Partners in Rhyme: Katie Geddes and David Vaughn at The Ark


Katie Geddes and David Vaughn at The Ark

Katie Geddes and David Vaughn's musical partnership extends from the Green Wood Coffee House to The Ark.

Katie Geddes' warm voice and inviting onstage personality make you feel like you are getting a virtual hug at her concerts. And maybe that feeling will make you want to hug someone, too.

Her voice is a cross between Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, and her music selections hark back to gospel and country stars of old, but there is a contemporary edge to her presence and vocal stylings. The result is a sound that makes her sound simultaneously modern and timeless.

Geddes works as a full-time financial planner and also runs the music series at the Green Wood Coffee House, a community outreach program at the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, where she serves as the lead vocalist in the Saturday church service. She has been performing concerts in and around Ann Arbor for over 20 years and has made two recordings, with her most recent being 2010's We Are Each Other's Angels.

At her upcoming Ark show on Sunday, July 30, Geddes will be joined by pianist and vocalist David Vaughn, as well as several other special guests. I reached out to Geddes to ask her about this concert, her longtime friend and collaborator Vaughn, and her involvement with the Green Wood Coffee House.

Q: How long have you and David Vaughn known each other? Did your musical collaboration begin before your friendship or vice versa?
A: We met when David became music director at First United Methodist. I don't know what year that was. It was a couple of years before we really became friends, and our musical collaboration outside of church sprang from our collaboration in the Saturday afternoon services. I was in a vocal trio called All About Eve, and when one member dropped out, David took her place. We still perform as a trio; the third singer is founding member Deb Wood. The Ark concert will include an All About Eve set.

Q: What is each of your musical backgrounds, and how have they shaped your shows together?
A: Our backgrounds are quite different. David is classically trained; I have no formal musical education. I sang along with the radio starting around age 9 when I received a clock radio -- showing my age, here -- for Christmas. I pretended I was Carly Simon and Carole King and Linda Ronstadt. I certainly never expected I would actually ever sing in public, and never did until I was in my mid-30s.

I never knew I could sing. I was in a church choir for several years, starting at age 26, and no one ever mentioned that I had a nice voice, or asked me to sing a solo. It was when I left the choir and joined the tiny praise band at Green Wood that I started to sing solos, and then I ventured into open stage nights at The Ark. We are both delighted that David has encouraged me to sing from the Great American Songbook, and I have exposed him to folk music and pop songs that he had never encountered. Just recently David has discovered and fallen in love with Karen Carpenter, and in The Ark show we will cover one of my favorite Carpenters songs.

Q: Can you talk about your work with the Green Wood Coffee House and the First United Methodist Church? What is important to you about the work that you do there, and the artists you bring in?
A: I run the Coffee House Series; I book the artists, schedule the shows, and prepare the room for each event. A very small crew of wonderful, dedicated volunteers handles the kitchen, parking, and cleanup duties. Many of the artists we bring in have become great friends.

David is the music director. He chooses the congregational music and leads the small band, though I often request certain songs based on the week's theme, and lead the band when David is away. We both provide "special music" selections, and I also schedule guest musicians to provide special music. The service often features a performer from the Coffee House Series. What is important to me about the Coffee House Series and the Saturday service is that they both provide a community. The service is welcoming and comfortable for churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike; the Coffee House is intimate and friendly, and admission is free if a patron finds the ticket price unaffordable.

Q: Do you find that your faith informs your music-making and vice versa?
A: David grew up in the Apostolic church. I came to church attendance grudgingly, later in life, when a friend dragged me along to sing in the traditional choir. I believe I blossomed musically in church at Green Wood because I was allowed and encouraged to choose my own selections, and I typically chose secular songs with a positive message, from the folk and pop genres. Our trio, All About Eve, was named as such because we three original members (Debra Gerber before David) met and started singing together at church. We wanted a faith-based name, but also sort of a bad-girl reference, since our church repertoire was on the edgier side, and didn't include traditional church music. Eve was purported to be a "bad girl," and the movie All About Eve was about a couple of "bad girls." We formed the trio unwittingly when a pastor asked me to sing Simon and Garfunkel's "Blessed" and I needed at least one additional singer for the harmony.

Q: Most of the songs you do are covers; what are your criteria when you pick a new song to cover? Do each of you pick songs, or does one of you do most of the choosing?
A: Actually, all our songs are covers; neither of us writes songs. Our concerts are typically Katie Geddes concerts, and David is a key player: piano and harmony vocals. The songs in my/our repertoire are typically of my choosing. The repertoire consists of my old favorites, new songs I hear on the radio -- I listen to a lot of genres -- and songs worked up for a particular theme at church.

When we do a true double bill, we include more gospel and American Songbook selections. We often give concerts at nursing homes and retirement communities, and that repertoire includes a lot of songs that older folks will consider familiar and favorite. Interestingly, when we started visiting these facilities, we included more Gershwin and Cole Porter. Today, "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Let It Be" are almost 50 years old, and are the songs that bring smiles and inspire folks to sing along.

Q: When you cover a song, do you try and do it in a very different way than it was originally done, or do you try to be true to the original?
A: I like to say that I take perfectly good songs and "countrify" them. I love '70s radio pop songs, and I typically render them more folky. I often add harmony vocals to songs that had none in the original version. I have recorded a bluegrass version of a Beatles song and added yodels to an Eric Clapton cover. But sometimes a favorite from Peter, Paul, and Mary or Karen Carpenter receives the best audience reaction if the vocal is very true to the original.

Q: What can people expect from this Ark show -- fans and first-time listeners alike?
A: The roster accompanying me is David on piano and harmony vocals, John Goodell on piano, Deb Wood on harmony vocals, David Stearns on bass, and Lori Fithian on percussion. Matt Watroba will perform three or four duets with me. David, David, and John will each offer a solo selection. Songwriters we will cover include Michelle Shocked, Susan Werner, Janis Ian, John Denver, John Prine, and Mary Gauthier. There will be a little bit of Gershwin, too. And this year we will include a few more sing-alongs than usual; an Ark audience always makes a nice choir. We will do one long set with no break, so folks will get home at a reasonable hour for a Sunday evening!

Emily Slomovits is an Ann Arbor freelance musician, theater artist, and writer. She plays music with her father and uncle (aka Gemini) and others, is a member of Spinning Dot Theatre, and has performed with The Encore Musical Theatre Company, Performance Network, and Wild Swan Theater.

Katie Geddes performs at The Ark on Sunday, July 30. Doors open at 7 pm; show starts at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $15.