Originally published to Seattle Refined - March 25th, 2022
Sweet Caroline of Curlew. Nobody calls her that yet, but they should. This summer, 14-year-old Caroline is hosting the second annual Kettle River Music Festival in Curlew, Washington, with help from her family and friends.
I got a chance to chat with Caroline recently over a Zoom call. Dressed in blue overalls and her hair pulled back in a bun, this girl was spunky and very insightful for her age. Interview jitters? Not for Caroline. This talented up-and-coming artist wasn’t flustered in the slightest.
But let's start here. Where is Curlew?
"That is a great question," she said with a grin. "It is about three hours north of Spokane and about 15 minutes from the Canadian border."
Curlew is a very small town located near Kettle River and State Route 21, between Danville and Malo, to be exact. According to World Population Review, Curlew has a population of just 100 residents.
"Technically, it is considered a village because the population isn't big enough for it to be a town," says Caroline, who has lived here since she was six. Now at 14, she's well on her way to becoming a star musician.
Musical talent runs in the Carlile family. Her grandmother once had a cover band called Inside Track, which played 90s country music. Her father was involved in a grunge band when he was in his late teens and still plays today.
"My dad plays everything and has perfect pitch," says Caroline. Her brother is a bit of an overachiever, playing 14 instruments. "I'm pretty sure that I have heard every single member of my family do something musical, whether it be singing or playing an instrument."
Oh, and her aunt? None other than Grammy Award-winning artist and PNW darling Brandi Carlile. Caroline has even played with her aunt on stage, like she just did in Cancun during the 3rd "Girls Just Wanna Weekend" music festival.
Brandi Carlile is known for attending Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, but dropped out to pursue a music career. I ask Caroline if she has any plans to do the same.
"Ah, no," she says. "I don’t think that my mom would let me. She’s a math teacher. She is super supportive of my dreams and my career, but she also says, 'Listen, what you’re doing is important. But guess what else is important. School."
Caroline Carlile says, "I have been playing music forever, but I have been playing three instruments well for three years."
She names the banjo, guitar and piano.
"And which ones do you not play well?" I asked teasingly, but she answers without blinking, “Mandolin, bass, harmonica and marimba, for some odd reason."
She’s a crack-up with plenty of personality. Caroline also has a great outlook on life. In order for her to practice, play and tour, she attends school online at Insight School of Washington (ISWA). She says that is "totally necessary" because the school is "super flexible" with her schedule. And it is a busy one.
Caroline has released two singles with her own band, SmallTown Strings, who started performing together when Caroline was just 12. While Caroline's dad works on a more formal recording studio, these songs were recorded in their living room.
The band includes her brother J.J. and two of their friends, Hannah and Aurora. The first song, “Ramblin’” is about a child prodigy growing up in a musical family and the second, “Haunted Heart” was co-written by Hannah. I was quite surprised by how sophisticated it sounds. Caroline just shrugs, not knowing what to say.
Keeping it all organized is Caroline’s mother, who serves as the band’s manager or "momager," as Caroline likes to put it.
"Who inspires your music?" I ask.
"The first person who inspired me on a super deep level was Dolly Parton," says Caroline. "There’s just something about getting exposed to Dolly Parton when you’re nine years old that won’t go away. And I love Dolly. I met her in Nashville when I was 13. She signed one of my banjos and I have that in my room. And for one of my birthdays, one of my friends made me a big wooden sign that’s blue and sparkly and says, "Be who you are and do it on purpose," which is my favorite Dolly Parton quote. I have a Dolly Parton shrine in my room."
Caroline and her friends also realize the power of giving back. She founded the Kettle River Music Festival Foundation to help small-town kids realize their own music dreams. The foundation helps provide instruments to kids just starting out, and college scholarships to seniors wanting to get to the next level.
And that music festival? SmallTown Strings had planned to perform at many Bluegrass festivals during the summer of 2020, but they were all canceled because of COVID-19. Then Caroline and her mom got to work preparing to host their own music festival.
"We pitched the idea to my dad and he said, 'that’s a great idea.'" And so, with a year to prepare, they started planning for the first festival, which was held last August. Caroline is still in awe about it was supported by a large number of volunteers.
As for this year, the second annual Kettle River Music Festival will be held Aug. 4-7 at Stotts Festival Grounds and RV Park. It promises to be a humdinger with a student showcase Thursday night, six bands on Friday afternoon, followed by a Curlew street dance. Saturday will be filled with workshops and at least five more band performances. Sunday finishes up with a Gospel Jam. Tickets for the festival and camping reservations will be made available beginning on May 1.
As for her own music career and album, Caroline hopes to have it done before school starts back in the fall.
We look forward to hearing much more from Caroline Carlile in the future.
To learn more about Insight School of Washington, visit https://insightwa.k12.com/