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Kites & Crows vies for highbrow fans

Oregon Shakespeare Festival employees Jesse Baldwin, Mysha Caruso and Nancy Martin channel the sounds of the Northwest through their highbrow group, Kites & Crows.

The project began three years ago when Baldwin and Caruso started playing together as a duo. Two years later they added Martin, another OSF musician.

Kites & Crows will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at Liquid Assets, 96 N. Main St., Ashland.

Caruso, the band's principal songwriter, plays guitar and sings in a lower register that smoothly caresses each lyric. Baldwin plucks away on the banjo, adding a percussive element to their soft sound, while adding accordion, lap steel guitar, mandolin, chord organ and vocals. Martin works with cello, vibraphonette and vocals.

Bands that have shaped the Kites & Crows sound include Iron and Wine, the Decemberists, Pink Martini and Sufjan Stephens.

"Our genre is indie folk, and one step beyond that would be Americana," Caruso says. "We're definitely in the thick of it from Portland to San Francisco."

The unique arrangement of Kites & Crows' banjo, cello and guitar has evolved as the band experiments.

"Nobody dislikes the cello," Baldwin says. "Now, I, on the other hand, play the banjo and the accordion, which are two universally loathed instruments. But everyone loves the sound of the cello, and Nancy is classically trained herself. We feel like we can play to the button-up crowd."

Being OSF employees, it's only fitting that the band's name was taken from Shakespeare's "Corialanus."

"One of the lines in the play comes when Corialanus was banished from Rome," says Caruso, a stage hand at OSF. "He's at the door of his enemy, and they say 'where dwelleth thou?' and he says 'under the canopy in the city of kites and crows'."

With three Green Show performances at OSF under its belt, the band hopes to build an audience outside of the bar scene.

"Sometimes it's hard when you're a folk band because you don't have the total listening audience," Caruso says. "It's really challenging to play to a noisy audience. Sometimes you have to play as hard as you can."

Kites & Crows is planning a summer tour and targeting house shows, wineries and select folk clubs that have listening audiences.

"The wine crowd is often looking for a jazz guitarist or jazz combo. We bring something a little bit different from that," Baldwin says. "It's not just a singer and songwriter and not just a classical instrument. The whole package together is something of a synergistic combination."

See www.kitesandcrows.net or www.myspace.com/kitescrows for more about the trio.

There is no cover for the show at Liquid Assets. Call 541-482-9463.

From left: Nancy Martin, Jesse Baldwin and Mysha Caruso are Kites & Crows. - Photo by Bob Pennell