Pierce Freelon’s 2021 to-Do List: Music, Media, and Helping Others

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The start of every new year is full of hope — I knew this the moment I watched creative renaissance dad Pierce Freelon’s ‘Daddy Daughter Day’ video (featuring J Gunn). We recently caught up with Freelon to talk about his biggest hopes for 2021, and what the perfect summer looks like.

Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound? 

Pierce Freelon: My sound is millennial Hip Hop head rapping at my home studio with two kids in my lap. Or electronic jazz and soul beats that sample voice memos from my iPhone. My sound is also family-friendly music about inspired by real situations that young Black parents have to deal with. 

Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months?

Pierce Freelon: My biggest challenge in the last 12 months was adjusting my life so I can serve on Durham City Council. As a husband, father, musician and business person I already had my hands full. Taking on a new job virtually (during a Panny) was a heavy lift. But I’m still here!

Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process?

Pierce Freelon: 2020 was the year of virtual collaboration. I’ve worked with so many artists that I never see in person. I’m not used to that. Usually, we get together and vibe out in the studio. These days, I’m emailing tracks, and getting WeTransfer links back full of magic. I kind of dig it. It’s like opening a birthday present. 

Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?

Pierce Freelon: In 2021 I hope to get better every day. I hope to learn from the silence and solitude and slowness of 2020 and make that part of my everyday, intentional practice. 2021 is the year of affirmations and speaking things into existence. What affirmations do you say to yourself every day? 

Rockmommy: If you could plan the perfect summer for 2021, what would that look like?

Pierce Freelon: A perfect summer looks like no one running against me in my re-election bid for City Council! Let me go ahead and speak that into existence right quick 🙂 I was appointed back in August and I’ve been doing a great job (if I must say so myself, lol). Real talk, it would be nice to chill this summer after we approve the city budget and not be in full campaign mode. 

Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Pierce Freelon: One project I’m really excited about is an educational television show for K-3rd graders I’m producing with PBS North Carolina in 2021 called Classroom Connection. This show will be a crucial lifeline for kids, especially in the rural part of our state where schools have been closed and internet is limited. There will be lessons from real public school teachers, music, puppetry, animation and conversations with kids! 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Anna Wilson and Monty Powell, on Connecting in Love and Music

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Anna Wilson and her husband Monty Powell — who’ve been writing music together practically since the day they met — make collaboration look easy. But the longtime lovebirds, married 20 years, admit there are moments of disharmony. 

Anna Wilson and Monty Powell

“The creative tension is real, and we do bicker about creative vision,” Anna admits to Rockmommy. “But when the work phase passes it’s all about the love and we just go have a nice dinner together.” 

Their chemistry is obvious onstage too. The couple, longtime Nashville dwellers who relocated to Utah a few years ago, are the driving force behind the musical duo Troubadour 77, which infuses gorgeous rock vocal harmonies with Monty’s layered, often intricate, guitar playing and Anna’s piano melodies. As American Songwriter noted, Troubadour 77 came together as a sort of “tribute to the legendary Troubadour club in LA,” where artists of the ’60s and ’70s like Carole King and The Eagles made a name for themselves. 

It’s a beautiful transition from their former life, as a songwriter-and-producer team behind some of the greatest songs performed by stars like Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Lady Antebellum.

And while the pandemic put touring on hold, Troubadour 77 still managed to pull together weekly 15-minute Facebook Live-streamed “T77 Squared” concerts. When I asked Monty about them in mid-April — at the tail end of a conversation about which home-recording gear I should buy — he told me the shorter duration of these sets was intentional. A couple could enjoy a glass of wine, listen to a few songs, relax, and then move on to the rest of their night. No strings attached.

We recently caught up with Anna and Monty to learn more about timing, parenthood (they’ve got two daughters), and what’s next in the post-quarantine world. 

Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe it?

Anna Wilson: I’d say our ‘sound’ captures the spirit of the SoCal Laurel Canyon era of the 70s. Folks like Carole King, Jackson Browne, CSNY and others who graced the stage of Doug Weston’s Troubadour club in West Hollywood. I am continually trying to keep the flame alive of what that community represented musically, lyrically and artistically.

Monty Powell: Organic, classic singer songwriter — pop/rock with an Americana palette. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us a little but about how you met? 

Anna Wilson: We met backstage at a Diamond Rio concert in Nashville in September 1993. Monty was the band’s producer and I was the band’s publicist. I was trying to sound all cool and deep and told Monty I wanted to make a concept album about the “Seasons”. It’s amazing he continued to talk to me. I swear this was not drug induced!

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about the challenges of 2020 for musicians. What was that like for you two?

