Brittany Haas ’09 makes people dance

Brittany Haas ’09, standing at left, and the other members of Crooked Still.
Brittany Haas ’09, standing at left, and the other members of Crooked Still.
Dave Barnum

 

When Brittany Haas ’09’s violin teacher gave her bluegrass versions of tunes like “Boil the Cabbage Down” to practice sight-reading at age 8, little did the teacher know that that would be the beginning of the end of Haas’ classical violin days. 

Haas, who grew up in Menlo Park, Calif., far from the Appalachian Mountains, was so taken with the rhythm and style of the tunes that she began taking bluegrass lessons and going to fiddle camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. When she heard fiddler Bruce Molsky play old-time Appalachian tunes, she says, “I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ” 

For about five years she studied both classical violin and fiddle. But by age 13 the fiddle won out; she started taking fiddling lessons with Darol Anger, who has become her mentor and “biggest musical hero.”

With her five-string fiddle, Haas already has established herself as a major talent in the fiddling world and is known for her melodic playing and the rhythmic power of her bow work. “She’s one of the best fiddlers of her generation and one of the best fiddlers out there right now,” says Dan Trueman, an associate professor of music at Princeton who plays Norwegian folk music on Hardanger fiddle.

By the time Haas arrived at Princeton, she had released a solo CD, Brittany Haas. She has recorded and played with Anger’s band, Republic of Strings, and the two are scheduled to perform Feb. 6 at Princeton when Anger is on campus for a week leading a fiddling workshop. Last year she performed on the David Letterman and Ellen Degeneres shows with banjo player Tony Trischka and the actor and banjo player Steve Martin. Recently she recorded 12 tunes with Martin for his forthcoming CD. 

Her major gig of late is the band Crooked Still — a Boston-based folk/bluegrass group — which she joined last winter. The Boston Globe called Haas “a fiercely nimble fiddler” who “adds a penetrating new dimension to Crooked Still’s savvy extrapolations.” Come June, Haas, an ecology and evolutionary biology major earning a certificate in musical performance, plans on touring full-time with Crooked Still for a few years.

Performing is “exhilarating,” she says. “Especially when you can tell that people ... are really into it and are right there with you and you are taking them on this little journey. That’s cool.”