To the high-class culture hounds of OC, the Soka Performing Arts center is typically synonymous with suit-wearing symphonies, renowned jazz giants and cultural dance troupes. But duo Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin don't fall under any of those categories. In fact, their folk/Americana sound and spirit already make them an anomaly of the venue's concert schedule when they hit the stage on on April 11. But trust us when we tell you that their show will allow even the stuffiest classical buffs to walk away accepting the fiddle and mandolin as instruments of fine art.
Known by their fans as simply Bettman and Halpin, the two had a vision to utilize their long list of musical talents to create a solid, historical sound throughout the years. On paper, Battman and Halpin are the quintessential opposites: Stephanie is classically trained in opera, violin and voice, and studied at the Oberlin Conservatory. She's also a former aerialist. Luke is self-taught - at the age of 8, his dad handed him a mandolin and a Mel Bay book and said "learn how to play, you're in my band." Despite their differences, once they met they became inseparable.
"I was in a four-piece band and was looking to replace a mandolin player," said Singer/Songwriter Bettman. "We were both seeking similar goals." Halpin, mandolin/guitar/violin/string master, proposed to practice arrangements every day for three hours and eventually become invested in the project-turned duo.
Known for her strong vocals, lyrics and fiddle, Bettman pairs her songwriting talent with Halpin's mandolin and guitar skills and the duo form an eclectic sound that draws influences like jazz instrumentalist Stuff Smith as well as modern iconoclasts like Rufus Wainwright, Vince Gill and Tom Waits. "Our approach to our music is not genre-specific," said Bettman. "Our music is assimilated in the bluegrass instruments, but the show itself is instrumentally and musically eclectic."
Bettman's clear, powerful vocals pair well with Halpin's tenor harmonies. In one performance, they use their skills and experience to jump from the anthems of the dust bowl era to the woodsy, activist folk of the 60s. "I'm a tremendous Patty Griffin fan," said Bettman. "But I get compared to Joan Baez every show. We've listened to so many genres, I just take everything and see what happens."
After several stints with four-piece bands and sideman jobs, the two decided to take their talents into their own hands and began touring as a duo in March of 2008. The two caught the eye of Producer Dan Blackburn who then created a documentary based around the duo's "It All Comes Back to Love" tour, which aired Dec. 12, 2012 on KCET. "It was cool and a little weird to have cameras following you around," said Guitarist/Vocalist Luke Halpin. "We're looking forward to our next filming event which is our music video "Diamond."" "Buttonwillow," another featured song on their It All Comes Back to Love album, features their self-described "gypsy jazz" sound. Halpin's mandolin flat-picking paired with Bettman's up-beat fiddle create a howling, hand-clapping atmosphere. The tune took away first place in The Great American Song Contest for the instrumental category in 2012.
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Bettman and Halpin also turn a lyrical focus to more serious social issues. They have songs in their repertoire that deal with the topics like anorexia, suicide and child abuse. Tracks like "Diamond" as well as "A Survivor's Song" showcase personal experiences and positive affirmations to get their point across. "These are some things I see in the world that I want to respond too," said Bettman. "I'm trying to understand these experiences better and how to get through it." Although these songs heir a more gloomy tone, they point out sensitive social topics that Bettman feels needs to be heard. "One song is about child abuse, but it was written as a 'we will survive,'" said Bettman. "You might cry, but when the song's done, the goal is to uplift."
Although there is no solid due date on their fourth full-length album, they are still playing with different sounds and musical concepts. "It's still in flux," said Halpin. "It could be a different record, but we're not making any promises yet." The duo will be performing at Soka University in Aliso Viejo on Thursday, April 11th at 8 p.m. "You got to see us to get it," said Bettman. "Come to the show and you will not be disappointed."
For more information about the dynamic duo and their shows, visit www.bettmanandhalpin.com.