The last time Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear took the main stage at The Midland, they were opening up for B.B. King in one of his final performances. At this point, last October, the mother/son duo was just being introduced to listeners not just around the country, but in their hometown as well. They had recently been signed to Glassnote Records after wowing a roomful of record executives in Muscle Shoals and playing a secret showcase at Third Man Records in Nashville during the Americana Music Festival.
Not long before that, Ruth and Madisen Ward were playing to small but enthusiastic audiences in and around their hometown of Independence. Ruth has been a musician for most of her life, playing the Midwestern circuit as a folk songwriter in the early ‘70s. She returned to music after her three children had grown, and her youngest son Madisen began accompanying her to coffeehouse gigs, sometimes joining her for a few songs. Like his mother, Madisen began writing songs as a teenager, finding his footing as a musician while accompanying Ruth on these shows. “The style we play is different than what my mom was playing in the ‘70s, and I came to music later, so I see it differently,” says Madisen, who has since fallen into the role of chief songwriter. “Eventually, my mom gave me the reins and told me to write.” While Madisen constructs a song's general melody and lyrics, his mom helps with song development, bridges, and harmonies. The two have found major success with this formula, creating a unique, moving brand of Americana music.
All of this is why their performance this Thursday is a bit of a homecoming. This will be Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear’s first major headlining show in Kansas City, after a slew of achievements that include appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and Later... With Jools Holland; opening slots for a broad scope of acts like The Pixies, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and The Tallest Man on Earth; and prestigious spots at events like Bonnaroo and Newport Folk Fest. They’ll also be bringing a full band with them this time, with Kansas City musicians Tom Hudson on drums and Brent Kastler on bass, as well as Larissa Maestro on cello.
But this sudden onslaught of triumphs—which also include a European tour (and another on the way, with Sufjan Stevens) and the acclaimed release of their debut LP Skeleton Crew in May—is not without its challenges. “Your creative routine has to be altered,” mentions Madisen. “We used to be able to sit in the dining room and bounce ideas off each other. I still write when we’re on the road, but it’s a different dynamic that you have to learn to juggle.”
On the flip side, the two have found that success has great rewards. “The whole thing is the people,” says Madisen. “It’s a very personable career that really revolves around human interaction, and the energy of a room. All of these different people we get to meet have different stories.” Stories, perhaps, that will find their way into the duo’s music one day.
Michelle is the editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
This Emerging Artist is based in KC,
check out other talented locals we picked
for our KC Artist of the Month poll below!