Monty Powell: Learning how to entertain over virtual platforms with no audience was hard. 

Anna Wilson: I’d also say learning how to keep our fan base engaged in a meaningful way via social media since we could not tour and interact with them like we normally always have. The reinvention of how to bring quality virtual concerts and content to our followers, and the technical aspects that go along with that pursuit, was a definite learning curve. 

Anna Wilson (Photo credit: Juan Pont Lezica)

Rockmommy: The Facebook Live series was brilliant. How did that come about? 

Anna Wilson: The virtual two-song session that we called “T77 Squared Concerts” was born out of the pandemic and not being able to be out on the road and performing live. With everyone online and screen weary we thought the short format would be welcome. After 6 months of that series, lots of folks mentioned they wanted longer sets so we moved to an hour long, once a month concert that we call The 777 Show that featured 7 songs on the 7th of the month at 7pm EST. Both series have been great but in some ways the virtual concert is starting to feel like it’s run its course. Everyone is fatigued by the online virtual experience from just all content in general. In light of this observation, we are doing our last episode on March 7, 2021, and that will complete a one-year cycle of virtual concerts for us. We will still do some special episodes of virtual concerts but just not a regular series and we hope to get back to live performing and touring by Fall 2021.

Rockmommy: How did the past year’s challenges influence your music and creative process? 

Anna Wilson: We definitely wrote and released songs that matched the moments we were in and the experiences we were all collectively going through. Troubadour 77 wound up adding two bonus tracks, The Love Forward Project, to our existing album Revolution & Redemption to create a Deluxe release. These songs were my artistic and creative reaction to the virus, social justice conversation, the political climate and other issues that were swirling throughout 2020.

Monty Powell: It definitely pushed our writing into a more socially active space with more commentary on current events.

Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share? 

Anna Wilson: Monty and I are writing a play similar in format of what Bruce Springsteen did with his “Springsteen on Broadway.” It will weave in songs spanning our careers along with a unique and compelling narrative that ties it all together. We hope to have it written by the end of this winter, rehearse it in the spring, record it over the summer and find a way to begin touring it in 2022.  

Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life? 

Monty Powell: Involve your kids in your creative process. Make them understand that it’s not a mystery, that is mostly just hard work ethic. 

Anna Wilson: Just because you are spending time helping your kids do homework or driving them in carpool doesn’t mean you aren’t feeding your creative soul. In fact, it may be the very portal that you draw inspiration from and where your next song idea or melody comes from. Creativity can exist in the midst of the chaos. In fact, it is often sparked in the midst of it. When it hits, grab it, write it down until you do get some quiet time to refocus on it. It will still be there for you to access when you do. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

The 6 Most Rock n’ Roll Moments of Super Bowl LV

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Super Bowl LV promised to be exciting, with conversations about #GOAT quarterback Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) versus younger hotshot quarterback Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs) dominating every corner of the sports internet. 

But yesterday’s game was also pretty groundbreaking, music-wise, too.

Here are the five most rock n’ roll moments of Super Bowl LV. 

Miley Cyrus and Joan Jett. Before Sunday, everyone was pumped for the showdown between 43-year-old Brady and 25-year-old Mahomes. But I was more excited over another convergence of classic and new talent: the pre-game show with Miley Cyrus and Joan Jett.Miley Cyrus might be vying for the title of Rock n’ Roll princess, but Joan Jett with her killer guitar playing, raspy vocals and punk rock legacy, is already The Queen. Seeing Joan and Miley work it on stage, during their duet ‘Bad Karma’ off Miley’s ‘Plastic Hearts’ album was eye candy, ear candy, and just the sweetest treat. 

[SEE RELATED: 7 Reasons I’m Pumped About Miley Cyrus’ New Record ‘Plastic Hearts’]

Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ 

The performance of 65-year-old Billy Idol’s most famous tune is deserving a paragraph of its own. And as much as I love Miley, I kind of wanted her to step down so I could experience Billy Idol, solo, in his element. His voice and his energy were spot on, and his band killed it.

H.E.R. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

H.E.R’s ‘America the Beautiful’. H.E.R. is rock music’s new Renaissance woman. She can sing, play guitar, and perform. Her music, a blending of classic rock, R&B, reggae, and other styles — is beyond definition. And in September, H.E.R. became the first black woman with her own signature guitar — a gorgeous “chrome glow” Fender Stratocaster. She blew me away with that guitar solo.

