Carol Noonan has been a soft-spoken fixture on the music scene for many years now. She was the voice of Knots and Crosses, a New England based trio, as well as a very successful solo artist on Philo/Rounder Records with a number of critically-acclaimed albums to her credit.

She, along with her husband, Jeff, has created one of the best venues in Maine right in their home town of Brownfield. Stone Mountain Arts Center has attracted world-class musicians like Robert Cray, Marcia Ball, Roseanne Cash, Suzy Bogguss, Marty Stewart and more.

Imagine then my surprise to discover that she (with master guitarists Kevin Berry and Duke Levine) would be coming to perform at Johnson Hall in Gardiner this coming Saturday night, Sept. 30. I have interviewed her all through her long musical career and wanted to chat once again to get an update on what’s been happening in her life.

On a recent Monday, after a particularly busy weekend at SMAC, she called from her home to fill me in.

I began by asking if she had ever performed at Johnson Hall before.

Noonan: Yes, we have. Mike Miclon, who’s the director there, is a really good friend of ours. I did a little benefit show a couple of years ago up there for the first time while they’re trying to raise money for that beautiful main hall that they have there. It is really a special room. When they finally get it going it will be a really amazing place. So he asked us and we jumped. It’s nice to get off the farm for a night and get to play with the guys — Kevin and Duke will be with me so that’s always fun.

Q: Let’s face it, with them you have two of the best.

Noonan: I know, I’m really lucky. We’re doing a few shows this month. We’re doing a show at Passim’s which will be fun, too — I haven’t been to Boston since I can’t remember when.

Q: Is that your old stomping grounds?

Noonan: Well, you remember Knots and Crosses? We were kind of both Maine and the Boston area, but I grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts, and I went to New England Conservatory, and then I had a summer job at Quisisana Resort (in Lovell) for many years so that’s how I got to this neck of the woods. I always loved it and stayed. I’ve spent a lot of time in western Maine, since my 20s which is a long time ago now!

Q: I know that feeling all too well. So, what are you going to be bringing to Johnson Hall?

Noonan: I haven’t really thought about it — I’d better start! But we put out a record last year called “Raven Girl” — it was a bunch of songs from Richard and Mimi Farina from their “Reflections in a Crystal Wind” record, which I really love. We did songs from there and then some of their other ones, so we’ll do some of those and some of the old stuff. Who knows, whatever we can remember, I guess. It’s a nice trio show and hopefully they’ll do a couple of tunes on their own — I try to always make them do it, if they can. But they’re getting quite a name for themselves anyway, those two.

Q: Are they doing something as a duo?

Noonan: Well, they are often backing somebody together. They’ve been playing with everybody, mostly Peter Wolf of J. Giles, but he does a solo thing and they did a lot of work with him. Kevin plays with Rosanne Cash but you often will see them together backing somebody up somewhere. If you see one, you’ll see the other. It’s not often two guitar players play that way — they’re such a team together, but they’re such outstanding solo players. Normally that’s not always a great combination; it’s a rare and amazing combination. So, as I always say, even if you don’t like me, they are worth seeing.

Q: Do you get out much now, performing-wise, that is?

Noonan: No, I really don’t, this is such a full-time job. This is the most hours I’ve ever put in in my life. I mean, we are working 70 hours a week on the average here. Everything we do during the week is working towards the events that are happening usually Thursday through Sunday, or however the schedule is that particular week. It’s a lot of time but it’s great — I’m home every night, I don’t have to travel and when I see musicians come here and they look weary, I don’t envy it, you know?

Q: Yeah, I do — you’ve been there and done that yourself, it’s true.

Noonan: Yeah, it’s really nice to just be here. And when I do play, I most of the time play here. I do a lot of Christmas shows in December. Really, it’s the best of all worlds.

Q: Is it the best possible situation for you because you’re still involved in music?

Noonan: I think it is. I mean, I think when we first did it we envisioned it to be more like a retirement thing, a little more part-time. So I think we’re working more than we expected to work. I mean, the way we were so ignorant about what we were getting into is really what made us able to do it. Because if we’d really known what this was going to be or what kind of work it would entail or any of the risks that we would’ve been taking we never would have done it. It was great, we were kind of ignorant about it and we figured it out as we went and we’ve been really lucky. I’m still shocked when people come up here to a show because we’re in the middle of nowhere and they come from Boston and Rhode Island and all over the place. Some people will come from Canada to see their favorite artist and make a trip out of it. So it’s really become a jewel for the community and it’s great to be a part of it. Jeff and I always say that we never wake up and are bored — this is a busy, busy job that keeps us engaged all the time.

Q: It must be rewarding to get those reactions from not only the folks coming to the shows, but also from the artists who are a part of those shows. It must be a very special place for folks to enjoy making and listening to music.

Noonan: Well, speaking of that show in Gardiner, Mike’s Johnson Hall is going to be one of those rooms that people talk about. I hope that they can get that going sometime in the near future because it’s going to be really special.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the readers of this article about your upcoming show there in Gardiner?

Noonan: Come on out for the show. We’d love to see some old fans and new fans there at Johnson Hall — and come up to Stone Mountain and see a show!

Lucky Clark has spent 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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