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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Cheri Knight: Farmer-Musician of the Northeast Kingdom

Air Date: Week of May 8, 1998

It's spring planting time so consider this concoction for a productive and entertaining farming experience: take one part soil, add two parts artist and mix in more than a little rock’n’ roll. That’s the formula for Cheri Knight, a singer-songwriter who works the land on a 25-acre organic farm in Whately, Massachusetts. When she’s not out touring the country with her band, that is. Ms. Knight has just released a new CD recording she calls: “Northeast Kingdom." Recently, her tour passed through Boston, and we brought her into the studio to talk about the connection between her music and her farming.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's spring planting time, so consider this concoction for a productive and entertaining farming experience: take one part soil, add two parts artist, and mix in more than a little rock and roll.

(Rock and roll plays)

CURWOOD: That's the formula for Cheri Knight, a singer-songwriter who works the land on a 25-acre organic farm in Whately, Massachusetts. When she's not out touring the country with her band, that is. Ms. Knight has just released a new recording she calls Northeast Kingdom. Recently, her tour passed through Boston, and we brought her into the studio to talk about the connection between her farming and her music.

KNIGHT (singing): Under the ice, and under the snow, in these fields where you used to grow. Over yonder, something's calling my name. In a straight line, a rake, a rose, and then way over and I dug your holes. Now I hardly remember the cold in my fingers.

CURWOOD: Cheri Knight, so you sing about plants, and passion, huh?

KNIGHT: Yes, I do. And I often do in the same song. Love and murder and flower images and garden images and it's all wrapped up into one little package.

CURWOOD: Murder, huh? You must have been out weeding, huh?

KNIGHT: Oh, yes, (laughs) I always think about murder when I'm weeding. (Curwood laughs) Actually, that's not far from the truth.

CURWOOD: What came first, the music or the farming?

KNIGHT: I would say probably music. Because I've been doing that for so long, probably since I was 4 or 5. And I can't imagine myself farming at that age, but I did start with animals, raising animals when I was in my teens.

CURWOOD: You used to raise dairy goats, right?

KNIGHT: I did. I raised Sonnen dairy goats. When you go to a fair or a goat show and you see the pens with the white goats in it, they're called Sonnens, and I raised them for about 10 years.

CURWOOD: The first song on your new album, Dara Glasgow, is about goats, huh?

KNIGHT: It is. It's basically really a portrait of how married you actually are to that lifestyle, and I actually, my friend, who the song is written after, Dara Glasgow, is actually a real person. She lives in Walla Walla, Washington. And she was my I call her my goat guru, as she was the person who when I was about 16 or 17, she had goats and she lived down the road and I came over and I worked for her. And it was fabulous and it got me interested in it.

(Singing) Good morning, fine ladies. Good morning again. Let me warm my cold hands. Gather around, let your milk down, fill my silver bucket again. For all life's riches, feeding and gone, I had a silent yearning so strong. The wail of a nightjar is a sad reverie. But their beating heart's music to me...

CURWOOD: Tell me about the farm that you work on now today. What do you grow?

KNIGHT: Well, I'm the flower person. And Farmer Day, who owns the farm grows organic vegetables, and his girlfriend Emily grows herbs. And I actually work for her as well, and I have worked for him, but now I'm pretty much just doing the flowers fulltime. And I grow annual cut flowers, and I cut them, bunch them, and then I come to Boston twice a week, sometimes three times a week, and sell them at the farmers' markets.

CURWOOD: Now, you've got to do a farm every day, requires daily attention.

KNIGHT: Mm hm.

CURWOOD: How do you go on the road as a musician and do that?

KNIGHT: The schedule actually went something like this. I put the flowers in the ground in May, and the very next day I was on a plane to Nashville to go record the record. So in June when the flowers were growing I was recording, and by the time I got back home a month later, they were ready to cut. And so that worked out well, and then I cut all summer, and we got everything ready. We did the cover art while I was doing that. And then the record came out in February, and my last working days at the farm were right around Christmas. So it worked out well.

CURWOOD: Your music makes it sound like farming is an art.

KNIGHT: I truly believe that it is. I think if you start actually hybridizing plants, and I have some friends who do that, that's very much an art. It's something that you're dealing with two different plants, or if you're in the case of animals, if you're dealing with two different animals and you want to breed them together, there's a lot of very impressionistic work that you have to do, and it's very much a leap of faith the same way making anything else is. And it's very connected, I think.

(Singing) Love is a rose just lying tangled in a vine. Silent and forgotten as the world passed me by. You've been down and you held me then. Every time I see you I remember when...

CURWOOD: I notice that you have on your CD a St. Verbena medicinal for heartache.

KNIGHT: Yes. That's actually a flower that I grew a couple years ago, and it didn't work out as a cut flower. It's called Verbena Bernariensis. It just has a little too short of a stem for cutting, but I fell in love with it. And I realized that summer that my plants were actually taking care of me. And so when I wrote that song, I just canonized the flower for some reason, because I loved it so much. And I grow it every year even though I have no financial reason for doing it. Because I just like to look at it out in the field. And they make you feel better.

(Singing) There's a flower in the yard almost like a purple star. Purple deep as Jesus' silk, with an eyes [word?] white as milk. I have picked you and I have left you untouched. I would make you my own, St. Verbena. Medicinal for heartache.

CURWOOD: It's really fun for you to come by today. Thank you so much.

KNIGHT: Yes. Thank you. I've really enjoyed it.

CURWOOD: Cheri Knight's new album is called Northeast album, that's out of time, one of us, excusez moi! This is 1998. It's a CD. We don't have albums any more.

KNIGHT: I still say that.

CURWOOD: Well, Cheri Knight's latest CD is called Northeast Kingdom.

 

 

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