[SEE RELATED: H.E.R.’s New Signature Guitar with Fender is All I Want to Think About]

That Block by Ali Marpet

Every game features a handful of plays worthy of “we will rock you” chants. A key block by Buccaneers offensive guard Ali Marpet in the third quarter enabled running back Leonard Fournette to dash 27 yards to touchdown, securing Tampa Bay’s 31-9 win. So why are we including a brilliant sports play in a #rockmommy blog (and highlighting an offensive guard instead of a running back or QB)? Because Marpet is a rock n’ roll kid, the son of musician, Mamapalooza creator, and Museum of Motherhood founder Joy Rose. 

[SEE RELATED: Joy Rose, on Mamapalooza, Motherhood and Turning up the Volume]

The Weeknd’s weird, cool halftime show

Everyone in my inner circle knows I am obsessed with The Weeknd, whose moody, cool tunes, bad boy persona and Stevie Wonder-level vocals has me swooning every time. During the halftime show, he moved from ‘Starboy’ to his classic ‘The Hills’ (my favorite) and ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ to his newer tracks, including the danceable, New Wave-y ‘Blinding Lights’ with such finesse, that I didn’t feel put off by the weirdness of his bandaged dancers. I didn’t think about social statements or symbolism. I just lost myself in the music and the performance. 

Female Coaches FTW

Rock n’ roll, done right, is a break from the status quo. So is coaching football, when you’re a woman! This year, Buccaneers coaches Maral Javadifar and Lori Locust made history as the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl. Sarah Thomas also made history as the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl, working as the down judge. We think that’s pretty epic. 

There were some funny commercials too (though the State Farm ad with Drake and Patrick Mahomes was a bit over-played). But it was the music and rock n’ roll moments stretched across seven hours, that made this Bowl one of my favorites. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Laurie Berkner, Rockstar to Preschoolers Everywhere, Talks Live-streaming and New Tunes for 2021

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

So many parents have a Laurie Berkner memory that gives them the warm and fuzzies. I have several — the nights I’d play “Bubbles” and my then-toddler sons would gleefully splash along in their bath, or the time I played “Silly Brushing Song” to motivate my older kid to spend more than 15 seconds at the sink, brushing his teeth. My favorite two tunes, hands down, are “We are The Dinosaurs” and “Monster Boogie,” but my kids love “Superhero” the most.  

Laurie Berkner (Photo by Jayme Thornton)

And even as my kids grow older and discover grown-up music, they’ve still got a special place in their hearts (and on their playlists) for Laurie Berkner. It’s a good thing, too, since we really relied on artists like Laurie to livestream like crazy since March 2020, the month that things began to change. 

[SEE RELATED: Superhero Mom Laurie Berkner: 20 Years of Making Cool Tunes in the Ever-Evolving Kids Music Soundscape]

Laurie’s daily Facebook Live concert series, which featured singalongs and stories and a ton of cool virtual content, was a much-needed reprieve from “homeschool” with mom and dad for my 5-year-old son. And while things aren’t back to “normal” or “2019-ish” quite yet, Laurie’s cooking up some awesome new tunes. 

We recently caught up with the performer and mom to find out what’s next. 

Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months?

Laurie Berkner: I know there are many people who have had many more devastating experiences than I have over the last year, but for me, being a parent during this pandemic has been very emotionally distressing. My teenage daughter has been trying to find ways to handle the difficulties of remote learning, being separated from her friends and teachers, and missing all of the hands-on aspects of school that made it fun and challenging, but as I witness her struggling, not being able to personally help her or do much about it, has been quite painful for me. 

As far as my career goes, all of my live performances since last March have, of course, been either canceled or postponed. Suddenly having to wear so many hats (videographer, photographer, recording engineer, set designer, administrative assistant, etc.) on top of running my business and being the performer and composer/musician, has been exhausting and quickly became unsustainable. Luckily, I have an incredible person as my COO who decided to buy an RV with her partner, and they moved into my driveway in July. This has meant that I actually have help now with a lot of what I was trying to do entirely by myself — and it has been amazing.

Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process?

Laurie Berkner: In response to the fact that schools were closed in the spring, I started doing daily Facebook Live concerts for a couple of months. The interaction with people all over the country (and the world, actually) was really inspiring — and I wrote songs that I might not have otherwise. I also finished an album that I had started before the pandemic, doing the final recordings remotely. That was a harder process, and I found myself paring down some of the instrumentation of a few of the songs, as well as singing some of my own background vocals in order to simplify things. I went through intense periods of creativity and intense periods of feeling like I had nothing in me. It has been an exhausting, roller coaster of a year.

[SEE RELATED: Laurie Berkner’s Daily Livestream is Exactly What Kids and Homeschooling Parents Need Right Now

Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?

