by Len Lear
One of the bands that blew away the massive crowd at this year’s 54th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival Aug. 13 to 16 in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, was a trio of tuneful ladies, No Good Sister, two of whom live in Mt. Airy and Lafayette Hill. (The festival is put on by the Philadelphia Folksong Society, which has been based at 7113 Emlen St. in West Mt. Airy for many years.)
“These ladies definitely know how to bring it,” said Sylvia Carroll, of Wyndmoor, who said she has gone to the festival at least 12 times. “I never heard of them before, but I would definitely love to see them again. Their songs and harmonies were just delightful.”
No Good Sister consists of Meaghan Kyle, a native of Annapolis, MD, who now lives in Lafayette Hill; Jess McDowell, originally from Bucks County but now living in Mt. Airy, and Maren Sharrow, who recently moved from the city’s Fairmount section to Cherry Hill, NJ. Their music is basically a combination of honky tonk, Western swing, blues and Americana.
When asked their ages, Meaghan replied, “Well, we thought we’d break the ice by telling you how much we weigh first.”
Of course, one question that must constantly come up is how the trio happened to come up with the name No Good Sister. Their answer: “Jess one day (way back before the band existed) had been referencing someone’s ‘no good sister,’ and she thought that would make a pretty good band name. So she saved it until she found herself in a band that lived up to the title.”
Meaghan started acting professionally at 16 and went on to earn a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse U. Jess is completely self-taught, and Maren was always singing and acting as a kid in school productions but also sporadically took voice lessons.
Jess and Meaghan met singing back-up vocals in a large Philly band, A Fistful of Sugar, but they “were itching for a project that put harmony as the absolute focus of the project, but something with a more specific sound that included more country and blues.
“There’s nothing like three-part female harmonies, if you ask us, so we knew we needed to find another person to complete that sound.” Meaghan had met Maren a few years ago while she was bartending when they both lived in Fairmount.
Maren was serenading a bunch of neighbors late one night. “Her voice is so beautiful,” said Meaghan. “I mentally catalogued it in my musical Rolodex of artists I hope to one day make music with. So when Jess and I were thinking of who else to sing with, I arranged for them to meet each other and see how our voices would sound together.
“It was pretty much instantaneous…we fell into a natural rhythm. So before we even had our first song written, I booked our first gig to ensure this would come to fruition. I knew we needed a goal date.” That first gig was a Hurricane Sandy Benefit Dec. 6, 2012, at Milkboy Philadelphia.
Meaghan is now doing No Good Sister full time. Jess had been teaching full-time for a Montessori school, but she now pieces together extra income from a few different side jobs, and Maren has her hands full outside of the band with her two sons, Evan, 4, and Henry, 2.
The group writes their own music. Their primary focus is on tight three-part harmonies. They started out with a strong blues influence, but their music now is more folk, vintage country and honky tonk.
As for their connections to the Greater Chestnut Hill area, Jess had an old boyfriend with family in Mt. Airy. “We would visit,” Jess said, “and it felt like walking through a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s all gardens and old stone houses and friendly people with children. When I got tired of parking tickets and squealing SEPTA bus brakes, I moved into the attic of an old Victorian. That was five or six years ago. It’s close to the city, and I can escape into the Wissahickon whenever I want.”
Meaghan lived in a Center City apartment for nine years, but when her lease was up, a fellow musician posted photos of an apartment in his Lafayette Hill building. “I went to see the apartment and signed a lease on the spot. It’s really beautiful out here, with quick access to the city, conveniences of the suburbs but with a rural peacefulness to it. It was time for a change.”
When asked about their favorite gig of all time, the trio agreed that it was this month’s performance on the Main Stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Meaghan explained, “To play such a legendary stage on a lineup of some of our favorite musicians really validated all the work, rehearsals, missed shifts at day jobs, lost time with our families and band squabbles.”
What is the trio’s ultimate goal? “To get more Facebook likes,” said Meaghan. “In all seriousness … mainly to be a national headliner with the support of a label and to have a career of longevity.”