawhammer banjo was the first album that I did everything myself start to finish. All of the instruments (some borrowed) and vocals, and I recorded mixed and mastered it myself. This was definitely the most fun album to make. I wrote each song on the banjo and led with that instrument recorded first. Each song has its own soundscape of some kind, and I made an effort to write each song in a different style.
How does the future look for Chris Dollar?
The future is always uncertain, but I have high hopes. I'm going to keep writing songs, and continue in my love for the guitar and performing.
Where and how can folks access your music?
ALL my music is on chrisdollar.bandcamp.com and most of it is on Spotify.
Chris Dollar discography- New Old Cavalry-Carry Me Out This Way (2010)- Groundwork (2012) Frontier (2014) Chris Dollar-Soundscapes for the Clawhammer Banjo ( 2015) Away Away (2016) Flatland Harmony Experiment-Something Familiar (2017)