Laurie Berkner: I am hoping that my daughter will be able to go back to school in a somewhat “normal” way. I hope that I’ll be able to hug the people I work with and that I will be able to make live music with the people in my band again!! And I hope that as a country we truly start to hold each other accountable for the racism that has been built into our culture and make meaningful, conscious, changes towards equity.

Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Laurie Berkner: I have been doing Livestream Family Concerts every six weeks that will be continuing into 2021. The next one is on Valentine’s Day (tickets at live.laurieberkner.com). Also, the album I mentioned that I just completed is called Let’s Go! and it will be released on March 5th (pre-sale starts on February 5th).

Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life?

Laurie Berkner: I’m basically still trying to figure this one out, but I do find that allowing myself to explore and enjoy my own creativity while I’m with my daughter, as well as when I find time to be alone, means that I almost end up having enough time to do both. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Sara Watkins’ First Record Since Becoming a Mom Reimagines Childhood Classics in Unexpected Ways

Listening to Sara Watkins’ album Young in All the Wrong Ways (2016, New West Records) takes me back to the late ’90s, to the strains of ethereal vocals and pretty guitars — Belly, the Cranberries, Lush — with spirited folk and bluegrass woven throughout. 

Sara Watkins (photo credit: Jacob Boll)

A lot has happened in the six years since she released that record, most notably, her journey into motherhood. And while songs on her upcoming family record give off a different vibe, they are equally beautiful and nostalgic. The first single, “Pure Imagination,” for example, reimagines the classic track from 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory in a fresh, whimsical way. 

We recently caught up with Sara to chat about her new album Under the Pepper Tree, mom life with a young daughter, and more.

Rockmommy: What’s it been like balancing parenthood, music, and life over the last year? 

Sara Watkins: After a while I found myself in the groove of the pandemic lifestyle, anxiety would be a low hum, but when unexpected things happened, it felt immediately overwhelming because of the challenges the pandemic brings. There were some non-COVID related health issues in my family this year and not being able to just drop everything, go and be together was really, really hard and conflicting. I know I’m not alone in that of course. I have a 3-year-old and am so grateful I got to spend this year with her. The challenge of pandemic-era childcare is a big one, though, so with the exception of the couple weeks in which I was in the studio recording, I mostly just worked at nap time. Man, I am grateful for naps. 

Rockmommy: How did the past year of spending more time at home influence your music and/or creative process?  

Sara Watkins: I feel like most of my creativity has gone into playing with my toddler, and I haven’t had a lot to spare on writing music. Instead, I found myself learning and exploring other people’s songs, many of which I recorded. There is a whole world inside the arrangement and Gene Wilder’s vocal on the original recording of “Pure Imagination” (from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Discovering the right way to approach that song on my record was a delightful challenge. 

Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021? 

Sara Watkins: I’m hopeful that new life will begin to grow up in the ashes, and that I will remember the lessons I learned in 2020 and carry them with me. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about your upcoming record? 

Sara Watkins: Yes! My album Under the Pepper Tree will be out in late March and it’s my first children’s record! It will be available digitally of course, but I think the songs and arrangements will really shine and capture kids’ imaginations when they listen to music on vinyl while holding the beautiful artwork by Adam Sniezek. As a parent, I have discovered decision fatigue and it’s so nice to be able to put on a record and know that all the songs will simply come in their order. I can enjoy the ride and when it’s done, it’s done. It’s beautiful. I am hopeful this record will be a calming transition from wild and energetic afternoons to peaceful evenings and bedtimes. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Catching up with Passing Strange’s Kate Mirabella

If new music is one of the silver linings of 2020, Passing Strange’s record The Water and the Woods is pure sterling – saturated with lush, keyboard-and-percussion soundscapes and stories that had me listening long into the summer. 

We recently connected with Kate Mirabella, lyricist, singer and keyboard for the Connecticut alt-rock duo (with Anthony Paolucci) to talk about what’s next.

Kate Mirabella

Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound?

Kate Mirabella: The best way to describe my sound is an emo Fiona Apple. One track on an album can be dulcet and melodic and the next one is an angry jazzy revenge song. It’s definitely moody and lyric-focused. 

Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months? 

After losing family members to Covid, losing my job, and not being able to play shows, I was feeling pretty low and stuck. I usually write and play every day, but it was hard to be creative this year. One thing that got me through it was the phenomenal music that came out this year. Phoebe Bridger’s “Punisher” and the two Taylor Swift albums got me super inspired and writing again.

Not being able to practice as a band was difficult, but it also gave me some time to reflect on my sound. I actually wrote a few songs in quarantine that will be on the new album. The tone and lyrics have a heaviness and darkness to them, which I think shows where my head was at this year. 

