Amanda Shaw is like almost every girl about to leave childhood behind – she likes to hang out with friends, is close to her family, adores her pets and has plans for college – yet with one major difference: Shaw is an accomplished musician who has been navigating the very grown-up world of the music business since about the age of 5. Of course her parents have been right there with her, but it’s Shaw up there on the stage performing her fun-girl blend of Cajun music and rock (or “roots” music) with her band The Cute Guys: Mike Barras [drums] Ronnie Falgout [bass, background vocals] and a recent addition, Tim Robertson [guitar, background vocals].
Shaw began her musical journey at the age of 3, when she heard an orchestra on TV. She started studying classical music on the violin and at the age of 7, she played a solo with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. (She is still the youngest performer to do so.) Shaw began playing Cajun music and covers of popular songs, and appeared on the The Rosie O’Donnell Show and became a regular at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. If you lived at Boston in 2000 or so, you may have seen her playing at the Cambridge “T” station in front of her favorite spot – the stations map – when she was 10 years old. Shaw did this when visiting her grandmother, so she could make money to buy toys at FAO Schwarz. Two Disney movies – Stuck in the Suburbs (2004) and Now You See It (2005) – kept her in the limelight as well.
But instead of pursuing a film career right away, she focused on her music, collaborating with songwriters Anders Osborne, Jim McCormick and Shannon McNally.
Now, she’s teaming up with New Orleans musician Irvin Mayfield, which will probably lead Shaw down a new road in her career. Well, that and going to college. Who said growing up isn’t busy?
Amanda Shaw and The Cute Guys will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 24.
Born: Fitchburg, Mass. (My dad was stationed there at the time – he was in the Army.)
Education: Mount Carmel Academy. I want to go to Tulane University and am trying to go in the fall. I want to go soon and try the whole experience. They have been great working with me, concerning my schedule. I want to major in marketing or environmental science.
Family: Mom, Renee; and Dad, Charles; 13-year-old brother, Andrew; 3 pets: Lucy, the cat; Lola, a mutt; and Chalupa, a Chihuahua. We also feed a number of feral cats – even one that’s almost 30 pounds.
Favorite book: I just finished reading The Alchemist. But my favorite is Catcher in the Rye. I love the character of Holden Caulfield.
Favorite movie: Walk the Line, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Lady Sings the Blues (I like to pretend that Billy Dee Williams is my boyfriend when I watch it) and Marie Antoinette.
Favorite TV show: Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, The Office, and when I was younger, In Living Color – I wanted to be a “Fly Girl” when I was 3.
Favorite food: Korean food
Favorite restaurant: Korea House. For lunch, I like to go to Magazine Po-boy Shop.
Favorite music: Really everything. Depends on the mood … I like The Faces, Chrissie Hynde, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline …
Favorite musician: There are so many. I like Chrissie Hynde and Bonnie Raitt for their ’tude; Dolly Parton – she’s so sweet and she really tells a story with her music; Etta James and Sam Cooke. My mother and I love Rod Stewart.
Hobby: I love getting together to hang out and eat at my house with family and friends. We have one of those houses that all the neighborhood kids go to.
Favorite vacation: New Orleans. Really! I travel a lot and I get to go to major cities, but it makes me want to go home to New Orleans. People make the place, and the place makes the people.
How many albums have you made? Three: Little Black Dog, I’m Not a Bubblegum Pop Princess and Pretty Runs Out, which came out last year.
Are you working on a new album? Yes. I’m working with Irvin Mayfield on his new label, Poorman Mayfield Music. I’m very excited to be working with him. He wants to preserve jazz and take it to new places, and I want to do that with Cajun music – help evolve it and bring it to a new audience that might not hear it.
What was the first song you wrote? “Little Black Dog.” I was 5 years old.
You have worked with songwriters Jim McCormick, Shannon McNally and Anders Osborne. Are there any other songwriters that you would like to work with? I like to write music and learn from other people … so I can learn the process of what great songwriters have to teach.
What was the first Jazz Fest you played at? My first Jazz Fest was in 1999, when I played at the Kid’s Tent with Jonno Frishberg. The first time I played as Amanda Shaw and The Cute Guys was in 2000.
Describe your music, as I’ve seen it written as “bluegrass,” “country-flavored roots rock,” and “Cajun-country.” I am one of a new breed of artists who are doing roots-rock music. My band and I make my music rock – it’s fun, danceable, with a lot of energy.
Even though you’re not Cajun, you play Cajun music. I love traditional Cajun songs. I like Cajun music – as well as the culture and the people – they like to gather family and friends together to have fun … eat.
Do you think classical music is a good base for a violin player in any genre of music? Absolutely. I like to compare it to weight training for a football player. Classical music keeps me in shape – it includes intonation, pitch … all parts of music.
How many violins do you own? I travel with two violins – and I have four or five that have been given to me. When I was playing in Boston, a guy missed his train and stood there listening to me. He came back and told me he had a violin he wanted to pass on to a deserving person, and he gave it to me. There’s a story for each of my violins.
Violin vs. fiddle: Is there a difference? I have to reference Dennis Magee, a fiddle player who’s influential among Cajun musicians, who said: “The difference between a fiddle and a violin is the a violin goes to a show in a case, a fiddle in a rice sack.”
You were in two Disney movies. Do you plan to be in any more? Let’s see how it goes. I’m just living my life now, and want to see what opportunities there are.
What groups/philanthropies do you support? Anything with the preservation of the wetlands: Voice of the Wetlands, Save Our Wetlands and Wetland Watchers Park in St. Charles Parish. I was also involved with the YMCA in Utica. The CEO there has an awesome music education program – it’s a free after-school program. I just went up there in January to perform. Other musicians he had up there included Bonerama, Jason Marsalis and the Harlem Boy’s Choir. He’s exposing children to music they wouldn’t hear up there, making them more aware of all kinds of music. I work with the Sunshine Kids: Every February and October, children with cancer are taken out of the hospitals or where they are living and go to someplace – they can go all over the world. Some come to New Orleans. My family and I also support S.T.A.R.T (St. Tammany Animal Rescue Team), which works with PetSmart in Covington.
Do you have a boyfriend? [She “hmms” for a moment, then says,] I have friends I like to hang out with.
True Confession: I’m an ice cream kind of girl. I don’t understand people not eating – I’m a girl who likes to eat. When I was in Los Angeles making the movies, I remember one of the actresses had a salad in front of her, ate half of it and said she was full. I really just don’t understand it.