On any given afternoon, commuters may enter Park Street station to the sound of Appalachian folk and blues fiddle tunes resonating throughout the various tunnels, hallways and twists and turns of the red line and green line connection hot spot. Behind this fast-paced twang stands Ilana Katz Katz, a musician who feels so at home playing in the screeches and pings of the subway amongst every walk of life that she considers the experience of busking a form of self-medication.
For Katz Katz, busking isn’t about how many dollar bills end up in her case in the few hours she plays. It’s about the businessmen in their suits frolicking with random ladies while they wait for their train. It’s about playing the waltz for a couple of newlyweds. It’s about receiving a note from a college student who skips his train whenever she is playing to listen to her but didn’t have any money to give her. It’s about the toes that tap and the smiles that she sees when people hear her music. It’s about the gift she gets to share. It’s about the love of music.
Katz Katz started to busk in 1985 with her band in Harvard Square on the weekends, which had a somewhat edgy scene then, while she studied journalism at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her music career was put on hold for a career in technical writing and only recently took off when pieces just started falling into place. About four years ago, she met a guitarist after an open mic where he told her to “meet me in the subway.” She did, and she has been busking weekly ever since.
Growing up in Kansas City, Katz Katz first heard John Lee Hooker when she was 15 and decided that, although somewhat of a lofty expectation for herself she admitted, she wanted to play the violin the way Hooker played the guitar. She listened to the blues from then on and eventually got into playing old time Southern music and Appalachian folk tunes, which led to the “bluesy-style” she plays that many listeners and other musicians point out to her. As a goal-driven individual, Katz Katz decided that when it came to music, she wanted to have great musical experiences with great musicians. Her humbleness toward her musical accomplishments really shone through when she attested her recent success to “getting very lucky” rather than how spirited her music and personality are.
In January, 2013, Katz Katz met Ronnie Earl, who is widely considered to be the greatest living blues guitarist. Through him, she began getting involved in the blues scene, sitting in with bands at various shows and networking with a variety of musicians, all while showcasing that bluesy twang on her fiddle to other like-minded musicians. Through these experiences, Katz Katz was able to record and self-release an album prominently featuring Earl on guitar, Diane Blue on vocals and Jesse Williams on bass, as well as contributions from Marylou Ferrante on vocals, guitar and banjo and Dotty Moore on Fiddle. The album came together spectacularly and provides 13 tracks of untarnished, head bobbing, original blues and folk ballads. Although this album was her third effort after two attempts that just didn’t feel right, she said she believes the album has its own voice.