We spoke with Mary Huckins, a founding member of the band, about music, performing, her connection to the Denver Folklore Center and more.
How did you get started in music?
I grew up in a large very musical family. I thankfully had music around me every day and had an interest in it from a very young age. I loved to sing and really wanted to learn how to play the piano. Even before I started first grade or took any lessons, I was making up songs while sitting at the piano. So, in second grade I started taking piano lessons with an amazing teacher. I enjoyed singing in church and choirs while growing up and was fortunate to have incredible music teachers and musical influences around me. My mom was a classically trained musician, and my dad was also a musician, but he played by ear. I honestly feel I got the best of both worlds with learning by ear and also taking lessons and learning to read music.
Who influences you musically?
There are so many! My family was a huge musical influence on me. We grew up listening to and playing a variety of music in our home. Because of my mom and dad and six older siblings (I am the youngest of seven), I had endless musical influences. From Johnny Cash and Roger Miller, Fleetwood Mac and The Jackson 5, to old church hymns and Chopin and everything in between. If I had to name a few that really stirred my heart and style I would say: James Taylor, Nanci Griffith, Dolly Parton and Dougie MacLean. There are a host of others including Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Iris DeMent and I really like ‘70s and ‘80s music!
What instruments do you play?
I sing and consider my voice my main instrument. I play the piano, guitar and flute. With my education and work in music therapy, I have learned a little bit about a lot of different instruments, so I also can play some accordion, harmonica, mandolin, washboard, ukulele, autoharp and percussion. And I also write music.
I started piano lessons at age seven. I started playing flute in sixth grade (age eleven). I took some guitar lessons in junior high and high school. I played xylophone and marimba in marching band and flute in the concert band. In college I took voice lessons (majored in voice and music therapy) and also took composition classes. Later I went on to take more guitar lessons as Swallow Hill Music in Denver, CO.
Types of music you play/enjoy listening to?
The types of music I play/perform most are folk, bluegrass, acoustic rock, acoustic Americana and even some Celtic tunes. I also performed in several acapella ensembles and had an acapella band in college that performed regularly. I do still enjoy incorporating harmonies and even acapella sections in our band (Dakota Blonde) performances from time to time.
I just enjoy listening to so many different artists! There is so much great music out there!
When did you start performing and how has your career evolved?
As I mentioned, I performed in a few different groups in college… but as far as Dakota Blonde goes, the founding members of the band met working as music therapists at The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan in Denver. We realized how much we enjoyed playing music together and how good it made us and others feel to share in the experience. The band grew from playing at hospital functions to coffee shops and bars to eventually writing and recording and playing larger venues and festivals. We also have other musician friends that we’ve met along the way that join us in our performances.
Our music therapy knowledge and foundation seem to always play an important role in our music and how it seems to affect our audiences. We carry such a love and appreciation for it all. (Founding members along with Mary Huckins: Don Pinnella, Tony Raddell and Brechen Santeramo)
What is your connection to the Denver Folklore Center?
It goes back to when we first started a relationship with Swallow Hill Music. Our first show with Swallow Hill was one of their folk-a-thons. We met Harry Tuft (founder of the DFC) at that time and learned more about the Denver Folklore Center. We remember feeling so completely honored that Harry enjoyed our music so much, considering his amazing history in the folk music scene. We really loved hearing his stories and we still do! We still enjoy our friendship with Harry and the DFC to this day.
Harry and all the DFC staff we have met over the years have always been so helpful and supportive of us and our music. We have posted many a concert poster in the window, purchased instruments, all of our instrument travel cases, amps, picks, harmonicas, strings and other equipment at DFC through the years. The DFC was one of our local store outlets for all our CD titles.
We were also very honored to be one of the bands asked to be part of the Denver Folklore Center’s big 50th Anniversary celebration concert at the L2 in Denver. That was a very special weekend! Soon after that celebration weekend, the band was looking to purchase a few ukuleles to try out and Harry was so generous that he gifted those to the band. Harry Tuft and the Denver Folklore Center hold a special place in our hearts and we have always appreciated their support.
Mary and Dakota Blonde are on the road performing this summer - they “would love for people to check out our calendar and come see us!” In August, they’ll be playing The Littleton Museum Series on the 3rd and Coniferfest 2022 on the 13th. You can see all their summer tour dates on their website and Facebook page. Please look for a special concert on September 17th to benefit Resilience 1220, an organization that provides free counseling services to young people ages twelve to twenty.