Martha Haehl

Musician, Songwriter


Why buy a couch when you can buy a dobro?

This question summarizes my lifetime of choices to balance my time and money to make music front and center in my life. I started out as a singer, harmonizing with my sister in church, in the house, on the porch, while picking berries or beans or in the family car. Learning guitar to back up my singing sparked a lifetime fascination with instruments and the music waiting to be released from those crafted pieces of wood and metal.

Through music I express deep felt politics and emotions and to be unabashedly silly and joyful. Becoming an accomplished musician individually and perfecting simple and complicated group arrangements teaches me that patience, hard work and persistence that pays off in the long run; learning to play 11 instruments comes minute by minute over time.

Music connects me with many people I would otherwise never have the occasion to meet. I recall one jam where a Marxist-Lennonist, a Southern Baptist preacher, a Catholic, an atheist and people who barely make ends meet elbow to elbow with people who will never have to worry about the next paycheck all played and sang the same song together in harmony. Where else does that happen in this polarized world?

Musical instruments that I claim to play include guitar, flute, fiddle, mandolin, piano/keyboards, bass (both electric and stand-up), dobro, autoharp, banjo, saxophone and harmonicas.

I have performed many musical styles including old-time string band, traditional and contemporary folk (American and British Iles), original songs and tunes, rock and roll, choral music, jazz, blues, country-western, country swing and western.

My all time favorite musical style is a crossover between swing jazz and acoustic music. Nothing can be finer than to serve up “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Lazy Bones,” and numerous other old standards with a dreadnaught or parlor guitar, fiddle, bass, mandolin and flute.

In my checkered past I played various solo and duo gigs and was a member of Rosy’s Bar and Grill, the Waffles, New Reflections, Wit’s End, Sister Blue Note, Woody and Martha: Spontaneous Composition and Carry On—the forerunner of Checkered Past.

The Waffles on line: The first show at Old Settlers was in 1993, after the upstairs walls had been stripped of decades of wallpaper and painted white with mint green trim. Seventy people came to hear the Waffles, a local old-time string band, play on the foot-high, corner stage. Valetta made chowder and bread to sell to the crowd. People sat at square tables, coffeehouse style. Miner made $37. Read the whole article...

Most famous and/or memorable gigs include Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield, Kansas and the San Francisco Folk Music Club (Rosy’s Bar and Grill), Newton, KS., Odessa, MO and Newton, IA bluegrass festivals (Waffles), women’s theme dances at the VFW hall ( Wit’s End), Southern Women’s Music Festival (Woody and Martha: Spontaneous Composition) and Nelson Art Museum Sprint Friday Night Concert Series (with Andrea Froog, flute and piano).

Awards in musical contests include 1st Place in Harmony Singing at the Douglas County Fiddling and Picking Championships (Waffles), 3rd Place 1983, National Yodeling Contest and 5th place guitar in Douglas County first Fiddling and Picking Contest.

The last two awards just go to show what is possible with contests. In the yodeling contest, there were 5 contestants but only one good yodeler. So with the luck of the draw I was named the nation’s third best yodeler that year. In the Douglas County guitar contest, we were trying to establish that contests were primarily held to have great fun and provide good listening music for the audience. Winning and prizes were just extra bonuses. The other four guitar entrants demonstrated musical expertise in flat or finger picking tunes. The traditional style I chose was rhythm guitar to back up my singing. My thrill was seeing the chuckles from the audience and judges as they sat back and just enjoyed the song.

Martha Haehl