Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer
Steve Johnson and Charity Nuse, founding members of Americana band Big Leg Emma, will play an acoustic show at 9 p.m. tonight at the College Club.
Nuse and Johnson met in high school, where they honed their musical skills around campfires. From this friendship, Big Leg Emma formed 10 years ago. The six-member group took a brief hiatus in 2008 but recently reformed and is stronger than ever, Johnson said.
“Being in the band is like being home,” he said. “We can explore all kinds of different music separately, and that’s fun, but when we play as a group, it’s like this is where we belong.”
Nuse and Johnson are both natives of Jamestown, N.Y. Neither of them grew up in a musical family, but their strong desire to express themselves drew them to music.
Johnson started playing guitar when he was 6 years old. He described himself as a shy and quiet child who constantly practiced his guitar. Nuse said her friends encouraged Johnson to sing and play songs for them, and from this, the friends formed their first band, Sundog.
Nuse was drawn to music through the allure of Broadway. She has always been interested in poetry but didn’t start putting together her literary and musical skills as a songwriter until Big Leg Emma formed. Another founding member, Amanda Barton, introduced Nuse to the mandolin, which she now plays in the band, along with percussion instruments.
Johnson and Nuse name a cornucopia of musical influences — from James Brown to Coldplay — but pay special homage to Donna the Buffalo and Rusted Root, bands they’ve always admired, eventually played with and now consider their peers.Big Leg Emma last played at the College Club in 2007. Tonight is the first time Nuse and Johnson will perform a duo, acoustic show at the College Club.
“I enjoy the chemistry, the way our personalities mesh through our music onstage…” Johnson said.
“…And complement each other,” Nuse added. “We’re similar in a lot of ways, but we’re different in the right kind of way to make it work as a group.”
Johnson said playing in a duo helps them explore more songwriting and affords them greater musical freedom than playing with a larger group.
Nuse added that playing in a duo helps build new songs and the musicality of Big Leg Emma.
“We’re showcasing our songs, but also, we’re taking leads and coming up with different parts in the song,” she said.
Johnson said their work as a duo often creates a new setting for a song.
“We approach the music differently, on purpose,” he said. “It helps songs in the long run.”
For Johnson, the energy of playing in a duo is similar to the energy created by a larger group.
“It’s all about the connection with the crowd,” he said. “We give it our all, no matter what.”
In an industry in which bands are broken as often as they’re made, Nuse and Johnson said their longevity is due to great teamwork.
“We’re a team, and we have each others’ backs,” Nuse said. “We try to make decisions and bounce ideas off each other. It works pretty well that way.”
Johnson agreed, pointing to the duo’s long history.
“We’ve been working with each other so long that it’s almost second nature for us,” he said.
Big Leg Emma currently is working on its second full-length studio album, to be recorded in November. The band just returned from Blissfest in Michigan and the Great Blue Heron Festival in Sherman, N.Y. Later this summer, they’ll play at the second annual Jammin’ in the Vines Festival on Aug. 27 at the Willow Creek Winery in Silver Creek, N.Y.
Barton will play with another group, Zamira, at 9 p.m. Aug. 2 at the College Club.
The College Club is open to ages 17 and up. Admission is free and requires a gate pass and photo I.D.