FACETIME- Jethro lull: Local gal all over the place

Former Old School Freight Train member Ann Marie Calhoun has been in high demand all over town since she left the band in 2004, but late last year her career gathered a momentum that even she couldn't have predicted: a call from Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson that landed her a recurring gig as a featured soloist in the latest of the classic prog rock band's many lineups.

"I Googled him– I didn't know much about the band," laughs Calhoun, "and I was blown away by how huge it was. I was really flattered."

The UVA Music Department graduate didn't have much time to savor it. A meeting with Anderson at his home in England was followed by two days of frantic rehearsal before her debut at a show in Israel. Since then, her role with the band has expanded to include a seat in its dueling orchestral and acoustic incarnations, solo spots on most of the songs, and contributions to some of Anderson's ongoing recording projects.

Like most other virtuoso musicians, Calhoun began studying the instrument as a child. "I actually don't remember learning how to play, because I started when I was three," she says. "I feel like I've always known."

Calhoun, now 27, says her initial exposure to music came about because of her father, who was both a banjo player and a raging country boy. "My dad has a really thick southern accent, and my mom has a really thick Chinese accent. They're an odd couple," she laughs. "My dad was in total denial about living in Northern Virginia. I grew up with tractors and a barn in a neighborhood where that was definitely not the norm."  

Though the violin is her weapon of choice, her father also taught her how to play the banjo, and it's with great amusement that she recalls entering a joint fiddle and banjo competition only to sweep the banjo rankings and take second in violin. "It's the biggest trophy I've ever won in my life," she laughs.

Hairstylist-turned-musician John Carden has worked with Calhoun several times over the past few years and called her straightaway when he needed strings for his debut as a composer.  

"She's everything she seems to be," says Carden with a hint of incredulity. "That energy is infectious. I would love to play with her the rest of my life."

Unfortunately for Carden, he probably won't get that chance. Calhoun has kept busy recently with gigs that include a spot on the Dave Matthews Band's 2005 album, Stand Up, where she complemented resident DMB violinist Boyd Tinsley on several tracks. The current project that excites her most, though, is a government-sponsored collaboration called Kantara which matches up Arab and Appalachian musicians.

In a way, it seems contradictory to think of Calhoun as simultaneously on the upswing and flying under the radar. Maybe being a strong second banana isn't so bad, though– as long as you've got the right big cheeses.

Ann Marie Calhoun