Berklee Riffs: Hartman Barnett and Hull

Danielle Dreilinger
March 16, 2011
Hartman Barnett and Hull wow the crowd at Cambridge's Cantab Lounge.
Photo by Rob Hochschild

At 19, mandolinist Sierra Hull has won accolades galore. This spring, the Berklee Presidential Scholar is releasing her third solo album and completing her diploma in performance. But fame and festivals have left little time for jamming in small rooms.

On February 15, she remedied that situation with a gig at Cambridge's Cantab Lounge with fellow students Courtney Hartman and Mike Barnett.

Though it's a dive, the Cantab has drawn many a luminary to its postage-stamp-sized stage for its fabled Bluegrass Tuesdays. It's officially 21-plus—Hull joked she had trouble getting in—but the doors are open for Berklee student pickers. The list of former Berklee regulars includes Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi, now of the Infamous Stringdusters; Grammy-nominated cellist Rushad Eggleston; Nate Leath of Old School Freight Train; and fiddler Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers, now playing with banjoist/comedian Steve Martin. Plus there's the occasional visit from NPR's "Car Talk" guys.

So this crowd knows its stuff. The bar was mobbed, with fans young and old squeezing through the crush for a better view. Despite some problems with the sound system, the audience was rapt—except when the three performers traded solos to hoots and hollers.

Though Hull has the marquee name, equal weight went to fiddler Barnett and Hartman, an unassuming guitarist much in demand at Berklee for her triple-threat skills in flatpicking, rhythm, and voice.

Reflecting on the show afterwards, Hull said, "We really had a great time. Courtney and Mike are just great players and people that I've played on and off with around school and festivals and things like that, but we never really played a show together. So we got the idea that we should just go have some fun and put together a little set of tunes to play. We weren't able to do that much rehearsing for it, so most of it was pretty spontaneous, coming up with these tunes that we kind of know . . . I love doing stuff like that."

The Cantab's known as a place to catch tomorrow's bluegrass stars. No doubt the crowd that night will soon be bragging that they saw these three students there.

Berklee Riffs offer snapshots of day-to-day life at the college. Rob Hochschild contributed to this report.