Middle Ridge is a long way from Pittsburgh, and no one knows that better than Kate Stapleton. She and her husband, Casey, who perform as a musical duo called The Stapletons, will give a free concert at the Ridge History Park on Tuesday, June 20 — the longest day of the year. On June 18, they’ll also give a concert at Driftless Books and Music in Viroqua.
The Stapletons are hoping for clear skies on Tuesday so those in attendance can experience one of those stunning ridgetop sunsets. “In June, that ridgetop is pretty much the most beautiful place on Earth,” Kate said.
The oldest of nine children, Kate grew up on a Middle Ridge farm and attended high school in La Crosse and Viroqua. She now lives in Pittsburgh with Casey and their three children. For the last two years, Casey and Kate have been playing music together, and they’ll release their first album this September.
Although husband-and-wife duos are not all that unusual in the music world, the Stapletons’ instrumentation might be truly unique. It’s probably a safe bet that no one else is combining Celtic harp with Mexican guitar.
“We know of one couple on the West Coast (who perform with harp and guitar), but their music is classical,” Kate said. We haven’t heard of anyone who does quite what we do. Our style is different. It has some blues, some mariachi and some rock and roll.”
Although the Stapletons were married in Middle Ridge, Casey actually grew up in Los Angeles, where his dad was a ship captain. “It’s like we grew up in two different worlds,” Kate said of the cultural differences between Middle Ridge and Los Angeles.
Casey played in a mariachi band in Los Angeles, but that was far from his only musical interest. In fact, the reason he eventually moved across the country to Pittsburgh was because he loved the blues scene there.
Meanwhile, Kate’s brother was telling her she needed to meet this tall guitar player (Casey is 6’5” and Kate is 6’) from Los Angeles who talked music all the time. “I was in North Carolina at the time and he’d just moved to Pittsburgh,” Kate said. “So we had a long distance relationship until we got married.”
That marriage took place in Middle Ridge eight years ago, and although music was one of the things that brought them together in the first place, the demands of raising a family quickly put musical ambitions on hold. Still, Kate would occasionally take her kids along to nursing homes so they could dance while she played the harp for residents.
All that changed in the family’s kitchen one morning. “I pulled out the harp and Casey started playing along,” Kate said. “We thought ‘Wow, this really sounds good!’ It was an amazing sound.”
Two years later their debut album is completely recorded and is being mixed and mastered this summer for September release. “It’s been a total collaboration,” Kate said. “We both write words and music.” All the songs are original, with the exception of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” — Kate noted that their version has a completely different musical arrangement.
“Casey wrote a new version, and I thought it sounded really great,” she said.
In a way, it’s apt that the Middle Ridge concert will be held at the history park. Many of the couple’s songs are inspired by history. In Pittsburgh, they live across the street from the site of the greatest civilian catastrophe of the Civil War. On Sept. 17, 1862, at least 78 people died in the explosion of the Allegheny Arsenal. Many of the victims were young women who’d just emigrated from Ireland.
In researching the history Kate discovered that two of the victims were named Slattery (her maiden name). That inspired her to write “The Ballad of the Arsenal Girls,” one of the songs sure to be played during their trip to Wisconsin.
When school lets out this month the Stapletons will load up their three kids in the car and head west. “I’m super excited to be coming home,” Kate said. “It’s such a beautiful time of the year—I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.”
She hopes the prospect of seeing a spectacular solstice sunset and hearing some original music will entice a few folks from La Crosse and other areas to take a scenic drive up to Middle Ridge on the evening of the June 20.
On their way west to Wisconsin, the Stapletons have scheduled gigs in Ann Arbor and Chicago, as well as several house concerts in Michigan. Kate sees touring as a way to bring the family closer together.
She says she’s always been impressed with how farmers and their families work together for the good of all. “I see our music project as another way to work out a family farm ethic,” Kate said. “It’s everybody working together — whether you like it or not — to create something beautiful.