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Kelsea Rae Little: Rocking the Harp

Kelsea Rae Little, indie rock harpist: "I love the expressions on sound guy's faces. Most of them have never miked a harp before."

Little phones from the road; she and her boyfriend and her band, the 78s (drummer Jose Guerrero and bassist Michael Reed) are on the way to Humboldt, having just finished an engagement at L.A.'s Cinema Bar. "My favorite kind of dive bar." She likes the smaller venue size and the period architecture and the age of the place. "It's vintage, like you stepped into a different time."

Little, who turns 23 in July and lives in Alpine ("I drive a lot") says her band is essentially the standard indie rock trio, but with one major exception: that would be the harp.

"I take the place of the guitar. I'm, like, the front woman."

She is otherwise hard pressed to describe the 78s sound. "I can never put a genre on it. It's folk-rock-pop kind of stuff. And it's very honest and to the point. I only write about things I've personally experienced. And music is the only way I can connect with other people. I feel like I sort of have to play."

In San Diego the 78s have connected with audiences at House of Blues, Lestat's, E Street Café in Encinitas, and more. But harp is not so very rock and roll, now is it? Why choose 40 strings when six will do the job for most everybody else?

"Guitar didn't make sense to me. But harp," she says, "is logical." On its face the statement makes no sense unless you consider that Little has played harp for 15 years. "I've been a harpist since I was eight years old. I feel that if a stranger saw the band, they might find it gimmicky. But it's my instrument. I didn't just pick it up."

The harp is a stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings arranged perpendicular to a soundboard, something like a baby grand minus the case and upended on its keyboard. Frame harps have a pillar. Those without are called open harps. Sizes range from lap harps to table top harps to those giant mothers that are the province of classic orchestras, weddings, and the occasional funeral. Harps figure in Biblical mythology: angels play them.

Harps and their musical cousin the lyre are heard pretty much all over the planet earth: Asia, South America, North America, Africa, Europe, Antarctica. Last year, Alice Giles took her blue harp to Mawson Base in the spring to record some songs and to see how the instrument would perform in sub-zero temperatures.

But in and of itself the harp is not generally regarded as a weapon of rock and roll, although a few have tried to make it so. For example, the Reader in Fort Wayne (no relation to the hometown weekly) once featured Dan Dickerson, a harpist who played classic rock and roll covers under the name HarpCondition. The reviewer had this to say about his performance:

"Playing a rock ‘n roll harp isn’t something that’s done too often and making it happen and sound not only good but unique is a challenge itself, a challenge Dickerson is able to rise to."

Other than the name, Glass Harp with guitarist Phil Keaggy actually had no harp but is kindly remembered as one of the more innovative rock bands to have emerged from 1960s Cleveland.

Lest we forget, there is a splash of harp in the opening seconds of the Beach Boys classic "Catch a Wave," as played by Mike Love's sister Maureen.

Then, there are the Harp Twins Camille and Kennerly Kitt, identical blonds who cover pop hits. There's a vid of them in circulation, both women dancing around out in the middle of nowhere on a desert road and cranking out a civilized version of the old G'nR hit "Sweet Child of Mine" on their matching strap-on harps and it sounds … kind of good.

"I've had my harp for almost 10 years or so and its pretty beat up. It looks like a rock and roll instrument." A classical instrument, yes, but minus the classical aspect. "I can make it sound gritty if I have to."

Kelsea Rae Little owns one of those big and grand harps, but travels with a smaller instrument made by Scaldi. "In the harp world, there are two main manufacturers," she says, "Lyons and Healy, which are elegant classical harps, and Scaldi, which are more sleek and modern." Little explains that that hers is a smaller 40-string model. Standard is 47. "It's more appropriate for me. It's portable, for one thing. Right now, my harp is in the equipment trailer we're towing behind the SUV." She says it has a name: Neil. The harp, not the SUV.

Opportunity looms when Little and the band return from their two-week tour. "I perform for a yoga class downtown. It's the most attentive audience you'll ever have, people doing yoga poses. Well, the owner of the school gave my CD to a friend, who happens to be the owner of the yoga festival at Telluride. She asked me to come out there and play three of my originals at the next Telluride Yoga Festival this July."

Kelsea Rae Little and the 78s will play a homecoming show at the Loft at UCSD April 29. Personal Myth, their debut CD is available on Spotify.

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I was surfing at Swamis one time and I saw a whale.

