I first discovered Michael G. Ronstadt at a NERFA (North East Regional Folk Alliance) conference several years ago. It seems like he was everywhere—jamming with musicians I knew and didn’t know or playing quietly by himself in a room situated off the lobby of the hotel. The lovely sounds that emanated from his cello were sweet, haunting, and downright gorgeous. Getting to hear him play with Aaron Nathans was a real treat and their CD, Crooked Fiddle, lived in my car player for quite some time.
Get to know more about Michael and all his many projects on his website.
Here’s a preview video of a variety of Michael’s works to give you an idea of what he does with his instrument of choice.
What led you to the cello? Was this your first instrument or one that you were beckoned to for one reason or another?
I grew up with music in my life from before I can remember, but at the end of my 3rd grade year, the elementary school offered us the chance to play an instrument in orchestra. The orchestra teacher demonstrated each instrument, but sat down to play the cello. Somehow I recall thinking, “I like sitting down!” and decided to ask my parents if I could play cello the following year. I also must have enjoyed the sound of the instrument too, but that little detail has been omitted from my memories.
What was it like growing up in the Ronstadt family? Did you realize that your Aunt Linda, was such a pop culture and musical icon?
I always like to say that even though my aunt is famous and we knew it, it was likely no different than growing up in another family. The main difference is that we had the opportunity to meet some famous people like James Taylor and Emmy Lou Harris. That being said, it still felt no different than meeting a family member’s good friend while hanging out somewhere.
I know that you have played in the Ronstadt Generations for some time. Can you explain what kind of group that is and what kind of music you play?
After a Thanksgiving jam back in 2009 that turned into a 6-hour rehearsal, we thought… “let’s take this on the road and name the group!” We had been performing together as the Mike Ronstadt Trio for years, but nothing was official. As a result, Ronstadt Generations is a group that was created to share the living-room music experience of a Ronstadt Family gathering. The styles are wide-ranging because we like to showcase the family stories, heritage, new songs, and multiple musical styles that we like to play when we get together for the holidays.
How much of your time is devoted to teaching? Do you teach both children and adults? Do you enjoy this aspect of your life?
I teach around 20-25 students each week on Monday through Wednesday. It gives me a sense of a regular routine, while also teaching me so much about music (helps me listen to my own advice). My students range from ages 6 to 80 and they all add a beautiful and rich element to my musical journey.
How would you describe your partnership with Aaron Nathans?
After Aaron opened up for Ronstadt Generations at Barrington Coffee House in New Jersey, Aaron and I started gigging together in 2010. We traded songs and double-billed at farmers’ markets, concert venues, and basically anywhere that would have our music. Over the years, we have become songwriting partners, lifelong friends, and are about to release a 2nd album!
You have played on many recordings with a variety of different artists. Do you have any favorite recording sessions?
There are frankly too many to note, but here is a small list. Some of my favorite sessions are with artists who I have been working with over a period of multiple albums. I have enjoyed all the sessions at Morning Star Studios (E.Norriton, PA), especially with Glim Dropper and Springhouse Revival. Katie Barbato (Philadelphia/Boston) has had me in on many sessions at Sine Studios. Some other projects were for John Flynn (Philadelphia, PA) at Harvey the Handyman’s studio. Amber Norgaard (Tucson, AZ) always runs a great studio session at Duncan Stitt’s Studio. Serenity Fisher and the Cardboard Hearts album was very fun and recorded, mixed and mastered by Petie Ronstadt at Landmark Sound Recorders (Tucson, AZ). Ronstadt Generations also had so many great sessions at Jim Brady Recording Studios (Tucson). In the long-distance recording world, Ezra Vancil (Dallas, TX) of Ezra Thomas has some beautiful music that everyone should hear someday.
You’re known for your love of improvisation. Not being a musician myself, I can only think that improv must be like venturing into unknown territory and exploring the environment with with new and varied notes and chords each time. Does improv feed your musical soul like no other experience?
You’re absolutely right about improvisation feeding the musical soul like no other experience. For a long time while living in greater Philadelphia, I would make the trek to Baltimore, MD to play with the Out Of Your Head Music Collective. They gather a different quintet of musicians each week to free improvise for about 2-3 hours and after each visit I would feel like I recharged my entire system. But in all honesty, anytime I can close my eyes and disappear inside the music, the same thing happens. That essence of what we do as musicians is what truly feeds our souls and keeps us going through the good, bad, and ugly of the music business.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re planning and that you can share?
I’m always working on about 3-6 projects at once, but one of the highlights is the second Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt album coming out early to mid-2017! We have been plugging away at this for a little over a year and are so excited to see it blossom into a real thing. I’m also working on the next few volumes of my instrumental album series, “Shaken Earth”. Volume 1 is out already, but there are some very exciting future releases ready for this new year.
Love it. Michael’s wry sense of humor comes through.
I saw Ronstadt Generations in a small club about 5 years ago. A real good show.
Thanks! I hope t see them later this year!