with Richard Tewes

Spark & Whisper: The Musical Duo That Makes Magic Without Being A Couple

Beautiful things can evolve from humble beginnings. Anita Sandwina and Velvy Appleton first crossed paths in 2003 at a late-night campsite jam at the Strawberry Music Festival. 

The night was dark, there were too many guitars strumming, some drunken howling, and the song selection was spotty at best. Even so, Anita and Velvy could feel it — the chemistry was there.

A few years later, they got serious and became a duo called Spark & Whisper. A decade later, after shoring up their accolades in the Bay Area, playing the Kate Wolf Festival twice, and  releasing their third album  "Monument" just weeks ago,  they're coming here for a 7 p.m. concert and CD release party at the Nevada Theatre in downtown Nevada City on Thursday, March 16th in a benefit for  the Bridge Street Project. 

That's the building collaboration that got KVMR 89.5 FM a new building and the Nevada Theatre an actual roomy backstage for the first time. But both still need to be paid off. 

"They (Anita and Velvy) have grown to know and really love and believe in KVMR," says Laurie DesJardins, a KVMR folk music broadcaster who is helping produce the concert fundraiser. "I think people here will also grow to love them very quickly."

Their magic has certainly worked in the Bay Area. 

"Sensitive, introspective, and refreshingly hard driving indie-folk," noted longtime Marin Independent Journal music critic Paul Liberatore, who has seen more music acts than he can probably count in his three dozen or so years writing about Bay Area performers. "This group is a serious force in modern folk."

Meanwhile, the esteemed weekly Pacific Sun wasn't far behind. 

"They're a thinking-persons's acoustic-folk duo," the longtime weekly said.  They "survey the complete social and emotional landscape that nurtures, astonishes, and challenges us all..deftly melding the duo's deep traditional musical roots and modern perspective on life and love."   

On a national basis, the respected alt-country website No Depression weighs in...and then some.

"Spark & Whisper aren't afraid to adhere to traditions nor challenge them, which makes 'Monument'  a standout record. There are no bad tracks to be found-- threaded with banjo, mandolin, acoustic & electric guitars, a stellar rhythm section, and a cascade of irresistible vocal melodies/harmonies, there are a multitude of pleasures to enjoy."

Whew, not bad for this duo that is not-a-couple. 

What, you ask, could that mean?

You see, their day jobs and lives put them in entirely differently careers and relationships.

Appleton, 54, is originally from New Jersey and moved to the Bay Area in 1990, works in film production by day, producing visual film effects for moves like "Hellboy," "Sin City", and the "Spy Kids" 3D movie.

And Sandwina, 51, grew up in Iowa, moving to Sonoma County 25 years ago. Anita teaches high school ceramics and lives with her husband, a Windsor High School teacher.

So here's the real deal in doing what they're doing, with separate careers and private lives, according to an article by Dan Taylor of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat last month.

It's likely a model of interest to music artists.

"I think the advantage is we have space and perspective," Sandwina told the Press Democrat. "We each can have our own opinions about stuff, and bring that to each other in a really neutral way. There's a little distance. We don't have to worry about hurting each other's feelings that much."

Appleton agrees that it leads to stronger songwriting. 

"Having really separate experiences makes the grander of body work together,"added Velvy. "There's more diversity, because we don't go on the same vacations or hang out with the same people."

Last time the duo was here, DesJardins got to watch them working on a new song.  "It was like magic seeing them go back and forth on it. They have this creative connection that makes it work," she notes.

According to Appleton, "It's our material, we sing the songs and create a lot of the arrangements," he said to the newspaper. "Then based on the venue we're playing, we ramp up and down in terms of the band."

Velvy notes that the Nevada Theatre show  is  a special one; they'll be joined by bandmates Paul Eastburn on bass, Robert M. Powell on pedal steel and electric guitars, and Scott Johnson of Berkeley on drums. 

Anita adds some mandolin and "banjo-lele." 

Obviously, she's got a spark for KVMR, you think?

And the magic of these two Strawberryians who accidently met each other at that fabled festival late one night, continues to this day... with a concert benefiting perhaps the most Strawberryian of stations, KVMR.

Opening for Spark & Whisper is Auburn's Hannah Jane Kile, a folksinger on the rise, in part, through appearances, surprise, at recent Strawberry Music Festivals.

You'll see... and hear. 

Spark and Whisper's Anita Sandwina and Velvy Appleton perform a benefit concert for KVMR and the Nevada Theatre Thursday, March 16 at the Nevada Theatre in downtown Nevada City.



WHO:  KVMR 89.5 FM Radio & The Nevada Theatre

WHAT: A benefit concert for The Bridge Street Project with Spark & Whisper and band, with special guest Hannah Jane Kile opening

WHEN: Thursday, March 16, 7 p.m.

WHERE:  Nevada Theatre. 401 Broad Street, downtown Nevada City

TICKETS:  $15  KVMR members; $18 general admission, available online, at KVMR and at door. 

INFO: kvmr.org or 530/265-9073




KVMR 89.5 FM / kvmr.org will broadcast and stream the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) Activist Summit on the Centennial Dam project this Monday 6 to 8 p.m.  Speakers will discuss various aspect of the proposed dam on the Bear River. 

Democracy Now! will air at a special early 9 a.m. time.