Musician Cindy Woolf thought of the concept of The Hoecakes long before she, Rachel Reynolds and Allison Williams took the stage to mix their deep Ozarks ties and musical talents for the first time in Springfield on March 19.
Beyond their name — more on that in a minute — unique ingredients in the all-girl group include talent and deep connections with the Ozarks.
“We’re cultural conspirators,” says Rachel. “All of us have our own take and understanding and interest in and love of Ozarks music. All of us have dug into field recordings, all of us have spent time in our communities, learning from people.
“Looking forward, we can get some super place-specific things worked in.”
All three have also spent years preserving, sharing and shaping regional culture.
Cindy is half of The Creek Rocks, a duo in which she performs with her husband, Mark Bilyeu (read more about them here in a 2020 Ozarks Alive article); Rachel is a folklorist, community organizer and grant writer who has played fiddle since she was 7; and Allison, an audio engineer, luthier, music teacher and retired full-time musician.
“We’re playing mostly old-time music. We do a little bit of bluegrass here and there, but this is mostly stuff that is from before 1930,” says Allison. “Stuff that was written and recorded, or has been passed down. Some of it has come over the water from England, or Ireland or Scotland. We’re doing very, very old stuff — stuff that we learned from either old tradition-bearers in our communities or from field recordings.”
Besides those fundamental factors, another ingredient that lends a distinctive flavor is the group’s name, which technically speaks of pancake-like delicacies made with cornmeal.
“I’ve been sitting on that one for a while,” says Cindy of the group’s moniker. “We’re always, all of us, thinking up cool band names. I was like, ‘Oh, one day, I’m gonna have the right group for that one.’”
After playing together, it seemed the fit was finally right.
“It just happened,” says Cindy. “We started hanging out, started playing music together. Then we were like, ‘Oh, we like the same music,’ and we had a lot of fun just singing and playing together … and so we just wanted to do it more.
“And then I said, ‘Oh, these are The Hoecakes!’”
The group had its first public performance last summer in Arkansas but has held off scheduling others due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the months since.
Then, in March, it was time.
Its Springfield debut was complete with brightly-hued and block-printed panties that were created to sell in honor of the occasion. It was a concept Allison saw when working at another musical event in the past, and given the group’s name, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to do the same.
“I remember at some show, I saw that somebody had silk-screened panties,” says Allison. “I was like, ‘That is so freaking brilliant.’ I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve always wanted to have panty merch.”
Rachel, who has experience with block printing, brought the project to life.
“It was fun because I had people send me Facebook messages with their size, wanting some ahead of time,” she says. “And as soon as the doors opened at 6:30, we started selling panties.”
They opened for Big Smith, a long-loved Ozarks group that was celebrating its 25th anniversary, and to which Cindy has special ties: Her husband, Mark, is a member. The women’s first performance featured Ozarks tones and tunes, blending the sound of the instruments — physically stringed, as well as vocal — through a series of old-time traditional songs.
That may not be the only thing the group ultimately plays, with its members’ varied interests in music, but it serves as a foundation for where they’re at today.
“We’ve all got our spin on it,” says Rachel. “Everything’s got kind of an Ozarks filter on it, which is pretty unique. And just an all-girls string band, period. Not a lot of us are floating around.”
And to them, it also represents more than simply the excitement over having a new group to call their own.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to play with any frequency (since COVID),” says Allison. “And I’m playing old-time music and singing with women that are just amazing. And I’m so grateful.”
Want to see them perform?
Connect with The Hoecakes on Facebook to learn about upcoming events.