Biggest pet peeve? “Back paddling, definitely back paddling.”

Kelsea Rae Little, indie rock harpist: "I love the expressions on sound guy's faces. Most of them have never miked a harp before."

Little phones from the road; she and her boyfriend and her band, the 78s (drummer Jose Guerrero and bassist Michael Reed) are on the way to Humboldt, having just finished an engagement at L.A.'s Cinema Bar. "My favorite kind of dive bar." She likes the smaller venue size and the period architecture and the age of the place. "It's vintage, like you stepped into a different time."

Little, who turns 23 in July and lives in Alpine ("I drive a lot") says her band is essentially the standard indie rock trio, but with one major exception: that would be the harp.

"I take the place of the guitar. I'm, like, the front woman."

She is otherwise hard pressed to describe the 78s sound. "I can never put a genre on it. It's folk-rock-pop kind of stuff. And it's very honest and to the point. I only write about things I've personally experienced. And music is the only way I can connect with other people. I feel like I sort of have to play."

In San Diego the 78s have connected with audiences at House of Blues, Lestat's, E Street Café in Encinitas, and more. But harp is not so very rock and roll, now is it? Why choose 40 strings when six will do the job for most everybody else?

"Guitar didn't make sense to me. But harp," she says, "is logical." On its face the statement makes no sense unless you consider that Little has played harp for 15 years. "I've been a harpist since I was eight years old. I feel that if a stranger saw the band, they might find it gimmicky. But it's my instrument. I didn't just pick it up."

The harp is a stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings arranged perpendicular to a soundboard, something like a baby grand minus the case and upended on its keyboard. Frame harps have a pillar. Those without are called open harps. Sizes range from lap harps to table top harps to those giant mothers that are the province of classic orchestras, weddings, and the occasional funeral. Harps figure in Biblical mythology: angels play them.

Harps and their musical cousin the lyre are heard pretty much all over the planet earth: Asia, South America, North America, Africa, Europe, Antarctica. Last year, Alice Giles took her blue harp to Mawson Base in the spring to record some songs and to see how the instrument would perform in sub-zero temperatures.

But in and of itself the harp is not generally regarded as a weapon of rock and roll, although a few have tried to make it so. For example, the Reader in Fort Wayne (no relation to the hometown weekly) once featured Dan Dickerson, a harpist who played classic rock and roll covers under the name HarpCondition. The reviewer had this to say about his performance:

"Playing a rock ‘n roll harp isn’t something that’s done too often and making it happen and sound not only good but unique is a challenge itself, a challenge Dickerson is able to rise to."

Other than the name, Glass Harp with guitarist Phil Keaggy actually had no harp but is kindly remembered as one of the more innovative rock bands to have emerged from 1960s Cleveland.

Lest we forget, there is a splash of harp in the opening seconds of the Beach Boys classic "Catch a Wave," as played by Mike Love's sister Maureen.

Then, there are the Harp Twins Camille and Kennerly Kitt, identical blonds who cover pop hits. There's a vid of them in circulation, both women dancing around out in the middle of nowhere on a desert road and cranking out a civilized version of the old G'nR hit "Sweet Child of Mine" on their matching strap-on harps and it sounds … kind of good.

"I've had my harp for almost 10 years or so and its pretty beat up. It looks like a rock and roll instrument." A classical instrument, yes, but minus the classical aspect. "I can make it sound gritty if I have to."

Kelsea Rae Little owns one of those big and grand harps, but travels with a smaller instrument made by Scaldi. "In the harp world, there are two main manufacturers," she says, "Lyons and Healy, which are elegant classical harps, and Scaldi, which are more sleek and modern." Little explains that that hers is a smaller 40-string model. Standard is 47. "It's more appropriate for me. It's portable, for one thing. Right now, my harp is in the equipment trailer we're towing behind the SUV." She says it has a name: Neil. The harp, not the SUV.

Opportunity looms when Little and the band return from their two-week tour. "I perform for a yoga class downtown. It's the most attentive audience you'll ever have, people doing yoga poses. Well, the owner of the school gave my CD to a friend, who happens to be the owner of the yoga festival at Telluride. She asked me to come out there and play three of my originals at the next Telluride Yoga Festival this July."

Kelsea Rae Little and the 78s will play a homecoming show at the Loft at UCSD April 29. Personal Myth, their debut CD is available on Spotify.

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