Interview with Western Swing Star Kristyn Harris: “I have always been a little bit of an old soul.”

Kristyn Harris and Hailey Sandoz, representing the newest generation of Texas musicians, will perform on Saturday December 8th at 7:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York (925 S. George St., York, PA 17403) in a concert sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  In addition, there will be a Yodeling mini-workshop at 6:30.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website HERE. Tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online HERE.



Earlier this week, celebrated Texas Swing singer/guitarist/songwriter Kristyn Harris chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter about her introduction to music, her recent experience on American Idol, and proper yodeling technique.


 You mention in your bio that you grew up in a non musical household.  What role did music play for you growing up? 

My dad loved classic country music – Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, etc., so my childhood musical memories pretty much center around listening to those songs while in the car. I always loved music, but it wasn’t such a huge part of our family life that I ever thought it would become a career path for me.

What finally inspired you to pick up a guitar at age 14?

I have always been a little bit of an old soul. I loved watching older black and white TV shows ever since I can remember, and at 14 I discovered the western movies of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers – I was already into horses at the time, and so I fell in love with the kinds of songs they were singing (often on the backs of their horses), and wanted to play guitar just like they did in those movies.


What inspired you to get into trick riding? Was it (is it?) difficult to balance both that and music?

Before music OR horses came into my life, I was on a gymnastics team for a couple years when I was 9 and 10 years old. I left that behind eventually and got my first horse at 11, but the idea of trick riding always appealed to me because of my gymnastics background… I didn’t actually have the opportunity to make that a reality until about 3 years ago, though, when I heard about a trick riding teacher moving here from out of town. It’s definitely been difficult to squeeze in time to stay in practice with trick riding, and even harder to carve out weekends to do trick riding performances, since music keeps me so busy (but I can’t complain!). I definitely prioritize the music, though – I do trick riding for the fun of it.

Yodeling to me always seems to effortless. Was it difficult to perfect and develop?

I guess in the beginning it took some practice to figure out and learn to control, especially when speeding up. But I definitely think of it as one of the easier things to perform vocally, now.

How long have you and Hailey been working together? How did you meet and decide to play music together? 

Hailey and I probably met 5 or 6 years ago – time flies when you’re having fun and I honestly can’t remember exactly! We were both playing the same musical circles and events, and so knew each other by name and sight for a while, but didn’t really get to know each other or start playing together until the last few years when some opportunities brought us together. I’m so glad they did, because not only did we develop a close friendship through that but discovered how much we enjoy playing together. We try to play together as often as we can now, although Hailey is a regular member of another well known western swing band, whose dates often conflict with the shows that I do, so it’s always a treat when we get to travel and play together.

Looking back at American Idol, what do you think you learned from the experience?

 That whole process was one huge learning experience. I learned a lot more about the music industry, or at least the Hollywood music industry. I learned a lot about reality TV. I learned a lot about my own voice, and I pushed my boundaries further than I ever had before. And it opened my eyes to a lot of different kinds of music than I had exposed myself to before. I met some amazing people in the other contestants – the amount of talent that they had was mind blowing.

What about the style of Western Swing/Country that you play calls out to you? What about it do you think still resounds with others after all these years?

Wow, that’s the mystery I guess. It’s so hard to explain. Western Swing resonates with everything in me… it’s so sophisticated musically, so artistic in its improvised expression, so exhilarating in its energy and movements, and so joyful in its sound, you can’t sit still (and it WAS invented for dancing, after all). Western Swing has influences from both country (which gives it the acoustic sounds that I love) as well as jazz (which allows you to take a practiced song and practically invent it into a new thing on the spot). Country and western swing have a lot of crossovers but they can be 2 different things, too. Country music is what I grew up on, so I have fond feelings toward it, too.

I think the joyful sound and musical energy that’s in western swing is the same thing that gets others excited about it, too.

Any plans for a new record soon?

Yes! I’ve already started recording the new record, although I don’t have an official release date yet.


Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He is on instagram