Duo brings poetry, power to upcoming performance

Concert-goers can expect to hear music that is stirring, contemplative and topical.

Stand and Sway, an Americana roots duo with a bracing belief in the power of music to mend the world, will play a show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, at Vashon Center for the Arts.

The duo is made up of Beth Wood and Ara Lee James, both accomplished and well-traveled singer-songwriters who transplanted themselves from the South to the Pacific Northwest, trailing tangled roots in gospel, folk and soul music. With each other, they both claim to have found a true partner.

“Our harmonies can lock in and there is this greater synergy of our purpose,” Wood said. “ We’re continually inspiring and energizing each other and that comes out in the music.”

Concert-goers to Stand and Sway’s Vashon show can expect music that is alternatively stirring, contemplative and topical.

The duo’s defiant 2017 anthem, “Nasty Woman,” was released with a video featuring photos, paintings and footage of famous women, who through the ages overcame obstacles to achieve power and prominence. But another current song, “Stand and Sway,” hauntingly combines spoken word with music in a tribute to the quiet sacrifice that is also part of the female experience.

Their songs, James said, are meant to empower all listeners, regardless of gender.

“It’s not just about power for women, it’s about awakening for all of us, opening our hearts,” she said. “Showing up to be who you are is the most radical thing you can do.”

Appalachia-raised, island-based Ara Lee James is a singer, songwriter and poet with decades of experience as a soloist, studio vocalist, and songwriter. Until recently, she was known as Ara Lee, but now has added her last name, James.

Wood, who is a Texas-raised, Portland-based singer-songwriter, has won many songwriting competitions in the United States and has 20 years of touring experience and 11 studio albums under her belt. Recently, she’s added writing books, publishing poetry and teaching songwriting to her list of accomplishments. Her second book of poetry, “Ladder to the Light,” is the winner of the 2019 Oregon Book Awards Readers’ Choice Award and was a finalist for the Stafford/Hall award for poetry.

James and Wood began to collaborate with each other when they met in Portland, where they both lived. But three years ago, James moved to Vashon, so the two now travel the roads and waterways back and forth between the two places to write, sing, and create music together.

This will be the first time either has performed on Vashon — a coming-out that feels welcome and timely, they said. James said she has been in “single-mom mode,” raising two young daughters on the island and taking time, after a series of life changes, to spend contemplative time writing music. Now, she said, she is eager to step onto the stage of VCA and perform for her new friends and neighbors.

“I’m so excited to finally do a show,” she said. “I’m ready to look up and live on the island with a new page turn.”

At VCA, Stand and Sway’s show will open with a short set of vocals and violin music by Kathryn Claire and Sid Ditson. Claire will also accompany James and Wood during their performance, augmenting the duo’s musicianship on piano, acoustic guitar, ukelele and piano.

Wood and James also teach and mentor other songwriters together in a workshop series called “Open Song,” designed to help tap participants’ creativity and musicality. Both expressed interest in presenting such a workshop on Vashon. James, who works one day a week at Gather Vashon, said she also is exploring the possibility of hosting house concerts in the downtown art space.

Her focus in teaching, she said, is to help adults who have stopped believing in their power to write and make music to find their way back to creative endeavors.

Stand and Sway’s upcoming album, “Deep Blue,” will be officially released in the fall of 2019, but copies of the album will be on sale at the concert.

The name of the album and its title song, James said, came from her view out the windows of her small home, perched high above Puget Sound in the Dilworth neighborhood.

“Right before the sun would go down, there was a deep blue, and the song is based on that color and that idea of loss — when the light is almost gone, sitting by that window,” she said.

Advance tickets to the show at VCA are $15 for students, $18 for VCA members, $20 for seniors and $22 general. All tickets cost $25 at the door. The concert is co-presented with islander Debra Heesch.