[SEE RELATED: Passing Strange Share Their Journey to ‘The Water and the Woods’ and What They Want Most in the Post-Pandemic World]

Rockmommy:  What are you most hopeful for in 2021?

Kate Mirabella: The news of vaccines has been so wonderful to see. I feel there will be a huge creative renaissance coming up in response to the pandemic. I can’t wait to go out to museums, shows and be with friends again. It feels like we can plan on it looking like the roaring 20’s after the Spanish Flu. 

Kate Mirabella of Passing Strange (Photo Credit: DeFilippo Foto)

Rockmommy: Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Passing Strange’s third studio album will be in the works this year! Some of these songs are a few years old, while others were written in quarantine. I can’t wait to get these songs out there and play them live. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy.

Joy Rose, on Mamapalooza, Motherhood and Turning up the Volume

By Rew Starr

JOY ROSE is one of a kind. I knew I had a unique connection with her before we even met because my middle name is “Joy” and my Grandmother’s name was Rose!

After meeting at a MaMaPaLooZa gig on the waterfront on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I knew I was hooked. It was my first time joining this festival, I felt so honored to be counted as a mom that rocked! I found my new religion with Joy at the helm… she has continued to inspire, celebrate and give Moms all the glitter, respect and pizazz they deserve. 

I recently caught up with this mom of four — where Zena (26), Brody (31) and Blaze (29), are gathering in Florida to support their brother, Ali Marpet (27), Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive lineman, who is heading to the Super Bowl. 

Joy Rose and daughter Zena, 2003 (Joy is also mother to Ali, Brody, and Blaze)

Rockmommy: What have you been doing these days?

Joy Rose: I am greatly looking forward to a better and brighter 2021! I spent the summer farming a remote plot of land during the summer season, and then trying to survive the ‘vid’ as I circled back to New York, all while mentoring interns at the Museum of Motherhood, and cultivating personal creativity whenever possible.

Rockmommy: Meeting you for me was love at first sight with MAMAPALOOZA. How did you come up with this concept?

Joy Rose: The feeling is mutual. The concept for Mamapalooza was born out of multiple brainstorming sessions with friends about how to address the absent voices of women in the arts at the time. I write about this in my chapter in Motherhood and Music for Demeter Press (2018). One of the things that made Mamapalooza so amazing for me was that I was (and remain) an authentic fan of each of the women I promoted. 

Their courage, fortitude, creativity, and ability wowed me again and again. We all came together at a very special time in the world when our generation of women, born and raised out of the feminist movement of the 1970s, emerged into motherhood in the 80s and 90s believing Helen Reddy’s anthem “we are women, hear us roar.” 

We were all hungry to connect, poised to make noise, and ready for the challenges that came from both the personal and professional world. 

Joy Rose and Zena, 2019

Rockmommy: You have been a pioneer for moms in my eyes for Museum of Motherhood, can you elaborate on this endeavor?

Joy Rose: Women have a sad history of being “disappeared”. We make advances, get written out of the books, and the patriarchy goes marching on. MOM is committed to putting Motherhood on the map by elucidating the art, science, and history of m/others. We’ve done a LOT to champion the art and the scholarship of motherhood in the last 20 years. By curating these knowledge(s), I aim to keep these advances and reflections available to those interested in the subject. It’s important for me to also state that I am as invested in championing the subject as I am in deconstructing persistent and damaging stereotypes. There is no one perfect mother. There is no perfect family. We are all on a journey of discovery.

Rockmommy: Are you making any new music?

Joy Rose: I’m writing songs for my new grandbaby, but that’s about it. I am still very interested in hearing other people’s music though, so send it to me!

Rockmommy: What about playing out? Do you see ever in the future?

Joy Rose: I am currently gestating on an art/music/performance project. It needs to be something visible and international and I’m starting to mentally gather people. However, let me also be honest that it is very difficult to do everything and the museum keeps me extremely busy.

Rockmommy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Joy Rose: I’m very shy. It takes everything in my soul to step out into the public arena as I am extremely insecure. I also went back to graduate school in 2014 earning my Master’s in Mother Studies from the Women and Gender Studies Dept. at CUNY The Graduate Center in NY (2015). 

Rockmommy: What’s the greatest part about being a rockmommy?

Joy Rose: Making noise. Raising your voice and speaking your truth is the most important thing! It’s the equivalent of shining your soul light. Don’t die with the music still inside you. I dragged myself onto the stage, trembling, doubting, and ultimately victorious by standing with my two feet on the ground and lifting my throat to the stars and then sharing those victories with others.

Rew Starr is an actor and musician in who lives in New York.